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Sermon transcript for April 19, 2015

The Hands and Feet of Christ
Luke 36b-48
Belmont UMC—April 19, 2015
Ken Edwards, preaching

Audio MP3

Jesus said, “Look at my feet and my hands. It’s really me.” (v. 38)  

Jesus’ hands and feet, now wounded, are the points of recognition for the disciples. He did not say, “Look into my eyes.”  “Listen to my voice.” He said, “Look at my hands and feet.”

My wife tells me I’m not very observant. I’ll try to make a connection with her and someone I met at here at church. She’ll ask, “Was he wearing a red tie?” “Did she have on wire rim glasses?” “Was it the woman with striking pendant around her neck?” I can never answer any of these questions, but I can usually tell her about the persons facial features, points of origin, family connections and sometimes I recall the handshake, but rarely do we recognize people by their hands or feet.

I know my children’s hands. A child had been playing with the copier machine at church and the secretary brought me about 20 sheets of paper with the image of a child’s hand.  I immediately recognized it as my sons.

I would recognize my wife’s hands. When I think about her hands, I picture her stirring or kneading because she likes to cook. She usually has food on her hands when she’s preparing dinner.

My paternal grandfather died in 1979 but I think I would still recognize his hands. His hands were small but strong. He was a farmer and he always wore leather gloves when he worked, but his hands were worn and rough. I recall watching his hands work the fields, holding the reigns of his mules, Kate and Nell, milking cows, whittling a stick, sharpening pencils to precision with this pocket knife, and tying his neck tie getting ready for church. His hands were expressions of grace in my life. His hands were welcoming, loving and forgiving hands. Toward the end of his life he was in a nursing home briefly and I still remember holding his hand. His hand was trembling and pale but unmistakably his.

I would recognize the hands of my friend. His has kind hands, hands that have patted expressions of friendship and affection on my back. His hands have shared food with me. His hands have gently held the shoulders of his children as he looked into their eyes and explained something to them. I’ve watched those hands wave in frustration at me when I’ve been exasperating. I’ve watched those hands shoot a basketball with the graceful shooters touch.

The disciples would recognize the hands of Jesus. “See my hands!” The hands that broke bread, healed, prayed, and gestured. Now wounded, the marks of his love and life are recognizable.

Former Bishop of the Methodist Church of South Africa, Peter Storey, writes about the hands of Jesus. “These hands were carpenter’s hands, hands that had so often felt the texture of rough timber and shaped that timber expertly into something of beauty.
Carpenter’s hands.”

“These hands were healer’s hands, hands that had reached out with incredible sensitivity to touch the sore and broken places in people’s bodies. These hands that had gently touched their wounds, bringing wholeness and help from pain. From these fingertips compassion flowed.
Healer’s hands.”    

“These were also powerful hands, hands that had knotted a whip out of cords and struck blows for truth, hands that had been lifted up against the spirits that shackled people’s minds, casting those spirits out. These hands had been raised against wind and waves, bringing them into submission.
Powerful hands.”

“And these were praying hands, hands that had been lifted heavenward in supplication and in intercession for humankind, hands that had clasped each other in agonized wrestling with more than flesh and blood, which is what real prayer is about.
Praying hands.”  (With God in the Crucible, “These Wounded Hands are God’s” p. 88)

Hands and feet say a lot about where we’ve been or who we are. I watch people’s hands as they hold them open to receive the bread of Holy Communion. There are small, soft hand of gentle persons. There are gardener’s hands, calloused and rough; mechanic’s hands, no matter how much they clean them, the traces of grease tell who they are; there are arthritic hands, age spotted hands and tiny innocent hands of children.

Feet are not bared now as much as they were in Jesus’ day, but if we could see each other’s feet those fee would tell something what who we are. We had a foot washing service here on Holy Thursday and it is always a moving time of worship.

