Jesus Is Alive!

Easter Sunday – April 16, 2017
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Matthew 28:1-10

Did you read this morning’s newspaper? Or did you read the news on your computer this morning? Maybe you checked it on your smartphone as the messages popped up alerting you to today’s headlines? I looked this morning and a major headline was missing. I couldn’t find it anywhere – not in the newspaper, not on the computer, not on my phone. It wasn’t anywhere. And I don’t understand because it’s earth shattering news.

Now I know one of the biggest stories that everyone has been talking about is April, the giraffe in New York that everyone around the country has been watching to see when she will have her baby. Giraffes are pregnant a long time – between 11 and 15 months – and everyone was growing impatient waiting for the new baby giraffe to be born. He was finally born yesterday. I know because people were posting it on Facebook, on twitter, and it was all over the news. It was exciting to celebrate his arrival, but again, it wasn’t the top story I expected would be all over the place.

Don’t get me wrong, I love animals, and I too like watching events like this unfold. Like the eagle cam in the spring as we wait for the eagle eggs to hatch. It’s exciting and wonderful to watch nature transform right in front of our eyes and we want to be there. We want to experience this emergence of new life. In part, because despite whatever problems we are going through, despite the challenges we face, and the suffering we experience, watching new life emerge fills us with a new hope. It’s a sign that life goes on even when life may not be so easy. These stories capture the attention of so many people, because everyone welcomes a new infusion of hope.

And yet there is an event that is even bigger than these stories. An event that is still unfolding right now. An event that is earth shaking. An event that brought us here today. Jesus is alive! He is risen! The tomb is empty! Jesus is alive!

The account of Jesus’ resurrection that we read this morning from Matthew’s gospel tells us how it happened. It was literally an earth shattering event. There was an earthquake – just like three days before that dark Friday when Jesus died on the cross- now there was an earthquake as the stone to his tomb was rolled away by an angel announcing that Jesus was alive. The women were struck with both fear and joy. Fear of the initial shock of experiencing the earthquake and seeing an angel. And joy with the news that Jesus was alive and actually seeing him. That was enough to make anyone afraid. The angel tried to reassure them, “Do not be afraid” and then the angel said “come and see.” See for yourselves that Jesus is not here! They were given instructions on what to do: “Go quickly and tell the other disciples.” While they were on their way – most likely running to tell this news – they literally ran into Jesus who also told them, “Do not be afraid.” And he also told them, “Go, go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee and there they’ll see me.” It’s an amazing story, but here’s the thing we need to keep in mind. This is not just a story that happened over 2000 years ago. That wasn’t the end of the story. It was the beginning. It continues today. Jesus is alive! He is risen! Jesus is alive!

That’s the important earth shaking news that we – just like the first women at the tomb – need to tell everyone. And maybe that means even reminding ourselves. Jesus is alive! It means this Easter story is still happening. It means that we live every day in a new reality – an Easter reality. This is a story that needs to be heard and shared with everyone because this story is more important than any news story out there. Why? Because no matter how hard our life may get, no matter what struggles and pain we may go through, no matter how scary life at times may seem, no matter how hopeless things may seem….Jesus went to hell and back for us! He loves us that much! Jesus is alive! And that makes all the difference in the world. It makes all the difference because God through Jesus defeated the power of death and nothing can be as devastating as death. But death no longer has the last word. And because Jesus lives we and those we love who have died will also live. Jesus made sure of that. Jesus is alive!

This is the greatest news in the entire world. This is the reason we can get up every day no matter how hard it may be at times, because Jesus is alive! Today – right now – Jesus is alive! It’s not something that happened a long time ago. It’s still happening. Jesus is alive today! He is here! He is with us! He’s not leaving us. Look around today, this week, every day and you too will see him, feel his presence, and experience him. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

 

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Somebody’s Gotta Do It

Maundy Thursday – April 12, 2017
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
John 13:1-17, 31b-35

 

Tonight service begins the Great Three Days – the Triduum – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter.  It’s why we won’t end with the benediction and blessing, because the service is not over. The service continues. Think about that for a minute. When you leave here this evening, the liturgy – the work of the people – has not ended – and so for the next three days until Easter morning everything we say and do will be part of this Triduum service. That’s something that makes us stop and pause, and rightly so.  From the moment we arrived tonight, until Easter morning, we are part of the great three day service.  That affects our thoughts, words, and actions.  We are still part of the service whether we are here or home or at the grocery store or driving in the car. Wherever we go, we will be participating in this great service that doesn’t end until Easter. How will this affect us?  Will we live these next three days differently? Will we stay awake; will we stay present with Jesus during this entire time? This is the challenge that Jesus sets before us tonight.

