Thursday, April 30, 2009

Sermon: "Food for Life"

Luke 24:35-48
April 26, 2009
(Third Sunday of Easter)

Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

36While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate in their presence.

44Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things.



Have you ever stopped to think how much time and energy we devote to food in an average day – those good things we put in our mouths several times a day, that bring us so much enjoyment, pleasure, and satisfaction?

If we’re eating at home, there are three meals a day to plan, shop, and prepare for, and then there’s the clean-up, not to mention the few brief moments we spend actually eating the food!

There are the goodies we sneak in between meals – whether they are healthy or not-so-healthy snacks.

We watch cooking shows on TV – in fact there’s a whole network devoted to nothing but food (which I have to thank, by the way, for a great recipe for last year’s Thanksgiving turkey).

We also search magazines or cookbooks or the internet for recipes and maybe we attend a cooking class offered at NCTC.

If we’re eating out, then it may take quite a while just to decide where to go: You decide. No, you decide. I picked the restaurant last time. It’s your turn to decide. I don’t care. I don’t care either.

You get dressed, drive to the restaurant, wait in line (because everyone else had the same idea you did), search the menu for something new, order, wait for your food to be prepared, eat it, and then rush home to relieve the babysitter.

I wonder how many hours out of the average day are spent thinking about, shopping for, preparing, serving, eating, and cleaning up after food. Even with all the fast-food restaurants, frozen dinners, microwaveable meals, and convenience food, I imagine it still consumes a large part of our day.

(Have I succeeded in making you hungry yet?)

All this thinking about food got started for me this week as I read the Gospel passage for today. It begins with a reference to food:

Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

And then food shows up again in verses 41-43:

While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate in their presence.

I had to ask myself the question, “Why this emphasis on food and eating in connection with the resurrection of Jesus?” Twice in Luke’s telling of the resurrection stories, Jesus’ identity is revealed or confirmed in the act of eating.

The two disciples who were on their way to Emmaus on the day of the resurrection invite this stranger to come home with them. They don’t know the stranger is really the risen Christ until he breaks bread with them.

Then later that same day, in the passage we just read, Jesus appears to the eleven disciples in Jerusalem. At first, Luke says, they were startled and terrified, not sure if they were seeing a ghost, that is, just a spirit returned from the dead.

But Jesus tells them that he’s not a ghost. He shows them his hands and feet – they still have the scars from the nails. He even offers to let them touch him – a mere ghost wouldn’t have a real body that you could touch and feel.

And then, it says, while their joy was still tempered by disbelief and wonder, Jesus took a piece of fish and ate it. That was meant as conclusive proof that he wasn’t a ghost, but that he was their Lord, risen from the dead.

Food plays a role in John’s telling of the resurrection story also. Some of the disciples had gone back to fishing in the Sea of Galilee, but with no luck. Again, a mysterious stranger, tells them to fish on the other side of the boat and they catch so many fish their nets won’t hold them all. When they get to shore, they see that the stranger is none other than the risen Lord, and he’s built a little fire and cooked some bread and fish and they have breakfast together right there on the beach.

Food and eating are somehow closely connected to Jesus’ identity. And we see this not just at the resurrection, but throughout the Gospel story, from the very beginning. In Luke’s Gospel especially we see the important role played by food and eating.

Just for fun I went back through Luke’s Gospel and picked out the references to food and eating, especially the ones that were crucial to the story. I found about 30 without any trouble, and I’m sure there are more. Let me give you a few examples.

At the beginning of his ministry Jesus went out to the wilderness to fast for 40 days. At the end of that time, Luke says, “he was hungry.” And while Jesus was out there, the devil came and challenged him to turn stones into bread as a sign of his messianic power.

Jesus stirred up controversy several times by eating with the outcasts of society: tax collectors, sinners. He even eats with Pharisees. When he picks ears of grain on the Sabbath he’s criticized. Some Pharisees criticized him for not making his disciples fast more often.

One of Jesus’ best-known miracles (in fact, it’s the only one found in all four Gospels) is the feeding of the 5,000. Every Sunday we repeat Jesus’ words in the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread.”

In the parable of the Prodigal Son, when the son who was away in the far country comes back home, how is his return celebrated? With a feast, of course, featuring the fatted calf.

Salvation itself is described as a great dinner, and when those who are invited first make excuses for why they can’t attend, the servant is sent out to bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame for the feast.

As Jesus gathers with his disciples on the evening before the crucifixion, it is to do what? – to eat together, in that meal we call the Last Supper, which we celebrate every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper.

