The Event #7
We just finished a study on Wednesday nights during Lent of Adam Hamilton’s book 24 Hour That Change The World. Did you know that there are over 100 other books in print with titles that include the phrase “…That Changed the World.” Here are just a few examples:
Mayflower: The Voyage That Changed the World
Model T Ford: The Car That Changed the World
Glass: The Story of the Substance That Changed the World
The Cable: The Wire That Changed the World
Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World
The Twist: The Story of the Song and Dance That Changed the World
Mauve: How One Man Invented a Color That Changed the World
I don’t think I’ll buy the book but I am a little curious about how the color Mauve and things as innocuous as Cod and the Twist changed the world. (1)
Today we are here to celebrate an Event that changed the world. Because of this Event: “Everything Will Change.” In my opinion it’s “The Event” which changed the world. And it continues to change people and to change the world.
We all have things, experiences, Events in our own lives that were so formative, so altering, so transformational that they changed the fundamental way we think and live. For some of us it may have been a series of events that shaped us. For others it was a single event which we can point to. We know the day and the hour and we can travel there in our minds at any given moment.
The list of Events is long and complex. It could be abandonment by a parent or spouse. It could be the birth of your first child or grandchild. It could be your marriage; the death of a loved one; a life threatening illness; an accident; or even a a near accident.
It might be your first date; first kiss; your first love; your first heartbreak. It could be the day of your baptism or confirmation. It might be your High School or College graduation; your first job or your first apartment. You get the idea. All of these events in our lives shaped us and formed us into who we are today. Some of them were pivotal in who we are what we do. For me, my marriage, my call to preach, and my Ordination are some of those events.
But Easter and the Resurrection is THE Event of the world. It is THE pivotal Event. It changed everything. It is the central Event of Christianity. It is what sets us apart in our beliefs. It is THE Event, and we have nothing to show for it except an Empty Tomb. But that’s exactly the point because that Empty Tomb Changed Everything. That Empty Tomb gives us Hope. And we need that hope.
Let’s remind ourselves of the Events of that first Easter as told by John. John 20:1-18 (NRSV)
 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.
 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”
 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb.
 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.
 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in.
 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there,
 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself.
 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed;
 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.
 Then the disciples returned to their homes.
 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb;
 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet.
 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”
 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.
 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”
 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).
 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'”
 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
The Empty Tomb and The Event that morning give us Hope. And we need that hope.
I. HOPE FOR TODAY:
A. I think we need that Hope now more than ever. Everything around us is changing at such a rapid pace that sometimes we get lost just trying to keep up. Time and again we find ourselves asking: When did that happen? When did that change? Who made those rules? Why? That sense of discombobulation and discomfort hangs in the air and we can’t tell where it’s coming from but it grieves our souls.
And so we ask a deeper question. Can we still trust God? Can we still hope in the Event? Will God or CAN God make something Holy and Good and Beautiful out of a world filled with drug wars, child abuse, earthquakes, pornography, tornados, wars, politicians filling our ears with a bilious miasma of words which boil down to nothing only to camouflage their own self interests?
Can we still trust God? Can we still have Hope. CAN God or WILL God bring healing and wholeness to the marginalized poor in the rest of the world who are dying from preventable diseases that are no longer a threat in our own country? Can we trust God to do something good and beautiful with a people who claim to love God but then do such despicable things?
The world grinds on, history grinds on, time grinds on, life grinds on and WE GET GROUND DOWN. In this state of darkness we’re tempted to forget what we learned in the light and from the light.
Can we still Trust God? Because while everything around us is changing at such a rapid pace, nothing seems to change. We still appear to be the same sinful fallen people we have always been.
According to the US Forest Service website yesterday at noon, in the Palo Pinto County fires 150,000 acres have burned destroying 167 homes and 124 outbuildings.
There are currently, 463 personnel made up of local fire departments, state and federal agencies, The Texas Army National Guard and volunteers from 37 states. They’ve been fighting this fire since April 13th It’s only 25% contained and they don’t expect to have it fully contained until April 30th.
The response to the Palo Pinto County fires has been overwhelming. Churches have poured out supplies like crazy. Our District Superintendent reports that all the storehouses are full. Donations of goods continues to flow in. And yet in the midst of these heroic, selfless efforts she also had to report and instruct people of how to handle a scam that has been taking place.
Small groups of people have been coming to certain distribution sites claiming to be from FEMA and the confiscating all the supplies. How sick and sad and wrong is that?
B. That’s why we need this message. That’s why THE Event, the Empty Tomb is so important. That’s why we need the church, as fickle, unrepentant, and distractible as it can be at times. We need the church. We need corporate worship. We need to gather in the name of someone higher and Holier than we are. Someone who CAN give us Hope For Today; Someone who HAS conquered the darkness.
I’ll admit, I love the Church. At its best, it can be great and can do great things but we get it wrong so much of the time. And yet, when we worship, for least one hour each week we are steeped in God’s Grace and Simmered in the Spirit. Sometimes we and our half-baked ideas are skewered and served up in a call to repentance. Sometimes we’re brought to a boil and the love we have experienced overflows all over the world.
Without Sunday we simply stew in our sin. And the thing about stew is that if you don’t take it off the stove it will continue to stew until all the elements break down into a mush like consistency that is unappealing and unappetizing.
