Saturday, April 4, 2015

Easter is coming quick!

I'm still working away on the two sermons for tomorrow morning.
In the meanwhile, Here are the two I preached last year:
John 20: 1-18
Have you ever watched the sunrise? This may sound like an odd question to ask at an” Easter Sunrise Service.” Have you ever REALLY watched a sunrise? I’ll be honest with y’all; I’ve never really watched the sun rise in East Tennessee. Perhaps I’ve still not adjusted to the Eastern Time zone, or perhaps I’ve just not taken the time. But in Texas I watched a lot of sunrises and sunsets. There was one particular place that I loved to watch the sunrise, Palo Duro Canyon. Palo Duro is a beautiful canyon near Amarillo, Texas sunk deep in the middle of the flattest land you can imagine. We used to camp there a lot, Steve and I even camped there on our honeymoon. There was just something so special about watching the sunrise. The sky would be pitch black and slowly it would turn navy. Then shades of green and orange would begin to streak the sky. Slowly a round red orange sun would climb over the edge of the canyon. I remember looking at the sunrise stretch across the horizon and being in awe. What was so amazing to me was thinking about the people who had yet to see the sunrise, people to the west who had no idea the wondrous sights God’ had in store for them that morning.
Mary, our scripture tells us, went to the tomb in the darkness of the morning, before the sunrise. She could not know what she would find when she arrived. She went in the darkness expecting to find the tomb and inside the tomb the body of her Lord. We do not know why she came, or even how many times she had come before in the past three days. She was full of grief, sadness, mourning, and she came to the tomb to grieve some more.
But when she arrived in those pre-dawn moments she was amazed. What she found was not what she was expecting to find. Instead of a sealed tomb with a body inside, she found that the stone had been rolled away and the Lord was missing! In the darkness she panics, in the darkness she fears. In the darkness she runs off to the disciples to seek help and guidance. In the darkness she seeks out anything that will calm her confusion. She found Peter and another disciple and tells them that the Lord is gone. His body has been taken. Peter and the other disciple run back to the tomb to see for themselves. And when they arrive they find the tomb as she has said, stone rolled back and empty, and they believed.
They believed, not the words of the Christ himself who said that he must die and be raised. No, they believed Mary, that the body had been taken. And so they, in the pre-morning hours return home, in their darkness. In their darkness of doubt, in their darkness of fear, in their darkness of grief.
We all have had times of darkness haven’t we? Some of us sit here this morning covered in that darkness. We have suffered loss, the loss of a mother, brother, child, friend. For some of us our grief is fresh, like Mary’s was that morning. Others have lived with the grief so long that it’s just a part of who we are now. Some of us are covered in other kinds of darkness, the darkness of poor health, addictions, divorce, unhealthy work environments. But what ever the case, we have all spent time in the dark, the dark that wraps so tightly that it threatens to suffocate.
I think that is where Mary was when she was left by herself at the Tomb just as the dawn was beginning to break. She sits there sobbing when she looks again into the tomb. And when she does yet another surprise awaits her. Two angles sitting in the tomb where Jesus had laid! They ask her “Woman, why are you crying?” And Mary’s grief is so deep, her darkness so encompassing that she doesn’t ask “Who are you?” or “What are you doing hear?” She doesn’t seem to register the angels at all. She replies only “They have taken my Lord and I don’t know where they have put him!” The she gets up and turns from the tomb.
In the midst of our darkness it’s hard to see where God is working. Two angles stand before Mary and she can only ask where Jesus’ body has been taken. When we are at our lowest and darkest we too can miss God at work.
When Mary turns from the tomb she sees Jesus, only she does not recognize him! She mistakes him for the gardener. And while she’s trying to process he speaks to her. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" And as the sun peaks over the horizon she replies in desperation, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." It is her last effort and understanding what is going on in human terms. It’s her last effort to find an answer that makes sense. In her darkest moment she even accuses this man of stealing Jesus’ body. Blaming Jesus for his own disappearance. Blaming God for being distant when he’s right there with her.
Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" which means teacher. And in that moment the sun rose in Mary’s life. In that moment the darkness was shattered by the full light of day! In that moment Mary realized that Jesus did not abandon her, he did not leave her alone, but rather he had conquered death!
