Sermon preached at Rumney and St Andrew’s Methodist Churches on Sunday 27th March 2016:
May I speak, and may we listen, in the name of God – and in the power of Our Lord Jesus Christ, now and forever. Amen.
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
Well, we’ve hardly been blessed with what we might call “Easter Sunday weather” – and though I was meant to be up on the mountain this morning, to lead prayers and read the Gospel and…once again distribute the hymn sheets – the human condition got one up on me, and I was no-where to be seen…(so if I’m not nearly burning the Church down with candles and incense, and breaking keys in doors (like I did on Ash Wednesday!)….I am out of sight entirely…..What can I say, except: Thank God For Jesus!)
But you know, I think it’s a blessing in disguise, and indeed a message to us, that on this Easter Sunday the sky looks so bleak….it’s a reminder again that a lot can change in just a few days….!
We hear in John’s Gospel – that it was ‘early on the first day of the week, While it was still dark’ that Mary Magdalene went to the tomb, and found that the stone had been rolled away.
And other Gospels tell us, that some turn up and see the linen cloths within the tomb lying there.
Now, Mary’s instinct was that Jesus had been stolen.
In other words, she didn’t immediately think – oh, he’s done what he said he would do.
And she runs, to go and call the others, to help them locate, not the risen Jesus, but the body of Jesus. For that is what she is looking for, at first.
The Gospel scene we see today is one of confusion, bewilderment, panic, love, forgiveness and mercy….
We see this particularly in the next few weeks, as we hear about St Thomas, and others.
You see, the resurrection of Jesus doesn’t happen at the most obvious time – It happened on as plain a day as this –
It doesn’t happen around the most obvious people –
It doesn’t happen around the most obvious of circumstances, for no-one sees him literally come back to life….it is as though that moment was too holy and sacred, like Lazarus Jesus makes his way out of the tomb, and it isn’t until he is outside of it that people see him alive again.
So in contrast to what happened on Good Friday, which is public, bloody, open, and visible for all to see – and which doesn’t require any forced response from us,….because lets face it, what can any of us say in response to a God who in Christ allows himself to be betrayed, mocked and killed upon the cross, for us?
At the foot of the cross, we stand silently like fools who are without tongues.
In contrast to that, we have the miracle of this day….of Easter Morning, where we find our voices again, where we are made to speak – because what happened on Easter Morning requires YOU! As an individual, as you! To make a response.
Because if someone simply dies for you, you don’t have to face them again with the reality of the sacrifice that they have made.
You know if Jesus just died and never came back to life, the disciples could just get on with their lives….go back to their families, and their boats, and their fathers…and their tax collecting.
But when the person who died for you, is back alive and well in your midsts, then you are required to do something about that.
Where the crucifixion is public and visible, the resurrection occurs in darkness, and the risen Christ is encountered at first, only by individuals and in small groups, amongst that small group of select disciples….
As if to say, NOW, tell me what you make of this.
What do you say to this reality?
Who do you say that I am?
Now, we don’t have the privilege of those first disciples and of people like Mary Magdalene and others, we haven’t seen or touched, or travelled alongside Jesus in the flesh –
But hopefully, we are here, in this place, because we have seen something of the truth of the Easter message….and if we haven’t then what exactly keeps us coming back to this place?
Where Sunday, by Sunday, in season and out of season we sing to a crucified and risen Saviour hymns of praise and thanks and adoration….and intercession.
Or do we just go through the motions?
See, that’s quite easy to do. Thomas went through the motions at first, Peter went through the motions at first, Judas went through the motions…..and didn’t even live to see the resurrection
Even though we may go through the motions, one thing remains true….that whatever it is brings us to this place, or whatever it is that puts us off coming to this place –
Jesus thought, and thinks, that we were worth dying for.
And it is his death and his resurrection that makes this day worth celebrating…..you can’t divorce one thing from the other.
Without Mary and her yes to God there would be no Bethlehem, Without Bethlehem there would be no flesh to crucify,
Without that flesh to crucify, there would be no sacrifice,
And without that Sacrifice, there would be no Easter….
The only reason we can say Alleluia today, is because he said ‘It is Finished’ and yet death was not the end.
And because death was not the end for Jesus, death is not the end for those who have their hope in him.
The other night, I was in a pub in Canton…I get around these places….
And, as I sat down with my tiny glass of Whiskey, this very inebriated man came up to me, and said:
My Mate just said she saw this really fit Vicar in here, and I thought she was having me on but you are here…..