Throughout Lent we have focused on Luther’s Small Catechism. We’ve discussed and thought about the Ten Commandments, and what they mean. We’ve heard in Luther’s own words the impact of following the commandments – thou shall not steal, thou shall not kill, thou shall not bear false witness against your neighbor….Tonight we hear in Jesus’ own words a new commandment. “Love one another.” It would seem at first glance as a pretty simple and easy request. We all know what it means to love someone. We all know how to love. So why would Jesus give us a commandment – a mandate – to love one another? The answer is simple. Jesus wants us to love in a different way than is natural to us. Jesus said, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” Jesus is commanding us – not asking – to love like he loves.  That is not an easy commandment. In fact, it is the hardest commandment of all, because loving like Jesus requires sacrifice. Loving like Jesus requires going out of our comfort zone and doing things that make us feel uncomfortable – like washing each other’s feet. Some churches today try and put a modern context for foot washing by washing people’s hands because that’s what we typically do to make ourselves clean. But Jesus wants us to wash each other’s feet – not just because they may be dirty, but for the very reason that it is uncomfortable. Kneeling down like a servant to wash someone’s feet is a deeply personal and humbling act. We may feel it’s beneath us or that Jesus is asking too much from us. We don’t want to get on our knees to wash someone; we don’t want to place ourselves in such a vulnerable position. That’s a dirty job for someone else.

It reminds me of the now cancelled television series that aired for over seven years – Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe. Has anyone ever seen it? In that series Mike Rowe – a native from near here in Baltimore – went around the country and spent a day doing the dirty jobs that others do every day. The jobs ranged from golf ball retriever to sewer inspector, septic tank technician to pigeon poop cleanup, and a whole lot more. He did this to highlight the dirty jobs regular people do each and every day.  The idea started from an article he wrote called “Somebody’s Gotta Do It” and it took off from there. “Somebody’s Gotta Do It” but we don’t want to be that person.

Yet, here we are – Maundy Thursday – and Jesus is commanding us – again not asking us – to love one another in the same way that Jesus loves. And that means at times doing the dirty jobs – like taking out the garbage, forgiving that person you’ve been holding a grudge against, or washing the feet of someone else- to show Jesus’ love. This is the key point. We don’t love others because we naturally may be drawn to love them; we love others because Jesus commands us to. Jesus wants us to love even those who may not love us in return, or worse want to do us harm, just like he did. On this night, as Jesus celebrated his last meal with the disciples before he was arrested, Jesus knew what was going to happen next. That’s what makes the events of this night so significant. Jesus knew one of his disciples was going to betray him. He knew one of his disciples was going to deny him. He knew the other disciples and followers would abandon him. He knew he would be tortured and put to death. He begged God in prayer to let him not have to do this if it was at all possible. If there was any other way, Jesus wanted out. But he received in prayer the answer that “Somebody’s Gotta Do It.” Somebody’s gotta save the world. Somebody’s gotta make sure all of God’s creation is saved. Somebody’s gotta show people how much God loves them. And that Somebody was Jesus. It was a horrible, dirty, and painful job, but Jesus was willing to do it, because Jesus loves us that much.

That’s the kind of love Jesus wants us to show one another. Jesus wants us to love like him. He wants us to be willing to do whatever it takes to love like Jesus. He wants us to do whatever we can to ease the suffering of others. He’s not asking us to be their savior; Jesus is the Savior. He’s asking us to live our lives in such a way – with such love – that people will know we are his disciples and will be drawn to be his disciples too. When you look at how much Jesus did for us, washing someone’s feet is not such a dirty or hard a command after all.

During these next three days our service continues. It continues by us doing acts of loving service for one another. Jesus gives us a new commandment: “Love one another.” Somebody’s gotta do it, and Jesus says that somebody is us. Amen.

Can These Bones Live?

Sunday, April 2, 2017
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Ezekiel 37:1-14, John 11:1-45, Romans 8:6-11

 

“The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.” So begins a scene reminiscent of Charles Dickens Christmas Carol, where the spirits lead Scrooge to visions that he doesn’t want to see.  God’s Spirit brought the prophet Ezekiel in the middle of a valley full of dry bones, and asks him quite a remarkable question, “Can these bones live?” At first glance it almost seems cruel. Why would he be brought to such a place? A place that symbolizes hopelessness. A place where there is nothing but a vision of dreams lost. And God led him all around them. It wasn’t just a quick glance. Ezekiel was right there in the middle of all those dry dusty bones. He couldn’t look away, because everywhere he looked, the bones were there. There he stood in the silence – no wind, no sound, no life. Ezekiel was in the middle of what must have seemed like eternal emptiness. It might have even brought tears to his eyes. Ezekiel may have started to weep. And God asks, “Can these bones live?”

What a question! It’s hard to be in the middle of hopelessness. We’ve all been there at one point in our lives. A time, when no matter where we look it seems like there is no way out of the situation we’re in – a time when we can’t escape what’s in front of us- a serious illness, chronic pain, lack of work, betrayal by friends, the death of someone we love. We find ourselves wondering how we got to the place we’re in, and question, “Why would the hand of the Lord bring me to such a place?” “Doesn’t God care about me?” “If God were here, I wouldn’t be going through this.” It’s a normal reaction. Even Martha and Mary expressed this when they said that to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.” When things crumble all around us like dry bones, we look for answers; we look for someone to blame, because then we think we will feel better. Sometimes we may even sarcastically ask ourselves the question, “Can these bones live?” Our answer is usually no, absolutely not. When a person has been experiencing really tough challenges for a long time, there comes a moment when you think that new life is no longer possible. You can’t see a way out, and you feel like you can’t go on any further. The temptation is to think God has brought you to that deserted place to leave you forever. We just don’t understand what is going on.

