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An Idle Tale or Everlasting Truth?

Isaiah 25:6-9
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
John 20:1-18

 

20:1“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.” (John 20:1-18, NRSV)

 

Let us pray: Living God, on the first day of the week you brought to birth a new creation through the glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ. Fill us with the hope and joy of new beginnings, so that we may share the good news of your liberating, life-giving power with all the world. Grant that we, being dead to sin and alive to you in Jesus Christ, may reign with him in glory, who with you and the Holy Spirit is alive, one God, now and forever. Amen.

 

If I went around the sanctuary and asked some of you to tell the story of Easter we all might tell it a little differently.  Some of us would tell of Mary Magdalene and others of the disciples running back and forth.  Some of us might remark of how the stone had been rolled away or that the gardener appeared and called Mary’s name.  We would all have our way of telling the Easter story.

 

The Gospel writers did as well.  There are basically four different accounts of the resurrection, all with their own nuances and details and focus.  Matthew says there was an earthquake.  Mark ends so abruptly that we have to fill in the details and provide our own ending.  Luke has a group of women that see the angels in dazzling clothes.  John has the gardener who ends up being Jesus.  Some accounts have Mary alone, some with other women.  Some have one angel, some two. It gets a bit confusing with all the discrepancies.

 

But if you think about it, isn’t that confusion all part of the Easter story, all part of our faith.  There are lots of differences, there is skepticism, there is doubt, and there is faith.

 

Then it hit me that is how belief or faith is.  Sometimes our belief or our faith is so strong that our hearts are beating furiously and we can almost see the hand of God.  Other times our belief or our faith is small and faint and we must rely on others to do the believing for us.  Sometimes we run to the tomb and are certain that Jesus is not there.  Other times we meander slowly there and aren’t so sure all this resurrection stuff is not some fairy tale.  Sometimes we shout loudly “I believe”.  Other times we whisper quietly, “I believe, but Lord help my unbelief.”

 

So, with all those mixed up feelings and thoughts and wonderings, we come to worship this Easter Sunday.  We come longing for this resurrection story to be true, to be far more than a fairy tale.  We come wanting to believe, wanting to be transformed, wanting for this Easter to mean something, to change our lives, to bring joy and hope and faith to the forefront of our living.

 

In many ways we are just like Mary on that first Easter morning.  Mary knew all about death, she knew that death was the end.  She knew that Jesus was gone and life would never be the same.  With his death on the cross, her hope died too.  Mary had to face reality and reality told her:

Death is final

Some situations are truly hopeless

And now her hope is gone.

 

Likewise, with us there is all kind of evidence that we are wrong to believe in the Resurrection:  There are school shootings and drunk drivers killing innocent people, there is war and more war, there are divorces and depression and hopelessness.  There is all the evidence in the world that death is final, that some situations are hopeless and that we are all alone.

 

We all know that death is never pretty. But what we learn on this Resurrection morning, what we learn from traveling to the empty tomb is that Easter is not about death – it is about life. Yes, Jesus died but today he is risen and that changed everything.

 

We so easily use the statement, “This changes everything,” to describe so many events in our lives. Things that change us like: Marriage changes things in our lives. Having children — or not having children — changes things in our lives.  Divorce changes things. Cancer changes things. The death of loved ones changes things. September 11th, 2001 changed things. However, none of these really changes everything for all of us. There is really only one thing that truly changes everything. It is the reason that we have gathered here today… Resurrection.

 

We stake our lives on the resurrection and that is enough to send us out into the world to live each days with hope, a hope that we don’t completely understand, but a hope that we can trust, that we know that God is working, that life even comes out of death.

 

William Slone Coffin, chaplain, social activist, preacher and prophet died several years ago.  He wrote a book before his death entitled “Credo” and the last chapter is “The End of Life.”  Reflecting on his own impending death he wrote:

“As Job said, the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.  That does not mean that God is responsible for every death.  What that means is that before every birth and after every death there is still God.  The abyss of God’s love is deeper that the abyss of death.  Paul insists that neither death nor life can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Even if we don’t know what is beyond the grave, we know who is beyond the grave.”  (Credo, p.167-171)

 

We all know the reality of this world.  Reality of pain and death and grief.  But Easter, the empty tomb, and the Risen Lord there is another reality.  There is reality that says death is not the final word.

