(Message given at Newberg Friends Church on March 27, 2016)
I’m really glad we’re here together today!
This is our big day! This is the reason we have a church, have faith, have hope. Easter is when we celebrate the heart of our faith, the heart of what sustains us in a world of broken hopes. In a Good Friday world, where the good people are often wrongly punished and mistreated, where evil so often seems to win, where power is used for the wrong things; in a Good Friday world, where it seems every time we get a sniff of hope, some power is there to snuff it out…
In a Good Friday world, where paychecks for celebrities and athletes make the paychecks of teachers and fire fighters look pathetic, where election results make us scratch our heads, where people ARE still judged by the color of their skin rather than the content of their character…in a Good Friday world, we are Easter people!
We are Easter people! The ones who beyond all hoping, beyond all imagining, saw death turned upside down and inside out. We are Easter people, the ones who don’t just learn about a historical figure, but talk and cry and laugh with a risen Lord! We are Easter people, the ones who believe in the craziest reversals, the ones who have watched faithful, loving sacrifice and submission be vindicated and validated by the greatest show of Godly power in the history of all creation, who believe that Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, defeated sin and death and evil power once and forever more when he took a breath in that silent, deathly still tomb.
This is a good day! Thanks be to God!
I got to thinking this week, and that’s not always a good thing.
I got to thinking about some of the famous catch phrases, some of the famous lines in tv history. Could we use those to sum up the best sort of reaction to the news that Jesus rose from the dead? I think Al Michaels, famous sports caster, I think he could definitely speak for us about what Easter is.
Or if we go way back there a ways, some of you might find the famous words of Fred Flintstone helpful.
Or maybe the best way to sum up Easter good times is to go back to JJ from the 70’s show, “Good Times”. Jesus is alive?
But all you younger ones are like, I have no idea what any of those references are: how old are you any way? So I dug around and found a very understated reaction that you younger gamers might be able to relate to. The tomb is empty? Jesus is alive?
(To help some of the rest of you out, that’s Silver the Hedgehog from the Sonic the Hedgehog videogame series.)
It truly is a celebration!
But as you might have noticed when Elenita read from Luke earlier in the service, the actual reactions on that first Easter were not quite the same. The men had a hard time figuring out what was going on, sort of like (now I’m going for you 30-somethings) Principal Belding from Saved by the Bell.
I had Elenita stop with verse 11, even though that really isn’t the end of the scene, because it’s a line I want us to think about a bit: “But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.” This is translating a very strong word, a word that was used at the time to describe the kinds of wild things that sick people in a delirium would say.
Or in other words, the men’s reaction to this news was…
So here’s the paradox!
Today is our day to celebrate, it is the heart of our faith…but we have to face the reality that we’ve gotten so used to the idea of it that we completely miss how crazy this sounds to people outside our faith circles. People don’t come back to life from the dead! Or if they do, they’re like zombies or something, which is not a helpful thing to us at all.
But think about what we believe: we believe our God became a human being, who instead of taking over the world and becoming the best king ever, was actually executed as a criminal…but then we believe he came back to life, hung around for 40 days, ate some fish and talked to some people, then went up in the sky to heaven…and that fact, we believe, changes our lives and could change your life, too!
Cray-cray! Now, I’m saying this tongue in cheek. I’m not saying this to cast doubt on it, I just want to wake us up a bit on this familiar Sunday morning, wake us up to the fact that the thing we base our entire church, our entire faith, our entire life upon is not a normal, run of the mill thing. It’s monumentous! Huge! Completely unprecedented!
It’s probably good for us to step back a bit and realize, this is really a lot to take in. Of course it sounded like nonsense! Of course it was hard to believe! Of course it seemed impossible! IT WAS!
But I’m throwing my voice in with two billion plus people and saying, “It happened!”
I believe it. I believe I have experienced God in ways that match this amazing story: a God who loved so much, that God risked coming near us. A God who seems to show up with the people who are broken and struggling in ways that cannot be explained. A God who delights when people are brave enough not to fight the evil power of this world with the world’s own rules and weapons, but who bravely choose sacrifice and surrender and become cracked jars of clay through whom the power of God shines.
A God who because of Christ’s suffering on our behalf will not always accuse, will not always condemn, but instead will forgive us for the things that haunt us. I believe it! I believe in forgiveness and reversals and God’s power ultimately proving greater than any evil this world can create. I believe it!
A God who shows up with the people who are broken and struggling?
I remember walking through the slums of Guatemala City with a small group on a Compassion tour almost two years ago.
We came to this amazing center where they were feeding, teaching, and giving needed shots to children. The woman there in the yellow vest was my hero. She worked with the tiniest, youngest babies and their mothers, teaching them how to care for their infants and help them be as healthy as possible.
