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  • Rev. Sara Ofner-Seals

When Idle Tales Are True


I was sitting in a meeting with about 20 other women. Some of them were women in positions of power— there was a local city mayor, a state senator, and women with positions of authority in local businesses and non-profits. Others of us had less prestigious positions, but the one thing that all of us had in common was that we had all attended the very first Women’s March in Washington DC in the winter of 2017. We had all marched through the streets of our nation’s capital with hundreds of thousands of other women, men and children to demand that our government not ignore those who have a long history of being ignored. We had all been part of this great moment when we marched on behalf of women, children, people of color, the poor, the disenfranchised, even Mother Earth. We had all been there to be a collective voice for the voiceless. We had all been a part of this amazing experience, and we were meeting that night, a few months later, to talk about how to take that one moment and turn it into a movement.

The meeting got off to a decent start. We were asked to go around the room and talk about what impressed us the most about our experience at the march. There were a lot of inspiring comments, and when it got to be my turn, I answered earnestly and honestly. I spoke about how impressed I was with the tone of the event—how the overwhelming energy of the day was positive and hopeful—that people were joyful in that moment, and that people were kind to each other despite the over-crowded streets and the chaotic nature of the day. Maybe I got a bit carried away, but I talked about how great it would be if we could take the energy and tone of that moment—the energy of joy, hope, love, and universal kinship— and apply that to our political efforts for positive change. In other words, one could say I was optimistic. So you can imagine my dismay when the next person to speak—one of the more notable and powerful women in the room— said something to the effect of, that’s utter nonsense.“We can’t make a difference with kindness,” this woman said. “Kindness is weakness. We need to fight fire with fire. We need to get angry and stay angry and fight angry, because that’s what we are up against.” Utter nonsense. That’s what this person had to say about my heartfelt contribution. I was crushed and embarrassed. I felt naive. I went home feeling discouraged, thinking maybe there was no place in the movement to come for a person like me.

If you’ve ever felt this way, if you’ve ever been told that your ideas for a more compassionate, more loving world are nothing but utter nonsense, you are in good company. And I’m not just talking about myself. “It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”

As it turns out, another way of translating the Greek from our Gospel reading this morning would be to say that the men found to women’s words about Jesus’ resurrection to be utter nonsense.

But this is what happens, is it not? Someone comes along with a different kind of story to tell— a story of hope, an agenda of love, an idea for a more compassionate approach— and it’s written off as naive nonsense. This is especially true if the person speaking is coming from a place on the margins—if it’s a woman, for example, like the women in our gospel text this morning. Or if it’s a child, or a person of color, or a person who is poor, or struggling with addiction or mental illness. They tell stories of hope for a better world, they spin alternative narratives for how to change the world, and we write those stories and narratives off as idle tales, as naive pipe dreams that could never be—as utter nonsense. We do not believe them.

Jim Wallis, activist and editor of Sojourners Magazine, once wrote that “certain things that seem possible, reasonable, understandable, even logical in hindsight…often seemed quite impossible, unreasonable, nonsensical, and illogical when we were looking ahead to them.” For instance— women who said that they would attain the right to vote were told they were peddling idle tales. People of color who said they deserved the right to sit at lunch counters with white people were told that their hopes were utter nonsense. Even Martin Luther King Jr, who, when demonstrating for equal voting rights for people of color, was told that he was being unreasonable and that he should just be quiet and wait. Women who said that death wasn’t the final word and that there could be hope in defeat were written off by men who thought they knew better.

It was the case over 2000 years ago, 200 years ago, 20 years ago, and even still today that those who would tell tales of hope are often written off for talking utter nonsense and telling idle tales. Which is crazy when you consider that the news from the women at the tomb was perhaps the greatest word of hope that the world had ever known. Or when you consider that the movements of the marginalized-- when working for equality and justice—are often, in hindsight, turned into the stuff of legends. Consider Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., or Ghandi. They were all considered fools at one point in time. Again, in the words of Jim Wallis—“hope unbelieved is always considered nonsense. But hope believed is history in the process of being changed.”