 

That is the great mystery of faith, Christ has died, Christ is risen, and a new reality that says you just never know what may happen or what the future may hold.

We are people of life.

We are people of faith.

We are people of hope.

We are people of resurrection.

 

It is enough to send us out from here to tell others that He is risen.  He is risen indeed. That is the truth of Easter.

 

Thank be to God for it.

Amen.

 

Let us pray:

 

3 Easter (A)

I invite you to remember with me today. I invite you to remember a person or

people who were especially precious to you who have died. It doesn’t matter

who they were, just that they were a vital part of your life. As you remember,

remember what they looked like, how they talked, remember their funny quirks,

how they used their hands or a unique expression on their faces. And remember

special moments – moments when what they said or did was so important to you

that you will never forget it. Remembering those precious people in our own lives

can give us some sense of what the disciples felt as they walked on the road to

Emmaus on that first Easter evening.

 

They had given up everything to follow Jesus and had bet their lives on his being

the Messiah. They had seen him teach and heal people, but most of all, they

had known his love. Jesus knew each of them deeply and loved each of them

without limit. And Jesus taught them that God’s love for them was like that –

infinitely deep and unchangeable. So they were sure that when they came to

Jerusalem and Jesus let people know who he was that he would be welcomed and

celebrated as the Promised One. But after that triumphant entry into Jerusalem,

it all fell apart. The people who had hailed him turned against him quickly, and by

Friday, he had been captured and tortured and killed. Not only had they lost their

best friend in the world, but they had lost the hope they had for the Kingdom

of God coming into the world. The shock and horror and grief must have been

almost unbearable.

 

But if all that weren’t enough, some of the women disciples had come back from

the tomb that morning and told them that Jesus was alive. This must have been

just one thing too many, and some of them decided to take a walk to Emmaus,

where one of them had a home. They probably just needed to get away, to go

somewhere other than Jerusalem. And as they walked, talking about everything

that had happened, they were joined by a stranger, who asked them what they

were talking about. Amazed that there was anyone who didn’t know, they told

this person about Jesus and what had happened to him.

 

And then, things started to get strange. Instead of being sympathetic, the stranger

scolded them for their lack of faith, and then proceeded to explain the scriptures

to them. He taught them the way Jesus had taught them, and they felt all the joy

and excitement they had felt when Jesus was alive. When they got to Emmaus,

the disciples weren’t ready to say good-bye, but urged the stranger to stay with

them for supper and the night. And when they sat down to supper, it happened.

In a way only Jesus could have known, with words Jesus had used at the Last

Supper, the stranger took the bread and blessed it and broke it and shared it with

them. This was unmistakable. This WAS Jesus. Jesus was alive. And they rushed

back to Jerusalem to tell the other disciples.

 

We recognize people we love by those things they do that no one else does, or no

one does the same way. And what we remember is what those things symbolized

for us. I remember a favorite teacher who would almost giggle with delight when

he heard a really fascinating idea. I remember that giggle as a symbol of how

deeply he loved learning and teaching. What was it that Jesus did and what did

it mean? It wasn’t just the breaking of bread, it was the blessing and sharing that

made them recognize him. And, of course, it wasn’t just the physical act, but all

that it symbolized to them – they knew that, like the bread, Jesus had allowed

himself to be broken for them. They knew that Jesus had poured out his life in

love for them. Jesus had loved them in a way that no one else had or could.

As Christians, we believe that Christ is alive and is still among us. Like the

disciples, we forget that, or don’t really believe it. But the signs of the Risen Christ

are all around us. How do we recognize them? What can we look for? Well, let’s

look at what Jesus did while he was on earth in a human body. He taught people

to love. He taught people to forgive. He healed people who were sick or in any

kind of human pain. And, most of all, he gave of himself. He came as a servant,

and gave all he had – even his own life – for every human being.

 

So that’s what we need to look for. Christ lives in those who love and who teach

others to love. That’s not just teachers, but parents and friends. Christ lives in

those who forgive – in those who forgive us and, in us, when we forgive. Christ

is the healer and lives in those who bring physical and emotional and spiritual

wellness to others. And, most of all, Christ lives where people pour out their lives

in service to others. We have extraordinary examples of that in the saints – both

in times past and now. But Christ does not just live in the superheroes of the faith.

