Rev. Travis Norvell
Last summer, thanks to a generous grant from the Lilly Foundation, my family and I spent six weeks trekking around Scotland and north east England. We went as a way to invest in each other, explore the roots of our families or origin, and hopefully along the way rediscover our spirituality. The trip was life changing and it reinvigorated my pastoral vocation and especially my work as pastor of Judson Church.
As our time in the U.K. ended my lovely kids and wonderful wife had simply one request, “can we please NOT go into anymore cathedrals or churches or chapels or holy sites.” I wanted to go into every cathedral, church, chapel or holy site we saw. It was fascinating to be in those places but I also wanted desperately to find one, just one, that was alive. Because everyone we went into exhibited the three Ds: they were all dark, dank, and dead.
I came back to Judson and saw this beautiful church, both as a building and as a people and said if we don’t get our act together those three Ds will be our fate as well.
So to repeat a line from an earlier sermon, “My name is Travis Norvell and I’m here to recruit you to be a part of a resurrection story.” A story where Judson Church becomes a thriving liberal congregation, and not just thriving but
Those are the two scariest sentences I have ever preached in my life. Because I thought you would not take me serious and because I thought you would take me serious. When you start to practice resurrection and have faith in resurrection funny things start taking place, the energy changes, you start taking that slow 18-inch journey from your head to your heart and all of sudden life ain't the same no more. I feel like everyday I see or witness or overhear a small r resurrection.
I’m pretty sure most of you here have difficulty with the Resurrection of Jesus.
Beliefs come and go. The crucible of life will smash shallow beliefs in one breath. Life has the amazing ability to erode away presumed solid beliefs.
Belief in the Resurrection of Jesus - not so much, faith in resurrections to the bone. Faith is more central than belief, faith is more important than belief. Beliefs come and go, but faith is what you hold onto when chaos reigns, when love seems out of reach, when a new world appears.
I invite you to collect your resurrection story/stories. I invite you to write it down and carry it with you. Because you will find the story as a launching point, as a generative moment to propel you to your work and vocation as a Christian, as a person of faith, as a person of conscience.
Resurrection is not an historical event, it is a way of life. It is a practice: we show up then we sit down and reflect, then we repeat again, and again and again.
Maybe you’ve never thought about your resurrection story - a moment that changed your life. You have them, probably quite a few of them. A friend of mine tells his when one morning he woke up in a ditch. He dusted off his clothes, got some breakfast and found the nearest AA meeting. That was 20 years ago. It took weeks before he sobered up and it took years to stitch his life back together but piece by piece, by showing up and reflecting he’s practicing resurrection.
When I first went to visit Hope all the only information I had was that she was in a nursing home. I walked into Hope’s room and found Hope in her chair and Ralph her husband sitting beside her. They were both in their late 70s. Hope had an aggressive form of Hodgkin’s disease that robbed her of nearly all of her motor functions. But for the years I visited Hope until she died there was Ralph beside her. He would arrive everyday at 10:00am and stay until 5:00pm. After he left he would go to the grocery store and buy overripe fruit to make a puree to feed to Hope the next day. His knees were shot and his health was not too good, but he said it can wait...During my visits there was miracle moment when a fraction of Hope came back to us, there was only tears and holding hands and precious memories. In midst of this room, however, there were small r resurrections every time I asked Ralph to tell me about Hope, how they met, their favorite vacation, their toughest times, and etc. Then a small crack would appear, some light would come into the room and Ralph would look into Hope’s eyes and smile. Day after day Ralph showed up, went home exhausted, gave thanks, then rose again. And day after day a lowercase resurrection took place.
Or did you see the movie Best of Enemies? It is the story of school desegregation in Durham, NC involving two unlikely characters: the head of the local klu klux klan, C.P. Ellis and an African American community organizer, Ann Atwater. In 1971 a judge orders a two week charrette, a period of enforced, deadline-driven discussion. Ellis and Atwater are chosen as co-leaders of the gathering. Only one problem, they hate each other. But over the intense two weeks small cracks in their hate begin to appear, some light finds a way into their hard hearts and school desegregation became a community reality at the end of the charrette. Ellis and Atwater went from this event to form a lifelong friendship; they mutually supported one another in their quests for social justice. But they had to show up, they had to soften their hearts in reflection, they had to do this every night and day. And because of their relationship resurrection took place.
April 15th for all of us here it was tax day, but the third Monday in April for the running world it is the day the Boston Marathon is held. 51 years ago Karen Switzer was the first woman to run the race with an official bib, #261. Race officials and fellow runners, i.e. men, tried to tackle her, tried to rip her race bib off her body. But she finished and finished strong. As she reflected on her history making event she credited her father for urging her to run when she was 12. She wanted to make the field hockey team, so her father said run a mile. She did and never stopped running. She found running gave her courage and expanded her capacity for action in her life. That’s what our resurrection experiences do for us, they give us small bits of courage to risk, to take chances, to leap, to expand.
