Sermon Series: Seeing Easter

March 19th, 2012

A two-week series for Easter and the following Sunday.

Week 1: Glimpses of Resurrection

Colossians 1:18-20

Martin Luther wrote, “Our God has written the truth of resurrection not in books alone, but on every leaf of springtime.”

We can find the truth of resurrection in books, our Bibles as well as the volumes of spiritual and theological books in our homes, churches, offices, and libraries.

And at this time of the year as Luther pointed out, nature proclaims it too. Spring buds break forth from dry branches; shy pastel flowers emerge from winter-hard dirt and newborn grass; and leaves spring forth in that shiny, yellow-green newness that is only born in the spring.

I believe though, that God has written the truth of resurrection in a few other places as well. I see it on people’s faces and in certain momentary glimpses that remind me over and over again of God’s power to make all things new.

“Jeff, will you have Susan to be your wife?” I look into the groom’s eyes. My mind flashes back to a pastoral counseling session eighteen months earlier. I remember looking into those same eyes, filled with tears and rocked with grief after Jeff’s first wife’s sudden death. Jeff did not know which way to turn. He did not know how he would go on. He was lost. And yet now, somehow, new life and a new relationship emerged.

I look at the bride. “Susan, will you have Jeff to be your husband?” Susan is a survivor too. For years she endured an abusive first marriage. In much pain and fear and with great struggle, she finally shed that destructive relationship and stepped into a life on her own, not knowing what the future would hold. Now, somehow, new life has been born where she least expected it.

I look down and into the baby blue eyes of little Anna as she stands between the bride and groom. She was once an abandoned infant living in a foreign nation’s orphanage. Now she is a radiant flower girl with a new mommy and daddy. “Anna, do you take Jeff and Susan to be your parents?”

New life, resurrection, always seems to affect me the same way. It surprises me. It takes my breath away. It causes a lump in my throat. I’m left speechless and amazed. I find myself wanting to run and share the news with someone else, “You are not going to believe this! Guess what just happened?”

I’ve seen glimpses of new life in so many unexpected places, and you have too:

  • in dwindling churches that discover a fresh mission
  • in people deeply hurt by life who manage to turn that very hurt into a ministry
  • in families where relationships have been cut off and yet, somehow, connection begins again
  • in individuals who believe they are empty, used up, and find, surprisingly, a new bud of life emerging where they least expected it

In one particular week in our church, we experienced two tragic, sudden deaths within our church family. Our congregation was rocked with grief and certainly the particular families were devastated. In the course of that week, countless meals were delivered, tears shed, visits made. We had two very large funerals. I remember at the end of that week, being drained from the sorrow and the pastoral load, returning to my office and finding a freshly baked loaf of bread sitting on my desk. It was still warm and the fragrance of it filled the room. It was from a church member and had a thank-you note attached. It surprised me, this gift. It took my breath away, the fragrance of it. I sat at my desk alone, broke the bread and ate it, reflecting on the wonder of the body of Christ. Each bite of that warm, soft bread ushered a bit of new life into my soul.

Eugene Peterson paraphrases our text from Colossians:

Christ was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he’s there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe— people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies. (The Message)

Christian songwriter and singer Bebo Norman says it in his own way, “The God of second chances will pick them up and let them dance / through a world that is not kind” (“A Page Is Turned”).

Those are all amazing Easter images: a resurrection parade, the God of second chances picking us up, letting us dance, a Christ so spacious and roomy that all that is broken and dislocated in the universe has hope of new life, wholeness, being properly fixed.

The truth of resurrection is so real, so central to life and faith that we can only take it in, I think, in glimpses. We can only behold such an awesome truth in little doses.

This Easter I will take my resurrection snippets as they come: in the shiny eyes of a child adopted into a family, a church with a fresh mission, a new bud on the branch, a life going one direction now turned slightly in another direction, a bite of warm bread, and a stone rolled away. And each time I glimpse resurrection—breathless, speechless, and amazed—I will try to find a way to say an Easter thank-you to the God of second chances.