She worked with the poorest of the poor, and she was literally a life-changer for the babies and the moms she worked with. I asked who came, what did they do to get people to come? She took me to the window and pointed.
“I go out on my mornings and I get them. I wake them up, and I bring them here.” She pointed out “her” streets to me, she even pointed beyond that hill on the right. This woman loved Jesus so much and she was unstoppable! She was like a walking, breathing, living Jesus, rising early each morning and going to her people and getting them to the center because she cared for and loved these poor and struggling babies.
She was clear: not all the moms were innocent victims. Some made stupid choices, some didn’t care, some were working the system, some were not kind at all. But she saw the whole thing as broken, as did I. I was overwhelmed with the magnitude of pain and suffering in these barrios. I was overwhelmed by the crime I had heard about and the young teens I saw walking around with automatic weapons. I was paralyzed by the darkness.
But she just got up every morning and went to her people and made a difference, a living example of the living Christ in her.
We got to see one class of the moms and babies, and it was amazing. Amazing. This is where I see the living Christ still. This is where I see humble sacrifice overcoming evil power. This is where I see God doing Easter reversals still.
What about a God who forgives, a God who will not always accuse?
I’ll call him Brad, and he brought his kids to church because he wanted them to have a different life than he had. We sat in my office and he told me, “There’s no hope for me. I’ve done too much you couldn’t imagine.” We sat at lunch and I said “It’s not too late for you. You could be forgiven, too.”
And it wasn’t until the truth of his wife’s bruise came out, it wasn’t until honesty and repentance came out of his mouth, it wasn’t until I and some others walked alongside his wife to keep her safe, got him help he needed, it wasn’t until we saw the worst he was ashamed of and then still said he could be forgiven and God could give power to change…it wasn’t until then that he actually began to believe it for himself.
If God can work in Guatemala and in slums around the world…if God can bring people to repentance and forgive and bring transformation…then Easter is still breaking into our world today.
What more might we see? What more might God do?
There’s a part of the book of Isaiah, written before Christ, that gives a glimpse of how radical a change God wants to bring to our world. And if we can believe that our God has the power to reverse death and not be defeated by sin…if we can believe the “nonsense” news the women brought on the first Easter long ago…well, we can also believe even greater things that God will do.
God is not finished yet! This is our Easter hope. Listen as I read from Isaiah 65, verses 17-25.
‘See, I will create
new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
and its people a joy.
I will rejoice over Jerusalem
and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
will be heard in it no more.
‘ Never again will there be in it
infants who live but a few days,
or older people who do not live out their years;
those who die at a hundred
will be thought mere youths;
those who fail to reach a hundred
will be considered accursed.
They will build houses and dwell in them;
they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
No longer will they build houses and others live in them,
or plant and others eat.
For as the days of a tree,
so will be the days of my people;
my chosen ones will long enjoy
the work of their hands.
They will not labor in vain,
nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune;
for they will be a people blessed by the LORD,
they and their descendants with them.
Before they call I will answer;
while they are still speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb will feed together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox,
but dust will be the serpent’s food.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain, ‘
says the LORD. (Isaiah 65:17-25, TNIV)
This is the crazy work God is doing, the work that begins, continues, and will come to completion in Jesus Christ. The current, horrible, unjust, broken world we live in WILL be redeemed and remade. God will do this! God has begun this work!
Our world is as bad as it is because of human sin, human selfish choices. But part of our crazy belief as Christians is that there are also evil powers, spiritual forces at work in our systems and structures that make it seem like injustice always wins. We do a disservice to what the bible teaches when we pretend evil isn’t real, when we think humans have the ability to just be nice to each other and everything will be ok.
Sin and evil must be dealt with. And our crazy story is…it HAS been dealt with! Jesus’ death and resurrection bring forgiveness for our sins and power for our lives to be changed, so that we can actually act differently. More than that, Jesus’ death and resurrection, the bible says, are actually God’s victory over the evil powers and spiritual forces in our world.
Something incredibly powerful has happened in the spiritual realm! God’s work is not yet complete, but that part of the victory has already been won! This is the crazy hope we have put our lives behind, and I hope you will accept it for yourself, too.
We look forward to the time when weeping and crying will be heard no more!
We look forward to seeing our sacrifice and investment go to ones who deserve it, not to be taken away by the powerful. We look forward to all of creation so radically changed that everything we think of as crazy–a wolf and lamb eating side by side, a lion grazing on straw instead of killing to eat–we look forward to God’s crazy Easter power bringing hope and promise to us.
This is why today is a great day! Can I get a “Yabba-Dabba-Do?” Can I get a “Dy-no-mite?” Thank you God for bringing Jesus back to life, for forgiving sin, for conquering evil, and for bringing it all to creation one day!