And he went on to embarrass me by saying that his lady friend thought I was an eight out of ten, which has totally made my Easter, and then she plucked up the courage to come and talk to me, and she asked for a photo and we got talking….
Anyway, her and her friend began to quiz me, on why it is that I do what I do…in other words why am I a Christian?
They said that they believe in ghosts, but not in God, and that they thought that we are like ants in a tank….and that just like how we can change things in an ants tank, and the ants think their whole world is changing, we can be like those ants, and think that small changes in our world point to something greater than there actually is.
I bit my tongue and refused to say that I think recent research shows that ants are far more intelligent than they give them credit for, but anyway….
It left me thinking.
Why am I Christian….why are *any* of us, Christians?
I’m not a Christian, because it makes my life any easier that’s for sure.
I’m not a Christian, because I need desperately a way to make sense out of tragedy that I experience, because I don’t think even with God in the equation I can make sense of tragedy in my own life, or in the life of the world.
I’m not a Christian, because I need something holier, more perfect than me and my surroundings to latch on to…because I know there are many times when God can seem like the most distant person in the world.
So why am I a Christian?
In part, I’m a Christian because on most days, particularly the good ones, and even some of the very dark ones, I see something of the undeniable truth of the Gospel…something that rings true in me, and that has rung true for people throughout the ages.
In part, I’m a Christian because I have been challenged in my unbelief by those Christians who have laid down their lives out of love for their Lord…who they claim to be alive and risen, and ascended. Who isn’t challenged by people like Oscar Romero, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Mother Theresa?
In part, I’m a Christian because I see the benefit of a body of people and an institution (with all its faults) that is set up purposefully to help the disadvantaged, the downtrodden, the oppressed and the poor.
But fundamentally, I think I am a Christian, because faced with the reality of all that God is, and all that God has done, I can still be the weak, sinful, fault-filled human being that I am…..even on those days when I truly feel I can do no better.
I think I am a Christian, because in all of the sin and darkness of human life and existence I am faced with a God whose name and nature is love…..and grace….and mercy…..
Even when we do our worst to him, he still goes to the cross, for Love of us.
I think I am a Christian, because in my faith in Jesus Christ even death itself, is transformed into something beautiful, and life-giving, and hope-filled….even when it doesn’t feel like it in the moment.
I think I am a Christian, because I see a God who looks so much like me as a human being, that I find it hard to believe that he could call us, and embrace us, come into our world through Mary’s womb, seek us out, die for us and at our hands, and then promise us eternal life…..
And as if that was not enough, he not only promises us eternal life, but gives us the power in the Holy Spirit to go out into all the world, and call others into his way, that they too, even though they die, might live for ever.
I’m a Christian, because the paradox of the Christian Gospel resonates so deeply with the paradox of human experience….that actually it doesn’t make sense that a God I’ve never seen nor felt, could love me so much that he would jump into the mess of human activity….
Just to redeem it, and embrace it, and renew it.
In the same way in which so much of our life does not make sense – neither does the Gospel.
And that is no bad thing.
I am a Christian, because the Christian way is real – I don’t have to be anything other than who and what I am….because God knows it all, and made it all, and redeemed it all.
….Now I wish I’d had those words that night in the pub….I didn’t. And yet…
I can’t think why anybody wouldn’t put their trust in this crucified and risen savior?
I can’t think why anybody would reject this offer, made to us each and every day of our lives – to believe in Jesus Christ, to believe in his message, to trust in the power of his resurrection and to live with him forever.
All we need to do, is to take him at his word.
And his word is that he is the way, the truth and the life – no-one can come to the Father except through me…
We have heard the account of those who saw it for themselves, and who died for that truth.
What will your answer be?
What will your heart say to the heart of God held out to you this morning?
What will you do, faced with the greatest love story that has ever been?
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the very power of God”
Christ lives – he lives for you, because he died for you, and right now, in this place and in this time, he calls out to you, As. You. Are. – to put your heart, soul and mind, into his wounded hands.
Trust him. And give him all that you have – no matter how it comes, he will take it, and use it, and renew it and you will find life, and joy, and peace –so surreal that nothing in all creation will ever take it from you.
If Jesus could use, Peter and Thomas,Mary Magdalene, the woman at the well, and even Paul….then tell me, what excuse do you have for saying no to the resurrected Christ and to his love, and his grace, and his eternal promise?