Going Ahead of You to Galilee

Apr 9, 2023

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Going Ahead of You to Galilee

Going Ahead of You to Galilee A sermon by Rev. Aaron Fulp-Eickstaedt

Going Ahead of You to Galilee
A sermon by Rev. Aaron Fulp-Eickstaedt
At Immanuel Presbyterian Church, McLean VA
On April 9th, 2023

Sometimes it takes hearing something more than once for it to really sink in. Did you catch that? Sometimes it takes hearing something more than once for it to really sink in. Which is why there can be such value in repetition, and for that matter, in coming to church on Easter Sunday year after year, even though we already know the basic story.

It’s true. We don’t always comprehend what we’re supposed to get on a first hearing, as partners and parents and relapsing addicts will tell you. A cynic has said that 50 percent of any long-term marriage consists in spouses yelling “What?” to each other from separate rooms. Those of us who have helped raise or teach children know that some of that work is repeating things that you hope will eventually take root in them as they grow older. People in recovery don’t always get the message the first time. PR people say that you have to put information in front of people at least seven different times and in different formats to guarantee that they actually see it, as any pastor who has told someone complaining that they didn’t know about something when it’s been in the bulletin or the epresence for weeks can attest.

So it was just a couple of weeks ago, on what was perhaps the hundredth time in my life that I’d read this morning’s passage from Matthew, that I noticed how the women at the tomb get the same message twice. The first time they get it from the angel, who after telling them not to be afraid and that Jesus has been raised and to come and take a look, says, “Go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead and is going ahead of you to Galilee, there you will see him.” Then, as they leave the tomb with fear (so much for not being afraid) and great joy, Jesus himself greets them. He gives them the message a second time. says, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee. There they will see me.” The women receive the same message twice. Both to not be afraid and to tell the disciples that Jesus is going ahead of them to Galilee.

It’s almost as if the Gospel of Matthew wants to hammer home the point, a second time and louder for those of us in the back who might not have caught it at first, and straight from the horse’s mouth, no less. You want to encounter the risen Christ? Go to Galilee. Oh, and by the way, don’t be afraid.

Why does Matthew’s gospel insist that they need to go to Galilee? Why not just hang around Jerusalem and wait for the risen Christ there? After all, that’s what the disciples do in John’s gospel. In John he first comes to them on Easter evening, behind locked doors in the upper room where they’d had supper together a few nights before. Later he comes to them in Galilee, too, when Peter and the others have gone out fishing. But here in Matthew, the women are supposed to tell the disciples that they will see Jesus in Galilee. Why?

Galilee, you may remember, was the place where Jesus called his first followers. It was there, in Matthew, that Jesus delivered his Sermon on the Mount, there where he shared many of his parables, there where he did so much of his teaching and healing. To meet the risen Christ in Galilee is to affirm that his resurrection is integrally tied to the way of life he lived and taught. They can’t be separated. The resurrection doesn’t supersede or nullify the things Jesus taught and lived; it validates and vindicates them.

To meet the risen Christ in Galilee is to reconnect with the call to service that his ministry was and is all about. To meet the risen Christ in Galilee is to watch Peter and Andrew and James and John returning and remembering the place where they left their nets and boats and set out on the adventure of becoming fishers of people, of being a healing blessing to others. The risen Christ meets them in Galilee to remind them that that work isn’t through, that even though the civil and religious authorities in Jerusalem tried their best to do away with Jesus and his way, they didn’t succeed. They couldn’t succeed. Because no matter how securely you try to box it up and lock it down, no matter how many guards you post at the tomb, the love that comes from God is stronger than death. It was then, and it is now.

You can believe this or not, but as I first typed those last two sentences yesterday afternoon, I looked over my shoulder out the window from the computer in my study, and I saw a brilliant red cardinal perched in the branches of the tree out front of the church house. It was like my mom, who died this past fall, had shown up to say, “Preach it! Death doesn’t get the last word, no sir.” By the time I could get my camera out to capture the moment, the bird was gone. Maybe that was Mom’s or God’s way of saying, live in the present, Aaron. The risen Christ goes ahead of you to Galilee—which is another of saying into the next moment that is ahead of you, not the one that is just past. The Living Divine will meet you there, again and again, if you will only keep your eyes, and ears, and most importantly, your heart open.

Which leads me to another thing about Galilee and meeting the risen Christ there. The word Galilee, which comes from the Hebrew verb Galil, to roll, literally means circle. Life, like a circle, keeps rolling forward from year to year. Just consider all that may have happened in your life since last Easter, and how much may yet happen before we next gather here for Holy Week. Life itself is Galilee.

