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“Christ is Risen!” 2018 Easter Sermon 04.01.2018

Easter 2018 * John 20:1-18 * April 1, 2018Easter 2018 * John 20:1-18 * April 1, 2018

Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus the RISEN Christ. Amen.

So this year, Easter falls on April’s Fools Day. The last time this happened was in 1956 and there will only be two more occurrences of Easter falling on April Fool’s Day this century. In case you didn’t know this, the actual date for Easter changes each year. It’s not a set date like Christmas. If you were paying attention as we received the gospel readings over the past four days of Holy Week worship, you’ll note that scripture doesn’t tell us that Maundy Thursday or any of the other days have a specific calendar date – only a specific day of the week. After all, God’s time is not the same thing as human time. It may surprise some, but God, in fact, does not have an Apple Watch.

I’ve never explored this too far but…the date for Easter is determined as the first Sunday, after the first full moon, on or before the Spring equinox.

OK – before I keep chasing after that squirrel, let’s move on.

Since the very earliest days of the Christian movement, there’s been a very significant, and somewhat foolish I might add, greeting used to signify Easter and the resurrection. Someone will say “Christ is risen!” And someone else will say “He is risen indeed!”

Let’s try it.
Awesome! You guys are great.

BUT – wait a minute. Weren’t you listening? Why are we shouting for joy?

In our gospel reading on this Easter Day, Peter and the other disciple whom Jesus loved have been to the empty tomb, don’t seem to understand what is going on so they decide to head for home in order to continue their Xbox video game tournament. Or something like that.

And Mary, one of Jesus’ closest friends and someone whom I believe we should see as one of the first disciples, is weeping.

So why are you and I, followers of Jesus nearly 2,000 years later, shouting for joy?

Here’s something about the resurrection that has rested on my heart this year. Peter, the other disciple, and Mary Magdalene don’t know what’s going on – they don’t know the end of the story. At this point, all they know is that Jesus – this friend of their’s whom they thought was the Messiah – has been brutally killed just a few days earlier. They don’t see any reason why there is going to be anything more to this story than the horrific, bloody death of their friend on a cross. They have to be thinking – this is the end. Nothing more to see here. Let’s move on with our lives.

Early on this first day of the week, they come to the grave where they thought Jesus was to be buried, and he’s not there. Is that all there is to their story? Is the story of Jesus, God’s son, our Savior, over?

You and I know that death on a Friday we dare call Good, is not the end of the story. The first disciples to witness the resurrection didn’t know that, at least not yet.

As Mary is weeping, she doesn’t recognize Jesus, but Jesus recognizes her. Not because of anything she does, but because of what God does for her through Jesus.

We began worship today by giving thanks for and affirming our own baptism. In the sacred and holy waters and words of promise from God that is the sacrament of Holy Baptism, God claims us. A sacrament when we see Jesus recognizes us. Not because of anything we do, but because of what God does for us through Jesus.

Peter and the other disciple have no idea what is going on at the tomb “for as yet they did not understand the scripture.” Over the next few weeks in our worship life together, we’ll discover that they will begin to understand the scripture as they experience the resurrected Jesus first hand. Again, not because of anything they do, but what God does for them through Jesus.

After all of the Easter candy has been consumed – or hidden by wise parents – and the Easter dinner is over, and family and friends have returned to their homes and busy lifestyles; what does any of this mean? What does it mean to be a follower of this Jesus?

This Jesus who couldn’t even be stopped by death. This Jesus who recognizes and calls each of us by name as precious children of God – loved and claimed and freed – in spite of all of the ways that we try to turn and run from God. All of the ways that we try and put God to death expecting that we, somehow, can keep God dead.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the resurrection of Jesus is not simply a historical event that we remember each year like a national holiday or birthday. And the resurrection of Jesus is not only about some future hope that we have for ourselves and our loved ones after our earthly death.

I’m sorry, but if we focus all of our attention on a past or future event, we are completely missing the resurrection promise that’s right in front of us today. The resurrection promise of Jesus that calls us to live with a hope that we can experience and witness each and every day of our life together as part of the body of Christ. Hope that is only possible because of what God has already done, and is continuing to do for us, through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the savior of the world.

So don’t worry about Easter falling on April Fool’s day this year. You don’t need to ignore it. It actually might be helpful.