When David McKenna was president of Asbury Seminary, he recalled a foot washing service at the seminary chapel. “Stripping off the proud colors of my academic hood, the prerogatives of my presidential robe and the vestments of my clerical status, I took a towel, wrapped it around my waist, knelt on the floor and poured water in a basin. Sliding the bow ahead of me, I moved on my knees to wash the feet of people who represented different roles, status and segments of our campus community. . . . I washed and dried a narrow foot of Asian ancestry, a perspiring foot that betrayed discomfort in a public setting, an alabaster foot so dainty that it snuggled neatly into the palm of my hand, an outsized foot so big that I almost chucked as it overran the borders of the bowl, a trembling foot of a scholar that caught me completely by surprise, a heavily veined foot that showed the sign of advancing age.”

“In those feet I saw the whole word come together. I knelt before a microcosm of the world, its people and their needs.” (The Coming Great Awakening, p. 120)

Jesus said, “See my feet and my hands.” It is interesting that Jesus reappears as the resurrected Christ with the wounds of crucifixion. He was not afraid to show him self wounded and vulnerable, as if to say, “See my hands and feet! This is who I am. This is where I’ve been, where my life, my love (God’s love) for you and the world has taken me.”

In the hands and feet of Jesus we are reminded that God was not averse to becoming one of us, living among us, knowing us, and suffering with us. In this we can know the full extent of God’s love for us. Nothing is more important than this.

At the end of this passage, Jesus reminds the disciples, and us, that we are the witnesses of these things. In this we hear the call to share with the world the love we have seen in the hands and feet of Jesus.

There’s a saying, “Jesus has no hands but our hands.” It sounds simplistic, but it’s true that the world will only see the love of God, represented by the wounded hands and feet of Christ, if we show them this love.

We see this love a lot around the church. I see it in your hospitality and welcome to all. You are creating a welcoming place where people are finding love and healing. I see it in the way you reach out to children at Eakin Elementary, making sure that none go home hungry. I see it in the wonderful things happening in Malawi and Mexico because your generosity. I see it in the tutoring of children from the Edgehill community in the Brighter Days After School ministry. I see it on the smiles of our friends from the Golden Triangle Fellowship. I see it in the way you responded to Imagine No Malaria. I see it in the faces of children at Project Transformation. I see it in our outreach to homeless neighbors.

Where are the places that we will take the love of the hands and feet and Jesus this week? God will show us.

 

April 19, 2015
Luke 24: 36-48
Title: Bread and Fish, Flesh and Bones
10:30 Community Center Worship - Adam Kelchner, preaching



“While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.

Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”
~Luke 24:36-48

I give thanks to God for each of you who have gathered in this place to worship this morning. Thank you to each person who has assisted us with readings, prayers, and songs to bring glory to God.

Let us pray: Almighty God, we give thanks for the joy and hope of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Pour out your blessings on these words so that they will teach us how to recognize you. Amen.

Last week our preaching text focused on the disciple Thomas, who at first missed seeing Jesus when he appeared after the resurrection. But in a second gathering, Thomas was there when Jesus comes into the room. Jesus invited him to touch the holes in his hands and wound in his side so he would know it was Jesus.

Thomas’ encounter with Jesus may seem a little gruesome-think about the possibility of touching a flesh wound of someone you knew had died. But those scars proved to Thomas that the man before him was Jesus whom he had followed before the crucifixion.

Jesus’ wounds and scars show us that when he was preaching, teaching, and healing in his community that he was as human as you and I are. Even as he was God, he was fully human with emotion, pain, joy, and the need to eat and sleep like us.

As God became human in Jesus the Christ, God became able to know and experience and redeem all of the things we face. This is good news: there is nothing, you and I will ever face or experience in this human life that God’s grace cannot redeem.

And in this morning’s gospel text, we read of another post resurrection experience with Jesus among the disciples. The scripture story comes right after the walk to Emmaus.

Emmaus was a village outside of Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified. There were two people, one named Cleopas, who were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus when another traveler joined them. The new traveler asked the other two what they were talking about and they explained the powerful actions of Jesus.

The two travelers explained how Jesus was a prophet but that he was executed by the Roman government. Then they explained that some of their friends had gone to Jesus’ tomb on the third day and he was not there.

