Rocherty UMC November 20th, 2021
Really Good News: “The Resurrection & The Life”
Mark 16:1-8  
“Trembling and bewildered, they fled. They said nothing because they were afraid.” I must admit that I think that this is a strange way to end a Gospel. And if you turn to Matthew, Luke, or John and compare their accounts with the very brief account in Mark, I think you’ll see that the later Gospel writers wanted to put some more flesh on the bones of what happened after Jesus rose from the dead.
But Mark seems quite happy to leave us hanging. Leave us in a place of discomfort and unease. It really is strange. And it was thought to be strange early on in the church, too. If you take a look at a few Bibles, you’ll see that in most of them, there are a few more verses past verse 8. In the King James, Mark has more text, and goes to verse 16:19. But now, most scholars agree, that these other verses were added to Mark a few hundred years later. That’s why all modern translations put them in brackets.
And, if Mark ended so abruptly, what was the purpose of it? Some people say the ending of Mark got lost. Some say that Mark got distracted and never finished writing. And still others even say that maybe Mark died before he could write the last paragraph. Personally, I find all of these answers unlikely. But, I understand why people try to come up with explanations—it comes down to one thing: we, as humans, do not like uncertainty. We do not like things to be unclear, mysterious, or unstable.
And that brings me to a second topic I’d like to address today, and that is the topic of aging. Here is something obvious: I am one of the youngest people in the room, with only Angela and Emily being younger than me. But because of all the death in my life, and all the deaths we’ve been experiencing as a congregation recently, I have given a great deal of time and thought to aging. It’s not all bad news!
Did you know that in the years between 1900 and the year 2000, that the average life expectancy of men and women in the United States rose by thirty years? That means, that on average, a person born in 2000 could count on living a full three decades longer than their great-grandparents born at the turn of the last century! We have a lot of things to thank for that: modern medicine, stable agriculture, public water and sewer systems, public education, and more.
But, the question that nags many people is this: as the average age of the American population has gone up, has our quality of life gone up by the same measure? Do we feel more significant, do we have purpose in our lives. Or, as some people say, are we just spending the last few decades of our lives waiting for God to take us home? I can’t answer that for those of you here today, but it is something to think about. And maybe today’s message will give you some food for thought.
Now I’d like to turn for a moment back to our Scriptures. Over the past 30 messages (today is #31), we’ve covered a lot of ground in the life and ministry of Jesus and his first followers. Jesus comes on the scene at the time of the ministry of John the Baptist. He meets John, asks to be baptized, and the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus. Immediately, he is sent into the desert to be tested by the enemy. Unlike Israel in her 40 years of wandering, in his own desert trial, Jesus succeeds.
And after this time in trial, Jesus calls his disciples. It is not from the elite of society that Jesus calls these twelve men, but from the margins. Fisherman, tax collectors, everyday Galileans, what we might call “local yocals.” These men were likely very devout Jewish believers, but they had not the privilege to deeply study the Law or the Prophets. And yet, this wandering rabbi called THEM, above all the scholars and lawyers of the day.
Called to what? To a ministry of healing and proclaiming the really good news. The really good news is that in Jesus Christ, the Kingdom of God, the time when God became the real King of the Universe as he always has been, would start to be acknowledged on earth. The time when the exiles from the Garden of Eden would start to be called home. The time when Jew and Gentile would join hands around a common table; and peace, Shalom, wholeness, would enter once and for all into world history.
But at this time the disciples were looking for a different kind of Messiah. A warrior king, one that would kick out the Romans, discipline the unclean Gentiles and restore the political fortunes of Israel. At every turn Jesus disappointed their expectations. He would not win that way. He would win through sacrifice and service, and if they wanted to follow in the footsteps of the master, they too would have to take up a cross—the deadly instrument of Roman cruelty and shame—and follow him.
And after only a few short years together, Jesus was proven right. During his ministry he had riled up the religious elite, the Temple establishment, the cultured law interpreters, the tools of Herod. They almost immediately went to work building a case against him. And ultimately, after the last straw of the cleansing of the Temple, they had their case. Caiaphas and Pilate, awkward bedfellows to be sure, saw to it that this troublemaker would not cause trouble anymore. To the cross he would go, and soon his movement would disperse.
But at the very end, when he breathed his last, a hint of hope was seen. The very man in charge of his execution confessed that this man—this Jewish prisoner truly was the Son of God, echoing the opening words of the Gospel. His body buried, his disciples scattered. What now to do?
Now we meet the women followers of Jesus. These were devout women who followed and supported Jesus and his followers in their ministry, probably from the very beginning; always in the background, unacknowledged by most of the disciples. But now, as one final act of devotion, they wish to take spices and place them on the now (at least they think) decaying body of Jesus so that the odor of the tomb would not be overpowering to those passing by.