Christ lives in us when we pour ourselves out in love. We may not do it very well,

we may not do it very often. But whenever we deny our own desires for the sake

of another, we are embodying Christ.

 

Today, we are doing two things that are related to this. The first is our offering of

our time and talent for the life of this community. It is a chance to learn a little

more of what it means to love, not just in word or sentiment, but in real, practical

terms. We are reminded that love, justice and peace are all verbs, that we are the

hands and feet and heart of Christ in this world.

 

The second is the baptism of Colin Daniel Strauss.[which we will do at the 10:30

service]. What his parents and godparents and we, his congregation, promise to

do today is to teach him how to recognize Christ – in himself and in others. He will

learn as each of us learns, by being loved and forgiven and supported by others,

learning to see the face of Christ in every person, and learning how to serve

others as Christ served us. We do this because we want Colin to share the gift that

we have been given, being brought into the family of Christ and made children of

God and inheritors of the Kingdom of Heaven.

 

Let us pray:

Be present with us, Lord Jesus, in scripture and the breaking of bread, as you were

present with your disciples. Help us to recognize you here, in the world, in every

other human being and, most importantly, in our own hearts.

 

Amen

Remember to Give Thanks

April 27, 2014 (Easter 2)

Deuteronomy 8:6-18

John 20:19-31

 

8: 6 “Therefore keep the commandments of the Lord your God, by walking in his ways and by fearing him. 7For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, 8a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, 9a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron and from whose hills you may mine copper. 10You shall eat your fill and bless the Lord your God for the good land that he has given you. 11 Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes, which I am commanding you today. 12 When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, 13 and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, 14 then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, 15 who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid wasteland with poisonous snakes and scorpions. He made water flow for you from flint rock, 16 and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good. 17 Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” 18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today.” (Deuteronomy 8:6-18, NRSV)

 

Let us pray: Almighty and everlasting God, increase our faith, hope, and charity; that we may obtain that which you promise, and help us to love your command; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

 

Picture a dad, a mom, a grandparent; whoever it might be giving instructions to a high school graduate who is preparing to head off to college.

 

“Now son, remember who you are and where you came from.  Remember all the things we have taught you.  Remember what is right and what is wrong.  When you head off to college, you are going into a new world.  You will have freedom you never imagined.  You can stay up as late as you want.  You can sleep through your classes because no one is there to wake you up.  You can eat what you want. It is freedom unlike any other time in your life.  You will have the freedom to do all these things, but remember who you are and whose you are.”

 

That is the nature I imagine for the speech that Moses gives to the Israelites.  Their journey in the wilderness is finally over.  They have been wandering around for 40 years and now they have arrived.  In those 40 years they relied solely on God.  God provided them manna each morning to eat and water to drink.  But they grumbled loudly and often.  They were tired of manna and they hankered for more.  This is the backdrop for Moses as he is speaking to them.  The Israelites are staring across to the land that God promised to them.  A land flowing with milk and honey.  When Moses offers them some advice.

 

I imagine Moses, their leader, a father figure, standing before them and saying; “Before you head off, remember who you are. You will have choices you never imagined.  Instead of simply manna, you can choose from an array of wheat and barley.  Instead of being thirsty, there is a stream constantly flowing with pure, cold, clean water.  No more will you hunger and thirst.  But before you cross over, before you take that step, remember who you are and whose you are.  Remember God and how God has cared for you all these years.”

 

Just try to picture this large mass of Israelites craving to cross over into this land that had been promised long ago and Moses holding them back.  Moses, there wise leader, treats them like adolescents heading off into freedom.  Like a parent, Moses reminds them that once they enter this land of milk and honey, it will become much harder for them to obey and honor God.  He knows that once they inherit the Promised Land they will be able to eat their fill, they will live in fine houses, they will shepherd large herds and get silver and gold.  They will become wealthy.  But that wealth will come at a cost, because with wealth comes forgetfulness, and there is the danger that they will forget God altogether.

