The Rev. Jimmy Abbott
March 27, 2016
What Starts Here Changes the World
It was an October evening in 1931. A young undergraduate student at the University of Texas named Charlie Black decided to go to the Driskill Hotel in downtown Austin for a dance. Like many white men of his era, Charlie Black had never seen an African-American that was not a servant. But something happened at the Driskill Hotel on that October evening in 1931. Charlie Black saw what he thought was unseeable. He heard what he thought was un-hearable. Charlie Black walked into the Driskill Hotel to hear Louis Armstrong playing his trumpet. At that moment, Louis Armstrong was at the height of his creativity and popularity. In a later memoir, Charlie Black said that seeing and hearing Louis Armstrong play was the first time he had ever encountered genius. More than that, he said the old racial premises of his childhood could no longer stand. Charlie Black walked into the Driskill Hotel as one man and he walked out a different man. He had seen the unseeable, he had heard the un-hearable. As the slogan for the University of Texas says, “what starts here changes the world.”
I’m not telling you this story because I’m a Longhorn. That would be far too self-serving. I’m telling you this story because Bishop Fisher is a Longhorn. And it always helps to butter up to your boss.
What starts here changes the world. It was two thousand years ago. On the morning of the first day of the week. Mary Magdalene grew up in a world where her hopes were perpetually dashed. Her people were oppressed. Her place as a woman meant she was a second class citizen at best. She goes to the tomb that morning to anoint the dead body of Jesus, the body of the one she had hoped would deliver her people. She is heavy laden with all those burdens. But she sees the unseeable. The tomb is empty, the stone has been rolled away. Two angels are there. When she turns around, she thinks she sees the gardener. But no, it is someone else. And then she hears the un-hearable. The risen Lord Jesus calls her by name. “Mary.” What starts here changes the world. Jesus tells her to go to the other disciples with this joyful news, “I have seen the Lord.” He is not dead, he is risen. Imagine that, a solitary woman, oppressed and hopeless, becomes the first messenger of the risen Lord Jesus. All those old systems and premises and structures come crashing down. What started there in the garden changed the world.
And we are gathered here on this Easter morning to see the unseeable. To hear the un-hearable. To see that yes, the Lord Jesus is as active and alive and as risen as he was two thousand years ago. To see that yes, there is a community, a body of believers, who have heard this un-hearable message, and that this message of the risen Lord still changes lives today. To hear that, no matter what, no matter what, Jesus is risen from the dead. We see that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord; not even death on a cross.
And that changes the world. Think back to Charlie Black on that October evening in 1931. He walks out of the Driskill Hotel, knowing full well that the racist system he has inherited is corrupt, its evil. His world changes. So then he goes on to change the world. That young Charlie Black graduates from UT, goes on to law school, becomes one of the country’s best attorneys, and joins the legal team led by a man named Thurgood Marshall. Charlie Black becomes instrumental in the Supreme Court case of Brown vs. the Board of Education, in which the evil system that was separate but equal was finally struck down. And Charlie Black credits that, credits his work to change the world for the better, because of that fateful night in the Driskill Hotel when he heard the genius that was Louis Armstrong. When he saw the unseeable. When he heard the un-hearable.
What starts here changes the world. The message of the risen Jesus does not only change our world, but it changes the whole world. Because, as is so blatantly obvious, our world needs some changing. We have been seduced and threatened by the powers of fear and darkness. Fear is the air we breathe and the water we drink. We’re afraid of foreigners, we’re afraid of people from different religions, we’re afraid of terrorists. We’re afraid of getting sick, of getting old, of getting hurt, of getting dead. We’re afraid of the other political party – your choice – we’re afraid of what the stock market is going to do and how much a barrel of oil will sell for. We’re afraid that somebody will find us out, that we’ve been impostors all along. And what do we do? We close down. We armor up. We distrust. We criticize. We bully. We buy, we stockpile, we retreat into our little shells.
And therein lies the sin of it all. The sin, is that we are not trusting in the unseeable and the un-hearable. We are trusting in our power, rather than in the power of God. Jesus Christ was dead, and was raised again. In our baptism, in our life of faith, we have died with Jesus and have been raised again. So there is nothing else that anybody or anything can do to us. In other words, because of the resurrection, we don’t have to be afraid anymore. We can change our ways to move from fear to courage. To move from death to life. To move from the cross to the resurrection.
Not only do we change, but we must do some changing. Our world is thirsty for it. Our neighbors are desperate to hear the good news. To hear that death is not the final answer. To hear that there is a community that loves one another. Our world, our friends, our neighbors, are dying to hear that they don’t have to be afraid anymore. We don’t have to be afraid because of what happened in Brussels, of what happens in our bank accounts, of what happens in our bodies, of what happens in the economy. Jesus is risen from the dead, and nothing can change that.
It’s like the story playing out today. It was a morning in the spring of 2016. You walked into a church, expecting to smell the Easter lilies, to sing a few old hymns, to watch your kids do an Easter Egg hunt, and maybe to hear something about going to heaven when you die. But you saw the unseeable. You heard the un-hearable. At first you mistook Jesus for the gardener, or for some holy man man who told us some nice stories a long time ago. But your world changed. Jesus is not just a nice man with some good thoughts. Jesus is Lord. Jesus is risen from the dead. That changes everything.
And if we are still afraid, I wonder if we have truly heard the message. Or have we just walked into the Driskill Hotel and seen some guy playing a trumpet instead of a man, a legend, a genius? Have we only seen the gardener instead of the risen Lord?
As we leave this morning, I pray that we are changed. That we become, day by day, a community that is not afraid. That we leave this place with courage and strength to meet the tasks ahead of us without fear. I pray that we have seen and heard the Lord Jesus in this place, so that you and I can start changing the world into a better place, a lovelier place, a holier place, all for the Lord Jesus. What starts here changes the world. And because of that, you don’t have to be afraid anymore. You don’t have to be afraid.