It’s true that I can be naive. I know this about myself. I am not so naive this morning, however, that I am not unaware that among us in this room are people who are all in very different places

when it comes to what they think about our women’s idle tale about Jesus of Nazareth, or when it comes to what they think about the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. In this room there are likely some people who aren’t sure what to make of such a fantastic tale. Maybe they want to believe, but our 21st century scientific understandings of the world get in the way. Maybe some of us are perfectly happy to embrace the resurrection simply as metaphor— to sing with confidence that the green blade rises and to happily proclaim that new life is continuously being born into the world— that hope springs eternal. Likely there is at least one or two of us who are entirely indifferent to all of it and are simply anxious to get home to Easter brunch (maybe there’s a little bit of that impatience in all of us).Regardless of where you may be on the spectrum of belief, this morning, I want to make one simple request— that you put aside cynicism and disillusionment just for this one day, or maybe for one week, or if you really want to get crazy, trying putting aside cynicism for the entire 50 days of Eastertide, in order to believe that sometimes utter nonsense and idle tales can actually be true. “Hope unbelieved is always considered nonsense. But hope believed is history in the process of being changed.”

Maybe this is one of the most important take-aways we have from the Easter story—the encouragement to believe in hope, to say yes instead of no, and to affirm that love wins. This is hard because it is countercultural. We live in a world that almost delights in cynicism, that loves to say no, and is quick to put the brakes on hope. We love to come up with reasons for why the alternative narratives of hope and compassion just aren’t practical or realistic and won’t work in the real world. None of us wants to be called a fool, after all. It’s easier to say no. It’s safer. We’re less likely to be disappointed, or so we think. But what if the resurrection is actually God’s way of telling us that it’s safe to say yes, even when everyone else around you is saying no, that it’s ok, even if others think you are foolish or naive, to believe in alternative narratives of hope—otherwise known as idle tales— and that indeed, these supposed idle tales may just be the very source of our salvation?

So maybe the challenge and the invitation of this Easter Sunday is for us to ask ourselves where can we say ‘yes’ where we have previously been saying no, to liberate ourselves from the chains of cynicism, and perhaps most importantly, to open our minds and our hearts to those voices that are telling alternative narratives of hope—especially those voices that are crying out from the margins. What if we said ‘yes’ to their alternative narratives? What if we allowed our moral imaginations to run wild-- to believe that salvation is real— not just in the life to come, but in this life?

What if we believed the narrative of young school children, for example, who tell stories of going to school without the fear of gun violence, or the high school students who walk of out the classroom to tell the story that our planet can still be saved? What if we believed the stories of young people of color who tell stories of not having to be afraid of the police, or of black mothers and fathers who tell stories of a more equal and just world for their children? What if we believed the stories of immigrants who tell tales of finding a safer, more liberated existence? What if we believed the story of the person struggling with addiction, who, even after countless relapses, still tells stories of getting clean? What if we believed the story that Jesus tells, that we are all— yes, all— beloved and precious children of God— that no matter who we are and no matter what we struggle with, God sees us and calls us very good. What if we believed the story that the women had to tell—that the stone had been rolled away and the tomb was indeed empty, and that the Lord had indeed been raised?

It seems to me we have very little to lose by saying yes to this invitation, especially if we find ourselves in our own tombs this Easter—stuck in a dark place, always assuming the worst, anxious or afraid and struggling to find hope in a broken world. Because what if this invitation is our pathway out of the tomb? What if this invitation is our ladder towards the light? What if saying yes to hope has to power to roll the stone away? And what if, on the other side of yes, there is resurrection and new life?

So what will you say, this Easter, in answer to the women’s idle tales? Will you say, “no, that’s utter nonsense?” Or will you believe in the power of yes? Will you believe in the story of hope? The choice, my friends, is ours. And, if we have the courage to step forth out of the tomb, so is the victory and so is resurrection. May it ever be so, Amen.


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