All these references to food and eating – they must have some significance. They can’t just all be there by accident. What does it all mean? What are they trying to tell us? That’s the question I set myself asking this week. And especially, what do they mean in terms of the resurrection?

The answer isn’t really all that hard to figure out if you think about it. Of all the things food means to us – security, comfort, fellowship, celebration, wealth (when there’s plenty of it) and poverty (when there’s not enough) – it’s above all else a symbol of life.

Over and over again in the Gospel story, where there’s food there’s life and where there’s life there’s food. A son who had left home but has now returned, who was dead but now is alive – let’s have a feast! Kill the fatted calf! Everybody eat! Celebrate life!

Passover time. The end is near. The one who will betray is about to act. Take, eat … this is my body. Drink of this, all of you … this is my blood. I will not eat this Passover again until it is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.

A stranger with us on the road. Doesn’t he understand our grief? Hasn’t he heard what happened in Jerusalem on Friday? Yet, there’s something about him. He speaks with such knowledge about Messiah in scripture. Why don’t you come home with us? It’s getting dark. Share some bread with us. He picks up the bread. Something about the way he handles it. We’ve seen it before. That time on the mountainside, when 5,000 were fed. He blesses it and breaks it. And it’s like blind eyes are opened. How could we have not known? Of course, it’s Jesus! He’s alive.

Rumors. Stories. Wishful thinking, probably. It just can’t be. The women and Peter are saying the tomb was empty when they were there this morning. Two men just arrived who claim that Jesus broke bread with them earlier this evening at Emmaus. No way. Jesus died on the cross. He was laid in a tomb. We saw it with our own eyes.

Who is that? Could it be a ghost? “Peace be with you,” he says. Fear. Uncertainty. Has to be a ghost. It couldn’t be him. He offers hands and feet to see and touch. A ghost wouldn’t do that, or would he? Do we dare believe? Oh, if only it were true. Now he’s taking a piece of fish to eat. It’s not a ghost. He lives! He really lives!

The one who came eating and drinking, who came feeding the hungry, who sat at the dinner table with the best of the best and the worst of the worst, is alive. He eats, and to live is to eat and to eat is to live. And as we witness each time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, the risen Christ continues to invite us to his banquet table where we celebrate the gift of life that is food, that is the body and blood of Christ.

But there’s one more dimension to the story. If food is life and life is food, then what about those who don’t have enough food? What are we called to do?

We’re all moved by the images we see on TV of hollow eyes and bloated stomachs when famine strikes somewhere in Africa or Asia. But hunger is much closer to home than that. It’s right here in Cooke County. On Friday I delivered over 60 backpacks of food to Chalmers Elementary to help feed hungry children over the weekend. VISTO has seen the number of new families seeking food assistance double during the present economic crisis.

Feeding a hungry world is not simply for an option for us as the church. It is an unparalleled call to life-giving ministry appropriate to the risen Christ. Jesus said, “I was hungry and you gave me food … As you did it to the least of these, you did it to me.”

Today’s reading closes with these words of Jesus: “You are witnesses of these things.” A witness is someone who goes out and tells what they’ve seen. We are witnesses to life in Christ. We are witnesses also to Christ’s power to feed the hungry.

A lot of our time is devoted to food. Is there time to give to witnessing to that food which is life itself? I pray there is.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Sermon: "A Faith to Hold On To"

John 20:19-31
April 19, 2009
(Second Sunday of Easter)

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.



You may know that the unofficial motto of the United Methodist Church is “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.” You see it in some of the national advertising the church has been doing on television at Christmas and Easter. I even saw it in the Yellow Pages ad for a church of another denomination here in Gainesville.

But that’s okay. It’s a good slogan for a church of any kind. What church wants to be known as having closed hearts, closed minds, and closed doors?

Yet, that’s a pretty good description of First Church, Jerusalem on the evening of the first Easter Sunday. The disciples, all except for Thomas, are huddled together behind locked doors. Their doors are closed and locked. Their hearts are closed in fear. And their minds are closed to the possibility that Mary Magdalene might have been telling the truth when she told them earlier that day that she had seen the Lord.

We’re expecting a party, a celebration. Why aren’t the disciples out in the streets telling every person they meet that Jesus is alive? What are they waiting for? Peter and John had seen the empty tomb.

I suspect they were waiting for a little more to go on. After all, there were other possible explanations for an empty tomb than a resurrection. Maybe the body had been stolen or moved.

And how much faith could you really put in Mary’s claim that she had seen the risen Jesus and that he had talked to her? Maybe her grief was causing her to have hallucinations. Bereavement visions aren’t all that uncommon. We’ve known people who’ve lost a husband or wife to death and then they’ve reported that they saw their loved one late at night standing at the foot of the bed.