 

Instead of remembering that God provided for their every need, they will say to themselves, “my power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.”  Moses tells them, remember who you are and whose you are.

 

I have been serving with you for just over three months now, and I am learning about the history, tradition and commitment of the Indian Hill Church and while it may not look or feel that we are standing on the edge of the Promised Land, I want to offer some encouragement that we really are.

 

In some ways we are always one step away from the land God has promised.  We are looking into the future God has given us.  With God’s blessing there are great things on the horizon, here at the Indian Hill Church.

 

What greater gift could you give than the gift of your time, even if it is only one hour?  This year we are asking everyone to volunteer and to volunteer for one new activity.  This is a great way to make new friends and to build our relationship with one another and the community in which we serve.

 

Ministries outside our church

  • With God’s blessing, and your giving of your time and resources men in the Hamilton County Jail are visited and given bibles, youth in the Hamilton County Youth Center are visited and have someone to talk to through the 20/20 program.

 

  • With God’s blessing, and your giving of your time and talents inner city residents are receiving paid on the job training and help to overcome obstacles to pursuing and maintaining stable employment through Venice on Vine.

 

  • With God’s blessing, and your giving of your time and talents, Inter Parrish Ministry provides food and services for needy residents in Claremont County.

 

  • With God’s blessing, and your giving of your time and talents we host homeless families in our church through Interfaith Hospitality Network.

 

  • With God’s blessing, and your giving of your time and talents MEAC Madisonville Education and Assistance Center provides nutritious dinners for needy families in the Madisonville area on Monday evenings throughout the year.

 

  • With God’s blessing, and your giving of your time and talents, we are helping Matthew 25: Ministries to provide nutritional food to the hungry, clean water to the thirsty, clothes to the naked, affordable housing to the homeless, medical care to the ill and humanitarian supplies to the poorest of the poor.

 

  • With God’s blessing, and your giving 2 youth from our congregation Avondale Ecumenical Consortium Summer Program provide enrichment in basic skills of writing, math, reading, computer, and recreational activities with children from the inner city children in grades 3-5.

 

 

Ministries inside our church

  • With God’s blessing, and your giving of your time and talents there is a joyful noise from our choir, hand bells and organ in care of our talented Music Director Brenda Waugh and the music ministry of our church.

 

  • With God’s blessing, and your giving of your time and talents, we have acolytes, LEM’s, readers and a beautifully appointed sanctuary in which to worship God each week.

 

  • With God’s blessing, and your giving of your time and talents, our children our learning the faith through Jennifer Taylor’s leadership you are teaching, acting and making the bible stories exciting for our children.

 

  • With God’s blessing, and your giving, of your time and talents, our youth are deepening their faith through Michelle VanOudenallen’s leadership and the work of our adult advisors and youth mentors are being confirmed.

 

  • With God’s blessing, and your giving, of your time and talents, the hard work of Karen Pauly and Barb Huffman and church members like you committees are making the church go, improving the buildings and grounds and providing help for those in need in our midst.

 

  • With God’s blessing and your giving, the word of God is proclaimed and the love of Jesus Christ is shared.

 

This is our community of faith that has faithfully proclaimed the love of Jesus Christ in this village since Thanksgiving Morning 1957.   But, just like the Israelites, we did not start the journey of this congregation, many dear saints laid the foundation of this church and faithfully responded to God’s blessings.

 

They responded, they remembered, and they gave.

They gave,

Their money,

Time,

Talents

And thanks for all that God did for them.

 

Just like the Israelites, we are about to enter a new land full of many blessings that are not of our own making.  They are gifts of God, blessings from God, provisions from God.

 

Take this as our reminder to remember all that God has done for us and to give thanks.

 

It is our job is to give back.

 

To say thanks.

 

To say we remember who we are and whose we are.

When you and I know and acknowledge that it is God who blesses us, then life is far different than when we think we earned it all on our own.  When you and I acknowledge that God is the owner and we are stewards then we can worship God and enjoy life.  If we think it all belongs to us, then we spend much of our life rationalizing, arguing, hoarding and trying to hold on to what we think is ours.  Life is not enjoyed.

 

So, you see that volunteering is really about God and what God has done for us, and our response is to give back.