2,000 years ago some women went where no man dared to go: outside to the tomb where they buried Jesus. We know from the Gospels that Jesus encouraged these women and maybe even more importantly they encouraged Jesus. Because they showed up they became the first evangelists, heralds of good news: Jesus is not here, he is risen…
These women are our ancestors - urging us to show up, urging us to reflect, and urging us to repeat. Over the past 106 days, beginning on Epiphany, January 6, we have been showing up, learning, risking, and expanding our experiences and souls. The women: Mary Magdalene, the other Mary, Mary the mother of James, Mary the mother of Joses, Mary the mother of James the younger, Joanna and Salome, and others were with us as we toured Youthlink’s main building, wrote to our state representatives, served and cleaned up at Loaves and Fishes, watched the Howard Thurman documentary, attended the Student Climate Strike, listened to David Hogg speak about gun restrictions, picked up trash with our children, got the ball rolling for having solar panels on the church’s roof, having difficult conversations, loving people we didn’t want to love, and getting out of our comfort zone. We held a memorial service for poet Mary Oliver because it needed to be done, we brought Hester Moore to Minneapolis so she could share her the work and life of Harriet Tubman with the community, we raised over $1,500 for the We Win Institute, we hosted a community Martin Luther King, Jr. breakfast these experiences pushed us and shaped us.
Everyone here can practice resurrection, everyone here can have small r resurrection experiences. You just gotta show up, then sit down and reflect then repeat…
In February I was at a conference in Orlando, FL where a couple shared their most painful experience in life. As a way to thank us for our attention they gave each of us an icon card. It was of the icon of the Three Holy Visitors, which is on the front of your bulletin this morning. I placed the icon in my pocket and then went to lunch with some colleagues. After lunch I suggested we go to the Pulse Nightclub Memorial. I was once the pastor of a kid, from the time he was 7 until he was 14, who grew up and as a young man came out. He and his partner would go to the Pulse nightclub on a weekly basis. But on the night of the shooting he and his partner got into a fight and they did not go. Survivor’s guilt and his depression were too much for him to bear, he died by suicide the following night. I went to the memorial site to say I was sorry, that I should have done more as his pastor to make sure he knew he was loved through and through every time he came to church. I felt the need to write a prayer and tuck it into the wall with others had left. I reached in my pocket and found the icon card of the Holy Visitors. I wrote my prayer, rolled it up and placed it in the wall.
When I got back to the conference I asked if the couple had any more of the icon cards. They did not, but they would send me some when they got back home. Sure enough they did. And as soon as they arrived I had people in my life that needed more than me, so I gave them away with prayers attached.
Then Lori and I were changing the sheets on our bed and I discovered in the space between our bed and our window an old faded card. It was a picture I had been given years ago of...The Holy Visitors.
Then this week I had written my sermon all was good and I opened up a magazine and who do you think is looking at me on the page I open...The Holy Visitors.
Abraham invited the three visitors to eat with him, they did and in turn they shared amazing news: Sarah would give birth. When Sarah heard it (being almost a 100 years old), she laughed. You would have laughed too. And I bet if you shared with someone you are going to practice resurrection, they’ll laugh at you too. It is difficult to believe news of resurrection. And practicing resurrection is exhausting.
In our lives it feels like there is never a moment to stop and reflect. The news cycle is just one more unbelievable act of cruelty and scandal. There is always someone knocking on our door wanting our money, our time, our energy. There are texts and phone calls and emails begging us to attend a rally, because if we don’t surely life as we know it will cease… But the Holy Visitors invite us to stop for a moment, eat, laugh, cry. They invite us to refresh our wound up spirits & relax our clenched fists. They invite us to reflect and recreate. The world has enough wound up, clenched fisted, tired, angry and worn out activist, Creation needs you - rested, filled, open, tender, willing...
In my reading of church turn-arounds or re-founding or the resurrection of churches I read one person who wrote, “you want to revitalize a congregation and your pastoring? Here’s the one thing you can do: write 10 thank you notes a week. If you can't write 10, then you’re in the wrong profession, and if you can’t find 10 people in your life each week to say thanks to then you need to change.” By doing this simple act I have found myself more open, more compassionate, slower to anger and frustration. And I believe for some people the cards have acted as the Holy Visitors. I know this because of my own experience, I keep every card people send to me in a drawer, I call my resurrection drawer. Every time I’m feeling down and frustrated I go to that drawer, pull out a card and read it and within minutes I’m ready to rock-n-roll.
The women at the tomb and the Holy Visitors I feel are part of same Action->Reflection Cycle of resurrection. Sometimes we show up, sometimes we invite others to sit down and join us to reflect. Sometimes we march on the streets, sometimes we write thank you cards. Sometimes we sit at a bedside with the dying, sometimes we take jars of homemade soup. Sometimes we advocate for the voiceless, sometimes the voiceless advocate for us.
In your life, in our world we are all in need of some resurrection. I invite you to take up the practice of resurrection knowing the spirit of the women and the Holy Visitors are with you. I invite you to take up the indispensable work of resurrection ministry, either through Judson or another faith community. But know your work, your heart, your spirit, your effort are sorely needed in this world. This is not a time of judgment or guilt, this is a time of showing up, reflecting and repeating, it is the time for loving the world into a new existence.
Brothers and Sisters and Siblings we can do this. Happy Easter. Amen & Amen.