It was going to take more than an empty grave and the testimony of a grief-stricken woman to get them to unlock those doors.

Do you ever find yourself longing for a more substantial faith, for a little more to go on before you’re ready to commit yourself fully and completely?

It’s true that a lot of us try to exist on a pretty thin diet: a few Bible stories we learned as kids in Sunday School; scattered moments of prayer when there’s a spare minute; attendance at church on those rare Sundays when there’s not something better to do.

It’s no wonder that our faith develops anemia and seems to have so little relevance to our everyday life.

Have you ever wished that God would send you some kind of definite sign to make you feel more certain? It does happen that way for some people.

You may have heard of Dr. Ben Carson. There was a made-for-TV movie about him on the TNT network a few months ago called “Gifted Hands.” Dr. Carson is the head of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore, the youngest ever.

He performed the first successful separation of twins conjoined at the head in 1987 and pioneered other amazing procedures.

He’s also a man with a strong Christian faith.

He came from a very difficult background. He was raised in dire poverty in inner-city Detroit by a single mother who had only a 3rd-grade education. He got in a lot of trouble as a teenager, but with the help of his very loving and dedicated mother, he was able to overcome all of that and attend Yale University.

When he was at Yale, he found himself flunking chemistry. A failing grade would doom any hopes he had of going to medical school. In high school he’d been in the habit of studying the night before an exam. But Yale was much more demanding.

It was the night before a big chemistry exam and there was no way he could cram enough to pass the exam. He prayed, “God, I thought you wanted me to go to medical school and be a doctor, but there’s no way I can do that if I flunk chemistry. Either show me what you want me to do with my life or work some kind of miracle.”

Then he fell asleep. He dreamed of being in a big auditorium all alone where a numinous figure was writing chemistry formulas on a blackboard.

He woke up sure that he would flunk the exam, but when he got to class and opened the exam booklet, the first question was one that had been in his dream and he wrote the answer.

He turned the page and the next question asked about a formula he had learned in his dream. It went that way throughout the test, and he aced it and ended up passing chemistry. He promised God he would be a better studier and not rely so much on last-minute cramming, but God had performed a miracle.

If you’ve ever found yourself longing for a definite sign like that from God, then you can probably identify with the disciples, and especially Thomas in this morning’s reading.

They wanted something more substantial, something they could hold on to, before they risked going out through those locked doors to tell the world that Jesus was risen from the dead and that he was the Messiah and the Savior of the world.

And they got exactly what they needed. The risen Christ appeared right there in the room with them, even though the doors were still locked, and he said, “Peace be with you.” He showed them the wounds in his hands and his side to prove that it really was him. Then they started to rejoice.

He said again to them, “Peace be with you.” And then he added some words of commissioning, of sending forth: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Then he breathed on them with the breath of the Holy Spirit and gave them the authority of forgiveness.

There was just one problem. One of the 11 remaining disciples was missing. Thomas had gone somewhere. It would be interesting to know where he went. Maybe they had sent him out for food. Or maybe he was tired of being cooped up in that locked room and had go out and get some air.

Can’t you just hear the other disciples when Thomas gets back? “Oh man, Thomas, you’re not gonna believe who was just here. You just missed him. It was Jesus. Mary was right. Jesus is risen, just like she said. We saw him with our own eyes. We saw the nail prints in his hands and the spear wound in his side.”

But Thomas isn’t convinced. His friends must be suffering under the same kind of delusion as Mary. Their grief is so strong that they can’t accept that Jesus really is gone. They’re imagining things. He says he won’t believe it unless he sees the nail scars with his own eyes and feels the wounds in his hands and side.

A week passes, and they’re all gathered together again in the same house, and this time Thomas is there. Jesus comes again, even though the doors are shut, and he says for the third time, “Peace be with you.” Jesus invites him to touch his hands and side if that’s what it’ll take for him to overcome his doubts and believe. But seeing is believing for Thomas. Jesus really is risen.

Then Thomas makes one of the greatest confessions of faith of all time: “My Lord and my God!” What a transformation – from a group of fearful men in a locked house to bold believers in the Son of God.

I know what you’re thinking. If I’d been there to see the risen Christ with my own two eyes, then I’d be a better disciple too.”

That’s exactly what the people were saying when John was writing his Gospel, probably sometime around the end of the first century. They felt at some disadvantage because they hadn’t seen the risen Christ for themselves.

That’s why John included those last words to Thomas: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” And then he adds: “I’ve written all this down so you can read and believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and have life in his name.”

That last part, that’s for us, for you and me. We haven’t seen, and yet we can come to believe. We can have life in Christ’s name. It doesn’t take a vision of Christ or a miraculous dream. All it takes is faith.

