Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
It is very good to see so many of you here this morning in worship. It is always great to see a church full of people. Easter is one Sunday when that normally happens because most know the importance of the day or many have their curiosity peaked and come to see what this Christian faith is all about. For whatever reason you are here, I give thanks to God that you are here, but I also would like to ask this question: where were you on Friday?
I mean, we also gathered together then to worship, but the church most definitely was not full. Where were you on Friday? Now, please do not think that I am asking you this to instill within you a sense of guilt or obligation. Far from it. The Church throughout history has been guilty of trying to motivate people through guilt and fear far too often. I do not want to add to that history. My question is one of curiosity as to why few show up for Good Friday services. I mean, I do understand some folks who say, “Pastor, I love coming to hear the good news of Easter. I love coming to hear that Jesus is risen from the dead because in a world like ours where we are constantly bombarded by bad news and news that makes us scared, I love hearing something positive for a change. I don’t like hearing about death and dying. I don’t like hearing about blood and torture. I don’t like hearing about nails and thorns. I’d much rather hear about life and abundance. I’d much rather hear about good news.” I understand where you are coming from, but I’d like to remind you this morning that there is a reason we call it Good Friday and not Bad Friday or the Death of God Friday. No. It is also a very, very good day.
At this point, you may be wondering why I am talking about Friday so much. You may be scratching your head thinking, “Isn’t this Easter. Aren’t I supposed to be hearing about the resurrection? Why this talk of the cross?” Let me answer in this fashion. You see, I am old enough to remember when Reeces Peanut Butter Cups used to do a lot of advertizing on television. I don’t know how many of you actually remember those commercials, but I do. Usually, there was a guy or gal walking down the street or sidewalk eating a bar of chocolate. Then there was another person walking down the street blissfully eating peanut butter. Both were oblivious to the world around them. Somehow, the two always managed to run into each other, and somehow, magically, the chocolate bar always ended up in the peanut butter. After a moment of complaining that the two things were mixed, the folks would taste the result of the accident and say, “It’s delicious.” Then the announcer would say, “Two great tastes that taste great together, Reeces Peanut butter Cups.” You see, Recees is making the argument that chocolate and peanut butter are better together than they are separately. It’s an important point.
Now, there was a part of me that wanted to put this together a little differently. I mean, part of me wanted to use part of the theme song to the television series, Married with Children. You know, the little song that went, “Love and Marriage; Love and marriage, go together like a horse and carriage. Let me tell you brother, you can’t have one without the other.” I wanted to use that, but I wasn’t sure it was appropriate given the nature of the television show. ;-) But the point is this: the crucifixion and the resurrection go together. The two are inseparable. As they combine, we see the Gospel in all of its fullness–in all of its glory. The cross is God’s redemption of the world–truly good news. The resurrection is Jesus vindication and the revealing of the hope we share when we trust in Jesus’ action–again, truly good news. Both are great in and of themselves, but when you put them together, then you have something truly marvelous! You may wonder how it all goes together.
This past Lent, during our Wednesday evening worship services, I preached a sermon series titled, “What is the Gospel?”, and I spent time laying out the Christian narrative. It began with creation as God created a world where all was good, where everything fit. We have echos of that world in our midst today. In the recent past, I was visiting with someone who works in the medical field who said that our brains were hard wired for doing good things–for helping one another; for compassion and kindness. What a wonderful echo of the way God had created us. Imagine if we all functioned with kindness, compassion, and doing good for each other at all times. This is the way God intended it!
However, the story progressed because we know that none of us act with kindness and compassion at all times. None of us work fully for the good of another at all times. There is something deep within that is corrupt. There is something deep within that seeks our own well being; our own satisfaction; our own desires above the needs of another. Where did this come from? Christianity points to a particular point in human development when we decided to be like God. We decided we wanted to know good and evil and decide that for ourselves. We decided we didn’t want God’s guidance and instruction, but that we could handle such matters for ourselves. We looked to ourselves for our own well being and our own satisfaction. In short, we decided to be little gods ourselves, and the results were disastrous! Now, you might wonder how this might be a bad thing and whether or not this is still true of even yourself. You might wonder if we still want to be little gods in this day and age of marvelous technology and advancement. I would argue, yes, in every way this is still very relevant. Aside from much of the evil and greed we see happening in the world, there is this: who among you here this morning at some point and time hasn’t said, “If everyone would just believe like I believe and do the things I think are right, then the world would be great!” Do you see what you are trying to do in that statement? Do you see what your heart is actually getting at? If everyone would just do as you say they should, then the world would function great. You are trying to be a little god and pontificate to the world! Yes, this all rings very, very true.
