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Sunday, April 08, 2007

The Because of Things

Easter Day
April 8, 2007
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul
(the Rev’d) Elizabeth Kaeton, rector and pastor

It seems that this Lent and Holy Week and Easter, I’ve been entertaining little angels unawares. For some reason unknown to me, the cosmos has conspired to ask little children to bring insightful, profound questions to me, sprinkling them lavishly at the doorway of my heart like pearls of great price.

My own granddaughter, MacKenna Jane, was one of them. On Wednesday of Holy week, we were driving in the car, she in the backseat buckled safely in her car seat, when she asked, “Nana, how fast are you going?” I shot a quick glance at my speedometer and noted that I was safely doing the speed limit, which I dutifully reported to her. “Why do you ask?”

“Well,” she said, with all the dramatic exasperation of a child who proclaims to be ‘five and three-quarters years old’, “I want to know why it is that when I look down, the ground is going by really, really fast, but when I look up, the trees go by really, really slowly.”

Ah, you see, my granddaughter was learning one of the first important lessons in life: it’s all a matter of perspective, isn’t it? MacKenna was curious to know the “because of things.”

On Good Friday, three year old Olivia Mollo came bursting into the Parish Hall where we were preparing to begin to walk The Stations of the Cross, pulled on my coat and asked urgently, “Reverend Elizabeth. . .but . . . why did Jesus die?”

It was a question asked with all the seriousness of a heart attack. Her parents looked quizzically at her, shaking their heads and shrugging their shoulders in complete bewilderment as they looked to me for some assistance. I led her by the hand and sat down with her on the steps, her parents hovering closely by so they could listen in, and answered her question.

Olivia’s question, as well as that of MacKenna, has to do with “the because of things.”

Author E.M. Forster makes a distinction between story vs. plot. A story, says Forster, is a narrative of events arranged chronologically as in “the king died, and then the queen died”, whereas a plot, although a narrative of events, concentrates more on the ‘because of things’, as in “the king died and then the queen died of grief.”

Scripture is filled with story and plot, but theology is brim full of the ‘because of things’. Because of the ‘because of things’ of your life, you may understand God in a certain way that is different from, say, my understanding of who God is and why God has been, is now and will continue to be present in our lives.

My experience teaches me that you are here in church this morning because of the ‘because of things’ of your life. Some of you are here, perhaps for the first time since last year this time, because it is expected of you – or, perhaps, because it is required of you.

Others of you are here because you have heard the story of the life and death and resurrection of this man named Jesus of Nazareth, and you are curious about the ‘because of things’ You, like little Olivia, want to know why it is that Jesus died. Why would God allow such a cruel fate to befall one’s “only begotten son”? What kind of God is this that we worship? And, if God is this cruel, why worship such a God at all? You are ready to move beyond the story, into the plot, and begin to formulate your own theology of the history of salvation.

Still others of you have worked out for yourself the ‘because of things’ of the story of Jesus, and proclaim him as your Christ, your Divine Liberator who has helped set out for you a pathway which leads you to your Salvation. However, you, like MacKenna, want to know about perspective. Perhaps you have been driving along the road of your life and things have been moving much too quickly. It’s all become a blur and you need either to slow down or look up to a place where your perspective can change, things move more slowly, and you can see more clearly.

Either way, you have come to the right place this morning. When church is at its best, it is the place where the ‘because of things’ of the stories of scripture and the story of your life can intersect into the cross that is yours to bear in life. Church, when it is most excellent, is the arena where you can struggle with difficult questions like the nature of God and the purpose of the crucifixion and the meaning of it all in your life.

Not all churches are like that. There are some, even in the Episcopal Church, who want us all to report the story word for word, line by line, with every comma and period exactly in place. They do not want to allow for things like possibility or creativity or imagination.

What I heard myself say to Olivia in response to her question was this: “Jesus died because good people got confused and terrified. And, when people get confused and terrified, they can do bad things, things they never thought in a million years they could ever do. But, they do them anyway. That’s exactly what happened to people in the time of Jesus. They got confused and terrified and because of that, Jesus died.”

Confusion and terror are the enemies of intelligent thought and reason. They always have been. They always will be. Confusion and terror are also the assassins of the God-given gifts of possibility and creativity and imagination.

“Why do you look for the living among the dead?” the angels said to the women at the empty tomb, whom scripture describes as “terrified” and “perplexed” or “confused.” There’s still a lot of that going around, even today.

We look for the living among the dead because of the ‘because of things’ of our life. Because our perspective on our very busy lives is a blur and we want one place where things are motionless, where time stands still, where nothing ever changes – neither the way the story of God is told nor even God, Herself.

We live in an Age of Confusion, where the fast past of the postmodern life has led to the death of Certainty. We also live in an Age of Terror, in a time where confused people, certain about their God and their life, proudly call themselves ‘terrorists’ and make it their lives’ work to confuse and terrorize the world where innocent people die for the sins of others.

Despite the confusion and terror of life, because of the ‘because of things of life’, the human mind will never stop wondering about mystery and seek truth.

Because of the ‘because of things’ of life, the human heart will never stop its quest for love.

Because of the ‘because of things’ of life, the human soul will never stop longing for God.

Here’s the truth I know about the Easter story, the ‘because of things’ I live to proclaim: Because of God, I know about the power of the gifts of creativity and imagination to look into an empty tomb and see possibility.

Because of Jesus, I know about the power of hope to heal and inspire.

Because of the Holy Spirit, I know the confidence which is the antidote to confusion and terror.

The story of your life can be “Jesus died and then he rose.” Or, the story and plot of your life can be, “Jesus died and then he rose to love you lavishly, abundantly and beyond your wildest dreams.” The ‘because of things’ in your life can make the difference between a life which succumbs to confusion and terror or one that embraces possibility and hope.

You only have to wait and listen for the angels that come to the empty places of your life to fill them with their questions and their curiosity.

The Lord is risen! He is risen, indeed! And, because of that, I can say, “Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!” And let the whole church say, “Amen!”


Ann said...

Yearning - for love, for meaning, for immortality, for community - the causes of being.

Wormwood's Doxy said...

Elizabeth---this was a truly excellent sermon! I only wish it was the one that had been preached in my parish on Sunday... ;-)

Cheers and a blessed Eastertide to you,

tania triatleta said...

Do you know where is this picture from? Would you know who is the artist? I´d apreciate your answer. Thank you.
my e-mail:

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I'm embarrassed to say I don't. That was three years ago. I'm sorry. If it helps, I have made a new resolution not to use an image unless I can credit it.