Easter Sermon, April 8, 2012
I love Mark’s women for starting a journey they can’t finish on their own. They’re culturally sensitive enough to wait till the end of Sabbath to perform this burial ritual; but determined enough not to wait for the men who have all long ago deserted Jesus. Anointing a male body is a Jewish man’s required task. And yet they’re nervous they can’t do all the work. “Who will roll away the [massive] stone?” All they know is that unless they start their journey, they’ll never finish.
Reminds me of the Exodus journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. A journey they had no idea how to finish, but they knew they needed to start. It wasn’t until later, when an army, a body of water, lack of food and drink had all been rolled away that the people realized the Power of God had been unleashed into the world! “The Lord is my strength and my might, and has become my salvation, this is my God, and I will praise him!… Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in splendor, doing wonders?” (Exodus 15:2,11)
But our women didn’t know who would roll that stone away. It was huge, and it was a barrier. It could easily have kept them from going at all. In her book, Top Five Regrets of the Dying, Bonnie Ware says the #1 regret for people is, “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” “When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.”
In other words, most don’t even start the journey because something, or someone, is in our way. Most of us would stay home that first Easter morning, intimidated or afraid, or smart enough to know we can’t move that boulder.
What are our stones?
Fear: We forget we’re living forever
We’re afraid of being on the margins. Of being different, weird, unique, speaking for Christ, being known as a pacifist (pick your poisen!).
You have fears. I know you do. You’re human. I have fears! It’s perfectly ok. Sometimes we talk about them, sometimes not. But they are there, and they limit us, block us from really living. You have to name them, you have to drag them, kicking and screaming, into the light. And you have to, one day, and I suggest you do this with a friend – risk.
James Cone asks the question in reference to the nonviolent civil rights movement, “What was it that cast out black people’s fear of death and sent them flowing into the streets, defying mob violence?” (Cone, “The Cross and the Lynching Tree,” pg 69). The answer is wondrously simple: faith! Their faith, their trust in God, is what empowered them to overcome their fear, their very real fears. He tells the well-known story of Martin Luther King Jr, staring straight into his fear when a called to his home threatened to bomb his home. And than did it! He later said, “My religious experience a few nights before had given me the strength to face it.” Indeed!
He knew, they all knew, what has become so easy for us to forget: that “eternal life – that great foundation stone upon which our faith rests – is not something that insulates us from action, but empowers us for action. “Death is not a period that ends the great sentence of life, but a comma that punctuates it to a moral lofty significance, an open door which leads man into eternal life.” (MLK Autobiography, pg 232).
And when you do, when you finally try on radical obedience, remember this, immediately after Jesus asks Peter, “Will you lay down your life for me?” he says, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled… In my Father’s house are many rooms.” (John 13:38, 14:1-2) Eternal life is God’s free gift to us! We may be called to live on the margins today, but we’re the guests of honor at Christ’s eternal banquet table.
But fear is not the only stone that blocks us from Christ and Christ from us…
Doubt: We don’t believe Jesus
And by it I don’t mean you don’t know what you are supposed to know. I don’t even mean to say that you don’t believe it. What I do mean to say is that “faith” that is only about Jesus is not enough. Thinking right thoughts about Jesus is not enough. Doctrine. Theology. Dogma. Creed. These things are not enough. If your faith doesn’t demand that you actually trust Jesus, than it’s a stone that blocks you. If you’ve never moved from believing in Jesus to actually believing Jesus, you’re missing out on a whole world of religion!
This is about thinking, “I’m not smart enough…” “I’m not good enough…” “I’ve never done it before…” “I could never do it as well as…” Mis-belief, untrust are 2 synonyms for this. It’s about not believing what Jesus believes about you.