In the same way we, in our darkness don’t always see the Lord, but he’s there. He’s there whispering our names, revealing himself to be the living risen One. Braking through the darkness and bringing with Him the full light and glory of God. He is here for us just as he was there in the garden for Mary. Offering us hope, love, and the promise of a new and better life. Do you see him? Can you hear him calling your name?
Mary did, and it turned her world around. She rushed to him, held him, and then she was given a job. “Go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Mary was told not to keep Jesus to herself, but to be the apostle to the apostles. She was told to bring the light into the darkened lives of the other followers of Jesus. She was to share the good news, that Christ is Risen, He is Risen indeed!
And once we have heard his voice, once we have stepped out of the darkness and into the dawn we too are given this charge. Mary cried out “I have seen the Lord.” And boldly proclaimed his resurrection. So we are to go out into the world with shouts of thanksgiving and praise, sharing the good news. Helping to break people out of the dark nights of their souls. Praise be to the risen Lord. Christ is Risen, He is Risen indeed!

10 Am service
John 20: 19-31
Ten men were sitting together in a house. Each one looked around at the others not knowing what to say. They were more than friends, more than brothers, yet they could not quite trust one another anymore. They had locked the doors because they couldn’t trust anyone else either.
This is where we find the disciples as our scripture lesson for this morning begins. They are in a room gathered together in the evening. They are waiting, even though they are not sure of what they are waiting for. John and Peter have both seen the empty tomb with their own eyes. No doubt they had many questions about what that empty tomb meant. Mary had rushed to tell them that she had seen the risen Christ. He had spoken to her! Did they really want to believe her? What would it mean if Jesus was, dare they think it, alive? No doubt this is one of the reasons they had locked themselves in that room.
They were afraid of what would happen if the Jews found them. After all Christ had been crucified, could they expect less? They were afraid of what a risen Christ might say to them. They had all abandoned him in his hour of need. No doubt this is one of the reasons they had locked themselves in that room they felt guilt at betraying him. Guilt and Fear.
How often have we found ourselves hiding? Hiding from God, from family, from ourselves. How often have we locked ourselves up in our own rooms hoping against hope that nothing bad would find us, that we could hide away our shames? “I’ve done so many bad things.” We say to ourselves, “I’ve lied, I’ve cheated. I made a mistake. My marriage failed. My finances are horrible. I am a failure. I can’t do anything right.” We lock ourselves up and we cower in the darkness. We, like the disciples feel abandoned and alone. We, like the disciples have heard the whisperings that something amazing has happened. But, like the disciples we don’t really believe it so we sit in the dark alone and afraid filled with our anxiety.
While the disciples were sitting in this locked silent tomb of a room a voice called out, “Peace be with you.” They looked up and saw the Christ standing before them. Jesus had entered their locked room. No doubt some eyes darted to the door to see if it had been opened but the locks were firmly in place. The disciples looked around at one another hoping that the others would confirm this vision. Jesus had entered the room and offered them the one thing their hearts desired, peace. They must have wondered whether this moment was real or just a group hallucination. Maybe some of them thought it was a hoax. And before they could think to ask him, Jesus showed them his wounds and all doubt was removed. Then the disciples rejoiced in his presence!
Think of it, Jesus appearing in a locked up room. A self made tomb of sorts. Jesus doesn’t wait to be invited, He invades! He doesn’t wait for the disciples to crack the door; he won’t let a silly think like a lock stop him. He barges in to offer new life to the disciples and to us.
While we sit in self imposed exile Jesus invades! While we try to hide our failures and mistakes, our missteps and misfortunes Jesus slips past our defenses and into our tombs. There is no hiding place good enough, no corner too dark for our Lord and Savior. Jesus has faced death, death on a cross; it doesn’t get any darker than that! Jesus seeks us out offering us the one thing we crave most. He calls to us saying “Peace, peace be with you!” No words of condemnation, no I-told-you-so, no how dare you! His words are simple and loving “Peace be with you.”
Jesus not only offers peace to the disciples, and to us, he issues a mission. “Peace I give you, but you also have a job to do. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Jesus gives the disciples a commission. It is not the great commission from Matthew; it is somehow even more than that. As the Father has sent me, so I send you. The disciples are to be Christ’s representatives on earth, his ambassadors. They are to continue his mission on earth, to heal, to pray, to stand up for the oppressed, to care for the widows and orphans, to love as Christ dared to love. They are to be new creations. In a scene reminiscent of the creation of Adam, Jesus breaths his spirit, the Holy Spirit, upon the disciples filling them with new life. He tells them to receive the Holy Spirit. Receive, take it in, breath it in, claim the Holy Spirit all of you!
