Sunday, April 06, 2008

Sunday Sermon- March 23, 2008

The Associate Pastor at Lake Harriet Christian Church, where I am a member asked me to join her in "tag-team preaching" on Palm Sunday and Easter. We also worked together on Maunday Thursday when we shared that service with Linden Hills United Church of Christ, a local congregation. Here is my half of the Easter Sermon.

“Beyond Belief”
John 20:1-18
March 23, 2008 (Easter Sunday)
Lake Harriet Christian Church
Minneapolis, MN

For those of you who are regulars here, you will notice that both Tammy and I are preaching today, giving one of our “tag-team sermons.” However, this one is a bit different. Tammy had asked if we could do this sermon in a dialogue, trying to answer questions we both had about today and the text. After reading both the Matthew text and the text we heard today in John, my question was how we can not be afraid when we see so much chaos going on. Tammy's question is this: Beyond professing belief in a risen Jesus Christ, would I hear him if he called my name? Would I? Do I? Do church?

This dialogue should not be viewed as just the two of us talking. See it instead as an opening to asking your own questions. Asking questions on Easter seems a little odd. We are supposed to be celebrating Christ being raised from the dead and asking questions seems to be like taking away the punch bowl at a party. But the fact is, this is the day to be asking questions because, well today is so unbelievable. Jesus came back to life? Isn't that impossible? And what does that mean? We can't not ask these questions. This day is just to miraculous to leave them unanswered. So let's start.

So, Tammy: My question is based on the Matthew text that was read in the early morning service. In two occasions, the women were told not to be afraid, first by the angels and then by Jesus himself. If I were in the women's place, I don't see how I could not be afraid. Earthquakes, angels and a friend who supposed to be dead now come back to life? I'd be plenty scared.

But then, I always seem to be plenty scared. I worry about financial issues, about discerning my call as a pastor, about my aging parents, I seem to be worrying about a lot of things. And I think about how so many are worrying if they will remain in their homes, or are dealing with lack of health insurance or being reminded of Minnesota Foodshare this month, how many are trying to make ends meet and put food on the table. So what does Jesus mean that we should not be afraid? We have every reason to be.

Tammy, you asked a question that got me thinking. Yes, as Christians, we profess a risen Christ. But would we recognized Jesus if he walked around today? Would the church?

I am reminded of a story I heard a while back. Jim Wallis, the well-know evangelical leader, once gave a speech to a gathering of urban pastors. He talked about the wonderful ministries he saw taking place around the country. For some reason, the pastors got angry. A friend wondered what was up. Wallis responded that the problem with liberal Christians is that they fear that all this talk of a risen Christ is actually true.

I don't say this to harp on liberal Christians, but I do wonder at times if we don't really want to believe Christ is risen. Because if we did, then we would have to make some drastic changes.

You know, every year during this time of year, we are subject to various stories in the media about Jesus and Christianity. During this time of year, we are asked, “Do you believe in the ressurection?”

The reason behind the question is if we actually believe that Jesus came back to life. I have no idea how this all happened. As Barbara Brown Taylor has said, we don't know, since no one was there except Jesus and God. What we do know is that the tomb was empty. Jesus wasn't there, he had outgrown the tomb. He had people to meet. He had a message to spread.

The question no one asks, except Tammy, is what difference does this all makes? Have we seen the risen Christ? Do we see Christ alive, or is he another revolutionary that died a heroic death?

I believe we see the ressurection when we see hope and life where there is supposed to be none. I want to share one example that I actually saw on Good Friday. Some of you know that my partner Daniel is the music director at St. Anne's Episcopal Church in Mendota Heights. It's where we had our commitment ceremony. One of the members there is a young mother by the name of Amy. Amy is in her thirites and has two young children and a loving husband, Warren. She also has a breast cancer that has metasticized. She recently had surgery on her back that was related to the cancer that is ravaging her young body. She was not expected back in church for several weeks because of the surgery, but on Good Friday, she showed up with her husband. What's been amazing through all of this is that she still has a face full of hope and love. You look at this beautiful woman and think that life really sucks. Here is a young woman, with life supposedly ahead of her, dealing with a devasting illness. She might not be able to see her children grow up to graduate from high school or get married. Her husband might have to face raising his two children alone, without the woman he loves. And yet, there seems to be a hope eminating from her that is imaginable.

When I see Amy and her husband, Warren, I see the risen Christ. In a place where there is no hope, hope breaks through.

This is where we will find the risen Christ; breaking free from the tombs of hoplessness and telling others that he is alive and well. Death will not keep the Risen Christ down.

Do you see Christ, alive and well? If so, where?

The question we need to ask today and everyday is not if the ressurection happened or how it happened, but what difference does it makes? In my mind, it makes all the difference in the world. Christ is Risen. He is risen, Indeed. Alleluia!

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