Monday, April 6, 2015

A New Kingdom - Living the Miracle

Preached on Resurrection Sunday, Easter, April 5, 2015

Scripture readings: Psalm 118; Matthew 28:1-10

The resurrection of Jesus is a miracle. If you have met the risen and living Jesus, and if Jesus has greeted you and claimed you, that means your life is based upon a miracle.
March Flowers in Yard and Field
Desert Aire-Mattawa: 2015
It is the miracle that has defeated sin and evil. It is the miracle that has defeated death. Your life is based on a miracle that made the earth shake twice: once with its epicenter at the cross, the other with its epicenter at the empty tomb.
Jesus made the earth shake. Jesus didn’t need his angel to roll back the stone door of the tomb to let him out. The angel rolled back the stone to show the disciples what the Lord had done.
What Jesus did not do was to pass on into a spiritual, heavenly world. The spiritual, heavenly world is part of what Jesus is up to. Heaven is the throne. Heaven is headquarters, for now. What Jesus passed on to was a state being alive and being on the loose in our world.
The disciples held Jesus’ feet. It’s important to notice that Jesus still has feet that you can hold in your hands; although that is unlikely to happen very soon. Jesus is alive and walking.
In the Book of Revelation, the one who sits on the throne says, “Behold, I make all things new.” (Revelation 21:5) God came in Jesus for the purpose of making make all things new. Jesus makes all things a new kind of new. He makes all things especially alive and transformed.
The cross and the resurrection are the beginning of a new world in which there will be no sin or evil, and there will be no death.
We should say, here, that the word “sin” is a Bible word. The main New Testament word for sin is a Greek archery word. It means missing the mark. It means over shooting and undershooting and shooting off to one side or the other.
The first humans, at the start, missed the mark of what they were created for. They went behind God’s back in order to make themselves into something they weren’t created to be in the first place. Humans were created to live by faith in God, in harmony with God: wanting the same thing as God, working for the same thing as God.
In order to do that, we were not created for independence. We were created to be free agents only in the sense of being faithful, trusting, loving agents and partners with God. Because we tried to make ourselves into independent agents, in charge of our own agenda, we’ve never been able to be what we were created to be. It’s part of our spiritual genetics.
As satisfying as so many things in life can be, there is so much we don’t get right. At least life is like eating a bowl of wonderful soup and finding part of a great, big, dead fly floating in it, and this makes us wonder what happened to the other part of the fly.
Martin Luther said that sin made us like a drunken man riding a horse. The drunken man falls off on the right side of the horse. Then he gets back on the horse determined not to do that again. And so, next time, he falls off on the left side of the horse.
A single life where this happens simply creates hurt, and injury, and grief. Our prejudice in our own favor disqualifies us from measuring the amount and the seriousness of that hurt. It’s no good making the excuse that at least you haven’t caused as much harm as certain other people.
My first church was on the Oregon coast. There were always a lot of hitchhikers.
One day I picked up a couple of guys in their twenties. While I was driving with them, I shared a little bit about Jesus as our savior. I shared that we all needed something that only God could do to change our hearts and take away the sin that separates us from God and from each other.
They insisted that they were not sinners. At least they insisted that they weren’t bad people.
Their example for this was that they had never done anything really bad. They had never killed anyone, for example. I thought this was an interesting thing for them to say; especially because they were hitchhikers riding with me in my car. 
What matters is that we cause things that cannot be cured. At our best, we can apologize. We can try to make restitution. But we can’t undo the harm.  We can’t turn back the clock. We can only hope for forgiveness, and grace, and a new, stronger love.
But not everyone wants grace. Some people love anger, and revenge, and destruction. Some people love getting what they want even at the expense of the happiness of others. Some people find their happiness by ignoring what is going on and pretending it doesn’t exist. Each one of us has a share of these motives working in us.
We tell ourselves that this is not really us. At least it’s not us at our best. But it’s not normal for us to be at our best.
We see these forces at work in other people’s families. We see these forces at work in our own families. We see it in the world. Sin is what makes the world into the beautiful and beloved horror that the news makes it out to be. The truth is that we all play a part of this world as it is.
God’s response to all of this, God’s response to us, and to our human race, and to our world, is the cross and the resurrection. The cross and the resurrection are a double miracle, in which God deals with sin and death, and makes all things new.
The cross and the resurrection have to go together. They are like two sides of the same coin.
The cross is about the forgiveness of sins. In the Old Testament, there were animals sacrificed on an altar. Their blood was shed as a symbol of their life being poured out in the place of the person for whom the sacrifice was being made. It recognized the costliness of the harm done by sin. It recognized that something must happen. Something must be done.
