April 8, 2018
You are welcome to choose your own moniker, but if it were up to me, I might dub the age we’re in as the “age of scandal.” Every single day, it seems, we don’t have to look far to be confronted with the latest public scandal. And most people just can’t get enough. Often celebrities are the ones at the center of the newsworthy scandal. Who is coming in and out of rehab, who managed to offend someone with an off the cuff remark, who had a less than secret tryst with someone else.
When it comes to public scandal, politicians and elected officials probably rank a close second. How many men and women have had their political aspirations dashed in the wake of some unseemly activity or rumor filled innuendo? And maybe athletes occupy third place on the list as we watch our sports heroes fall precipitously from grace.
Furthermore, there are times when real life celebrity and political scandal is not enough to quench our insatiable appetite. So we tune into reality television shows and we binge watch other fictional television dramas to get our fill.
All of which leads to the question, “why are we so fascinated with scandals?” Why is our culture so obsessed with the shocking and immoral things people have done or are believed to have done? Is it as simple as the entertainment value we derive by watching the dirt in someone else’s life uncovered? Does witnessing someone else’s life implode make us feel a little better about our own lives? Or do we love watching a scandal unfold so that we can start rooting for the scandal maker’s redemption? We do appreciate a second chance, comeback story almost as much as the scandalous story that preceded it…
Given our collective fixation on scandals, you’d think we would hear more conversation teaching people how to handle the scandals in their lives. For that matter, you’d think we’d hear more conversation among Christian people about how to help people struggle through and move past scandal. Unfortunately, you don’t hear this topic discussed often.
Instead, many communities of faith pretend that no one among them has ever had to deal with a situation of damage control in their lives. It’s easier and it’s cleaner and it’s less time-consuming to give the outward impression that people of faith have it all together, enjoying pristine and untarnished lives.
Yet if we are truly honest, churches and other faith communities are filled with people who have had to deal with challenging situations…scenarios that have threatened their livelihoods, their reputations, their integrity, and their dignity. Whether the scandal involves a divorce, an affair, a home foreclosure, a bankruptcy, an alcohol problem, an unexpected job loss, an unwanted pregnancy or some other life crisis, chances are good that most of us will eventually face situations in our public or private lives that require us to know how to handle a scandal…
The good news is that the Bible, handy instruction manual that it is, has some insight about this very subject. In this morning’s Scripture lesson from the Gospel of John, there is a scandal developing in the text. And someone needed to step up and take charge of the damage control.
The scandal unfolded on Easter morning last Sunday when Mary Magdalene visited the tomb of Jesus only to find that there was no body inside. In her shock and disbelief, Mary did not know what to do. But she made a logical assumption…someone had stolen Jesus. Meaning before the empty tomb was ever considered a symbol of the resurrection, it was viewed as a sign of illicit activity.
As notorious and ever-present as they are in the year 2018, the Easter event two thousand years ago undoubtedly inspired its own share of cynics and conspiracy theorists. The whole thing was a hoax, the skeptics likely argued, perpetrated by followers of Jesus who took the body away in the middle of the night. And then set out to cover the whole thing up.
Thankfully, the Easter story doesn’t end with an empty tomb. Rather, the Easter story continues with a God who winds up showing us a blueprint for how to work our way through scandal and emerge triumphant on the other side.
In the Easter verses we read from the Gospel of John last week, we eventually realized that Jesus was not dead. According to last Sunday’s Scripture lesson, Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, told her he was alive, and informed her he would soon ascend to his Father in heaven.
With this powerful, initial act of appearing in front of Mary, Jesus took the first steps necessary to address the impending scandal. In the wake of the horror of the crucifixion and the utter shock of the empty tomb, right off the bat Jesus showed us how to cope effectively with some of the messiness in our own lives.
The most important thing Jesus did was not go into hiding. He revealed himself and he made his identity known to people who loved him. As you and I can attest, when we are going through personal struggle or turmoil of some sort, our initial inclination is to try and escape from the trouble. Effectively push others away and isolate ourselves without the support we need from the people who are closest to us.
While there may be a time and a place for retreat in the midst of scandal, at some point that time comes to an end. And we need to do what Jesus did. Make ourselves visible. Find the courage to open up and be vulnerable. As long as we stay hidden and quiet, we cede power to shame and embarrassment and guilt. But when we reveal ourselves and the deep, dark secrets we hold inside, we make it possible for God’s restoration and redemption to enter in and take over. What starts out as a scandalous story moves in the direction of becoming a salvation story.
The Risen Jesus chose to make himself visible. And when he did, Jesus gave tremendous hope to his followers. All those people who were sad and aimless and numb with grief…when Jesus made himself known, they, in turn, gave rise to the Christian church in its earliest forms.
And yet, Jesus didn’t stop at making himself known. At the beginning of this morning’s Scripture lesson, Jesus appeared to the disciples and told them his story. He showed them the nail marks in his hands and in his side. He offered them a word of peace. And before their eyes, Jesus unraveled every false narrative that was probably being spread in the wake of the crucifixion.
Like the story that the disciples had been fools for following a man who died as a total failure. The story that Jesus didn’t really have any personal, intimate relationship with God or he wouldn’t have died the way he did. The story that Jesus was no different and certainly no better than any other man in first century Israel who tried to claim he was the Messiah. Or that conspiracy story that I mentioned earlier in this sermon. Where the body of Jesus had been carried away by his followers under the veil of darkness as some kind of publicity stunt.
But the profound beauty in this morning’s Scripture lesson is that Jesus discredited all those other stories simply by sharing his own story. When Jesus showed the disciples his wounds, he proved that he had experienced suffering and death. More importantly, Jesus stood before them in the flesh as a living testament that death did not win…
Any redemption story, whether it’s the story of Jesus and the resurrection or our own story, has the power to inspire us if we choose to let it. As powerful as any song we sing, any Bible passage we read, any sermon we might preach or hear, is the personal story of how God’s love has transformed our lives.
There are times when we try to bury and avoid the struggles in our lives because we’re worried about how others will react and judge us. We attempt to hide what we mess up. Not trusting that God shows up when we open our hearts. By the same token, sometimes when we refuse to tell our own stories, somebody else is all too eager to jump in and tell the story for us. Gossip is far more interested in spreading the scandal than it is in getting the details of the story right.
When we tell our own stories, though, we position ourselves to become wounded healers of other people. So if you have a story in your life of a time when you have endured pain and persevered on account of God’s strength, I hope and pray you will go ahead and tell it. If you’ve gone through hell and back in your life and you’re still here and standing tall, don’t be bashful! If there was a time in your life when you were knocked on your back, but God gave you another chance, let somebody know!
If you’ve managed to survive a scandal in your life and you’ve made yourself vulnerable and you’ve outlived the rumors and the gossip long enough to set the story straight. Then step up and be brave. Let others see God’s glory in your story… Amen.