Week 2: Why Are You Surprised?

Acts 3:1-16

A bit of amazing new life is described in the book of Acts. Peter and John are on their way to the temple. At the same time, scripture tells us, someone is carrying a man with a disability to the temple gate so he may beg from those going to the temple. This is a daily occurrence, we are told.

The beggar asks Peter and John for a handout. They look the man in the eye and heal him. The man jumps to his feet and walks. Then he goes into the temple. And, not only does he walk, he dances and praises God! Everyone, the scripture says, is astonished and can’t believe it. Peter, never missing a great preaching opportunity, looks at the people and says, in so many words, “Why are you surprised? This is God we are talking about. Faith in Jesus Christ made this happen. Why are you surprised?” I’m pretty sure if I somehow became a part of this text, I would be in the crowd and not in the pulpit. I would be one of the amazed multitudes with my mouth open wide in disbelief. I would be murmuring to my friends, “That can’t be the one with the disability over there dancing . . . it just can’t be!” I would be rubbing my eyes, trying to shake myself awake. New life surprises me every time. When my children were born, even though I’d been anticipating their births for months, when the actual time of birth arrived, I was shocked. When I held my firstborn daughter for the first time, I found myself astonished and breathless. I marveled over her soft newborn skin, her tiny little fingers and toes, and looked into her little face for hours. I still can’t quite believe it. Looking at her still takes my breath away and I’ve had seventeen years to absorb that miracle.

When spring arrives and green grass emerges from the brown, dead grass, it amazes me. When tiny buds pop out on bare branches and daffodils poke out from under cold, hard winter dirt, I am always surprised.

My theological training and my study of Scripture have taught me well. I know God specializes in new life. Yet when it happens my heart is always caught off guard.

One of the classical spiritual disciplines is the act of attentiveness. It is an act of discipline to become awake and attentive to God’s presence in all of life.

Sometimes I wonder what astonishing glimpses of new life you and I are missing simply because we haven’t been looking for resurrection and healing in certain places. The man with a disability, we are told, sat at the temple gate every day, begging. He was a fixture there. No one expected anything different from him. I imagine most people didn’t even notice him after the first few times they passed that way. I’m sure most people didn’t even look him in the eye.

I wonder what you and I might be missing right now because our eyes have stopped seeing. I wonder who might dance before us if we could only focus. I wonder; are there places in our lives where new life will emerge if we will only pay attention?

Peter and John, perhaps because of their relationship with Jesus, saw something different in this man. They looked him right in the eye, the scripture says. They saw him. They paid attention.

Who or what in your life deserves a longer look from you today? Our relationship with the risen Christ infuses our lives with the sweet possibilities of new life. It is literally all around us for the seeing.

At the gates of the temple one who used to beg is now dancing. From a grief healed to a life transformed, God specializes in the dancing. From the promise of eternal life to the glimpses of newness in our everyday lives, God specializes in the dancing.

I am a hospice chaplain. Much of that ministry involves counseling with people at the end of their life. Sometimes I get used to the routine of some of my pastoral visits with people. Most visits follow a pattern, a time of visiting, light chatter, and then sometimes the conversation goes deeper and we talk of death or life after death. Sometimes the person shares hopes and dreams and regrets and worries. Usually at the end of the visit, I pray. Recently, I visited a ninety-four-year-old woman. Our visit followed the usual pattern. I read some scripture to her from her wellworn Bible. We talked about life and death. I said, “Shall we pray before I go?” She said, “Sure.” I took her hand, closed my eyes and opened my mouth to pray. Before my first word emerged . . . she grasped my hand tightly and she started to pray. She prayed for me and my children and my ministry. She prayed that I might be close to God and be faithful in helping people to see God. She prayed for my husband and my marriage. Then, she said “Amen.” It surprised me, that prayer. It took my breath away. It touched me deeply. I looked in her eyes and saw a twinkle of new life and a spirit that was dancing. She said, “I just love to talk to God.”

This is, after all, God we are talking about. Why are you surprised?

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