Then the third traveler, who was Jesus, but they couldn’t recognize him, explained the stories of scripture to them starting with Moses. When the three of them arrived at the village called Emmaus, the two travelers invited Jesus to dinner. It was when Jesus took the break, blessed it, and broke it that they recognized who he was.
Just like in our monthly celebration of Holy Communion, we see God in Jesus Christ when the bread and cup are shared in remembrance of God’s love for us.

The two followers of Jesus rushed back to Jerusalem to tell their friends they had seen Jesus just like the women at the tomb. Then again, Jesus came to the community and spoke a word of peace and showed his wounded hands and feet so they would recognize him.

Then something very curious happens: Jesus asks for food. He says, do you have something to eat? The disciples give him baked fish and he eats it in front of them.

The writer of the gospel of Luke wants the church to know beyond all doubt that Jesus is alive and that he is fully human, not a ghost. But why does it matter that Jesus comes to us in a human body and not as a spirit?

For hundreds of years, preachers and priests have told Christians that the body is sinful and they should focus on the salvation of the soul in the afterlife. The emphasis was on whether or not someone is with God after they die, and it didn’t matter what condition their body was in during this human life.

In the worst ways, Christian conquerors in the 1500’s forced Indians to convert to Christianity before murdering them and their villages. In the 1800’s American slave owners in this part of the country would build churches and pay the pastors to tell the African American slaves that they were supposed to stay submissive to the slaveowner. They were trying to emphasize the afterlife of the soul so that people wouldn’t pay attention to the brutal suffering in their human life.

But we need to remember the scars of Jesus-he has suffered, died, and was resurrected by God’s power in a human body. Jesus cares about more than your soul, he cares for and loves every part of you, whether you are healthy or sick, young or old, blind, deaf, or injured for life.

We can’t be a church that only cares about someone’s salvation. American prophet and preacher, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr said: “Any religion that professes to be concerned with the souls of men and is not concerned with the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them, and the social conditions that cripple them, is a dead religion.”

When I read the Gospel of Luke I see Jesus who is healing the sick, preaching good news to the poor, and suffering and dying in a human body. And when I look at the church, the Methodist Church, I see Christians who in the 1900’s objected to child labor, endless work, advocated for protection of workers in dangerous industries, and a living wage to meet basic needs.

Right now there are over 300,000 of our brothers and sisters in Tennessee who can’t get healthcare insurance coverage because of government restrictions. Because the church believes Jesus Christ cares about the bodily suffering of our neighbors, I joined other pastors this past Tuesday to protest against the most recognized government officials in the state who are responsible for the restrictions.

Our neighbors are dying from all types of cancers and other diseases and can’t get the medical treatments to save their lives. The church can’t care only about the salvation of souls while death and despair reign supreme in the bodily lives of our neighbors.

Jesus the Christ came back to his disciples, eating fish, and showing off his scars to remind all who follow him that God became as human as you and me.

Bless you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

Sermon transcript for April 12, 2015

“Seeing and Believing”
John 20:19-31
April 12, 2015—Belmont UMC
Ken Edwards

I read a story about a young man named Charlie who was in love with a charming young lady named Ava. She was in love with Charlie, but so far he had been unable to persuade her to marry him. Then one day he invited her to lunch. They drove to the Los Angeles Coliseum, which was one of the largest sports arenas on the West Coast.

In the center of the vast playing field were placed a small table and two chairs. A maitre d’ showed them to the table, they were seated, a waiter stood behind each chair. Apart from this small setting, the Coliseum was empty. They were surrounded by 100,000 empty seats.

The table was elegantly set. Caviar and champagne were served--then a soufflé and salad and more champagne. And as they were waiting for dessert, Charlie directed Ava’s attention to the huge electronic scoreboard at the far end of the field. In a prearranged signal, he raised his glass, and the board flashed the words, “Darling Ava, will you marry me?”  She said, “Yes!”

Why doesn’t God do something like that for us? It would be so much easier to have faith. Imagine a giant comet streaking through the spring sky with the tail writing, “I love you, signed God.” Why doesn’t God do something spectacular like that? It would be so much easier to convince people to believe.