 

Today, we have the opportunity to faithfully response with our commitment of our time, our talent and our commitment to the Lord.

 

Your giving will meet the needs of our neighbors, your giving will teach the faith to our children, your giving will help to maintain this gorgeous sanctuary, your giving will keep the choir singing and the organ playing, and the hand bells ringing, your giving will enable the sick, the homebound, the lonely to be visited, the Word of God to be proclaimed and the good news of Jesus Christ to reach the least, the last and the lost. Your act of volunteering and your great generosity of your time is a tangible sign of thankfulness to God.

 

I invite you to come, share your gifts and your talents and your time to make a difference in the name of Jesus Christ.  And remember God and always give thanks.

 

Let us pray:Living God, long ago, faithful women proclaimed the good news of Jesus’ resurrection, and the world was changed forever. Teach us to keep faith with them, that our witness may be as bold, our love as deep, and our faith as true. Amen.

 

 

The Journey to the Cross, step seven: The Glory

April 20, 2014
Easter Sunday
Matthew 28:1-11

 

28: 1After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.  His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.  For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men.  But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” 8So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.  9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.  10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” (Matthew 28:1-11, NRSV)[i]

 

Let us pray:  Holy and immortal God, from earliest times you have named us
and called us into discipleship. Teach us to follow the One who conquered death and opened the gates of life everlasting. In the power of the Holy Spirit, raise us with Christ that we, too, may proclaim healing and peace to the nations. Amen

 

Christ is risen, he is risen indeed!

 

Easter is a magnificent day to bear witness to the glory of God.  It is the moment of God’s glory.  Glory… in the Old Testament there are twenty-five different Hebrew words that can be translated to mean our one word Glory.  In Hebrew the word glory, means weighty, heavy, significance, important and essential while in the New Testament the word Doxai, meaning glory is not used very often except for the Gospel of John where it is a big word.   Jesus speaks of his glory, the hour of his glory and when he is to be glorified.  Perhaps the most famous glory statement in the New Testament is in John 12; “the hour has come for him to be glorified.”[ii]

 

The Season of Lent is a journey from Ash Wednesday to this very day, it is a journey of emotions from the cradle to the cross and we reached the cross on Friday, the day that Jesus was put to death. That was three days ago, today he is risen, no longer dead – but alive, we call it Easter, it is his hour, his moment of Glory, his time to fulfill the Promise of the Old Testament Prophets who told of God’s plan. So here we are to celebrate in Christ’s glory!

 

Easter is a day of tradition, families gather together for church, children come home from far away, spring clothes, Easter dresses, hats even.  Sunrise services, egg hunts, flowered crosses, glorious music, reading of the familiar story of the empty tomb.   Most every branch of the Christian faith celebrates this most holy of days with these same traditions.   Familiar, recognizable, well known, time honored, tradition, Easter worship.

 

Now there are some traditions in the Christian faith that are a bit different concerning Easter worship and celebrations.  One such tradition comes from the Eastern Orthodox Church.  It is an ancient one that tomorrow the day after Easter, is set aside as a day of humor and laughter.  The Eastern Orthodox Church is bound by tradition but tomorrow the people will gather in their sanctuaries for worship, and to hear the priest tell jokes – not just religious jokes but all kinds of jokes all to let the congregation laugh.  Why jokes you may ask? – Because of the joke that God played on Satan on Easter morning.  I’ve never been to such a service but it sounds fun.

 

One of my favorite preachers is Fred Craddock and he tells of a time that he served a small congregation in the mountains of rural East Tennessee.   On Easter Sunday the day began with a sunrise service, then a breakfast, followed by Sunday school and worship and afterward the congregation went home.   Later that evening they came back to the small sanctuary and moved the pews up against the walls. Then they threw corn down on the floor and they had a square dance.  Yes, dancing, in the church, on Easter no-less.  Can you imagine, Bow to your partner, Bow to your corner, Circle left, Swing your partner, doe-see-doe, circle heel to toe, round and round we go, Promenade Dr. Craddock asked why they did this and they told him that Easter was a celebration and they were dancing on the devils grave because Jesus defeated him, sin, and death when he rose from the grave.

