Redemption Stories

Sermon by The Rev. Ryan Wiksell

April 9, 2023

Easter Sunday – Readings

Have you ever walked out of a movie? I can only think of one – Lost in Translation. Because it felt like nothing was happening at all. I like Bill Murray but I couldn’t understand why he would star in a snoozer like that.

But boredom is far from the only reason to walk out of a movie. Maybe it’s too objectionable. Or too poorly made. Or maybe it’s too depressing, and the situation seems so hopeless, and when you realize it’s not a Disney movie it occurs to you that it may not have a happy ending. It might go from bad to worse to horrible and then roll credits. So yeah, walk out of that movie! You don’t need that in your life.

The story of the Chiefs in Kansas City has been like a movie over the past generation, wouldn’t you say? And it’s a movie lots of people tried to walk out of. Remember the Todd Haley days? Or are you trying to forget? (I don’t want to name names, or judge anyone, especially in an Easter sermon. But those were some bad days. Still you know, we wish him well.) Back then, lots of people made a show of boycotting the Chiefs, and walking out on the team, it was so bad.

But here we are now. The Andy Reid days. The Patrick Mahomes days. And it feels redemptive, doesn’t it? And I must be a preacher or something, because that word redemptive—redemption—that word has a nice ring to it. Especially on Easter Sunday.

But when we think of the Chiefs, and Redemption, Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes aren’t the biggest names that come to mind. Of course they are the reason why the Chiefs turned things around so dramatically, but they’ve both been great since day one. No, the names that come to my mind when I think of Redemption, are Skyy Moore, and Harrison Butker.

For most of the last season, people considered rookie Skyy Moore a dud. He started off as a promising punt-returner, but fumbled three times early on, and arguably cost the Chiefs a win against Indianapolis. Within just a few games, he’d become a bench-warmer on the field, and a punch line on Twitter. “We need Skyy Less” was a popular one.

He didn’t try to fool himself or anybody else about what was going on. He told the coach not to put him back out there, and wondered if this was it for him. But he didn’t walk out. He kept taking punts in practice, kept training, kept conditioning, and eventually the coaches warmed up to him again. After a few players above him sustained injuries, Skyy Moore was back on the field.

Many commentators were watching him line up to punt-catch in the playoffs, and saying, “anybody but Skyy Moore. Put a defensive back out there, I don’t care, just not Skyy Moore. But he went out there with all confidence, caught the ball and immediately jetted up the field, found the blocks, and earned great field position for that game-winning field goal by Harrison Butker.”

Speaking of our kicker, “Butker was having a terrible season,” that same commentator explained. “Missing the first 5.5 games of the season, struggling to get extra points, missing those field goals he’s been making the past five years. The question is, were the Chiefs going to have to walk out on him? When it comes to kickers, there’s no loyalty. The question is always, ‘what have you done for us lately?’ He had an opportunity to tie the game in the playoffs against the Bengals last year and he didn’t get it. So this was a redemption story for Butker as well. He came back and did everything he needed to do.” He made the crucial field goals at the end of the AFC Championship, and the Super Bowl.

Skyy Moore was tempted to walk out on his own movie. But he didn’t. The Chiefs were tempted to walk out on Harrison Butker’s movie. But they didn’t. And they have the Vince Limbardi trophy to show for it. They believed in Redemption, and didn’t give up until it happened.

Since this is a sermon, and not a sports podcast, I should probably talk about Bible characters, too. Lucky for us, today’s Gospel reading feeds us two Redemption Stories right out of the gate. We see Peter in this reading, who is smack in the middle of his Redemption Story, after he denies Jesus three times, but before he reconciles with Jesus over breakfast.

But Peter is not the focus here. Because John allows us, in this passage, to see the resurrection of Jesus through the eyes of Mary Magdalene.

Mary Magdalene—who was once possessed by seven demons. The absolute last person one would ever expect to be a follower of Jesus, became thefirst person to witness his resurrection from the dead. She was there at the tomb, because she hadn’t given up. All the men had walked out already. They were scared to death. But Mary Magdalene, along with a few other female disciples, they stayed close. They went to the garden to be with Jesus, even as a corpse.

And why do you suppose Mary Magdalene was so stubborn in her hope? Because she had already lived through her own Redemption Story. She had already returned from the edge of hell, she had already come back to life, thanks to the power and love of Jesus. When you’ve been through the impossible—when you know what it’s like to be hopeless, to be as good as dead, and God redeems your life anyway—there is no reason left to walk out anymore.

As we read the story of Mary Magdalene, we can’t know for sure whether she believed that Jesus would rise again. All we know is that she wouldn’t let go. She stayed close. She grieved bitterly, but she didn’t fear. Still—I can imagine the thoughts that might have run through her heart as she approached the garden. I can imagine her prayers, “God—you know what happened. Jesus brought me back from death. He gave me a Redemption Story. Now it’s time for his Redemption Story.”

In her torrent of emotions, she broke down and wept. Tears of lament, tears of exhaustion, tears of yearning. She thought she was alone, except for the gardener. But then the gardener spoke up, and asked her what was wrong. She tried to tell him what was wrong, but then he said her name. “Mary,” and that’s when she knew. That the gardener was not the gardener. That the life of the Redeemer himself was now redeemed. And if his life was redeemed, then so was hers. Then so is yours. And so is mine.

What is your Redemption Story? I’ll bet you have one in your past, like Mary Magdalene. You might even have one you’re in the middle of right now, like Peter. The middle is the worst part of the Redemption Story, almost by definition. It’s the part that makes you want to get up and walk out of the theater. It’s Rocky getting beaten to a pulp. It’s Frodo sending Samwise away. It’s the US Olympic Hockey Team brawling with each other on the ice. But if they left these parts out, the endings would fall flat. And if they leave them in, but we walk out, it’s even worse. Redemption never comes. We’re left in the darkness.

So please… Don’t walk out on your own Redemption Story! Don’t stop training. Don’t stop conditioning. Don’t stop catching punts. Don’t stop going to the tomb. Don’t stop watching for the stone to roll away.

Skyy Moore got a lot of interviews after the Super Bowl, about his big punt return, and his even-bigger touchdown catch. They asked him what it felt like for his first NFL touchdown to come in a Super Bowl win. They asked him what it felt like to claw his way back from the bench. The word Redemption came up a lot.

Of course he told his interviewers that it felt great to come through for his team. It felt great to put six points on the board. And it felt amazing to get that fist-bump from Andy Reid, and that high-five from Patrick Mahomes. “Yes, sir! Yes sir!”

But that wasn’t the best part. Skyy said the best part came after getting through his teammates, through his coaches, and through the reporters, to his family. He said the best part of the whole victory, was celebrating with the people who knew him best, who knew what he’d been through, and knew what it took to get to this moment. The people who would never walk out on him, no matter what.

That, to me, is the best part of Easter. Resurrection Sunday. Redemption Sunday. Yes, we tell the stories. Yes, we get dressed up, and hunt for eggs, and take photos and eat candy and all that stuff. But the best part, is celebrating with the people who know you best. Coming out from a long, dark 40 days of Lent, and seeing the light again, shouting our alleluias again.

Why? Because Christ is Risen!All: The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia! Alleluia!

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