In today’s Gospel text Thomas is struggling to believe what the disciples are telling him. Thomas seems to suffer from a lack of imagination. In John 14 Jesus says, “Don’t be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me. My Father’s house has room to spare. If that weren’t the case, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you? When I go to prepare a place for you, I will return and take you to be with me so that where I am you will be, too. You know the way to the place I’m going”

We know these words because we read them at funerals and find comfort in them, but if you were hearing them for the first time, they might seem a little vague. All the disciples are silent upon hearing these words. Maybe they were perplexed or stunned, but Thomas speaks up and says simply, “Lord, we don’t where you are going. How can we know the way? (v. 5)

There is a part of us that wants to say with Thomas, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, and put my finger in the wounds left by the nails, and put my hand into his side, I won’t believe.”

We long for our own certainty and yet we are hard to convince. Even the disciples who had seen the resurrected Christ are still in the locked room when he appears again. How convinced are they? How much more do we want?

In the Gospel of John the themes of seeing and believing are consistent throughout. Phrases like, “they saw and believed,” “come and see,” are found in many chapters.
*Jesus said to the disciples, “Come and see.” (Chapter 1)
*In chapter 2, “Many believed because they saw Jesus’ signs.”
*Chapter 3, “Nicodemus comes to see more signs.    
*Chapter 4, “A woman in Samaria tells her community, “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did.”     
*This theme continues all the way to Chapter 20 and the resurrection story. Peter and the beloved disciple raced to the tomb. They looked in and saw nothing. The beloved disciple “saw and believed.” We aren’t sure what he believed—maybe he believed that the body was stolen—but it is more consistent with the Gospel that he believed in the resurrection.
*Mary Magdalene saw Jesus and ran to tell the others. (Chapter 20)

Then Jesus appeared to the disciples who were huddled fearfully behind locked doors, but Thomas was not with them. Upon hearing of this post resurrection manifestation, he declared, “I will not believe unless I see.”

Jesus appeared before them again, and in stinging words responds, “Do you believe because you see me? Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.” We feel the sting of those words because we identify with Thomas.

Bob Benson wrote about seeing ourselves in the stories of scripture and we see ourselves in this story. He remembered the popularity of personalized children’s books. We could order a book for our child and the name of the main character was changed to our child’s name. Benson asked, “Why do children like these books, these “me-books?” We all like stories about ourselves.” And he called the Bible a “me-book” and a “you-book” because we are in there.

“We all have taken our turn at saying, ‘There is no room in the inn,’ and we all know what it is like to sadly reverse our paths like the rich young ruler. We all know what it is like to say, ‘I did not know him.’ Or to leave unsaid, ‘Yes, I am a follower of his.’ We all have bravely said in stirring faith, ‘Thou art the Christ, the son of the living God,’ and we will all have felt or said, ‘Unless I touch the prints on his hands.’ . . .
These things were said to us and for us and about us in this living book of God.”
(See You At the House—The Very Best of the Stories He Used to Tell, 38-39.)

In this story we see ourselves, our fears, our doubts, and our need for certainty. “Show me and I will believe!” And we are to those whom Jesus spoke when he said, “Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.”

But our goal on this spiritual journey is not certainty, being certain about every belief, being certain that every faith distinctive is correct, and having certain proof of the resurrection. Our journey’s goal is not certainty but knowing God, being in relationship with God. This is a relationship that takes us a journey of belief and disbelief, of amazement and bewilderment, of hope and despair, and of covenant making and broken promises.

In the scripture a man says to Jesus, “I believe, help my unbelief.” This is one of the most honest prayers in the Bible. It sums up how we feel sometimes—torn between faith and doubt. When I served as an associate pastor the senior pastor used a funeral liturgy out of an old Book of Worship. The response to the opening prayer and greeting was to say to the congregants, “Lord, we believe, help our unbelief.” The first few times I heard him use this I thought it was an odd thing to say at a funeral. But then I realized that it was an authentic and honest prayer to say that at a funeral. It cut to heart of how we often feel. It’s a prayer I often whisper when times are uncertain.