 

Now, I am not suggesting that we adopt these traditions but it got me thinking about the message they send of laughter, dancing, celebrations!  Easter if it is nothing else is a celebration.   It is a surprise, a reversal of the world’s expectations.  God changed everything on Easter morning.  God reversed the order of things.  God’s reversal of fortune is a biblical theme as well.[iii]

 

As we have focused on this Lenten Season and our journey to the cross God reverses things, God surprises people, and God changes the world.  Remember from the beginning, Adam and Eve in the garden God surprises them, by continuing to love them in spite of their sin.  God reverses expectations when he establishes a covenant with Sarah and Abram, and tells them that they will be the parents of a new people who will be as numerous as the stars in the sky. This was a huge surprise because they couldn’t get pregnant.  When their baby boy was born, they named the child Isaac, which means, “He laughs.”  Our God, a God of surprises, is always taking our expectations and upending them.  And nowhere is that more true than in the life of Jesus.   God became one of us, a human is surprising enough but think about the human life he chose – a boy raised by a poor carpenter and his virgin wife, who grew up and had no home – God changed the world through him!

 

When Jesus recruited his disciples, he didn’t get the best and the brightest. Instead, he brought together a rag-tag group, each one was chosen not because of their skills but instead for their willingness to follow him.  The disciples were not royalty, military leaders, rich or powerful, yet God choose them, these normal men to spread the good news of his love unto all the world.

 

The people in power in that time of the world, the folks who didn’t want things to change because they liked how things were, they were determined to stop Jesus.  When they couldn’t find any other way to stop him, they killed him on a cross.  Only God was not through reversing expectations, upending the order of things. Easter is the ultimate surprise, the ultimate punch line, the reversal of our history it is God’s story, God’s glory, God’s love, the greatest transformation of all.[iv]

 

I can just hear the conversation at brunch in a little while: “Did you hear the preacher today he talked about telling jokes and dancing in church on Easter.”  But hear me out.  If our story ended with Good Friday, it would be a tragedy. But Friday is not the end because God’s story has a surprising ending.[v]

 

So we celebrate this day, in response to God’s surprise on Easter, but we also celebrate God’s triumph over sin, death and Satan.[vi]

 

Over the last several days we have had solemn worship services.  There has been no celebration.  There was no place for it.  It would have been a sacrilege.  There was no celebration at the Maundy Thursday meal and communion service, as we took our place at Jesus’ Last Supper and remembered the ways he was betrayed by his disciples. There was no celebration at the Good Friday service, and remembered Jesus’ agony and death.  There was no celebration at any of those services.  It would not have been appropriate.  It would have been out of place.  It’s not proper to celebrate in the face of tragedy.[vii]

 

But today is different. One of the reasons that celebrating and laughing are considered appropriate in Eastern Orthodox Church or why they will dance later this evening in the rural Mountains of East Tennessee is because of the reversal God pulled off  in the Resurrection.  Sin didn’t win after all.  Neither did Satan.  And Death thought it had won, but it celebrated to soon, because God reversed everything, God transformed the world, God claimed victory and raise life from the grave.

 

So as you gather around a table for Easter brunch, may I suggest that it is appropriate to offer prayers of thanks and praise, but I also encourage you to share a joke or two, maybe dance a jig – but for sure celebrate because God has changed the world.  And let your celebration, remind you of the triumph of the God we worship here, through the Resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

They came to the tomb expecting a corpse, to their surprise, God isn’t finished yet.  God reverses their expectations.  They didn’t expect a Risen Lord. God changed everything.

Empty Cross. Empty Tomb. Risen Lord. Alleluia! 

Christ is risen, he is risen indeed. Glory be to God. Amen.

 

 

[i]Matthew 28:1-11, Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Revised Common Lectionary © 1992 the Consultation on Common Texts. Used by permission.

[ii] Reverend Dr. Will Willimon, Reflecting Christ’s Glory, podcast found at his website.

[iii] The Reverend Dr. Martin B. Copenhaver, a sermon entitled, “Laughter at Easter” based on Matthew 28:1-10 preached at Wellesley Congregational Church, Wellesley, Massachusetts on Easter Sunday 2007, found in the Journal for Preachers, Easter 2007, pages 15-18.