Sometimes it’s not an individual suffering, but a collective one. Our country right now is in such a place. There are people who feel helpless and hopeless, afraid of what the future will bring with governmental changes that may bring about suffering for a great many people, and for our planet. Images of violence and hatred fill the media no matter where we turn. People are growing more fearful, and they wonder what they can do to turn things around. And unfortunately this is happening on a large scale in churches as well. We see the attendance in churches declining, and think that this is the end of the church as we know it. In some ways, perhaps it is. Perhaps the church of tomorrow will not look like the church of today. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because nothing looks the same as it did even a moment ago. Change is the one constant in life. If we aren’t changing, we aren’t alive. That’s what Ezekiel saw as he looked out on the valley of the dry bones. He saw a vision of something that wasn’t changing; it was dry and dead. Yet, God asked, “Can these bones live?” Ezekiel answered with words of faith, “O Lord God, you know.” Ezekiel got it right. He didn’t have the answer, but he knew that God did. He knew that although he saw nothing but dry dead bones, God may see something different. Ezekiel knew that anything was possible with God – even life coming out of death. Ezekiel trusted God, and God entrusted Ezekiel with a part in God’s plan.

God entrusted Ezekiel to prophesy to the dead dry bones, to speak the word of God to them –words of hope, and life. He spoke the promise of God to the dead, and the Spirit of God breathed new life into those bones! He spoke the promise of God and things started changing – he heard noise, he heard rattling, he heard bones coming back together because that’s what happens when the Spirit of God moves. It makes noise, it changes things up, it disrupts things. People might get a little scared, but there’s nothing to be afraid of because the Spirit of God moves in ways we can’t understand, but the Spirit of God always moves to bring new life. As long as we are invoking the Spirit of God to move we need to expect some noise, expect some commotion, but it’s a wonderful commotion that breathes new life into things that were once dead.

That’s what happened at the tomb of Lazarus that day so long ago. There was a commotion around Lazarus’ tomb, and Jesus began to weep because he knew that the Holy Spirit was about to do something great. Jesus invoked the Spirit of God to breathe new life into Lazarus. And Lazarus – though long dead – was given new life. And like Ezekiel Jesus invited, those who witnessed this miracle to be a part of it by unbinding Lazarus. Jesus could have done that himself, but he wanted others to be a part of God releasing Lazarus so that he could enjoy new life. Jesus is inviting us today to do the same. He is inviting us to be a part of what God is doing in this world. He is entrusting us to be stewards of God’s promises, stewards of God’s hope, stewards of God’ message of new life. St. Paul says, “His Spirit dwells in you.” We may see a vision of dry dead bones all around us, a vision of emptiness, a vision of hopelessness, but God’s Spirit is ready to breathe new life into us – into our congregations, into our communities, into our country. We may see and hear things that tell us otherwise, but God’s Holy Spirit cannot be stopped. No matter what things may look like to us, God’s Holy Spirit has the power to breathe new life into people and places and situations that seemed like there was no hope at all. “Can these bones live?” Absolutely, through the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit.

Today is Commitment Sunday in our congregation. This is the day when we commit to supporting the mission of Christ’s church. This is the day when we commit to being stewards of the money God has entrusted to us, so that God’s Spirit can move through the various ministries of this congregation and the wider-church. This is the day we commit to use time and talents to give glory to God. God has entrusted Christ Lutheran Church to prophesy to those we meet with the promises of God, to prophesy the words of promise and hope that Jesus is the resurrection and the life, to prophesy that with God all things are possible. This is the day we commit to being disciples of action, and not merely spectators. Jesus is calling each one of us out of darkness, to live lives of service for others. This is the day when we commit to God that we will not live in fear, or worry, or sadness, or apathy, but will live lives of joy, generosity, and love out of gratitude for all God has done for us through Jesus Christ.

This is the day when we commit to living every day by saying, “Yes, yes, these bones can live!” “Yes, God’s Spirit is breathing new life into whatever situation I am facing!” “Yes, I may not see how it will all work out, but God is in control.”“Yes, even though I am struggling right now, God is with me through it all!” “Yes, Jesus’ light will break through the deepest darkness!” “Yes, God’s Holy Spirit is breathing new life into our congregation!” “Yes, God is working through me to be the answer to someone’s prayers!” “Yes, I will help unbind others.” “Yes, together we can make a difference!” “Yes, love is stronger than hate!” “Yes, I will do what God asks me to do, and speak what God tells me to speak!” “Yes, all things are possible with God!” “Yes, even though it’s a dark Good Friday, I know that Sunday’s coming!” “Yes, yes, these bones can live!” Amen!