This journey is about honesty—it’s about a time to exclaim, “My Lord and my God,” on one day and our fears, doubts, anxieties on the other. Jesus’ repeated visits to the fearful disciples are visits of grace in the midst of their fear and doubts. Jesus’ words about believing him were not addressed to Thomas alone (who always gets a bad reputation), but to each disciple and to us. In the midst of this journey, with its diverse experiences of faith and fear, God comes to us, because that is the nature of God.

And sometimes I think we do not see what God is doing in our lives. We miss the simple moments of grace that arrive unexpectedly. A few weeks ago, I was having a couple of difficult days. I won’t bore you with the details. But over those two days I received many, many calls, text messages and emails from friends expressing love and support. Three very intuitive friends called me to say something like this, “You’ve been on my mind today and I felt God’s nudging to call you and tell you how much you mean to me.” I tend to be more pragmatic than mystical, so I was well into day two of this before I realized that God was trying to get my attention and offer love and grace.

So why doesn’t God do something spectacular to help us to believe? God has done something spectacular. God became flesh and lived among us in Jesus Christ. Is that spectacular enough? And God comes to us in our fears and doubts and speaks words of grace to us.

In 1 Peter we read that our hope is in finding and knowing relationship with the Risen Christ. He writes, “Though we do not now see him, yet we love him.” (1 Peter 1:8 NRSV)

 

Seeing the Risen Christ
John 20:19-31
Golden Triangle Fellowship Sermon
April 12, 2015
Adam Kelchner



When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’

I give thanks to God for each of you who have gathered in this place to worship this morning. Thank you to each person who has assisted us with readings, prayers, and songs to bring glory to God.

Let us pray: Almighty God, we give thanks for the joy and hope of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Pour out your blessings on these words so that they will teach us how to recognize you. Amen.

Last week we celebrated Easter and the empty tomb because Jesus Christ was no longer there. Pastor Ken said in his sermon that Jesus took death and despair and he left them in the tomb.

This is the good news of God. Jesus Christ was not defeated by death. Even though he died on the cross, the power of God brought him life again showing God’s love for all of us.

In this morning’s gospel reading, it tells of one of the many times that Jesus comes to meet his disciples after he left the tomb. You may have heard of some of the stories of Jesus going to his disciples after Easter.

He meets them when they are scared and hiding from the police that arrested Jesus and took him to the Roman government. He meets them on the lakeshore where they used to fish and eats with them. He meets them on a road heading to a village called Emmaus. On the road to Emmaus, the other people walking with him do not recognize him at first but they realize it is Jesus when they share communion together.

One of the most important gatherings after the resurrection is when Jesus meets with his disciples, takes them up to the top of a mountain and commands them to go throughout the entire world, follow his teachings, baptize disciples, and lead people in faith.

The writers of Matthew, Mark, John, and Luke want those who read the Bible to know that Jesus is not a ghost, but a fully human person who God has brought back from the dead and is going to continue teaching his disciples.

Remember that on Easter morning, Mary Magdalene and two of Jesus’ disciples went to the tomb where Jesus was buried and it was empty. Then with angels Jesus spoke to Mary so that she knew he was risen from the dead.

That night is where today’s story begins. The disciples are gathered together in a home, terrified that the Roman military who crucified Jesus would come after them as well. I think of all the communities around the world who live in the despair caused by civil war and military occupation. We can remember or imagine the fear the disciples would have had when they lost Jesus several days earlier.

But Jesus comes to his disciples and speaks a word of peace to them. In the midst of anxiety, grief, despair, and fear, Jesus speaks a word of peace and brings the Holy Spirit upon his followers. Jesus breathes and the spirit of God comes to the disciples.

This movement and power of the Holy Spirit is like the story in Genesis when God’s spirit or breath hovered above the waters when there was nothing but chaos in creation.

When Jesus first met with the disciples, one of them was not there. Thomas was absent. When his friends tell him they have seen Jesus he responds that he wants to touch Jesus’ flesh to know God raised him from the dead. So one week after Easter the disciples are together again and Jesus comes back.