[iv] The Reverend Dr. Martin B. Copenhaver, a sermon entitled, “Laughter at Easter” based on Matthew 28:1-10 preached at Wellesley Congregational Church, Wellesley, Massachusetts on Easter Sunday 2007, found in the Journal for Preachers, Easter 2007, pages 15-18.

[v] The Reverend Dr. Martin B. Copenhaver, a sermon entitled, “Laughter at Easter” based on Matthew 28:1-10 preached at Wellesley Congregational Church, Wellesley, Massachusetts on Easter Sunday 2007, found in the Journal for Preachers, Easter 2007, pages 15-18.

[vi] The Reverend Dr. Martin B. Copenhaver, a sermon entitled, “Laughter at Easter” based on Matthew 28:1-10 preached at Wellesley Congregational Church, Wellesley, Massachusetts on Easter Sunday 2007, found in the Journal for Preachers, Easter 2007, pages 15-18.

[vii] The Reverend Dr. Martin B. Copenhaver, a sermon entitled, “Laughter at Easter” based on Matthew 28:1-10 preached at Wellesley Congregational Church, Wellesley, Massachusetts on Easter Sunday 2007, found in the Journal for Preachers, Easter 2007, pages 15-18.

Easter, Year A

i thank You God for most this amazing

day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees

and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything

which is natural which is infinite which is yes

 

(i who have died am alive again today,

and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth

day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay

great happening illimitably earth)

 

how should tasting touching hearing seeing

breathing any–lifted from the no

of all nothing–human merely being

doubt unimaginable You?

 

(now the ears of my ears awake and

now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

 

This poem by ee cummings has been a favorite of mine for years. Better than any

other piece of writing I know, it captures the absolute joy and miracle of Easter.

 

“ lifted from the no of all nothing…”

Grief, sadness, loss – these are all human experiences, but what is worse is the

loss of hope. We can only imagine the absolute loss of hope that Jesus’ followers

felt on that Good Friday. They had pinned their hopes and their lives on Jesus.

They had thought that the world would see Jesus as the great liberator, the great

deliverer. But then, their dream of a new world had vanished. Jesus was dead and

buried. This really was the “no of all nothing.” But now, something has happened.

Jesus is alive. Death did not have the last word. Where there was no hope, now

there is hope. Jesus has been lifted from the no of all nothing. And so were the

disciples – and so are we.

 

Each of us comes to this day with the joys and sorrows of our lives. For those

of you who come with hope and joy, the Resurrection is an affirmation of your

experience. But this day has as much to say to those of you who have come with

sadness, fear, despair or without hope. Jesus has the power to lift you from the “no

of all nothing.” Where there is no hope, Jesus has real hope. Where there is death,

Jesus comes with the promise of life. This may seem too good to be true. Surely,

it must have seemed so to those people who loved Jesus most dearly. “i who have

died am alive again today.” And if Jesus is alive again today, then we can be as

well. Easter invites us to let Jesus raise us from whatever tomb holds us. We can

say that we who have been dead are alive again.

 

(now the ears of my ears awake and

now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

 

Easter opens a new world for us. We don’t have to hear or see only the surfaces of

things anymore. We can see deeply into the heart of the world. Jesus’ Resurrection

tells us that there is a universe of song and color waiting for us, a universe we

might never have dreamed of. People who have had near-death experiences

often talk about how the world appears different when they come back – colors

are brighter, sounds are clearer. The same can happen to us when we allow the

Resurrection in our own hearts. The sounds of worry and anger and resentment

fade away when we listen for the voice of Jesus. The dullness and narrowness of

our vision can be transformed when the light of infinite love shines on it. And all

we have to do is give our consent. If we want the ears of our ears to awake and

the eyes of our eyes to open, all we have to do is say yes to the infinite yes that is

God’s love.

 

i thank You God for most this amazing

day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees

and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything

which is natural which is infinite which is yes

 

(i who have died am alive again today,

and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth

day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay

great happening illimitably earth)

 

how should tasting touching hearing seeing

breathing any–lifted from the no

of all nothing–human merely being

doubt unimaginable You?

 

(now the ears of my ears awake and

now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

 

Amen.