Easter  4/1/18  John 20:1-9

A few years ago a church organist named Carol did something that’s the stuff of every organist’s nightmare.   She overslept on Easter morning and missed the sunrise service.  Obviously, she was embarrassed.   Of course, the minister and the church forgave her.   However, the next Easter her phone rang at 5:00 in the morning.  Jolted awake by the loud ringing, she scrambled to answer it.   It was the minister, and he said, “Carol, it’s Easter morning!   The Lord is risen!   And I suggest you do the same!” (1)

     Today is not a day for oversleeping as we celebrate the most important day on the Christian calendar--the day the followers of Jesus went to his tomb early in the morning and found it empty, for he had risen from the dead.  And that is why we are here today.   Jesus Christ has risen from the grave.

     Of course there are many people today who have difficulty believing in the resurrection.   There are many people for whom this is a nice story, but they cannot allow themselves to believe it is true.   So, does it really matter that Christ is risen from the grave?   I say emphatically, yes, it really does matter.

     It matters if you have ever truly loved somebody and lost them to death.   Separation is difficult for people who have truly loved someone close to them.   It leaves a void that nothing can fill.   Easter is important to us for what it says to us about our continuing relationship with those we love.   Does it matter if Christ has risen from the grave?   It certainly matters if you have lost someone you love to death.

     It also matters if you value the gift of life.  Life is precious and God has instilled within each of us the desire to live--here on this earth for as long as we possibly can.   We don’t have to apologize for wanting to hold on to life in this world even as we anticipate heaven in the next one.  That is the way we were created.

     Some nine-year-old children were asked what they thought of death and dying.    A girl named Judy said, “Only the good people go to heaven.   The other people go where it’s hot all the time . . . like in Florida.”  Marsha said, “When you die, you don’t have to do homework in heaven, unless your teacher is there too.”  But a little guy named Johnathan spoke for many of us when he said, “Maybe I’ll die someday, but I hope I don’t die on my birthday because it’s no fun to celebrate your birthday if you’re dead.” (2)

     Followers of Christ don’t so much fear death as much as we resist letting go of life.   We know that beyond this world is another world and we trust God that it will be an even better world than this one, but we love life now as God created us to love it.   Does it matter that Christ has risen from the dead?    It is if you have ever loved or been loved.   It is if you value life and want to cling to it forever.

      It also matters whether Christ is risen from the grave if you want to make any sense out of living.   Easter is important not only because of what it says about life beyond the grave, but because of what it says about life on this side of the grave.   If Christ lives, then life has meaning.   There is hope even in the most difficult circumstances.   If Christ defeated death, if life goes on forever, if the gospel is true, we can live courageously, victoriously.   We can overcome our fears by his grace and be all he intends for us to be.   It is the knowledge that Christ has been raised from the grave that has given followers of Jesus Christ power over their circumstances for more than two thousand years.   Reaffirming our faith in the resurrection is part of why many of us are here today.   We need to be reminded of the power of life over death, of hope over despair, of love over hate, and there is only one place on earth that can be found.   That is by peering into the empty tomb of the man from Galilee.

     Does it matter that Christ was victorious over the grave?   It does if you have ever lost someone you loved.   It does if you love life and want it to go on forever.   It does if you want to make any sense out of life at all.   Death has been conquered.   Jesus Christ has risen from the grave.   What amazing good news this Easter Day!

Alleluia.  He lives.   Amen.

1. Some Things Are Too Good Not To Be True (Nashville: Dimensions for Living, 1994).
2. Good Housekeeping. Cited in Rev. Lowell’s Laughter in the House of God: Humorous Anecdotes about Churches, Clergy, and the World of Religion. Kindle Edition.
Additional source material from Dynamic Preaching, 2018.

Palm Sunday/Passion of Our Lord   Mark 11:1-10    3/25/18

     Did you know that more people are killed by donkeys each year than are killed in plane crashes?   I don’t know what you do with such information, but it is interesting.  The donkey has been used as a working animal for at least 5000 years.   There are more than 40 million donkeys in the world, mostly in underdeveloped countries, where they are used principally as work or pack animals.   Working donkeys are often found in the service of people near the poverty level.

    The reason I’m focusing on donkeys this morning is that the Old Testament Prophet Zechariah prophesied that one day the Messiah would arrive on a donkey.   “Rejoice greatly… See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey.”   And that is exactly what happened.   Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey.   People spread palm branches in front of him and shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

     It is a story of great humility.  On the other side of the city, Pilate was entering the city on a great stallion, while Jesus was riding into the city on a donkey.  Pilate was surrounded by a security force of Roman soldiers bearing swords and shields and heavy armor.   Jesus entered the city surrounded by unarmed peasants waving palm branches, the symbol of peace.   No greater contrast can be made between the kingdom of this world and the kingdom of God.   Brute force versus gentle peace.   Jesus came with humility. (1)

     Yet it is clear he was announcing to the world that he was the Messiah.   This is why the religious authorities were stirred up with hatred toward him.  They knew Zechariah’s prophesy.   They knew that some of the people who were welcoming him that day in Jerusalem were hoping that he was the one who would deliver them.   Not only was that a threat to the religious establishment, but they knew if he gathered much of a following he would bring the might of Rome down upon them.   He was a threat to the established order.   So they plotted what to do with Jesus.

