Jesus Lives For Us
Easter Sunday 2018
Isaiah 25: 6-9, I Corinthians 15: 1-11, Mark 16:1-8
Mark 16: And the angel said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
Just a couple of days ago, I was talking smart with one of our elderly members, who is over 90 years old, he’s all crippled up, his wife passed away years ago and he misses her more than ever. He often wonders why the Lord doesn’t just let him die and go to heaven. Somehow our conversation weaved and wandered around to the subject of coffee. In the news recently were two different articles, one suggesting that the state of California would be requiring Starbucks to put a label on their coffee warning that it could cause cancer, and the second article suggesting that good strong coffee in fact would clean out your arteries and prevent heart attacks. Both of us prefer the second bit of research, and Bill looked me in the eyes and declared, “If I can’t have my three cups of coffee every day, you may as well shoot me!”
Which reminded me of Judy, one of our members in a nursing home going through all kinds of health troubles and frustrations. Not yet 70 years old, she is unable to walk, restricted from doing the simplest of tasks in life, when I asked her how I could be helpful, she looked me in the eyes and said, “just shoot me, Pastor Griffin.”
Which reminded me of Lyle, his friends called him “Hammer,” who used to live where our church parking lot is now. Hammer could talk smart with the best of them, and on one of my last visits with him, as he struggled with all kinds of cancer and seemed to be approaching death, I prayed with him, he received his Lord’s Supper, and as I was about to leave, I asked if there was anything I could do for him, he looked me in the eyes, and you guessed it, he said, “yes you can take me out back and shoot me.” To which I said, “That wouldn’t really be a very good career move for me, Lyle.” He replied, “I suppose you’re right.”
It is when pain and suffering are overwhelming us that we have a hard time standing strong and saying proud, “If God is for us, who can be against us!” It is when the days drag on with boredom and purposelessness that we forget about the promise that “If God spared not his only Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? It is when our prayers seem to be going unanswered and the world around us seems to be going to hell in a hand basket that we hear Easter preachers going on and on and on about Jesus being alive and Jesus being with us always and God being on our side, we say to ourselves, “blah, blah, blah, I’ve heard it all before, why doesn’t the preacher tell me something new and exciting?”
I don’t have anything new to tell you today, and folks don’t very often tell me that my messages are exciting, but I do have for you three Easter truths that have the potential to in increase your level of patience, to re-order your priorities, and to leave here today with a renewed sense of purpose. Easter truth #1 is that Jesus is worth waiting for. Easter truth#2 is that Jesus is of first importance. Easter truth #3 is that Jesus goes on before us.
Easter truth#1 is that Jesus is worth waiting for. In today’s Old Testament lesson, the nation of Israel is speaking. Actually they are singing in response to their God doing marvelous things in their history. They are singing praise to a God who had proven himself to be a refuge to the poor, he had proven himself to be a stronghold to the needy, he had proven himself to be a shelter from the storm, and he had proven himself to be a shade from the heat of the desert.
They looked forward to the day when their God would swallow up death forever, and even beyond to a heavenly banquet where the bacon cheeseburgers would be well done, the beer would be ice cold, the French fries would be the best ever, and fellowship would be hilarious, the conversations will be free from pettiness and all conflict. Or to use Isaiah’s language, the delicacies would be nutritious, the wine would at its peak of flavor, their tears would be wiped away from all their faces, their disgrace would be taken away.
Dear friends in Christ, no matter what is trying your patience these days, know that Jesus is not only risen, he is alive and well and living for you. He is in these very days sitting at the right hand of his Father interceding for you and wanting good things for you, He’s pulling for you to be patiently enduring every one of your challenges. Listen to the entire nation of Israel singing, “Behold this is our God, we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord, we have waited for him, let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”
The kingdom of God is like a woman not too far away from here reeling from weeks and weeks of chemotherapy, she’s cold and she’s sick and she’s frail, but this morning you’ll find her being glad and rejoicing in her Lord’s resurrection!
If Easter truth #1 is that Jesus is worth waiting for, Easter truth #2 is that Jesus is of first importance. In our Lenten midweek series, we studied the dangerous distractions of the Passion Story, even as we rejoiced in the simple truth that Jesus Christ would be not be distracted from his mission of going the way of the cross, suffering under Pontius Pilate, enduring crucifixion until he was dying, dead, and buried for us.