But when they get to the tomb—Lo and behold! The door has been rolled away. And they find an angel inside, dressed in white. He says to them “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! His is not here! See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”
But… the women run away?!  It says they were afraid. Were they frightened after this encounter with a heavenly being? Perhaps fearful of not being believed? (remember, women’s testimony did not account for much if anything in the ancient world). And that’s it.
The story ends right there. The disciples had fled. The women had fled. Jesus is raised yes…but he has no followers…what to do?
…That’s how Mark ends. Uncomfortably. Awkwardly. Strangely. And I think that is exactly what Mark wanted to accomplish. I think Mark wants the  hearers (remember Mark was written to be read out loud) … he wants the listeners to wonder what happens next. That’s the power of the story. Mark is calling on us to place ourselves in the place of the disciples, in the place of the women. What will WE do with the strange news that God has raised Jesus from the dead?
But, how did Mark know the women were afraid? Think about it. The fact that Mark is still read today alongside the other Gospels gives us some answers. The fact that we have three other accounts of Jesus’ early morning empty tomb, many written by Apostles or friends and associates of Apostles, tells us that eventually, once they got ahold of themselves, the women DID go tell the other disciples! The men did come back and see that the tomb was empty. And Jesus had in fact gone ahead of them all, to Galilee.
And from the other Gospels we know that the disciples were eventually restored. Even Peter, the one who had called down curses when accused of being a follower of Jesus, was brought back into the fold and asked to feed Jesus’ sheep.
So. Mark knew what he was doing. He wants us to end on a note of uncertainty. He leaves us with a question. “What will WE do with the really good news of the Gospel?” It’s a message that God’s Son has entered the world, that he has initiated the Kingdom of God, forgiven sin, taught us how to live, healed the sick, was crucified, dead, buried, and powerfully raised from the dead to God’s own right hand in heaven. Will we cower in fear and not say anything to anyone? Or will we, like the women at the tomb, overcome fear and tell the story of Jesus to others?
I mentioned earlier that as a population we are aging quickly and living longer. The largest growing demographic in the US is those over 60. And yet, psychological research tells us that if we don’t have purpose in life, many of us don’t retire well. In fact, without purpose, many of us are expected to make it just a few years into our retirement.
With that sobering thought in mind, I want us to cultivate a life of three things as we consider our own stage of aging and our own eventual mortality.
First, I want everyone here today to know that God has gifted each and every one of us with gifts, talents, and a purpose in life. We in the church often call that a “calling” or “vocation.” For some of us that is our work, but for others of us it might be something that is a hobby, or a secret passion we have. I think of Larry Sheaf when I think about passion. His passion for the theater and literature and entertaining others. I think it’s keeping him young, even years after he’s retired as an educator.
Secondly, I want us to know that, even though we face challenges as we age, know that there are always ways we can be doing good. I want to tell you about my friend Marsha. Two years ago, her mother was in a local retirement facility with dementia. Marsha saw how lonely so many of the residents were. So, Marsha started volunteering at the home (even through COVID) teaching and making crafts with these seniors. Oh. I forgot to tell you: Martha was in her late seventies! You see, Martha couldn’t care for the physical health of these people, so she gave what she had: her time, her talents, and a passion to help others.
Now, third and finally, I want us to know that God has each and every one of us here for a purpose. Yes, our days are numbered, but only God knows when we will be called home. Our lives are not meaningless! It is very sad that in our society age is not considered much of a virtue. As our psalm said this morning. It is possible to bear fruit at any age. With God all things are possible.
As Christians, we have the greatest superpower in the world living inside of us. As Christians, we have God’s Holy Spirit at the core of our being. If you’re not sure what you can do for God when you are seventy, eighty, ninety, or like Edith, 102, then ask God. Ask yourself—what do I enjoy, and how can I share that, how can I pass that on, how can I continue to enjoy what God has blessed me with? And that goes for us who are 40, 30, and even younger. What do you enjoy, and how can you share that with others, how can you pass that on, how can you continue to enjoy what God has blessed you with?
If the same power that lives in us is the same power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead, who or what or WHEN can stop us? You know, this is the good news part of the Gospel—the great reversal. The poor are now rich, the weak are now strong, the old have vigor, and the young have wisdom. The valleys are raised up, women are given authority to preach and teach, and even the least of these can understand the deep mystery of the love of Jesus.
When you don’t feel great about life, when you make mistakes, or your body can’t do what it used to, or you start to forget names or events, then just remember this: Give Thanks for what the Lord has done for you. Share God’s love, by sharing of your faith. Count your blessings – name them… one by one. We rejoice! Give thanks, and sing!