     Someone has noted that the problem with palms is that once you cut the branches from the tree, they don’t live long.   The problem with Palm Sunday is that the excitement of the crowds didn’t last very long either, and a few short days later many of the same voices who shouted “Hosanna!” were shouting “Crucify Him!”    Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey signaling that he was the Messiah and he set into motion events that he knew were irreversible.  Some of the crowd who had sung his praises would be the same persons who would participate in his execution.   This humble man who sought to bring only love and compassion into the world would die the cruelest of deaths on the cross of Golgotha, a death he refused to avoid.

     And, of course, the most amazing thing is that he did it all for you and me.   Only a God of absolute infinite love could perform such a deed.   Jesus was a man of great humility.   When he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, he set into motion events that he knew were irreversible.   They resulted in his crucifixion and death.

    But here’s the good news: He did it out of love for you and me.   “Greater love has no one than this,” Jesus said, “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”   We are Christ’s friends.   Not because of any virtue that we have, but through his amazing love for all God’s children.   Amen.

1. http://www.findthepower.net/CP/IL/PostNewABC2_I.php?IL=ON&SeeAlso=PALM%20SUNDAY.
Additional source material from Dynamic Preaching, 2018.

Lent 3    3/4/18  Exodus 20:1-17

     Jeanie Duck is a single mother with a three-year-old daughter. One day a friend gave Jeanie a two-pound box of Godiva chocolates.   Being a chocolate lover, Jeanie was in heaven!  As she was oohing and aahing over the box, her daughter, Jennifer, joined in the excitement.  This was a bad sign.   If Jennifer was excited, it was because she expected to share in Jeanie’s newly acquired bounty.  Clearly the only way Jeanie could get rid of her was to share some of her precious chocolate, so she gave Jennifer one piece and sent her to bed.  Then she had “just a few” pieces for herself, and went to bed.  Later that night, there was a terrible storm.  Jeanie got up in the dark and went from room to room, closing the open windows.  As she did, she stepped on something crunchy in the hallway.  When she turned on the light, she saw that the floor was covered with little round pieces of dark brown paper.  She followed the trail of candy wrappers and found a totally empty box of Godiva chocolates!

Jeanie was stunned.  She thought, “She’s only three, for goodness sake!  How could she possibly polish off two pounds of chocolate?”  She found Jennifer sound asleep in her bed, looking angelic.   Waking her daughter she said sternly, “Jennifer Duck, you ate all my candy!”  “No, I didn’t,” Jennifer replied with a look of earnestness and fear on her face.  “Oh yes, you did.” Jeanie said. “Only two people live here--you and me--and I didn’t do it!”

Jennifer hung her head.  Then, quietly, she mumbled, “I wish I had a baby brother!” (1)

    Every child wishes she had a baby brother when she needs someone to take the blame.  That would be convenient, wouldn’t it?  But children are not the only ones to play the blame game.   Sometime back, a Colorado man brought a “malparenting suit” against his mother and father.  He sued them for $300,000 for “lousing up his life.”  He claimed that they had intentionally done a terrible job of parenting and had made him what he was.  The judge dismissed the suit by saying that there must be a “statute of limitations” on parenting.

The judge went on to say that there must come a time when an adult takes responsibility for his or her own life. (2) 

     To be a human being is to be responsible.  In the book of Genesis, Cain slew his brother Abel in a jealous rage. When confronted with his crime, Cain cried out, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  A lawyer once asked Jesus a question very similar to that one.  When Jesus said that we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, the lawyer asked, “Who is my neighbor?”  In other words, “How far does my responsibility extend?” 

    Our first lesson today contains the set of moral injunctions that we know as the Ten Commandments.  And what are the Ten Commandments but an attempt to define human responsibility?  Thou shalt not kill.  Thou shalt not steal.  What are my responsibilities to my neighbor?  What are my responsibilities to God?  The Ten Commandments seek to answer those questions.

    To be a human being is to be responsible.  Every facet of our life together depends on people acting responsibly.  Yet responsibility is a heavy burden for many of us and many of us want to flee from our responsibilities.  Ultimately, responsibility is just what the word suggests: it is our response to God’s love as manifested in Jesus Christ.  If we resent responsibility, it may be that we do not understand what responsibility is.

Responsibility is our joyful response to what God has done for us in Christ Jesus.   That is why the Ten Commandments and the Great Commandment are relevant to our lives.  We take responsibility for ourselves and others because He took responsibility for us on the cross of Calvary.  Responsibility is not a terrible weight we carry.  Responsibility is the road we travel on our way to the abundant life Christ has provided for us.  God created us to be responsible--responsible parents, responsible members of our nation, of our community and of our church.  We can do that without Christ, but many of us will feel we are living in a straitjacket.  There will be no joy in our lives, only a sense of duty.   If we make a commitment to God, if our lives are lived in response to the love poured out for us in Jesus Christ– then there can be a new dimension to our lives.  We will be living out of grace--not simply doing good works, but enjoying abundant life in Christ Jesus.   To be human is to be responsible, yes.   But to know Christ is to walk in his joy.  Amen.

1. Jeanie Daniel Duck, The Change Monster. Cited by Dr. Stephen C. Lien, http://www.bpcusa.org/Sermons/sermon11804.pdf.
2. David A. Seamands, Putting Away Childish Things (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1982).
Additional source material from Dynamic Preaching, King Duncan, 2012

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