And as I said before, such things prove disastrous for our relationship not only with God but with one another. “How?” you might ask. Well, think about it: if you think one particular way is the right way, and another person thinks the exact opposite is the right way, what is going to happen? Will you come to any sort of resolution? Will you be able to work things out and through if you are convinced in your own mind that you are absolutely and completely right? No. You will never be able to do so. You will work either through power or manipulation to achieve your goals and your desires no matter what happens to another. Convinced of your own rightness, you will end up stepping on those who disagree with you, and eventually seeing them as the enemy. Do you wonder why our political system is in gridlock? Do you wonder why Republicans and Democrats cannot get along? Do you wonder why liberals and conservatives spend time finger pointing and digging trenches instead of building bridges? It all goes back to thinking that I have all the answers and that I am a little god unto myself.
Of course, when we try to be little gods ourselves, not only are our relationships with one another strained, but what does that do to our relationship with our Creator? What does that do to our relationship with the one who desires to truly be God of our lives? Well, it strains it too, to say the least. It creates a gap between the true God and ourselves–a gap that cannot be crossed despite our best efforts. You may wonder why we cannot cross that gap. You may wonder why we can’t make things right with God. Here’s why: first off, God demands perfection. He wouldn’t be God if He asked for anything less. We must love Him above all things and then love one another as we love ourselves second. If we are honest with ourselves, we know that we don’t do this. Secondly, if we are honest with ourselves, we know that we only strive to follow the law when there is threat of punishment. My famous example of this is driving the speed limit. How many of us only slow down when we see the flashing lights ahead of us? How many of us only slow down when we see a DPS vehicle coming up from behind? What motivates us? Fear. Is fear a healthy motivation for living in a relationship with another? Of course it isn’t. And so, if we are living in relationship with God in fear of being imperfect and only following the commands out of fear, then we don’t have a relationship.
God realized this. God realized that living by the law only led to fear on our part. It only led to obedience by threat of punishment. It was not healthy. So God acted on His part to make things right. God acted when we could not fulfill the law and would not fulfill the law. While we were still living in our sin and disobedience, God sent Jesus into the world to live the life that we should live; to die the death that we deserved so that things might be made right between God and man. God, took on human flesh in the divine man Jesus to die for the sins of the world.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through Him.
And where did God die the death we deserved? Where did God’s ultimate act of sacrificial love take place? Where did God redeem you and me? Where did God pour out His very life so that we might be made right with Him? On the cross. You were bought with a great price. A great price indeed. You were redeemed on the cross of Calvary. This is why Friday was so good–so very good indeed.
Yet, Friday would have not been so good if that was the end. I mean, sure, we would have been reconciled to God, but then evil would have triumphed. Death would have been the final say. Injustice would have gotten the upper hand. Perhaps I would be right with God, but then I would have no hope.
But that would not be the case. That would not be the case at all. For reconciliation with God now has a final result. The earth shook. The stone moved. Jesus emerged alive! It is a foretaste of the feast that you and I will share when we believe and trust in His actions! For no matter what befalls us in this life–no matter if we lose a child; if we suffer from cancer; if we lose our savings; if we win the lottery; if we have a successful business; if we fall on our face or rise to new heights. No matter if we experience loss or gain; God will have the final word. God will have the final say. God will bring life out of death; light out of darkness; hope out of despair. This is the resurrection promise!
Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
And we must put the cross and the resurrection together. We must see what God has done to redeem the world in Jesus’ life and death. We must see what our hope is as Jesus rises from the dead. These two belong together. They cannot be separated, for in them we see the true nature of the Good News. We see the true nature of the Gospel. And it is meant to be shared. The women in the book of Mark today ran and hid in fear. They told no one. I think you know the better response. Tell the world what God has done in the cross and in the resurrection.
Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed. Alleluia! Amen.