Janitors for the New Heaven and the New Earth

Easter 2011
Steve Hammond

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we have had a lot of rain lately. And a couple of times I have noticed the street sweeper going past the house in the pouring rain. There are, at least, a couple of ironies there. First of all, if it’s pouring rain, the rain is doing a lot of the work of the street sweeper. But, secondly, with all the rain a lot of mud and gunk get washed into the streets and the drains get so full that the streets are dirtier that when the street sweepers began. That’s got to be frustrating.

Kate Huey a blogger amongst other things for the United Church of Christ points out that in one of the who knows how many books they have co-authored now, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Croussan write in The Last Week, “Easter is about God even as it is about Jesus. Easter discloses the character of God. Easter means God’s Great Cleanup of the world has begun – but it will not happen without us.” Huey writes that we may feel very close to Jesus when we imagine ourselves in the garden, “walking and talking” with our risen Lord. But following Jesus after that encounter, for Borg and Croussan means caring about “what he was passionate about…:the kingdom of God, what life would be like on earth if God were king, and the rulers, domination systems, and empires of this world were not. It is the world the prophets dreamed of – a world of distributive justice in which everyone has enough and systems are fair.”

The clean up ‘will not happen without us.’ We are the street sweepers even if the rain is pouring down, even if it seems so very useless and you have to keep going out again.

Have you ever used one of those little hand vacuum cleaners and once it’s all full of gunk you try to open it over the trash can? But it’s hard to figure out what you are supposed to do and you start pulling on different plastic parts and suddenly the thing opens and dirt and dust and dog hair fly everywhere. I’m not saying that has happened to me, but I can imagine it happening. What do you do? You clean up the mess, again. Like the street sweepers, you keep at it, because it ultimately makes a difference.

Mary Hammond is a fan of Faith Hill, a country singer. It’s always so interesting to be in the room when Mary is scrolling through the TV channels and comes across a Faith Hill video. In one way it’s like meeting up with an old friend, and in another it’s like she is so excited because she has never seen such a thing before. Faith Hill is a beautiful woman and has a great voice. She also has three daughters. But her music can be a little sappy. Give me Linkin Park and Muse. Anyway, Faith Hill sings this Christmas Song A Baby Changes Everything, which I have managed to hear many times.

That baby did change everything, but it came with a price and with a lot of faith and trust in the living God. That’s why we are here this morning. Jesus is alive and we are cleaning up the mess. We are hauling out all the stuff to the curb because Jesus is alive and everything is different now. And we have been invited to build a new world with him and each other.

You ever notice when you read the gospels that they end kind of funny? It sort of feels like those movies that end in such a way that you know there is going to be a sequel. You know the story has to be continued. And the funny thing is that we, the clean up crew, are the stars of the sequel. Jesus is full of surprises. Busting out of that tomb is one of them. But another is that the Resurrection is not just about him. It’s also about us and about everything.

One of the reasons people clean-up around the house or the dorm room or the office or wherever is because it’s so easy to get used to the mess. The mess gets normal. Many of you may have learned the lesson Mary and I have. One of the benefits of having company over for dinner or an Open House or a party is that you have to clean up. Many of you have been to our house and realize that we don’t go to extremes, but we do clean up some, anyway. Jesus said you can’t let the mess become normal.

Barbara Brown Taylor points out that we are missing something crucial to the story when we equate Easter with the coming of Spring. Sometimes you begin to wonder, but Spring is a very normal thing. It eventually does happen year in and year out, and it’s a relief when it finally arrives. But it is not a surprise.

Resurrection is not normal. Nobody was expecting it, not even Jesus’ closest friends and confidants. Even though he told them it was going to happen, they were still caught by surprise. Even though he did get the stuff right about going to Jerusalem and getting himself killed, they were caught off guard.

One of the things that Taylor says is not normal about the resurrection, the new life we have in Jesus, is that it “cannot be killed, and if we can remember that then there is nothing we cannot do: move mountains, banish fear, love our enemies, change the world. The only thing we cannot do is hold on to him…all in all we would rather keep him with us where we are than let him take us where he is going….let him take us into the white hot presence of God, who is not behind us but ahead of us, every step of the way” (Home by Another Way).

Resurrection changes everything, but there is still so much that needs changed. Borg and Crossan remind us that with the resurrection, the clean-up has just begun, and will not happen without us. Us. You and me and people like us. We are the ones who create the new normal of God’s realm.

And we can do it. It’s all over the resurrection stories. It’s the women who Jesus comes to first. It’s the women who make the first proclamation that Jesus is alive. As John Pilch comments,“How did our patriarchal ancestors ever accept the help of women in making sense out of an empty tomb?” (The Cultural World of Jesus Year A). Good question, but Mary Magdalene represents that thread of hope that runs through the Scriptures like gold: God’s trust of the small ones, the ones on the margins, the ones without voice, the ones who God trusts and lifts up to shine like the sun.”

Like the nobodies throughout the Bible, like Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Martha and her sister Mary, Mary the mother of Jesus, Peter, Matthew, and all the rest, we are the street sweepers, the clean-up crew, the janitors for the new heaven and the new earth.

We came real close to singing a Christmas carol this morning. “Come thou long expected Jesus, born to set your people free. From our fears and sins release us, Christ in whom our rest shall be.”

Jesus is alive. That baby finally changed everything on Easter morning. We have been released from our fears and sins. And so has this world. And now we can clean up that mess.