Faith doesn’t have to be something elusive or mysterious. We can have a faith we can grab on to, that will carry us through tough times. Jesus can be as real to us as he was to Mary Magdalene and Peter and John and Thomas. We can see God every day, if we’ll just look.

George Strait, the country music legend, came out with a song last year called, “I Saw God Today.” The chorus goes…

I’ve been to church
I’ve read the book
I know he’s here, but I don’t look near as often as I should
His fingerprints are everywhere
I’d just slow down to stop and stare
opened my eyes and man I swear
I saw God today.

I saw God on Wednesday. I was with some folks from Gainesville Area Habitat for Humanity and we went over on Carnes Street to tell the Thomas family that they were going to be the recipients of the next Habitat house. Mrs. Thomas let out a scream and started to cry and Mr. Thomas had the biggest grin on his face you’ve ever seen. And we hugged and we cried and we prayed. And Jesus was just as surely present on the front porch of that house as he was behind those locked doors 2,000 years ago.

Too often we use the excuse, “I want to see, then I’ll believe.” Jesus invites us to believe, and then we’ll really see.” Amen.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Sermon: "Easter Hope"

John 20:1-18
April 12, 2009
(Easter Sunday)

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10Then the disciples returned to their homes.

11But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.



The school system in a large city had a program to help children keep up with their schoolwork during stays in the city's hospitals. One day a teacher who was assigned to the program received a routine call asking her to visit a particular child. She took the child's name and room number and talked briefly with the child's regular class teacher. "We're studying nouns and adverbs in his class now," the regular teacher said, "and I'd be grateful if you could help him understand them so he doesn't fall too far behind."

The hospital program teacher went to see the boy that afternoon. No one had mentioned to her that the boy had been badly burned and was in great pain. Upset at the sight of the boy, she stammered as she told him, "I've been sent by your school to help you with nouns and adverbs." When she left she felt she hadn't accomplished much.

But the next day, a nurse asked her, "What did you do to that boy?" The teacher felt she must have done something wrong and began to apologize. "No, no," said the nurse. "You don't know what I mean. We've been worried about that little boy, but ever since yesterday, his whole attitude has changed. He's fighting back, responding to treatment. It's as though he's decided to live."

Two weeks later the boy explained that he had completely given up hope until the teacher arrived. Everything changed when he came to a simple realization. He expressed it this way:

"They wouldn't send a teacher to work on nouns and adverbs with a dying boy, would they?"

Such is the power of hope. Without hope, we can be paralyzed, depressed, and ineffective. But with hope, life is worth living. We look forward to each new day because there is the hope that it will be better than yesterday, and that tomorrow can be even better than today.

The message of Easter is something like the message the boy got from the teacher sent to teach him about nouns and adverbs:

“God wouldn’t send his Son to die on the cross and be raised from the dead for a dying world, would God?”

Of course, without Jesus Christ, we are a dying people and a dying planet. But because of Jesus, we have the hope of life – abundant life here on earth and eternal life with God in God’s heavenly realm. That’s why, above all, Easter Sunday is a day of hope. And hope is certainly a message that our world needs to hear.

In December 1927, the U.S. Navy lost the submarine USS S-4 off the coast of Massachusetts when it was surfacing and accidentally collided with a Coast Guard cutter, the USS Paulding. The sub sank immediately in 100 feet of water, killing 32 of the 38 crewmen on board. Stormy seas delayed the rescue operation of the remaining six until it was too late. Divers were able to exchange Morse code signals with the six men inside the sub by tapping on the hull, and one of the first messages the doomed crewmen tapped out was, “Is there any hope?”

We live in a world where a lot of people feel like they are about to go under and are trying to stay afloat just a little while longer. They wonder if there is anyone up there or out there. They want to know, “Is there any hope?”

The Good News that we proclaim to that hopeless world today is that God has already reached down through God’s Son Jesus Christ. When we believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that God raised him from the dead, we don’t only have the power to stay afloat or to ride out the storm, but we have One who will lift us up out of that stormy sea and place us up high and safe on a rock – the Rock of our salvation!

It’s clear that when Mary Magdalene arrived at the tomb early on Sunday morning of that very first Easter, she was feeling pretty hopeless. All of Jesus’ followers were. The one in whom they had placed their hope had died on the cross two days earlier.

Mary was probably just hoping to have some “alone time” at the burial site of the one who had done so much for her. Jesus had driven seven demons out of her. One demon would be bad enough, but seven? It’s no wonder she loved Jesus so much. She was among the women at the cross when Jesus died and she had seen his body placed in the tomb and the huge rock rolled into place in the doorway.