He gives Thomas the very offer he needs to believe. Jesus invites Thomas to touch his body and realize that he is not a ghost. I don’t know whether Thomas touched Jesus’ scars and wounds but he certainly shouted that he knew who Jesus was. He says, ‘My Lord and My God.’

Often the church and preachers call Thomas a doubter because he says that he wants to see Jesus for himself. But I think that Thomas should be praised because when he sees the very presence of God in Jesus Christ, he makes the declaration: My Lord, My God.

My Lord, My God: those are words of trust, faith, and love in Jesus. I want each of you to want above all else to see, hear, and experience the grace of God so powerfully that it leads you to faith in Jesus Christ.

We have stories and experiences that are so powerful, compelling, and life changing that we know even without seeing the flesh wounds of Jesus Christ that God is at work in our midst. Those are stories that need to be told and shared as we remember the power of Easter.

This is good news: We live after the resurrection with the hope and joy that God is continuing to triumph over despair, fear, and death in our lives, in the neighborhood, and around the world.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

   

Sermon transcript for April 5, 2015

Easter Power
John 20:1-18
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!

 

Sermon transcript for March 29, 2015

“Bystanders Becoming Cross-bearers”
Mark 15:15-26
Belmont UMC—March 29, 2015
Ken Edwards, preaching

Here we are at the beginning of Holy Week; the season of Lent seemed to go by quickly this year. I took the time to read through many of the passages that we will consider as we move through the coming week. Every year we come face to face with the events in the last week of Jesus’ life. Every year we stop and look and listen with awe and dismay. The story inspires us and troubles us. The story changes us and draws us closer to God, giving us a fresh glimpse at the wonder of God’s incredible love.

Simon
I was asked to write a reflection for the Station of the Cross based on the Gospel reading and it stayed with me all week. Simon of Cyrene, a bystander is compelled by soldiers to carry the cross of Jesus. Each year I’ve read that part of the story, but this year I was struck by the way the lives of these 2 persons, Simon and Jesus, come together along the way of the cross.

Cyrene is a name that comes up several times in the New Testament. Located in what is modern day Libya, it was a place where a large number of Jewish people lived and we see them coming to Jerusalem as pilgrims at Passover and Pentecost (Acts 2). Mark, who is not big detail, gives us this subtle clue, calling Simon “the father of Rufus and Alexander.” Why would Mark add this detail? It is obvious that these two men were known by the early Christian community. This may be Mark’s subtle way of saying that Simon became a Christian, a follower of the Way.

In our story he is a bystander, like thousands of other pilgrims who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover—to pay the temple tax, the make a sacrifice, and to eat the Passover meal. Simon is likely a religious, dutiful, keeper of the law. He is an ordinary person, from an ordinary place, looking upon an extraordinary scene.

The week had begun with an unusual little parade—a man named Jesus was riding into the city on a donkey. It was festive and celebratory. But the mood has changed and the quietness of tragedy hangs in the air. The cheers of Palm Sunday have become the jeers of Good Friday.

Simon watches a man carrying a wooden cross beam. He’s seen this before. The Romans used crucifixion freely as way of punishing criminals and sometimes for no good reason at all. The man with the cross is wounded and there is blood and sweat on his face and torso. The man stumbles. Simon watches, like one looks at the scene of a car wreck—looking but not wanting to look at the same time. Simon watches as the man falls. The soldiers are becoming impatient; they want Jesus to move along, quit holding things up. They want to get this over with.

Suddenly, Simon is pulled from the edge of the crowd, “You! You help him carry it!” There he is, shoulder to shoulder with the man they call Jesus. They look at each other as they come along side one another. Simon gently lifts the cross off the Jesus’ wounded back and he hears Jesus exhale with a great sigh of relief.

Jesus
Jesus had come to Jerusalem with his disciples. They had not understood why he felt it necessary to make this dangerous trip into a city of enemies, but they would in time.

