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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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When Life Doesn’t Make Sense, Easter Does

Matthew 28:1-10

One of my favorite things about being a Lutheran is that we aren’t afraid to ask hard questions. We ask real-life, down-in-the-dirt, significant questions about real-life, down-in-the-dirt, significant things. We don’t mess around with fluff answers that fit only the questions we want asked. Nope, we take them all. We don’t have all the answers, but this is a place where we acknowledge up front that if the question is important to you, it’s important.

Lutherans recognize that life doesn’t always make sense, that there aren’t always easy answers. We know that things aren’t always black-and-white; that sometimes life is complicated; a paradox. There are lots of gray areas and cul de sacs in our life journey. No matter how comforting it might be to have a liar with the title of “pastor” tell us that it’s easy if we follow steps or the road is straight if we believe the correct things, we Lutherans know life just doesn’t work that way.

So we do things like openly talk about being “at the same time, saint and sinner.” This doesn’t mean that sometimes we are good and sometimes bad. It has nothing to do with whether choices we make are holy or evil. It doesn’t even divide us into part saint and part sinner. No, we Lutherans talk about every part of who we are is at the same time absolutely broken and absolutely redeemed. We talk about things like light present in the darkness and life coming out of despair of death. We proclaim that the God who can raise Jesus from the pit of death is the same God who brings life and hope and newness out of our deepest, darkest places.

That’s why Easter works. It makes so much sense and explains so much about our life experience. No matter how much of a scoundrel we are, God’s goodness and love can bring something new and beautiful out of us. That’s Easter. And no matter how wonderful and delightful we may be, our brokenness gets in the way. That’s why we need Easter.

Think about that next time your best efforts fail miserably. Doesn’t something valuable and even life-giving out of that? And when you are being praised for a doing something wonderful, don’t you always know deep down that you’ve somehow kept your inadequacies covered up–at least this time? That’s honesty. That’s the experience of real life. That’s Lutheran. That’s Easter.

Doesn’t this “saint/sinner,” “life/death” theology make sense for our faith community too? Sometimes I think we are harder on our congregation than we are on other organizations. Maybe because we somehow expect more saint and less sinner, more life and less death in the church. Maybe because the church can often be places where we feel we have to pretend saint-ness and hide sin-ness.

But the reality is that the church is made up of people. Not better than anyone; not worse than anyone. Just people. People who are, at the same time, saints and sinners. Congregations are real places with real people. The church is completely messed up, broken, and selfish. And at the same time, the church cant stop feeding the hungry, keeps showing mercy to the helpless, and walks with other saint/sinner people at major turning points in their lives. Jesus is Lord of all creation, not just the church, and yet we understand the brokenness and hypocrisy of the rest of the world. But we somehow expect something different from our church.

Because here in this place we do ask hard questions and do recognize hard answers, we know that this faith community will never, ever be whole and magnificent and holy. We will never reflect God’s love the way we should. We will fight and be divisive and mean. Everything we do will have selfish motives. Just like every single one of us.

And at the same time this faith community is amazingly forgiving and merciful. This congregation will go out of our way to love. God’s grace and compassion and new life of Easter are lived in and through this congregation. Just like each one of us. Lutherans know this happens! We aren’t afraid to admit both realities exist at the same time.

Easter is here, and we Christians celebrate the reality of life coming out of death, of newness springing forth in the midst of hopelessness. This is a time to boldly proclaim our confidence in the God of life, of hope, of mercy. In our lives, and in the life of our church, and in the world around us.  We aren’t looking for pat answers here. We aren’t playing at phony holiness. If you’re looking for a fake community that puts on a show of holiness, that pretends to have all the godly answers, you probably won’t stay here for long. Because we’re too honest for that. We’re too authentic for that. We take the reality of Christ’s death and the gift of new life in him too seriously for that. Our hope is in him, so we aren’t afraid to admit that we are a broken and imperfect community that, because of Christ’s resurrection, at the same time reveals God’s love and grace and forgiveness in the world in ways that are more beautiful and more holy than words can ever describe. There is new life here; new life given to us in Christ. We are honest about that.

Christ is risen, which is why we live a new life right in the midst of our imperfection. Christ is risen. That’s where our hope lies. And we don’t have to fake that. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2014 in Sermon

 

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