Love Wins, the recent book by evangelical pastor Rob Bell, has climbed as high as #2 on the New York Times bestsellers list and is currently #8 in the “All Books” rankings on Amazon.com. It has also raised the hackles and the blood pressures of countless detractors and supporters as the (perhaps uniquely “modern”?) debate over eternal destiny and the “will of God” has heated up.
What does Peter say in his post-Easter message, referring back to the mighty events of that first resurrection Sunday?
“I truly understand that God shows no partiality,but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him…. God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power…they put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear…. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
What does it mean to believe on Easter?
Show up for church in a shiny new outfit? Cling to faith like a well-worn security blanket? Hope, desperately and against all odds, that it will all work out okay in the end, God willing? Pray a “sinner’s prayer” someone told you about?
As one of the pastors of my youth used to say: “Whatever blows your hair back!”
Peter also says, “We were witnesses…how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed… for God was with him.” Hmmm, maybe the example of the Christ himself is what we take away from what it means to “believe” on Easter!
Thank you, Jeremiah, for recording these eternally passionate and significant words: Thus saith the Lord, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.”
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
It is a virtual certainty that Jesus, as a Jewish rabbi, knew this “hallel” psalm very well and, most likely, used it in personal and corporate worship. It takes on extra significance on this Resurrection Sunday with phrases like, “I shall not die, but I shall live…” and “I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.” ( vv. 17, 21)
It is worth noting that the Christ’s foundation for faith and trust in God is the same as ours, in v. 1: “O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!”
One of the great rhetorical scenarios of the scripture occurs here — “if you have been raised with Christ.”
Well, people of the resurrection…have we, indeed, been raised with Christ? Then our manner of thinking and living has been set and settled! “Seek…set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”
Lots of sermons and commentary available on this text…and with good reason! What a beautiful, tender, compassionate encounter with Jesus; feel your own heart rend with the words, “Woman, why are you crying?”
Easter tends to be a bright, blaring, almost boisterous celebration in most of our churches…again, with good reason! But remember that there will be parishioners in our pews who have come, — amidst the egg hunts, wardrobe parades and homiletical fireworks you are sure to unleash — with tears on their cheeks and heaviness in their hearts.
Jesus longs comfortingly to speak their names, too.
Here’s the “fireworks” version of the story (see commentary on John 20, above.)
Earthquakes…lightning…rolling gravestones…shaking and quaking…”dead men” walking and angelic visitors. Matthew’s dramatic telling has it all!
But this story is not ultimately about Hollywood-quality special effects — it is about worshiping at the feet of Jesus and hearing his firm assurance, “Don’t be afraid!”
“They put him to death on a tree, BUT GOD raised him” (Acts 10:39b-40a)
Those words,” but God”, are the church’s only good answer to the troubles and trials the world offers.
A fewyears ago there was a TV documentary tracing the personal lives of some of the world’s religious leaders.
There were intimate looks at the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Pope the Dalai Lama, the chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, the President of the Southern Baptist Convention and The Rev. Mark Hanson, Bishop of the ELCA and President of the Lutheran World federation.
One of the most moving parts of the show was when Mark Hanson sat at his kitchen table and talked about his family’s struggle with his son’s drug addiction.
He said that the most difficult day of his life was the day he left his 14 year old son at a treatment center; feeling as if he had failed as a parent; not knowing if this would work, not knowing if he had lost his son forever; not knowing what else to do.
He then talked about how faith had carried him through when nothing else would. It was for the Hanson family, a deeply personal “but God” moment.
Trying to reason our way through grief and loss, trying to make sense of the senseless, trying to convince a world gone crazy with the desire for more of everything and anything that that desire is deadly of both body and soul; these things are, at the end of the day, pointless.
There is no reason which can assuage our grief, there is no sense to be made of the raging evil we see around us, there is no way to divert the addicted and bloated from seeking their fix, be it oil or drugs. The only answer we have to offer to these things, (that Luther summed up as Sin, Death and the Devil), is those two words, “but God!”
Beginning with Adam and Eve and the Apple, the Devil tempts, people Sin, Death ensues, and God intervenes with another chance.
It is the golden thread running through the Bible; this story of God’s redeeming and forgiving love, this story of God’s willingness to act in response to the world’s evil. This story summed up in the words “but God.”
At Easter we celebrate the ultimate “but God” moment, the raising of Jesus from the tomb.
It is both the proof and the promise of our faith. It reminds us of what God HAS done in the past while promising to us what God will do in the future.
On Friday, the “world”; Luther’s trilogy of “Sin, Death and the Devil” had done its best to do its worst to Jesus.
Good Friday appeared to be a complete victory for those forces of destruction which assail all of us, Evil had reared its ugly head and roared; and Good had stood by idly and done nothing.
When Mary went to the tomb, she went in deep sadness and despair, she went into a place of coldness and death, she went to a place with no hope and no happiness, she went to prepare a body for burial, she went to put Jesus in his grave.
But when she got there, she discovered that things had changed, the tomb was empty, the body was missing, and angels were lurking about. Mary had come upon the greatest “but God” moment of all.
Our lives are full of difficulty. Earthquakes and tsunamis come, friends die, wars drag on, relatives get sick, jobs don’t pan out, politicians and teachers and yes, even preachers, turn out to be less than they seem. All of life is subject to the painful realities of decline and decay.
But Easter reminds us that the church has an answer and that answer is “but God”. But – – God’s love, but – God’s forgiveness, but – God’s power, but – God’s calling, but – God’s actions in the world.
Easter is more than a promise of life beyond the grave, of happiness in heaven with our loved ones. Easter is a promise that life is good now, Easter is a promise that God’s power is active in this moment, in all place, in all lives. Easter tells us that our eternal life begins now and goes with us through death into God’s future.
Easter tells us that to whatever may happen to us in this world there is an answer, and that answer is ”but God.”
The world says, “Seek success and glory and material well-being above all else,” but God says; “Seek ye first the Kingdom of Heaven and all these things shall be added unto you.”
The world says, “It’s a dog eat dog world, it’s a rat race. It’s every man (person) for him or herself,” but God says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
The world says, ”Find your self, your bliss. Do that thing which makes you feel most fulfilled.” But God says, “You shall love the LORD your God, with all your heart, mind and soul; and the second is just like it; love your neighbor as yourself.”
The World says, “Stave off death at whatever cost. The worst thing that can happen is to die and any action that you take to avoid death is good.” But God says, “Those who would save their life will lose it, but those who lose their life for my sake and the sake of the Gospel will save it.”
The world’s way leads to the death; death of the soul and eventually the death of the body, with no hope for tomorrow and no joy for today. But God’s way leads to life, both now and forever; life full of the joy of loving and serving God loving and serving neighbor with reckless abandon and total trust in God’s will and way.
Life is full of difficulty, disease and death, but God is full of life, and so are we, because Christ is risen, He is risen indeed! Amen and amen.