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“Easter Isn’t About Belief. It’s About God” (April 16, 2017)

Matthew 28:1-10

After 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. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7 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.” 8 So 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.”

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.

You know the story. Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified, was raised from the dead 2000 years ago. Good news! Because it’s good news, we can ask what difference it makes in our lives right now, today? That’s a fair question.

Maybe the resurrection of Christ comforts you so that you can trust that there is life after you die. That’s good.

Maybe this story in Matthew helps you believe that there is a God who is more powerful than death. Again, that can be great comfort for when we face death. That, too, is good.

Or maybe these biblical resurrection texts help you find solace in a God who can work amazing, supernatural miracles. That’s good too.

If your faith is somewhere along those lines, and this Easter Day helps you there, that is absolutely wonderful! Keep it up. Continue to grow in your faith. Keep on your spiritual journey of trusting and believing. Keep going.

But again, if that’s you, you need to understand that you’re now  a diminishing minority. Fewer and fewer people find that kind of spiritual significance in the stories of Jesus’ resurrection. Fewer and fewer people take this text in Matthew literally. Fewer and fewer people consider Jesus’ resurrection from the dead very meaningful to their lives today at all.

If that’s you, and you find yourself struggling with the meaning of this Easter day, know that you’re not alone. What’s more, wherever you find yourself right now on these issues of faith and God and resurrection is not only OK, it is good! You are among a growing number of people who are thinking deeply and personally about this cornerstone of Christian faith, who are facing legitimate doubt with honesty and asking appropriate questions about the relevance of a claimed event 2000 years ago. Your thoughts and opinions on this whole resurrection thing matter. And you are worth hearing. Whatever you think about Jesus’ resurrection, whatever you believe about it is actually important! And it needs to be part of the conversation.

We need to  listen to each other and be open to what another person thinks about all this—whether the other person is devout in their Christian faith, or whether the other person has never been inside a church.

As important as those conversations are, and as helpful and inclusive as they need to be, here’s the thing: Easter day isn’t about what we believe, it’s about who God is.

Easter day should never have been about correct beliefs or right doctrine or coercion into a particular set of religious values that you have to claim if you want to avoid eternal hellfire. This day isn’t about that at all. Easter day isn’t about what we believe, it’s about who God is.

Whatever you believe about God, Easter shows us is that God isn’t a far-off, distance entity watching over the world and occasionally intervening if we ask nicely. Easter shows us that God enters into, is fully present, in the very fabric of life. God is already there in all aspects of creation. Easter is a declaration that there is nothing, there is nowhere, that God isn’t already completely and totally present. Nothing can keep God away. Nothing can keep God out. Not so much because God is more powerful, but because God is, and has always been the very essence of creation.

Easter day isn’t about what we believe, it’s about who God is.

What this story in Matthew tells us is that nothing can stop God from being present. Not political authorities who bring death. Not religious authorities who self-righteously call for death. Military guards who, out of fear, are now “like dead men.” A gigantic stone rolled over the entrance of the grave. Death itself. With God who is the essence of creation, life is real, it is absolute, and it is unconditional. Life is what God is about.

The resurrection of Jesus is the declaration of just one more normal thing for God. It is a continuation of what God has always done, of who God actually is. And nothing can get in the way of God being present and therefore bringing life.

In Genesis, God who was already there, breathed life into dead clay and it became a living person. In Ezekiel, God who was already there, brought dry, dead bones lying in the desert sun back together, and they became living people. Just a couple of weeks ago we heard about Jesus being present, restoring life to Lazarus, calling him forth from the grave. Life is what happens because God is there. Life is the way of God, central to who God is. Life isn’t earned, bought, coerced, bargained for. Where God is, there is life. And nothing can keep God out. God is in all things and through all things.

Easter day isn’t about what we believe, it’s about who God is.

And like it or not, believe it or not, trust it or not, the God of Easter day is present in you and gives life. To everyone. Even you. Especially you. Isn’t that what we witness every day in creation? It’s what we witness in our own lives. The very presence of God. All creation sings with life because God is fully present there. We sing today of new life because God is fully present with us.

Easter day isn’t about what we believe, it’s about who God is.  

We celebrate today because we recognize the presence of God: the source, the essence, of life. Life that cannot be stopped by politics, military, graves, fear, or disbelief. This is the good news of Easter day. God is here. Fully and completely here. That means there is new life here. That means there is hope for creation here. Hope for us. Hope for you. God is here. God is life.

Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Hallelujah!

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Posted by on April 15, 2017 in Sermon

 

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“We have seen the Lord” April 3, 2016

John 20:19-31

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.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin ), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So 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.” 26 A 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.” 27 Then 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.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But 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.

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.

The night of his resurrection, Jesus appears to the disciples, breathes the Holy Spirit into them, and sends them out to forgive sins. Thomas wasn’t there so he didn’t believe them. The other disciples kept saying to Thomas, “We have seen the Lord,” but Thomas wanted evidence. He asked to have evidence presented before his mind could be changed.

But that’s not what happened. Instead of evidence to change his mind, he saw the risen Christ, which changed his heart. As the other disciples kept saying, now Thomas, too, saw the Lord.

Many years ago, I saw the Lord.

There are not many things about my past that embarrass me, but the following is one of them: I had written a piece as to why homosexuality was a sin. I need evidence, I wrote, in order to change my mind. Show me in the Bible, quote me chapter and verse, where God ever says homosexuality is OK. I will not believe until I see with my own eyes the evidence.

The evidence had always been there, but as if often the case, evidence rarely changes minds. But that didn’t matter until I saw the Lord. I saw the risen Christ in the grace and love of a gay man who had been receiving death threats because of his sexual identity, yet who continued to boldly love anyway.

I saw the risen Christ in the kindness and gentleness of a transgender woman, who insisted on loving those who hated her.

I saw the risen Christ in the open statements of welcome I read in other congregations’ publications, “All are welcome. Black, white, Hispanic, Asian, native, or anything else; Muslim, Buddhist, agnostic, Lutheran, or anything else; straight, lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual, or anything else. You are a child of God and you are welcomed here.” I saw the Lord.

I had asked for evidence. But instead of evidence to change my mind, I saw the risen Christ, which changed my heart.

And I’ve seen the Lord a lot.

We live in a culture that demands evidence for everything. Our default position is that we have our minds made up, we have our opinions, and it’s up to someone else to change ours mind with hard evidence. Until then, we’re staying put.

That’s true with faith—people demand evidence before they will believe in God. It’s true in politics—people demand evidence that the other candidate isn’t a lying, cheating, sniveling, puppy-killer. It’s really true with almost anything in our culture, including our own biases. Until there’s hard evidence, we rarely change our minds. Even in the face of evidence, we usually don’t.

The disciples were huddled together in a locked room for fear of the Jews, the text says. That’s what we do too. We lock ourselves behind whatever helps us keep our same views. Because from behind locked doors we can demand evidence that will change our minds. When it doesn’t, we can assume that our own views are OK as they are. So our perspective on the world, the church, our neighbors, our government, whatever is safe. We demand evidence. But we stay behind locked doors just in case.

Just like in this text, though, instead of evidence to change our minds, Jesus comes and stands among us anyway. When we see the Lord, it changes our hearts.

I see the Lord when a child, though shaking in her shoes, stands up to a bully for her friend. That changes my heart.

I see the Lord when our council struggles to make decisions that are consistent with Jesus’ call to follow, even though they know some decisions aren’t always well liked. That changes my heart

I see the Lord when the HEART Ministry goes out of their way to acknowledge and thank the quiet work of someone in this congregation. That changes my heart.

I see the Lord in the faces of the homeless on the 16th Street Mall, even when they are ignored or laughed at. That changes my heart.

I see the Lord when we, as a congregation band together to serve our neighbors at The Action Center or the Animal Shelter. That changes my heart.

I see the Lord when someone gives me a hug and says, “Don’t worry, I’ve got your back.” That changes my heart.

Being sent by Jesus really doesn’t have anything to do with changing anyone’s mind. Following Jesus doesn’t mean offering evidence for what we believe or don’t believe. What it seems to mean is showing people the risen Christ: loving them anyway, forgiving them anyway, making peace with them anyway. We show them the Lord by being the church that, when we enter into people’s lives, they can say, “We have seen the Lord,” and their hearts are changed.

People are asking for evidence, but that’s not what we offer. Instead of evidence to change their minds, we offer them Jesus, which changes their hearts.

 
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Posted by on April 4, 2016 in Sermon

 

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