If you happened to watch the PBS telecast of Joni Mitchell receiving the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, you saw that truth embodied. Various artists sang her hit songs, and then Joni got up to sing Summertime from Gershwin’s opera Porgy and Bess—and she knocked it out of the park. So far out of the park that it is still flying. You may know that Joni had a severe brain aneurysm several years ago and she’s courageously worked to regain her speech. The fact that she was able to speak at all, let alone sing, on that stage is nothing short of a miracle and the result of a lot of hard work.

When she finished the song, my cheeks were wet, but they became noticeably wetter when for an encore all the artists joined her on stage to sing one of her hits, “The Circle Game.” You know the chorus: And the seasons, they go round and round, and the painted ponies go up and down, we’re captive on the carousel of time. We can’t return, we can only look, behind from where we came and go round and round and round in the circle game.

The good news about that this Easter, news worth repeating, is that the Risen Christ goes ahead of us and meets as the circle of life inevitably unfolds from year to year. The Living Divine meets us in the prayers and presence that surround us at the bedside of a dying loved one; in the expressions of support that come when we’re hurting, in the wisdom and creativity of colleagues, in the thin place moments where our tears remind us that we’ve been in the vicinity of the holy. The Living One goes ahead of us into life’s challenges and beckons us to be an embodiment of love for others as they go through their own hard times. You may not recognize him at first, but he’ll be there.

The risen Christ doesn’t appear as an apparition, but in the flesh and blood of people who sit with us in our pain, and remind us how precious we are when we’ve all but forgotten that truth. He shows up in the face of a disheveled hypothermia shelter guest, or in the smile of a hypo volunteer. The risen Christ is also there, calling, in that sense that we have that something needs to be done after yet another school shooting—the circles go round and round, don’t they—but much more importantly he will be there in the concrete embodied steps we each decide to take beyond thoughts and prayers. She will be there, the risen Christ, next Sunday afternoon at First Baptist in Vienna when a gathering of clergy and their faith communities will come together to mark the 60th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr’s Letter from the Birmingham Jail. I hope you’ll join me there as we ask ourselves the question of how we are too often timid (be not afraid) like the white moderates to whom he wrote when the lives of black and brown folk are treated as less important than the lives of white folk. If you want to meet the risen Christ, Matthew says in one of his parables we read just a few weeks ago, there’s no better place do to it than in being proximate to and serving the needs of the most vulnerable In society. That’s where you’re sure to meet him, whether you know it or not. But Galilee, the place where Jesus meets us in the everyday, can be anywhere the circle of life takes us.

On Monday, I received a phone call out of the blue from a man I know as Chicago Bob. He was just checking in on me. It took me back to Galilee. Bob, who is almost old enough to be my dad, befriended me in the early days of my sobriety back in 2017. He went out of his way to take an interest in me to me and my recovery back then, always looking for me at meetings. We saw each other often back then. About three and a half years ago he moved back to the Chicago area and have stayed in sporadic touch since then.

Anyway, Bob’s call reminded me of the time, when I was ten months into my recovery, that I went to a CREDO conference for Presbyterian pastors. It’s a weeklong retreat week for about twenty pastors at a time to focus on their mental, physical, financial, spiritual, and vocational health. I’d indicated on the paperwork I had to fill out for the time that I was newly sober, so one of the faculty members for the week, who had been in recovery for 25 years or more at that point, made sure we had a couple of meetings—just the two of us, talking how we relied on our higher power when we were powerless.

As the week wore on, almost all of my colleagues had wine at dinner, and sometimes after our final session in the evening. I was doing okay, but it was a little hard to see them do that. My flight back here from New Orleans had a connection in Dallas, and when I got off the plane there I had a bit of a layover. Walking over to my gate, I found myself standing between a TGI Fridays’ and the duty-free store packed with liquor, and the thought went through my mind—stuck between that Scylla and Charybdis–that a drink might be nice right about now. Just then, my phone buzzed, and it was my friend Chicago Bob asking how I was doing, that he hadn’t seen me in a while. I don’t think I’d have taken a drink even if he hadn’t called, but let me tell you, the risen Christ showed up in the Galilee of the DFW airport in the form of a call from my friend Bob. And I love him for it.

Listen, I have a message for you. Don’t forget it. Christ is risen, he is going ahead of you to Galilee. You’ll see him there, just like he said.




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