During a live performance on the evening of February 10th 2019 the singer/songwriter/ musician Brandi Carlile brought the audience to its feet. Pop, hip-hop, rock musicians, artists, and producers had all gathered for the 61st Annual Grammy Awards ceremony at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Brandi Carlile, who had been kicking around the Americana and Alternative music scenes for over 20 years had been nominated for 6 Grammy’s for her album called, By the Way, I Forgive You. That evening she had won three Grammys. There were several live performances throughout the evening, but the audience came to its feet near the end of Carlile’s song, “The Joke.” In that song she sings about the outcasts, the outsiders, and the people on the margins of community. Carlile, herself a LGBTQ person from rural Washington, marveled that at a person like herself at the age 37 would be honored with 6 Grammy nominations.
In one verse of “The Joke” she sings, “You’re feeling nervous, aren’t you, boy? With your quiet voice and impeccable style. Don’t ever let them steal your joy…I see you tugging on your shirt. Trying to hide inside of it and hide how much it hurts.”
In another she sings, “You get discouraged, don’t you, girl?…They come to kick dirt in your face, to call you weak and then displace you. After carrying your baby on your back across the desert I saw your eyes behind your hair, and you’re looking tired, but you don’t look scared.”
Then in the chorus which is a loud, defiant anthem, she sings, ”Let ’em laugh while they can, Let ’em spin, let ’em scatter in the wind, I have been to the movies, I’ve seen how it ends. And the joke’s on them.”
It is Easter Day, the Sunday of the Resurrection The day we celebrate how God, raising Jesus from the dead, put death and sin to flight and opened up for us the way of eternal life. Before all that Jesus, in his in life and ministry, associated with those on the margins, the outcasts, and the outsiders: Zaccheus the tax collector, the ten lepers, the blind man, the sinful woman who bathed and anointed his feet. Then, he himself became the ultimate outsider dying the worst possible death, dying on a cross.
Jesus was already an outsider because he was from the region of Galilee, but he went further on Good Friday by becoming like the suffering servant as found in the work of the prophet Isaiah. “…so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance… he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him…He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity…and we held him of no account.” God let those who opposed Jesus laugh and spin and scatter in the wind, but in the end the joke was on them.
“He is not here, but has risen.” This is what brings us to church today, and Sunday after Sunday, and this Good News, hopefully, sustains and animates our entire lives. It is Good News that humanity and all of creation have been healed and restored. It is Good News that through Jesus the sick have been healed, and the outsiders welcomed in. It is Good News that the estranged have been reconciled and the dead raised to life. It is Good News that Jesus demonstrated that there is enough for everyone when he fed 5,000 people with a few fish and few loaves of bread. It is Good News that God raised Jesus Christ from the dead.
But this was not what anyone had expected. A few days before Jesus had been tortured and killed. The people of Jerusalem had stood by, watching. The leaders in Jerusalem had scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God…” The soldiers who crucified him mocked him, gave him sour wine, saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” He hung on the cross until crying out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Then he breathed his last and died.
Joseph of Arimathea, hastily took Jesus’ body down from the cross and placed it the tomb, but had not had time to anoint it before the Sabbath started.
So the women who went to Jesus’ tomb expected only to properly anoint Jesus’ body. They were not expecting to find the stone rolled away and they were not expecting that when they went in, they wouldn’t find the body.
It truly was news to them when the two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them and asked them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead?” Then said, “He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.’” Then they remembered his words and went and told this to the eleven and the rest of the disciples. These women were the first evangelists. They were the first people to proclaim this good news. Sadly, the 11 apostles didn’t believe them. To them it seemed like it was an idle tale. At least Peter had the sense to get up and go to the tomb where he saw the linen cloths by themselves.
We don’t hear today the complete story of all that happened and the full ramifications of this Good News, but one thing is clear, Jesus’ resurrection means that his life and ministry mattered and could not be stopped. The joke was on those who sought to end what God was doing through Jesus. Though he became a man despised and rejected by others and held of no account, he would in the words of Isaiah, “make many righteous… he shall bear their iniquities,” and God would “allot him a portion with the great.” God vindicated this outsider, reversing what had been done to him so no one else would ever be rejected and made an outsider again.
Unfortunately from history we know that that has not been the case and is still not the case. In our own history indigenous people like the Navajo, Asians, African-American, immigrants, LGBTQ people, have all been despised and rejected and in varying degrees continue to be so.
Though many of us might not be considered outsiders, in some ways depending, on the context we may have experienced what it feels like to be an outsider, a stranger, the feeling of not fitting in or belonging: In our culture, if we are single, or married without children; If we were married and our spouse has died; if we have lost a child; if we suffer from addiction and are in recovery; If we have trouble walking and can’t go to the places where we used to go; if we have a learning disability; if we have ever been sick and in the hospital.; If we suffer from mental health issues like depression or bipolar. If we have experienced any of these things or something like them we know at least little what it means to not fit in, to not belong, to be an outsider, to be a stranger.
Jesus’ death and resurrection may be especially good news to the outsiders, it is also good news for all people. Think back to the beginning of Luke to what we heard on Christmas Eve. Remember how the angel appeared to the shepherds and told them, “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
That Jesus is the savior, the Messiah, the Lord is Good News of great joy for all the people because we all have been strangers to God. Through sin we have all been separated from God and outsiders to God’s life. Yet through the grace given to us in Jesus Christ, that separation has been overcome, and in the words of the theologian, Paul Tillich, despite our unaccetableness “we are accepted.” Tillich says, in what is probably his most famous sermon* that through grace we are accepted. He says, “You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you…In that moment, grace conquers sin, and reconciliation bridges the gulf of estrangement.” Think about it. God accepts us. At the very depths of our being, God accepts us. How liberating is that?
Jesus death and resurrection from the dead make this grace available to us. All we have to do is accept it. It is not an idle tale, but is the very power of God to save.
As the song says, ”Let ’em laugh while they can, Let ’em spin, let ’em scatter in the wind, I have been to the movies, I’ve seen how it ends.” We have seen how this movie ends and we have heard the story before so let us let no one steal our joy. For we know that it ends not with death, but with life. It ends not with separation, but with reunion; not with rejection, but acceptance; not with despair, but with hope. He is risen. He is risen. This is not just Good News. It is the best news there is.
Daryl T. Hay+
*Tillich, Paul. ”You Are Accepted.” Shaking the Foundations. 1948.