We saw Jewish leaders and mobs distracted by their own false views of the Messiah, we saw Judas distracted by a love of money and power, we saw Peter distracted by his own pride, distracted as he followed at a distance and in the wrong company, we saw Herod distracted by his own desire to be amused, we saw the sophisticated and full of himself Pontius Pilate distracted by his own unbelief and scoffing at the idea of absolute truth.
There is perhaps no more dangerous distraction from the Easter message than the death of our loved ones. If my counting is correct, there are over 165 names of departed loved ones, italicized in our bulletin, and remembered with all kinds of flowers and plants. All kinds of death beds, all kinds of caskets and urns, all kinds of trips to the cemetery and crying in the night are flooding through our memory banks this morning. Memories which threaten to distract us from what we believe that if God is for us, who can be against us?
#62 italicized name in our bulletin today is our grandson Gabriel Erickson. Gabriel, as many of you know, is the son of our daughter and son in law, Michelle and Brandon. In her second trimester, he was diagnosed with renal agenesis, which meant that his kidneys did not form, which meant he had no bladder, which meant he produced no urine, which meant there was no amniotic fluid, which meant that his lungs did not develop, which meant that if he was born alive, he would likely live only an hour or two. Which is exactly what happened. And so in our memory banks this Easter Sunday is this nightmare vision of Michelle holding onto her breathing little boy and then he wasn’t breathing anymore, our distraction includes a funeral ending with Brandon carrying out of church the tiniest casket we ever saw, distraction includes our son in law getting down into a cold and dark cemetery hole, gently placing that tiny casket, family members covering him with soil, singing songs of hopefulness, certain of resurrection and at the same time wondering what kind of God lets this happen.
Listen to St. Paul, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”
The kingdom of God is like a dozen, maybe two or ten dozen people sitting in this very sanctuary this morning, realizing they have been distracted away from the kingdom of God and His righteousness in these days. They have in fact been chasing after so much that is secondary, they are wondering how their days would be different if they were to receive into their hearts anew that which is of first importance. Quietly they pray, “Change my heart O Lord, make it ever true.”
If Easter truth #1 is that Jesus is worth waiting for, and Easter truth #2 is that Jesus is of first importance, then Easter truth#3 is that Jesus goes on before us. In our Gospel lesson for today, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger, and Salome, mother of James and John, had been crying harder than they had ever cried before. One could speculate so many tears had fallen there were no more tears to fall. In any case, they were focused on giving their loved one a proper burial. They were wondering who might roll away the stone for them.
For the rest of their lives, their memory banks would include an angel scaring the you know what out of them, no doubt they relived this dream come true a thousand times, Jesus had risen. He was not there. The grave was empty. Their assignment was to go tell the disciples and especially Peter that Jesus was going on before them to Galilee. No doubt all kinds of questions began to arise, but this one truth they would begin to process – Jesus was alive and He would still be leading the way.
A few weeks ago, a young lady came into the church office on a Sunday morning looking for a pastor. She was crying as hard as anybody I have ever seen cry. It was a hyperventilating kind of a cry. Slowly the words stumbled out. Her boyfriend, the love of her life, had been killed the night before in a snowmobile accident. Her two pastors tag teamed, we cried, we prayed, we listened, and one question kept on recurring, “What am I going to do?” The best answer I could offer was this, “Jamie, today is your day to cry. That’s your assignment, spend your day crying, your family and friends will cry with you. One hour at a time.”
Fast forward to yesterday, when I reached out to this young Christian lady who confirmed her faith at this very altar twenty years or so ago. She tells me she still struggles, Some days are easier, others it’s a battle. She’s reading and she’s praying and she is thankful for the time she had. She concludes, “Now there is nothing the world can throw at me that I can’t get through.”
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of folks who know that if they can make it through the valley of the shadow of death of a loved one, they can make it through any valley this world might throw their way. They know that Jesus Christ is alive and He is well, He has gone on before them, and He is leading the way. They know that the Easter message is of first importance, and they bring to their Lord’s Table today hearts that are sorry for so many bad habits, they are sorry for falling prey to so many enemies of their faith, they are sorry for so many good intentions gone astray.
And one more time, right on schedule, just as promised, Jesus Christ delivers, as Pastor Muther likes to say, the good stuff. Christ holds them close. He loves them without condition. He forgives every one of their sins, he takes away the shame of every one of their secrets, He invites them to go in peace. Alleluia Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
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