Many people would say that the greatest theologian, and most prophetic Christian voice, of the 20th century was Reinhold Niebuhr. But he himself said, “I am a coward myself… and find it tremendously difficult to run counter to general opinion.” (Quoted in Cone, pg 62
Jesus actually thinks highly enough of you he’s entrusted his ongoing mission to you! To you: in the classroom, at Tribocor or Ten Thousand villages, in raising your kids, in Houston. He thinks you can do it! Jesus says if you believe him you will do “greater works” than he did! (John 14:12). He called you “witnesses,” “the light of the world,” “friends,” and “children of God.” Do you believe him? I know you believe in him. But do you believe him? Trust him? Take him at his word?
Be excellent. Stand out. Love yourself. Be different. Be the best at what you do. Paul says, “”You did not receive a spirit of timidity to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption! When we cry, “Abba Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with out spirit that we are children of God, and heirs!” (Romans 8:15-17). You are a child of God! Believe that! Jesus doesn’t see you as one among many, he sees you as wondrously unique and gifted!
But you can believe Jesus, about yourself, about his infinite love, and you still might have at least one more stone in your way.
Contentment: We’re not struggling
If our Lenten study from the margins has taught me anything, it’s opened my eyes that people of faith must be in struggle. We’re far too content with the way things are. One key text you’ve probably never heard of, which is a real hit amongst the marginalized, is Hebrews 12:4, “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your own blood.”
Listen to what one Rabbi, a refugee from Nazi Germany says, “When I was a rabbi of the Jewish community in Berlin under the Hitler regime… the most important thing I learned under those tragic circumstances was that bigotry and hatred are not the most urgent problems. The most urgent and disgraceful problem, the most shameful, the most tragic problem is silence.” (Quoted in Cone, pg 55) And we have for generations been proud of being “the quiet in the land.” We have been far too quiet! Far too comfortable. Far too complacent.
We can, and must, continuously choose to live in struggle with the powers and principalities, the injustice and brokenness of our city and world!
Julie Waters lived her life normally enough, until she realized that to be a Christian necessarily meant she must be in struggle with something. She now lives in struggle against Human Trafficking, which is rampant in Houston.
We’re called to “consider ourselves dead to sin and able to live for the glory of God! (Romans 6:11) The word “consider” in greek means you have to “continuously choose to think differently” about yourself. We are called to a life on the margins, and you can do this.
But Easter is not a story about stones that block us!
Mark 14:4, “When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled away.”
The stones are gone! It’s been removed. Jesus is loosed on our world! And the gates of hell cannot withstand it. No weapon that is fashioned against us will prosper (Is 54:17).
We need not live as functional atheists, as if Christ were not with us on the margins every minute of every day. For he has risen, and our stones have been rolled away. Not they will be: they have been. Claim it with me in faith this morning, that our stones have been rolled away! “My stone has been rolled away!”
“And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives… For we also will be raised as he was.” (Romans 6:4-6)
- Isaiah pictures peace and a peaceable kingdom going forth from Jerusalem.
- Amos says it is justice rolling down like water, righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
- Paul says if anyone is in Christ there is a whole new creation.
- John the Revelator says, “Behold, I am making all things new!” Coming down out of heaven comes a new and holy city, in which “He will wipe away every tear, death will be no more, mourning and crying and pain will be no more!” (Revelation 21:5,4)
Total salvation is loosed into our world! “Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in splendor, doing wonders?” (Exodus 15:2,11)
Marriages are being reborn. People are taking risks in the power of the Spirit. Old barriers are being destroyed. New ministries are arising. We’re seeing the world differently today! Christ is loose among us here at Houston Mennonite Church.
What if you lived your life without any stones? What if nothing stopped you?
– Not your fear of standing out- you could fully express yourself and be who you are!
– Not your failure, past or imagined.
– Not your gender. Or lack of training. Or the color of your skin. Or your age.
What if you lived your life as if Jesus was truly risen from the dead and loosed in our world today? What if you knew, with every waking moment of your life, that the same power that rose Jesus from the dead resides in you?
The stone’s been rolled away. Christ is arisen. Not what?