It seems like we live in an age of scandals. Sometime it seems like every other day we are confronted on the TV or in the media with some public scandal. In the United States our public conversation is often filled with celebrity gossip about who is going into who or who's coming out of rehab, which celebrities are sleeping with other celebrities, and so on. If that weren't enough, we hear stories about our elected officials and their private affairs, which also lead to conversations of more scandal. And if the rush of real life political and celebrity scandal is not enough for us, many of us turn to the soaps and tune into sitcom television to get even more scandalous fictional drama.
These realities leave me asking the question sometimes, "What is our fascination with scandals?" What is our fascination with the shocking or immoral things that people have done or are believed to have done? Personally, I've come to believe that our collective fascination with scandals has to do with how entertaining it is for us to watch when the dirt of someone else's life is uncovered. Fair or not, this is the world we live in; and most of us, if we're honest, are guilty.
Given this reality, you'd think they'd be more conversation about teaching people how to handle scandals in their lives, be they great or small. In particular, you'd think that Christians and people of faith would be most invested in helping people deal with and move past dark scandalous days in their lives. Unfortunately, too often this is not the case.
Sadly, some of our communities of faith often like to pretend as though no one among us has ever had to deal with the damage control situation in their lives. We like to give the appearance that our communities are made up of perfect people who live scandal free and undamaged lives. However, my friends, if we're honest, our communities are actually filled with people who've had to deal with difficult situations that have threatened their very livelihood, reputation, dignity, and respect. Whether it is the scandal of a divorce, tax evasion, home foreclosure, bankruptcy, employment termination, unwed pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease, or some general failure in life, most of us will face situations in our private and public lives that require us to know how to handle our scandal.
The good news is Jesus in the Gospel of John provides us some help concerning how we might handle our scandal.
In the gospel of John, chapter 20, we enter the narrative on the day after Jesus' crucifixion; and there is a scandal developing in the text that will require some damage control. We are told that Mary and Mary Magdalene, two followers of Jesus, visit the tomb of Jesus and find, much to their surprise, that there is no body in the tomb. This sets the stage for a scandal in the text because these followers assume that the Lord's body has been stolen. Initially, for these followers the empty tomb wasn't even a sign of resurrection; it was a sign of a conspiracy. As it turns out, still to this day there are those cynics and conspiracy theorists who say that the resurrection must have been a hoax. They say surely Jesus' body was taken in the night by his followers, and the gospels are nothing more than literary cover up. Well, my friends, I say lovingly in response, I'm so glad that the story doesn't end with an empty tomb. In reality, it continues with a God who shows us how to deal with life's scandals and emerge victorious.
In verses 11-17, while the women cry at the empty tomb, we realize that Jesus is, in fact, not dead. He is Risen! According to the text, Jesus appears in the tomb and tells his followers that he is alive and awaiting his ascension to be with his heavenly Father. In this powerful act of appearance, Jesus begins to address the looming scandal of the empty tomb and heal the damage of his crucifixion. And what I love about it is that he also shows us how to deal with some of the messiness in our own lives.
Consider this truth. In the midst of the scandal of the crucifixion and the empty tomb, Jesus doesn't hide. He reveals himself, makes himself known to those who love him. You know, I understand that when you and I are going through our personal struggles and scandals the temptation is to alienate ourselves and to try to hide from our trouble. During this time we find ourselves only wanting to be with the selfish trinity of me, myself, and I. We find our worship attendance may be becoming sporadic. We find ourselves no longer wanting to fellowship with friends and family and becoming most distant from those whom we love.
But my friends, though it may be beneficial during life's scandalous times to retreat for a season, at some point the season of retreat must end and we must do as Jesus did. We must make ourselves visible!
Indeed, we must make ourselves known and find the courage to open up to those who love us the most. For as long as we stay hidden--hear me!--as long as we stay isolated, we give power to the enemy within. But when we find it in ourselves to move from the darkness to the light, we free ourselves to be examples of God's gracious restoration and redemption. We open up ourselves to the possibility of our test becoming a testimony and our scandal becoming a salvation story.