Now she was back at the tomb and the stone was rolled away. She assumed Jesus’ body had been stolen – a final, almost unbearable indignity. She went and told Simon Peter and John what she had seen, and then came back to the tomb herself, and again she was alone. Her hopelessness and despair are captured by John in one sentence…

"But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb." (John 20:11)

But the rebirth of hope is also captured a few moments later when a figure she doesn’t at first recognize says to her…

“Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?”

Thinking the man is the gardener, she answers…

“Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”

And then Mary’s life, and in fact the whole history of the world, is changed when Jesus speaks her name…

“Mary.”

The one in whom they had placed all their hopes, the one they feared was dead and gone forever, was alive, he was walking among them, speaking their names. Hope was reborn on Easter, never to die again.

Clare Boothe Luce once said…

“There are no hopeless situations; there are only people who have grown hopeless about them.”

The situation for Jesus was never hopeless because God was in control – the God who has the power to conquer death. Mary and the other followers of Jesus felt hopeless for a while, until they saw the risen Christ. Their hope is our hope. Let us remember the power of hope today.

1) The Hope of Easter is Life-Affirming

The Apostle Paul said it so well in 1 Corinthians 15…

When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:
“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”

(1 Cor. 15:54-55)

There is so much in our culture that affirms and almost even glorifies violence and death – television shows, movies, video games. But against that culture of death stands the hope of Easter that affirms life.

Easter proclaims to the world that death does not have the final word, but life. As Peter says, God…

"…has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 1:3)

As Easter people, we are entrusted with the task of sharing a message of life with the world that seems fixated on death. To the depressed who fear that there’s no hope of tomorrow being any better than today, as Easter people we are called to say…

Weeping may linger for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.
(Ps. 30:5)

To the fearful who aren’t sure what danger lurks around the next corner, as Easter people we are called to say…

Because you have made the Lord your refuge,
the Most High your dwelling place,
no evil shall befall you,
no scourge come near your tent.

(Ps. 91:9-10)

To those battling against a life-threatening disease, as Easter people we are bold to say…

For I am convinced 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. (Romans 8:38-39)

2) The Hope of Easter is Life-Transforming

You may remember that John began his Gospel in an unusual way, by saying…

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. (John 1:1-2)

This is a very obvious reference to creation. John’s Gospel is about creation – a new creation in Christ. God created humankind on the sixth day of creation, according to Genesis, and then God rested on the seventh day. In John, the seventh day, Saturday, is the day Jesus rested in the tomb. But the first day of the week is the beginning of a new creation. With the resurrection of Jesus, we have the possibility of being made into new creatures.

When Mary Magdalene meets and recognizes the risen Christ, her life is transformed – re-created and re-made. She is born again to a living hope. She is a new creation in Christ – the old has passed away and the new has come.

The hope of Easter is not just that we can go to heaven and be with Christ for eternity, but our Easter hope is also that you and I can also have transformed lives.

In Galatians 5, Paul describes what our life is like without Christ: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic show religion;…divided homes and divided lives… (Galatians 5:19-21; The Message)

But with Christ, the fruit of the Spirit can grow like apples in an orchard: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generous goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Isn’t that the kind of life we all want to have?

3) The Hope of Easter is World-Changing

This morning’s reading concludes…

Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her. (John 20:18)

That’s how the world-revolution began: one person telling another person about the risen Christ; about what Jesus has done in their lives; about how their life was transformed by the love and grace of God.

The Easter message still has the power to change the world, but it is up to you and me to take this good news to the world, to our worlds – to our family and friends; to our classmates; to our co-workers; to our neighbors.

In the Book of Acts, some opponents of the faith accused the early Christians of “turning the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). Some might say that in reality they were turning the world right-side up. The message of Easter, the hope of Easter can do that – turn the world right-side up with its life-affirming and life-transforming power.

A man approached a little league baseball game one afternoon. He asked a boy in the dugout what the score was. The boy responded, "Eighteen to nothing--we're behind."

"Boy," said the spectator, "I'll bet you're discouraged."

"Why should I be discouraged?" replied the little boy. "We haven't even gotten up to bat yet!"

That’s the kind of hope that we have as Easter people. We should never be discouraged, because in Christ, we always have one more at-bat, one more chance at life. Amen.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Palm Sunday

I didn't preach on Palm Sunday as our choir presented the Passion Narrative through Music. It was well-received by our congregation. We also celebrated Holy Communion, so those two things made for a full service. This week will be busy with Hily Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday, but it is always very meaningful. I wish everyone a blessed Holy Week and a joyous Easter!