The point is, for at least one hour a week, we sit in the glow and the warmth and the challenge and the Holiness and the Hope of the Empty Tomb. We come beaten down by the grind of the world, struggling with whether God even hears our prayers, wondering if the darkness and fallenness of humanity is going to win. And then we see the light of the Empty Tomb. We experience the presence of the Risen Christ once again.
We rejoice with others who struggle with the same struggles we have. We sing and pray and praise God with those who lift our spirits and whose spirits we have lifted. And together we celebrate God who, through His Son and the Empty Tomb, gives us Hope For Today AND Hope For The Future.
II. HOPE FOR THE FUTURE:
We need Hope For The Future. You see, this Event, the Empty Tomb, reminds us that God’s love through God’s Son, this gift of life and eternal life, is meant for each of us. It’s personal, it’s not esoteric. It’s not symbolic. It’s not for somebody else. It is for us. The Resurrection and the Hope it brings is for us. Today. And in the Future.
In the movie The Ultimate Gift, the main character, Jason Stevens a spoiled rich kid living off of his trust fund befriends a little girl, Emily, and her mother. Emily has an incurable disease and is dying. Jason has come to the hospital to check on his pint-sized friend, Emily. When he arrives at her hospital room he finds it empty and an orderly is changing the sheets.
In a panic, Jason asks about Emily. The orderly tells him, “She’s with God.” This takes him by surprise, but soon he (and the viewers) discovers that what the orderly meant was that she is praying in the hospital chapel. WATCH
Upon arriving at the chapel, Emily looks at him a little disdainfully because he has been absent for a while. Emily sarcastically notes, “So, here’s my best friend.”
He tries to explain, but she cuts him off. Now that he has been to her hospital room he knows about her and her condition. She has cancer. She says, “No more mystery.”
Jason tries to comfort her by saying that he is sorry, but Emily snaps, “Shut up. Don’t be pathetic!”
Emily looks over at a statue of Jesus with his arms raised, beckoning. She says, “I wonder if He takes advance orders.”
Confused, Jason asks, “For what?”
Emily says, “For my place, you know, there.”
Jason says, “What do you think it will be like?” And Emily confidently replies, “Butterflies. Lots of butterflies. Do you know God painted the colors of the butterflies with His fingers.”
Jason is startles, “I didn’t know you thought about stuff like that.”
Emily, a little sad now, says, “I think about dying. I think there’s something basically unfair about a person dying. I even hate the idea!” Then Emily turns and sobs on Jason’s shoulder.
Jason, who has been a spoiled rich kid all his life, confesses, “You know, I don’t know much about God or Jesus, but (and he glances toward the statue of Christ), but I can promise that those arms are meant for you.”
Like Emily, we all hate the very idea of death. We hate the idea of dying. Most of our lives are centered around the fear of dying. Some of us are so afraid of dying that we never live. We’re so afraid of failing and feeling that sense of failure that we never take any chance and really live. Some of us are so afraid of dying of embarrassment or dying of shame or dying of unpopularity or dying of fright that we never do any living.
Sometimes we exchange the fear of dying for anxiety driven lives. All anxiety really is, is a slow agonizing death by self-crucifixion and self-entombment. We can still see all the adventures of life being lived out around us but we’ve nailed ourselves to the cross of our own fears or sealed ourselves in the tomb of our anxieties.
But the Empty Tomb, the Resurrection frees us from the fear of death. It frees us from the tombs of inaction and the tombs of anxiety. It frees us because it fills us with Hope.
The Good News of Easter, the Good News of The Event, The Good News of the Empty Tomb is that Resurrection is God’s final word. The arms of Jesus, first from the cross and then from the Empty Tomb, reach out to each of us to bring us hope and a new beginning.
The Empty Tomb brings us hope in the face of the darkness of death. The arms of Jesus reach out to us and fill us with hope. Hope For Today and Hope For The Future.
That Hope For Today And Hope For The Future reminds us that Death is NOT God’s final answer. You see, death thinks of itself as Donald Trump on Celebrity Apprentice, waiting patiently to say to each of us “You’re Fired.”
What death doesn’t know is that the show has been cancelled by its original producer and Creator. Death’s contract has run out. God’s just waiting for the end of the season.
Death isn’t the final answer. Resurrection is God’s final answer. That’s the song God is singing to the world to the world today. God is offering New Beginnings and a refreshing of the soul. God is offering New Life.
There was Pastor who never sang much because he didn’t have much of a singing voice and couldn’t read music. But one year, on Easter Sunday, his daughter persuaded him to sing along with the choir when it came time for them to sing the “Hallelujah Chorus” which was their traditional way of ending the Easter Service..
So, he did and he really got caught up in singing all of those “Hallelujah’s.” He discovered that he loved singing those Hallelujahs. He was just about to sing a couple more when all of a sudden the choir stopped, the director stopped and the organ stopped.
He said. “They stopped too soon. Since that time I’ve been going around with a couple of Hallelujahs inside of me just waiting to get out.” (1)
That’s what this day does for us. That’s what Resurrection does for us. We all walk around with “a couple of Hallelujahs inside of me just waiting to get out.” Because This Day and The Empty Tomb fill us with Hope. Hope For Today and Hope For the Future.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
2. As told by Gil Bowen, “More Than Conquerors,” http://www.30goodminutes.org/csec/sermon/bowen_3625.htm.