Yes, my friends, Jesus chose to make himself visible and in so doing, he gave hope to his seemingly hopeless followers, and he set in motion the beginnings of a movement that would give eternal hope to a searching world.
But Jesus doesn't stop at making himself known. He continues to handle the scandal of the crucifixion and the empty tomb by engaging in the powerful act of telling his own story. In verses 19-23, Jesus appears to his disciples and shows them the wounds in his hands. In this act of vulnerability, Jesus allows his followers to find hope by sharing his story of pain and resurrection.
Undoubtedly, there were many stories being told about Jesus' death. I'm sure there was the story that the disciples foolishly gave up so much to follow a man who died like such a failure. I'm sure there was also the story that Jesus didn't have the power and intimacy with God that he claimed or else he wouldn't have died the way that he did. I'm sure there was also the story that Jesus was no better than every other unsuccessful self-professed Jewish messiah. And I'm sure there was the story that the dead body of Jesus had been carried away never to be seen again by those who loved him.
Oh, but the beauty of the story is that Jesus overshadows all these stories with the simple act of telling his own story! By showing the wounds in his body, he told his story that he had experienced the pain of death, but yet he stood as a testament that death did not have the last word. He stood as a testament that death had been swallowed up in God's victory!
My sisters and brothers, our redemption story, like Jesus' story, has the power to inspire if we choose to let it. Perhaps more powerful than the songs we sing, the scriptures we quote, or the sermons we preach is the story we tell about God's transformative work in our lives.
Sometimes we try to bury and conceal the struggles and scandalous times in our lives because we're afraid of how others will view us. We create intricate cover ups to hide our mess ups, not realizing that God can show up when we fess up. What's worse is often times our refusal to tell our own story opens the door for others to tell our story for us. This can be dangerous. As my grandmother used to say, "Remember the gossip committee is always more interested in spreading the story than telling it right."
However, when we tell our own stories of joy and pain, sunshine and rain, we create the opportunity for us to become wounded healers. So if you have a story of pain and divine perseverance, make up in your mind to tell it! If you've survived something that you thought would take you out, tell it! If you've gone through hell and high water, but you're still standing, tell it! If you got knocked on your back, but God gave you a comeback, tell it! If you've survived a scandal and outlived the rumors, tell it! Because there's glory to be found in your story!
Finally, in verses 21-23, Jesus tells his disciples "...as the Father has sent me, I am sending you." In other words, after making himself visible, telling his own story, Jesus takes the last step in handling the scandal of the empty tomb and starts to write a new chapter.
At this point, the scandal has been handled and the mess has been addressed. The disciples have been empowered and given peace. The bereaved loved ones have been comforted and the resurrection has been verified. Now there's nothing left to do but start a new chapter by moving on with the work that God has ordained, so he tells his disciples, in effect, "I did my job; now it's your turn to do yours."
One of the biggest mistakes one can make in life is to make a temporary dwelling place a long term abiding place. No season of scandal or personal struggle should last forever. At some point, you've got to decide to turn the page and write a new chapter in your life.
This reminds me of a conversation I once had with a friend of mine who is a writer. He told me that one of the most difficult things about writing a book is dealing with tough chapters. He said sometimes he'll spend days on one chapter that just won't seem to come together. So I asked him, "What do you do when this happens? How do you overcome it?" He said simply, "I just start a new chapter!"
So, my friends, if we're ever going to overcome the dark days in our live, if we're ever going to handle the scandals that come in life, if we're ever going to do what God has given us to do, we too will have to do as Jesus did; we'll have to make ourselves visible, tell our own stories, and then start a new chapter.
Will you join me in prayer? Gracious God, God of all life, goodness, peace, joy, and love. We are so thankful that you love us and you cover us even in the difficult times in our lives. You enable us to find glory in some of our scandalous stories and for that we are thankful. And so, O Lord, we pray for your continual abiding love to encourage us and to nourish us and to push us along when needed. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.