When Jesus seeks us out in our deepest darkest hiding places he offers us new life. He looks at all of our brokenness, all of our fear, guilt, disloyalty, and still offers peace. Jesus whispers to us “I know you have made mistakes, I felt them. I know you have done wrong, I suffered for it. I know that you have sinned; I carried them with me upon that cross. But they have died with me and remained dead. I have something for you, new life.” Jesus, the one who has invaded our hiding place breaths out upon us. He gives the gift of the Holy Spirit to us freely. He tells us to receive this gift, to make it a part of ourselves, to accept it as new life. And for this, we like the disciples should rejoice!
With the new life given to us and the disciples comes a new way of living. Jesus gives one guiding principle of it after telling them to receive the Holy Spirit. He tells the disciples “If you forgive sins of any; they are forgiven them. If you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” What amazing words of comfort these must have been. This group of men had abandoned Christ, each one of them for their own reasons. They had sat in this room wondering if they would ever be able to forgive themselves or one another. Perhaps they felt trust had already been broken. And here, Jesus tells them to forgive one another. If they forgive one another, trust can be restored, relationships can be made right. It is not too late! If they forgive one another they can be God’ messengers to the world. But if they do not forgive, if they retain or hold on to one another’s sins they will never be lose of them. If John were to always hang over Peter Peter’s betrayal they will never be able to love one another and work with one another. Forgiveness is the gift they can offer each other to restore relationship. Forgiveness is the gift Christ offers the disciples to bring them to new life!
These same words of Jesus apply to us today. “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Jesus, who has invaded our tombs and offered new life, also offers forgiveness. He remembers our sins and shortcomings no more because we are new creations! If we forgive one another then we are free to more on from hurts and pains. We are free to live the new life to which we are called. But sometimes forgiving others is not our difficulty. Our difficulty often lies in forgiving ourselves. Again and again we beat ourselves up for poor decisions we’ve made. Again and again we tear at ourselves for failing. Again and again we hide away our shame over our sins. But I ask, how can we expect to experience new life when we cling to the old? How can we ask God to do a new thing if we won’t accept that the old has been washed away? What are we really telling God when we say “Take all of me!” and then proceed to take things back day by day? How can we trust God to forgive, when we won’t begin to forgive ourselves? Hear the Good News! Jesus Christ is Risen, He is Risen indeed! Through his resurrection we have been given new life! A life filled with his Holy Spirit and with a commission to live as ambassadors of God on earth. It is a commission that through the acceptance of the Holy Spirit we can accomplish. How do I know that? Look at the rest of the disciples’ tale.
One week after this event they all gathered together again, this time in hope and anticipation. But who was that over in the corner? Why it was Thomas. Thomas was not there when Christ first appeared to the disciples. Perhaps he was too afraid of his own guilt. Perhaps he was spooked by the stories of a living Christ. But at some point during the week these disciples have reached out to Thomas. They have forgiven him for his abandonment; they have forgiven him his fear. They have shared the good news with Thomas that Christ is risen. They have invited him to fellowship with them. They have restored him to community. So hear Thomas sits, as the disciples sat the week before. He was afraid, he was nervous, but he had a glimmer of hope because the disciples had shared the good news. And Jesus did not disappoint. Into the locked room he intruded yet again. He showed his wounds and even offered to let Thomas touch them. Thomas did not touch them. He did not need to. The Lord had appeared to him, the Lord had invaded his life and Thomas’ response was true praise “My Lord and My God!”
Restoration is possible, resurrection is possible. New life is offered, and the Holy Spirit is given. The gift does not stop with you or me any more than it stopped with the disciples. What good does this new life do if we live it in a locked room? The disciples went out into the world telling those they knew and later those they did not know about the good news! They forgave one another and themselves. They lived the life God called them to. So we too should forgive. We too have been offered new life. Claim it! Live it! Trusting that the God who invaded the life of the disciples still invades our lives today. To God be the Glory, Amen!  

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