March 27 2016
Watch a video of this sermon here.
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened. – Luke 24:1-12
You’ve heard this story before, right? It has either changed your life, or you have let it wash over you every year without having any measurable effect on you. It’s an all or nothing story. Either it makes no difference to you at all, or it makes all the difference in the world to you. Why is that? Why do some of us listen to this story year after year, but never see why it matters?
My guess is that some of us aren’t very different from those first disciples who heard the news from the women – this message doesn’t make any logical sense, and so we dismiss it as an “idle tale.” Or maybe we accept the story as fact, but it happened so long ago, we can’t imagine how it matters to us now, in our current situation. You might believe it, but it hasn’t changed the way you act or think. Your life has not yet been transformed by the story of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
I could give you a verse-by-verse explanation of the important details Luke puts into his version of the resurrection story, and we could compare and contrast Luke’s version to the other gospels. I might even be able to share some bit of knowledge from biblical scholars with you that you didn’t know before, and if you could remember it past coffee time, you could discuss it with others over Easter dinner. But it would not change your life. And Jesus died and rose again to change your life.
Those women who first encountered the empty tomb were changed by the experience. The angels said to them, “Remember how he told you this would all happen?” And when they remembered, they weren’t just fondly recalling a memory of some previous conversation with Jesus.
Suddenly, that remembering brought new power and insight into the present. The meaning of Jesus’ past words and actions suddenly made sense in this new realization that Jesus was not dead. And if Jesus was not dead anymore, that meant he was alive! And if Jesus was alive, that meant that everything – everything! – was different. Everything was changed. This kind of remembering had some serious implications for the present, and for the future.
Not everyone remembers a specific moment when Jesus became real to them. For some, it’s a gradually growing awareness that we believe Jesus is the Son of God, and we want to follow him. For others, there’s a vivid memory of a single, life-changing moment, when we knew, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that it was time to choose Jesus.
I remember quite clearly the Sunday morning when I leaned my seven-year-old elbows on the windowsill of my bedroom window, looking out over our back yard, and said, “Okay, Jesus, today is the day I will accept you into my heart.” But whether we have a vivid memory or a growing awareness, the point is that our lives get changed when we realize what those women at the tomb realized. Jesus isn’t dead. He is alive! And that changes everything. The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
This is news worth sharing, and that’s exactly what Mary Magdalene and the other women did. Even though their words were met with disbelief, they had to tell someone what they had just been told.
This isn’t door-knocking evangelism or passing out tracts on a street corner. This is real life sharing the good news with people who are closest to you, telling your own story as only you can tell it. And it’s this kind of personal sharing that helps others come around to the realization that Jesus isn’t dead. He’s alive, and that changes everything.
Researchers tell us that the generation of young adults who are now coming into their thirties aren’t too interested in hearing this news if it doesn’t come with some sort of real life commitment to living out the good news. In other words, unless our lives look different, people in their twenties and thirties aren’t impressed by what we say. They want to see Christian faith in action, making a difference in the world.
I got an email last week that demonstrates this perfectly. Let me read part of it to you.
“Dear Sir or Madam:
I was unsure of whom to contact regarding the house you are updating with the ministerial association for families seeking relief housing. Got a story for ya….”
The writer went on to describe an event from last summer, when her 13-year old son encountered a homeless man outside the Dairy Queen here in New Ulm. He had heard of work in New Ulm, and was promised transportation back and forth to Mankato, but after one day’s work, the people who had brought him here had abandoned him without paying him for his work. He had been sleeping in the park. The 13-year old’s friends laughed at him for taking an interest in the guy, but the boy wanted to help if he could. This woman writes,
“My son knows this guy could be full of it. He knows he could have an alcohol or drug problem. He knows he could even be dangerous. He still wanted to help him. Because of what he’s read in the Bible. Because he could be Jesus! Because you should feed the hungry. Because if he knocks, you should open. Because what you do to the least of these, you do to Me. Because of all that.
“So, we went back down there and tried to see what we could do.
“First, we went to the biggest, most beautiful church in town. This surely is an homage to God and his grace. Certainly he could stay here or they would be able to help us. Nope.|
“So then we went to the police station, where this man was given a voucher to stay in a hotel for a night. We sat with him while the cops checked his ID and stuff. He told us about his life.
“It has always bothered me that I didn’t do more. That I didn’t give him more, or let him stay in our house. My son was braver than I.
“We do not attend a church. I have tried to teach my son by myself, by reading the Bible, by praying together, and just talking. …
… I always thought a church should be not a building, but an idea. The real church is out there…in the world…doing His work. At the very least, a House of God should be open 24/7. Not a place too fancy to let the homeless in. You know what I mean. This is why people like us don’t come, this kind of hypocrisy.
“But you all are doing God’s work in such a literal sense with this project! We would love to help!”
She and her husband did come and help us paint last weekend. And while we painted, we talked a bit. We started a conversation that will continue the next time we are working side by side on something that makes a difference in the world, in the name of Christ.
A conversation like this doesn’t have to be complicated. It doesn’t require a lot of fancy theological language. Jesus has always called people to himself through the simple acts of sharing life together – a meal, a cup of water, a touch, a walk, and many, many conversations.
When Paul came back to church after his mom died, it wasn’t because of the theologically rich preaching on Sunday or the slick musical performance of the worship team. It was because people in this congregation simply reached out to him and welcomed him. You didn’t judge him, you didn’t ask anything of him. You just made him feel the love of God. He met Jesus here.
When he started bringing Sue to church, she found a place where she felt safe. She found peace here. You welcomed her. As Paul and Sue became part of Jeff and Patty’s Wednesday night group, they formed new friendships and found themselves in a good place to share life with others. The conversations that came out of these new friendships were the kind of conversations that grow over time, as trust develops between friends. And through those conversations, Sue made her first profession of faith in Christ, and asked if she could be baptized.
The old, old story isn’t complicated. God sent his own Son, Jesus, into the world to heal the brokenness that has existed ever since the Garden of Eden and that first bite into a piece of fruit. Jesus gathered people around him, and taught them that God’s way looks a lot different than our way. We think that power and money and being famous are important, but Jesus went to the poor, the powerless, the outcasts and said, “yours is the kingdom of heaven.”
His teaching was so radical, so threatening to the religious authorities of the time that they wanted to kill him. They got one of his own friends to betray him, and they killed him in the most gruesome, agonizing way possible. They put his dead body into a cave and rolled a heavy stone door over the opening.
But three days later, the stone had been rolled away and the cave was empty. Jesus was alive! He appeared to his followers and told them to go tell others the good news. And that’s what we’ve been doing for 2000 years. We’ve been telling the good news that Jesus is alive, and you don’t have to be afraid of death anymore. Jesus is alive, and your sins can be forgiven. Jesus is alive, and you can have hope, and peace, and joy in your life. Because Jesus is alive, and he offers that same life to you. Your life can be changed when you decide to follow him, the living Lord.
The Lord is risen.
He is risen indeed.