Sunday, April 20, 2014

Sermon Easter Sunday 2014

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

There are a couple of phrases that have entered our collective lexicon
that are somewhat helpful to us, but not always.
These are ‘life goes on,’ and ‘the new normal.’
Whenever there is a sudden trauma in our lives,
especially when there is a death,
well-meaning folks say, ‘Life goes on.’
I counsel people about what to expect in the first year after a death
and I may use the phrase ‘the new normal.’
Perhaps we even use these phrases to comfort ourselves.
‘Life goes on,’ we say, as if trying to convince ourselves.
And indeed life does go on.
After a period of shock and grief, we eventually become adjusted to tragedy.
We even see this as we as a nation
adjust ourselves to acts of indiscriminate violence
at schools, universities, public events, and military bases.
After a brief focus on these terrible events,
some hand-wringing and angry calls for reform,
these events quickly fade from the public consciousness
as the next news cycle brings more events
upon which to focus our attention.
We as communities are okay with the deaths of so many young people
from drug abuse, even as we legalize drugs in order to obtain revenue
and supposedly drive down crime.
We get used to ‘the new normal,’ and we say, ‘life goes on.’

While perhaps the phrases are peculiar to our time and place,
this sentiment is hardly unknown.
After all, the women processing to the tomb of Jesus
were expressing this in their actions early in the morning on the first day of the week.
The new normal was that Jesus was dead,
and life was going to go on.
They were going to see the tomb,
perhaps to reconcile themselves to this new normal,
before they had to move on to a life without Jesus.
And they encountered not a gravestone,
but an empty tomb, and an angel.

 Imagine if the angel had said,
‘Life will go on.’
Would anyone have told that story?
Would we be here this morning?
I’d wager we’d be somewhere else.

Imagine if the angel had counseled the women
that they were now in a ‘new normal,’
and that they would slowly get used to it.
Such an angel would be a mere dispenser of human wisdom,
cold comfort indeed.

Instead the angel uses a phrase that is stunning
in both its simplicity and its audacity.
‘Do not be afraid.’
These are words not only to reassure the women
in their fear at the appearance of an angelic being,
but a word that they may come back to again and again.
‘Do not be afraid.’
Fear death no more,
for Jesus has been raised.
The new normal is no longer death, but life.

Now the women leave the tomb ‘with fear and great joy,’
and they encounter Jesus on the road.
‘Do not be afraid.’
Again, not only a momentary word of reassurance
to those who are seeing a dead man,
but a watchword which shall now echo through their lives.
This is a message they are to take to the disciples, to us.
a message from God himself.

This word shatters the worldly wisdom of ‘Life goes on,’ and the ‘new normal.’
It is not death that has the last word, but life.
It is no longer sin that has the last word, but forgiveness.
It is no longer evil that has the last word, but God.
‘Do not be afraid!’

So why is there so much fear in the world?
Why is there so much fear in the Church?
Among God’s own people, those of us who gather
to hear the Word of Resurrection,
fear rears its ugly head.
Jesus may be raised, but life goes on in the new normal.
There is the new normal of disease and divorce and depression,
there is the new normal of decay and death.
With a word Jesus would dispel these,
not that we do not have to undergo trials,
but that they might be transformed.
They no longer can overcome us,
for God has overcome sin and death.

Why is there so much fear in the Church?
For there are those in the Church, the pastors among them,
who fear that the Church is dying.
We see it around us in the culture,
we see it around us in our congregations,
that the churchgoers are graying,
that attendance and offerings are dropping,
that the pastor is often the youngest in the room.
We long for the old days
when we had to set up chairs in the back
and in the narthex for Easter Sunday.
We cannot afford to tithe,
we cannot afford even the time to go to weekly church
in this expensive and busy world.
God will forgive us, after all.
Even some of you out there may think,
‘I am too busy for weekly church.
God will forgive me.’
This is the new normal, and even though the church shrinks
in stature and statistic, and may die,
life will indeed go on.

‘Do not be afraid!’
This word shatters the new normal.
‘Do not be afraid!’
This word says not ‘life will go on,’
but ‘God’s Word stands forever.’
‘Do not be afraid!’
If you think, ‘I cannot afford the time to go to church,
I cannot afford to give the way I know I should,
like my parents and my grandparents did,
because I need so much, and God cannot provide for me,’
If you think, ‘Oh, the future belongs to the big churches,’
and, ‘There is nothing that I can do,’
and, ‘I don’t want to get involved,’
then I ask you,
do you then dare to say that you believe in the forgiveness of sins,
the communion of saints,
and the resurrection to life everlasting?

How can we say, ‘He is risen indeed, alleluia!’
if God cannot do little things?
If he cannot accomplish these trifles,
then he cannot raise the dead either.
On the other hand, if God is risen from the dead,
then there is nothing that he cannot do.
He can forgive the greatest sin,
he can empower the weakest believer,
and he can raise us from the dead.

What are we afraid of?
That God will abandon us?
That he will allow us to starve, run out of time and money?
That it is all up to us?
Or do we believe the word of the angel
and the word of our Lord?
Do we believe that this word, ‘He is risen indeed,’
still has meaning and place in our world and in our lives,
and that is our God-given duty and joy
to make this word known to our brothers and sisters
in everything we do?

‘I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore I will continue my faithfulness to you.’
‘Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
his steadfast love endures forever.’
‘Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’
All of these are different ways that we hear,
‘Do not be afraid!’
For those who trust in these words,
life indeed takes on a new normal,
one that allows us to suffer evil, trust God with our brokenness,
and sing alleluia through our tears at the grave.
It allows us to say even in the midst of the realities of the world
that ‘Life’ with a capital ‘L’ goes on forever.
that God has something to do with us yet,
that God still has something to do with the Church.

If we simply hear and hold to these words,
‘Do not be afraid,’
if we seek Jesus ahead of us,
we shall find him,
and in him,
our true destiny and our true selves as well.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!