Sermon 4/17/2022

Date: April 17, 2022 Easter Sunday
Scripture Lesson: John 20:1-18
Sermon: Turning
Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, we have all come to know that sunflowers are the national flower of Ukraine. We have had sunflowers on the altar every Sunday since the war began. Yet sunflowers are native to North America where sunflower seeds were roasted eaten as a snack by the Original Peoples. The seeds were also made into flour and used in baking. The oil was used for cooking and as a sunscreen. And the pigments of the seeds were used for dyes. The sunflower was brought to Europe in the 1500’s but it was used mainly for ornamental and medicinal purposes.

Surprisingly, the spread of the cultivation of sunflowers in Ukraine is related to, of all things, Lent. In the early 1700s, the Russian Orthodox Church banned the use of butter, lard, olive oil and other cooking oils for the 40 days of Lent. But oil from the sunflower was not forbidden. So farmers began to cultivate sunflowers to meet this need in Lent created by the dictates of the orthodox church. [ became-ukraines-national-flower/ ]

The sunflower continues to be cultivated today in Ukraine though the Lenten restrictions are no longer as rigorously observed. We know the delights of sunflower seeds as a snack and we are familiar with cooking with sunflower oil.

Another thing that is very interesting about the sunflower is that it is heliotropic. As the flowers emerge, they move throughout the day to maintain direct orientation to the light of the sun. So, in the morning when the sun comes up, the flowers face to the east and as the day goes on they turn and end the day facing west. During the night, the flowers return to an eastern orientation to be prepared for the morning sun. This heliotropic turning is necessary for the growth, health, and well-being of the sunflower.

This morning we heard about another turning that is also significant. We are told of Mary of Magdala coming to the tomb of Jesus in the murky darkness of dawn. She has come out of devotion to her dear friend and teacher. She has come out of her desperate grief after his gruesome death. She has come out of her utter disbelief at what has happened.

It’s interesting to note that in the gospel of John, Mary of Magdala is not mentioned until the last chapters of the gospel. She is at the cross and at the tomb. We are told nothing else about her in that gospel. Probably nothing is said because everything was already known by those for whom the gospel was originally written. It might be something like mentioning Einstein today. You just use the name, Einstein, and people know who this is and of his importance. So, in John, we are told of Mary of Magdala going to the tomb. People knew who she was, part of Jesus’ inner circle, one of his closest followers, a disciple.

So Mary, because she was so close to Jesus, is one of those who is most distraught about his death. And she goes to the tomb. And her first shock is that Jesus’ body is not in the tomb. It appears to have been taken away. Stolen? Mary goes and tells two other disciples what she has seen at the tomb. They come to the tomb and verify what Mary has said. The body is not in the tomb. Did they not believe her? Have they insulted her intelligence and judgment? Did they not trust her? In any case, they had to see for themselves. Then, we are told that the two disciples turn and go home.

But Mary stays. Weeping. How could a situation so bad have gotten worse? She peers into the tomb again and now there are two figures dressed in white. They
address her: Why are you weeping? Where to begin? She starts with the immediate situation. Jesus’ body has been taken away. He is not resting in peace. First he was brutally killed and now the dignity of death has been violated. That is why she is weeping. And so much more. The loss of her anchor. Her guide. Her inspiration. Her window to a new world. Shattered.

Now comes the turning. We are told that Mary turns. And encounters another presence who addresses her by name. And she realizes that she is in the presence of Jesus the Christ. She has turned, once again, to Christ Jesus. Who is there. Present. Waiting. Creating a shift in her reality. Opening a new future.

The other two disciples turned, and went home. Mary stayed, and turned to Jesus. And her world was transformed. Made new. Her whole reality shifted.

And that is the invitation of Easter. To turn to Jesus the Christ. To turn and become aware of the Good News that is waiting for us. With the power to shift our reality. Beckoning us into the reality of God. Calling us by name. Into a reality that is not controlled by fear, or violence, or greed for money or power. But into a reality that is defined by love. Love that is stronger than death itself.

In the crucifixion, humanity has done its worst. Sunk as low as it can go. But it cannot kill love. Love prevails. Present. Powerful. Waiting. Welcoming. And we are here to celebrate the triumph of love over all the forces of death and destruction that can be mustered.

At Easter, we celebrate our turning to the way of Jesus. We embrace the reality of God. Where no one is forgotten. No one is left out. Each and every life is beloved. The least and the last are first. We turn to the good news of the gospel. And our reality shifts away from the death dealing of violent systems and institutions that take life. Away from the selfishness and self absorption that drain life and creativity and joy. Away from the greed of the hamster wheel economy where we run and run and run and never get anywhere. Away from the ravages of the pandemics of racism, ecocide, and consumerism.

We come as we are and turn to the way of Jesus, our teacher, our guide, our Savior. Who shows us compassion and shifts our reality.

Whatever we thought were the parameters or limits or categories, forget it. It’s a new world. Whatever is weighing us down, however desperate we’ve become, whatever is breaking our hearts, whatever is sapping our souls, we like Mary, turn to the way of Jesus Christ, the way of love that is stronger than death.

Today we celebrate our capacity to be like the heliotropic sunflower turning in the course of our days, keeping our orientation fixed on the way of Christ Jesus. Our sun. The source of our growth, health, and well-being as individuals, as communities, as a species, and as part of the community of life. Happy Easter! Amen.

A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.

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