It recognized that sin, at its core, was costly and deadly. Since human sin goes on and on, so the sacrifices for sin, in the Old Testament law, had to be repeated over, and over, and over again.
The cross is about God himself becoming human in Jesus and paying the costly price for the deadliness of the sins of the world and the deadlines of the sins of each one of us. Because God is infinite, and eternal, and without sin, he is qualified to offer himself as a sacrifice that is capable of creating a source of forgiveness that is infinite, and eternal, and perfect.
The resurrection is the victory of God. It is the power of God that overcomes sin and death. If there was no resurrection there would be forgiveness without power. There would be forgiveness without change. There would be forgiveness without victory or a new life.
There are people whom we forgive again, and again, and again, and again. It seems we are being asked to give to some people an infinite and eternal forgiveness.
But that is hard for us, because we are not God. Our forgiveness doesn’t have the power to change other people’s lives, unless that power comes through us from God who died on the cross, in Christ, for the sins of the world.
The cross without the resurrection has no power except the power of sympathy or empathy. Sympathy means feeling for the pain of others. Empathy means feeling with the pain of others. Sympathy and empathy have the power to influence others, but not to heal them or change them. Sympathy and empathy are a lot like grief.
As I have gotten older, I have learned a little bit about grief. I find that there is a sort of fellowship of grievers. There is a brotherhood and sisterhood of grievers. They possess a powerful gift for giving comfort to those who are living through times of great grief. Their power comes very much from the gift of remembering their own grief. Another part of their power to comfort comes from knowing that they don’t have the power to take away the grief of another person.
But people who know the risen and living Jesus have something extra. They know someone who has defeated and conquered sin and death. Jesus makes himself known as someone who is more than a spirit or a ghost. Jesus is stronger than the griefs and losses of this world, and he rose from the dead as a promise to undo what grieves us.
This Jesus is able to give his comfort to the brotherhood and sisterhood of grievers. Grief is still hard and long, but there is something stronger because the victorious Jesus is there.
You find the victorious Jesus when the cross and the resurrection come together. This is what the disciples found. The angel put the two together. “I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.” (Matthew 28:5-6)
The disciples came to the tomb of Jesus as grievers. They left the tomb as people of the resurrection. There is a huge difference.
Putting the cross and the resurrection together gives us a power that we need every day, and it doesn’t go away. Paul the Apostle wrote this. “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
The one who sits on the throne (and Jesus sits on that throne) says: “Behold I make all things new.” Jesus starts this with you and me. But it’s not just for you and me. For one thing, it started long ago. We are only the latest link in God’s preparation for a new heaven and a new earth. (Revelation 21:1) But, more than that, this new creation is for our neighbors. It’s for our world.
It’s hard for us to grasp the meaning of sin and death in our world, or even in our lives. It may be even harder for our neighbors and for the world to understand. But your neighbors and this world we live in have you to help them. How do the forgiveness and the victory of God work in you?
Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid. Go, and tell.” (Matthew 28:10) He sent his resurrection friends to Galilee. That means that he sent them home, to begin at home: to see him and meet with him at home. Then he would teach them how to look beyond home.
We know what’s coming. At least the Gospel of Matthew knows what’s coming. The truth is that we are called to a mission. We are sent on a mission: to make disciples.
Disciples are learners. Disciples are classmates in the school of Jesus. We are learning and following together. Being classmates is a partnership.
Built into the system of being classmates is the fact that you don’t choose your classmates. Our lives are usually shaped by associations we don’t choose, or by associations we choose without knowing what they will turn into. Jesus always chose who would be put together and they didn’t always like it.
The great point is that Matthew knows what Jesus is going to do with his disciples. He is going to require them to see him, and meet with him, and get his strategy.
We are called to live in the miracle of the cross and the resurrection. We are called to meet the Jesus who will deal with our need for forgiveness and our need for the strength that comes from his presence that never leaves us.

We are called to find the strategy of Jesus for us in this world. Jesus has a strategy for how you are to go into the world for him, for how you are to be a neighbor for him. Following Jesus is a matter of what he will give you, but it is much more a matter of what you will give to others because Jesus is with you to the end of the world. That comes along with living in the miracle.

1 comment:

  1. What you will give to others because Jesus is with you....yes, that is it.
    This reminds me of the last part of the poem attributed to St. Francis.
    Happy Easter.