Sermon, Year A Easter, April 24, 2011
Plymouth United Church of Christ , Eau Claire, WI
© Rev. David J. Huber, 2011
Focus Scripture: John 20:1-18 (Mary Magdelene comes to the tomb)
I will admit, and openly make this proclamation: I am totally pro-Easter. Big fan of it. Not surprising, I suppose. One would hope that an ordained minister of Jesus would find Easter to be not only unobjectionable, but a good thing. And it is. A good thing. The best thing.
The. Best. Thing. Ever.
It is, indeed, the Good News which we proclaim to the world. That Christ came to earth as Emmanuel, God with us, and taught, healed, performed miracles, fed thousands, walked the earth, cried, laughed, sang hymns, ate with his disciples and others, and as we heard this past week, was betrayed, arrested, put on trial and by common vote, put to death by crucifixion.
And then a few days later, after the men in his life disappeared, one of the women in his life, Mary Magdelene, found that his tomb was empty. He rose from death! And that is the real point of Christianity, of our faith. That is why we come here on Sundays. That is the Good News we tell over and over, Sunday after Sunday. That Jesus defeated death and rose from the dead. That our human powers of violence and death are not power at all because the Lord of Life has shown us a better way, the way of life: compassion, mercy, love, forgiveness, grace.
I say in funeral sermons the reminder that we are an Easter people who are about life, resurrection, and hope; not a Good Friday people who are about violence, fear, and death. We are people of the risen Christ! The Christ who defeated death, and all those things that bring death: sin, shame, guilt, fear, anger; those things we hold in the tombs of our souls. Jesus wants to empty those tombs as well, and bring us to the Kingdom of Heaven which is here, now, is in us already, waiting for us to roll away the stone and walk boldly into it.
You might have seen or heard in the news lately a minister named Rob Bell. Heís an Evangelical pastor with a large church in Michigan named Mars Hill (named after a place that the apostle Paul started a church, not named after the planet). He wrote a book that just came out a month or so ago called ďLove Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever LivedĒ in which he argues that the concept of a hell of burning fire and eternal torment and punishment is all wrong. Heís making the news a fair amount because in his tradition, the thought of unbelievers burning forever, or of sufficiently faulty believers burning forever, is a central and incredibly important doctrine. And heís upset a lot of people by saying that this idea is not scriptural, is not really defensible, and does not square with the idea of a God of infinite love and mercy.
What heís saying isnít anything new. Iíve been saying it, our denomination and many others have been saying it for some time. Henry Ward Beecher, one of the most famous of all congregational ministers was saying it in the 1800's (although his father, also a minister, was a real fire and brimstone type). Origen, one of the great early thinkers in the church, was saying it in the 200's. So Bell is about 1800 years late on that bandwagon, but I appreciate what heís doing.
For me, as I read scripture and think about God and Jesus and the power of love, and when I think of all that in relation to Easter, I believe that Easter tells us we need not live in fear. Godís love is enough to overcome anything, and we may live fully in the now without worrying about what happens after death because itís been taken care of by Jesus because he is merciful and kind and loving.
I believe that Jesus came for one of two groups of people: he came for everyone, or he came for no one. He absolutely did not come just for the sake of some people. Since I canít believe that he did all this for no one, I must believe he did it for everyone, which seems the best fit for a God that created everything that is and looked back on it and proclaimed it all Very Good.
There is enough hell here on earth and in our lives. God knows it. God has gone through it before us, clearing the path. I do not believe that God would then offer us an eternity of it just because we failed to do something right, or did something wrong.
Think of our Advent candles: they are not gloom, apathy, abandonment, and fear. They are peace, hope, joy, and love. We use those words because thatís who Jesus is. Easter is about all of those things as well, especially joy, which I think is the word we can focus on during Easter.
A small word but a powerful word. Joy.
It takes care of everything. And I think thatís what God wants for us: Joy. To know joy by being part of the Kingdom of God which is here and now.
To know joy because we donít have to fear wrath or punishment. God is a god of grace and love, of endless second chances, because God wants us to live in the new life of Jesus Christ, which is to live in joy.
ďWhy do you weep?Ē Jesus asked Mary. ďI am alive! I am risen!Ē Thatís the Good News of Easter! What greater joy is there than that? May we all know it deep in our hearts. Amen.Tweet
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