I’m always struck by how alone Jesus must have felt, even when surrounded by a multitude of people. And he’d felt alone long before he arrived in Jerusalem. There were days when no one seemed to understand his teaching. There was the day they threatened him in his own home town. There was a day when many left him and quit following him and he turned and asked the disciples, “Will leave me, also?”

In Jerusalem he knew he would be alone, tried alone, and crucified alone. He prayed in Gethsemane and asked God for a new plan and there his disciples fell asleep and could not keep him company. On the cross he would cry out to God in words from the Psalms (Ch. 22), “My God, my God, why have you left me all alone?”

He carried the cross alone. Already beaten and too weak to make the journey to Golgotha. He feels the weight lifted from his wounded shoulders and looks into the eyes of a stranger, Simon.

Us
And there we are—bystanders, ordinary people from ordinary places, spectators, looking but wanting to look away. We could have been there. We could have been called from the sidelines and compelled to carry the cross. And there we would come shoulder to shoulder with Jesus, side by side.

We do come alongside Jesus during this Holy Week. We take a closer look at Jesus and remember his life and what he did. He healed the sick, even those with leprosy and those who had been cast to the margins. He included everyone and turned no one away. He taught with authority, like one from God. He forgave those who thought they could never be forgiven.  He loved those who would say, “God could never love me.”

Alongside Jesus this week, we see the world as it really is. We see the failings of our humanity. We see our fickleness and shortsightedness. We see our mob mentality and our cruelty. We see our reluctance to forgive or to see the best in others. We see our tendency to exclude. We see our prejudices.

This week our lives and the life of Jesus come together in a new meaningful way and we will likely be changed by it.

I remember singing a hymn when I was kid. “Must Jesus bear the cross alone and all the world go free? No, there’s a cross for everyone, and there’s a cross for me.”  I never liked that hymn, because it troubled me. I didn’t want to bear a cross—it suggested a cruel and harsh side of life I wanted to avoid.

But the cross represents the extent of God’s love for the world. Madeline L’Engle wrote, “What one of us can understand a love so great that we would willingly limit our unlimitedness, put the flesh of mortality over our immortality, accept all the pain and grief of humanity, submit to betrayal by that humanity, be killed by it, and die a total failure (in human terms) on a common cross between two thieves?”  (source unknown)

I was in High School and it was Holy Week. I was having a cool relationship with the church, but I kept showing up, because it’s what we did. The Youth were asked to have a Good Friday service and I was asked to participate. I was busy working in town and on the farm. I said I can be there but I can’t make the rehearsal. So they asked me to process the cross. Someone had made it for the service. It was crude and thick and extremely heavy. I weighed about 140 pounds, and I could barely lift it. The congregation began singing, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord.” The words of that spiritual have always had an effect on me. It seemed like a simple thing to do but under the weight of that cross I began to feel something. I held back tears as I walked down the aisle and the words, “This is how much God loves us,” came to my mind. I never forgot that.

A year later, in my first year of college, my life turned around and I found renewed faith in God. I wonder if that is what happened with Simon.

Today we stand in the crowds and watch as Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey. We wave palm branches and shout “Hosanna!” But we do not fully understand what this parade is all about.

On Thursday we will sit at the table with Jesus and the disciples and celebrate Passover. He will tell us that one of us will betray him. We will turn to one another and ask, “Is it I?”  And we will be stunned by these words and even more stunned when our Rabbi/ Teacher gets up from the table and begins to wash our feet.

On Friday we will walk with him to Gogotha and watch him die. We will celebrate and reenact these events in worship on Thursday and Friday and we hope a lot of you will come. But I do think these worship services should come with warning labels. I think it was Annie Dillard who said that people who go to church should wear crash helmets. The may be a crash helmet kind of week for us. For if you come these services, your life may be changed by the power of God’s transforming love.

We do not carry crosses but we do carry the power of God’s transforming love into the whole world-to everyone. We do carry the grace of God’s forgiveness which is extended to everyone. We are called from the sidelines the carry the message of good news, the message of healing, hope and liberation to everyone. Thanks be to God!

   

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