John 20: 1-18
Today is a historic day. After 578 days, a year and a half, we are back to our building. To God be the glory! There are many things that we have learned during this time, perhaps being the main one that God is always breaking new ground in the midst of chaos. This year and a half have allowed us to see firsthand that the worst news are never the last news. The reconstruction of our building has allowed us to have hope, in the midst of a country and a world that is full of bad news, and much more after Hurricane Maria.
How many remember the weeks and months after the hurricane? How hard it was to hear good news! Bad news was the order of the day. Although it is natural to experience sadness and depression after a natural disaster, despair should never be a protagonist in our lives. It can be for a given moment, but after a while the bad news must be replaced by the good news. Why is it necessary to change the bad news by the good?
Science has focused in recent decades on studying the brain and behavior. One of the first conclusions that came from the research is that the brain has a lot of power over our behavior: we act in a certain way because our brain decides so. However, in recent years science has discovered something else: our behavior can change our brain. This is known as neuro-plasticity. I give you an example.
A person who has a cerebral stroke, loses the ability to speak or move because their brain has been affected. However, it has been discovered that people who practice art, music, dance, read and travel, among others, after a heart attack can make their brain recover.
Another example is when people experience depression. It has been believed that people can experience depression because the brain is not working well, and that is why they receive medication. That’s true. But it has also been discovered that if your brain is not working well, you can change the functioning of the brain and reverse depression by doing exercises, reading, traveling, dancing, practicing a musical instrument, among other things.
Do you know which is one of the behaviors that most changes the brain and creates permanent changes in its structure? Exposing yourself to positive thinking. A person who exposes himself to positive thoughts deliberately and continuously, his brain changes in such a way that he creates a structure that begins to focus on good things, and less on bad things; staying happy. The opposite is true. A person who focuses on the negative continuously, his brain changes, creating a brain structure that focuses on the negative, not seeing the good things.
What does all this have to do with the resurrection and our building? That a person who continually exposes himself to bad news not only changes his brain, but also his spirit; thus staying in an eternal cycle of hopelessness where the good news is ignored, not the negative ones.
In the Bible there is an interesting example of what I would call spirit-plasticity. On Sunday that Jesus was resurrected, one of the most important women in his ministry, Mary Magdalene, went to the grave. The last news he had received was that Jesus was dead. With this in mind let’s see the full story:
Early in the morning of the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. 2 She ran to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they’ve put him.” 3 Peter and the other disciple left to go to the tomb.4 They were running together, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and was the first to arrive at the tomb. 5 Bending down to take a look, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he didn’t go in. 6 Following him, Simon Peter entered the tomb and saw the linen cloths lying there. 7 He also saw the face cloth that had been on Jesus’ head. It wasn’t with the other clothes but was folded up in its own place. 8 Then the other disciple, the one who arrived at the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 They didn’t yet understand the scripture that Jesus must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to the place where they were staying. 11 Mary stood outside near the tomb, crying. As she cried, she bent down to look into the tomb. 12 She saw two angels dressed in white, seated where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head and one at the foot. 13 The angels asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” She replied, “They have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they’ve put him.” 14 As soon as she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she didn’t know it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she replied, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him and I will get him.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabbouni” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Don’t hold on to me, for I haven’t yet gone up to my Father. Go to my brothers and sisters and tell them, ‘I’m going up to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene left and announced to the disciples, “I’ve seen the Lord.” Then she told them what he said to her.
Faced with the bad news of Jesus’s death, this narration tells us that Mary expressed on three occasions that they had taken away Jesus’s body. It was natural to think that. The first time next to the disciples, the second in front of the angels, and the third in front of Jesus himself. Mary, seeing Jesus face to face, speaks without knowing who He was. Although we will not have a perfect explanation for this, we may think that Mary could not recognize and accept that Jesus had risen. It is as if her system had been wired to block good news, because in her body, mind and spirit the only thing that existed was the bad news of Jesus’s death.
Don’t you think that can happen to us? Don’t you think that sometimes the good news are presented to us and we do not recognize them because we have been stuck in the bad news? Don’t you think that our spirit can be wired in such a way that it does not recognize the good news, for having been exposed to so much bad news? Don’t you think we can suffer from spirit-plasticity, a spirit distorted by bad news?
There is no doubt that this can happen to us, but like dancing, reading, playing an instrument and doing exercises can transform the brain and reverse a heart attack or depression, there are spiritual exercises that can reverse the deformation of our spirit. I want to tell you about a spiritual exercise that helped me, and I am sure the whole church, after Hurricane Maria: life in community.
As happened to Mary, our church went into a state of shock and sadness after what happened with our building. There was a lot of anxiety and depression. In the face of so much bad news, we did not think there would be good news. But after three months of failed attempts with property insurance, I received a call asking if we wanted a church called The Resurrection of Kansas to help us with the rebuilding. My answer was affirmative!
They visited us in January of last year, we made a proposal, and in March they had sent us an amount of money that would help us with many of the needs. In addition, they sent five teams to help us in the reconstruction. In December, at our evaluation meeting, we agreed to submit a new proposal. They graciously gave us another amount that would help us to complete everything necessary to return to the building. In addition, they decided to send five more teams in 2019 to help us. To God be the glory!
The United Methodist Church of The Resurrection has been an instrument of God to let us know that the worst news are never the last news. When everything seems lost, God opens new paths. The relationship we have built with them, the spiritual discipline of community life, has transformed our spirit. The more we relate to them, the more our spirit fills with hope knowing that we are not alone. Through this relationship we continue to learn to let go of the pessimistic and hopeless thoughts, making the bad news take a back seat. Our relationship with Kansas has allowed us to put into practice what Philippians 4 and Colossians 3 says:
And now, dear brothers, one more thing to finish. Concentrate on everything that is true, all that is honorable, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is beautiful and all that is admirable. Think of excellent and praiseworthy things. Do not stop putting into practice everything you learned and received from me, everything you heard from my lips and saw what I did. Then the God of peace will be with you.
Since you have been resurrected to a new life with Christ, set your sights on the truths of heaven, where Christ is seated in the place of honor, at the right hand of God. Think of the things of heaven, not those of the earth.
To enter this building and to thank God for this miracle will be the exercise and spiritual discipline that will keep our spirit in optimal conditions to continue recognizing the continuous works of God around us. This building alone will not have a purpose unless we give it one: to remember that just as Jesus rose and put an end to the bad news, God can make all things new.
Has your spirit deformed by so many bad news? Do you think you are losing the ability to recognize the good news?
He who sat on the throne said, «Behold, I make all things new.» (Revelation 21: 5)
Today, after 578 days, after a year and a half, the waters of Hurricane María no longer walk on the face of Samuel Culpeper, but in the midst of chaos the Spirit of God has done a miracle. Today we thank the United Methodist Church of The Resurrection, and above all, Jesus, for his resurrection. Do you also want to experience the miracle of the resurrection in your life today?