Belmont UMC—April 5, 2015
Ken Edwards, preaching
I receive Sunday School class emails and updates from many classes and in one church I served the class communicator would include a summary of what she thought I had said in the Sunday sermon, for those who had missed church. I was always interested to read what she thought I said. Sometimes she was spot on, but most of the time she wrote of a very different version of the sermon than what I had actually said. Sometimes her version was an improvement of the sermon.
Tom Long shares a story about Clint Tidwell, who was a pastor of a church in a small Southern town, and one of his blessings—and one of his curses—was that the 80 year old owner and editor of the local newspaper was a member of the congregation. The blessing was that the editor believed Tidwell was a fine preacher and he wanted the whole town to know it, so he published a summary of Tidwell’s sermons every Monday morning in the paper. The curse part was that the editor, though well meaning was a bit eccentric, and Tidwell was often astonished and sometimes embarrassed by the editor’s synopses.
Tidwell’s deepest amazement came not when the newspaperman misunderstood the sermon, but when he understood it all too clearly. It was early on a Monday morning after Easter. Tidwell, in his bathrobe and slippers, paddled out the carport door to retrieve the morning paper. He could see that the morning headline was in “second coming” size type. Had war broken out? Had the banks failed? What had happened in the dark of night while he slept?
As he drew close he was startled to read in giant bold letters, TIDWELL CLAIMS JESUS CHRIST ROSE FROM THE DEAD! His face turned red. Yes he had proclaimed that news in worship but what would the neighbors think. You are supposed to say that on Easter, aren’t you, that’s not like saying that some person who died last week had risen from the grave, is it? As he looked at the glaring headlines he felt a little foolish. (Tom G. Long, Whispering the Lyrics: Sermons for Lent and Easter) So what about us? Does the Easter story ring true and is it filled with power?
One might think the title of the sermon to be a bit unusual but the word “power” is associated with Easter and the resurrection in the New Testament. The word “power” may evoke a lot of different thoughts and it’s a word that has the ability to attract a lot of connotations, some of which are negative, like “power trips, power corrupts or abuse of power.”
But the power of Easter, the power that comes out of the story of the resurrection is very different. Paul speaks of this in his letter to Philippi, “The righteousness that I have comes from knowing Christ and the power of his resurrection.” (3:10 CEB) This was important to Paul because he believed he had encountered the Risen Cross on the Damascus Road. The idea that the resurrection has power is present throughout the New Testament.
The resurrection of Jesus is the key event in the Gospels that transformed the disciples from fearful, betraying, questioning followers, into leaders of the early church. They were so convinced that the affirmation, “Christ is risen!” was true that most of them would die for their faith.
But do we believe this and are we prepared to declare that the Easter is a real event that has power in our lives today?
Easter is a little hard on our faith but it was hard on those first century Christians as well. As someone said, “Death has been around for a long time.” And people in the first century knew the reality of death better than we do in our sterilized, death-denying attempts to avoid the whole subject altogether. We expect death but we can get a little unsure about resurrection.
Easter was hard on the faith of Mary who is weeping in the garden because she thought Jesus’ body had been stolen. Mary thought the man she encountered was a gardener. Why would she think otherwise? She did not expect to encounter the Risen Christ. When she hears her name, she hears something familiar, something powerful and knowing—wonder and surprise leap up inside of her and she responds by calling him “Rabbi.” He speaks to her and she runs to tell the others, “I have seen the Lord.”
But Easter changes everything for the disciples and it changes everything for us. Easter is a powerful event.
Easter is power in the face of death! For those early Christians, who faced great hardship and persecution, the words, “Because he lives, you will live also,” were a source of hope and encouragement. These words continue to speak hope and encouragement to us as well.
I preached an Easter sermon a couple of Saturdays ago. It was the funeral sermon for our friend, Gabe Segovia. Gabe, who died on his 45th birthday, was an amazing young man who was a blessing for us all. He learned he had a brain tumor when he was 41 and he went through 3 bouts of cancer treatments, including surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.
I told the crowd at his funeral that Gabe did not lose his battle with cancer. He won because he did not let cancer take anything of value away from him. Instead he turned the disease on its head and used it to teach him how to live fully. It led him to a profound experience of faith in God—a story that he told in many, many churches. He was here a couple of Sundays before he died and he hugged me and said, “I love you, Pastor Ken.” Then he took a selfie of the two of us to post on Facebook. I often wonder how many selfies he has taken over the last few years.
Gabe would tell us that he believed that Christ is risen, because the risen Christ came to him, loved him and transformed him in a powerful way. He would tell us that as a member of the Homeless Ministry Team here at Belmont, he had encountered the living Christ in service to our homeless neighbors.
I can’t imagine preaching Gabe’s funeral if I did not believe in the power of the resurrection. Gabe believed it fully. Easter doesn’t get any more real than this.
Easter is power in the midst of life! I listened as my friend, Michael, prayed for us the other day. He said something like this, “Death, darkness and defeat do not have power over us anymore because Jesus took those things with him into the tomb and left them there.” The resurrection gives us new life and new hope in living everyday. It is transformational.
The great missionary, E. Stanley Jones, in his autobiography, tells about a man from Africa that he met who had changed his name to “After” immediately after his conversion. He reasoned that all things were new and different and important after he met Christ, so he was going to reflect that new reality in his name as well as in his thinking. (A Song of Ascents, p. 16) After Easter, nothing is the same again.
This Easter power is manifest in the transformation and work of the Christian community. In his book, The Bible Makes Sense, Walter Brueggemann, explores themes of the Bible and what they mean. In a chapter titled, “From Death to Life” he notes that life always means relatedness. “Life means to be significantly involved in a community of caring, meaning and action. Death means to be excluded from such a community or denied access to its caring, meaning and action.” (p. 109)
Brueggemann references the story of the mentally ill man who is consigned to live among the tombs, which for society meant that he was as good as dead. (Mark 5:2). Jesus heals the man and sends him home. He restores him to health and to his community from which he has been excluded. This is an Easter story.
Brueggemann notes that the “the early Christians were not much interested in the mechanics of (Jesus) coming out of the tomb, but they were mightily moved by his present power to gather outcasts around him to form a new community. Resurrection is the good news that the banished, destroyed one, is the one (the only one) who has the power to create a new community.” (pp. 115-116) Radical hospitality is an expression of the power of the resurrection.
Today we read the beautiful Easter story out of the Gospel of John. But there are new Easter stories being written every week in this church and in every place where people seek to follow the Risen One. These Easter stories are written in every act of kindness and in every word of encouragement. They are written when the hungry are fed, and the homeless are welcomed in. They are written when our hospitality models the welcome of Jesus, who excluded no one. They are written when love and justice win.
In the words of Brian McLaren, Easter “feels like an uprising. An uprising of hope, not hate. An uprising armed with love, not weapons. An uprising that shouts a joyful promise of life and peace, not angry threats of hostility and death. It’s an uprising of outstretched hands, not clenched fists. It’s the “someday” we have always dreamed of, emerging in the present, rising up among us and within us. . . . This is what it means to be alive, truly alive.” (We Make the Road by Walking, p. 170)
So let tomorrow’s bold headline read that your pastor and pastors all over this city, claimed that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Because the Lord is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!