One ELCA pastor, Paul Lutter said – “Through his death and resurrection for us, Jesus Christ is God’s foolish power on the loose among us. Our strength is toppled by his weakness. Our wisdom is toppled by his foolishness. And we are never the same again. We are made new. We are turned upside down for the sake of Christ, who dies and is raised from death for us. We are given new identities. Marked with the cross of this foolish Christ and sealed by the Holy Spirit in the waters of baptism, we are made fools for Christ.” [“Foolish Power,” Living Lutheran, April 1, 2011]

So for today, let’s greet one another as fools for Christ with foolish joy and proclaim “Christ is Risen!” “He is risen indeed!”

And just like Peter, the other disciple, Mary Magdalene and every follower of Jesus since that first resurrection day, let’s not be afraid or stand around weeping. Let’s proclaim truth every day.

The truth that God has, is, and will always be a God of resurrection. A God of resurrection that conquers every death we will ever experience. A God of resurrection that sounds foolish to some. A God of resurrection that brings forth new life, always and in all ways.

And so tomorrow, on Easter Monday, let’s continue being fools for Christ as we greet one another with joy and proclaim “Christ is risen!” “He is risen indeed!”

And next weekend we will greet one another with joy and proclaim “Christ is risen!” “He is risen indeed!”

And later this year, we will greet one another with joy and proclaim “Christ is risen!” “He is risen indeed!”

Thanks be to God! Amen.

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“Bear Good Fruit” 03.03.2013 Sermon

Luke 13:1-9 March 3, 2013

Click here to hear an audio recording of this sermon.

Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.

A little boy runs across a farmer who has a truckload of cow manure. The boy asks him what he is going to do with all of that cow poop. The farmer tells the little boy, “I’m taking it home to put on my strawberries.”

The little boy looks up at the farmer and says, “I don’t know where you come from sir, but where I come from we put cream and sugar on our strawberries.”

I’m not sure how much that joke has to do with our gospel reading today or even the sermon for that matter, but I’ve been gone for a few Sundays and thought it was kind of cute, so I figured I’d share it anyway.

This is the third Sunday in the season of Lent. In our gospel reading today, the crowds are saying some pretty crazy things to Jesus, aren’t they? About Galilean blood being shed in the temple by Pontius Pilot and intermingled with the blood of animal sacrifices on the altar because of their sin or a tower collapsing and killing innocent people because of their sin. But, we don’t say things like that anymore, do we?

During his first interview after this year’s Super Bowl, a reporter asked Ray Lewis from the Baltimore Ravens, “How does it feel to be a Super Bowl Champion?” Lewis responded, “When God is for you, who can be against you?”

Excuse me? God had a favorite team in this year’s Super Bowl? You mean God liked one of the Super Bowl coaches, the Harbaugh brothers, better than the other one?

Or how many times have you and I heard someone say or even thought this ourselves.

“The poor are poor. It’s their own fault. They should get a job.”

Or “The sick are sick. Maybe they should have taken better care of themselves and then they wouldn’t have gotten sick.”

Or how about those preachers on television who proclaim that natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy or Katrina happen because of the sins of people on the east coast or in the city of New Orleans.

Don’t those things sound a little like the crowds who confront Jesus today in Luke’s gospel? Evidently things haven’t changed much over the past 2,000 years.

I think Lent might be the most misunderstood season of the Christian church year. It often feels more like New Years Day to me rather than a season that walks us to Jerusalem and death on a cross. During Lent many of us give something up like chocolate or fast food or we try to exercise more or get more sleep. Like most of our New Year’s resolutions – many have all but disappeared by the time we reach week three.

You and I really want to change, and Lent always seems to be a pretty good time to give that a shot, especially because we’ve usually already abandoned our New Year’s resolutions by the time Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. But year after year, Lent after Lent, it comes and goes and the blood of old issues remains, buildings of bad attitudes continue to fall and hurt innocent people, and addictions continue to halt the bearing of good fruit from our trees.

Maybe instead of focusing on giving something up, we should look more deeply at what Lent may actually be calling us to be about. Especially in light of the text that we have before us today.

We often fall into the trap of assuming that our relationship with God through Jesus Christ depends upon us becoming something or changing into some sort of super hero Christian that is vastly different from who we actually are. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

I think sometimes Jesus needs to knock us upside the head and remind us of that once in a while. Remind us of all of the crazy things that we say and do and tell us, “You’ve got it all wrong.”  Or as Jesus says in verses 3 and 5 in our gospel today, “No, I tell you; but…” The “buts” in these two verses are important. They signal a turn, a turn away from worrying about the sins of others; and a turn to think about our own sins and our own life.

Jesus says, “No, I tell you: but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did!” In the 13th chapter of Luke’s gospel, Jesus turns the crowd away from a discussion of other people’s sins and turns it to focus on their own need for change and repentance. For your need for change and repentance. For my need for change and repentance.

I found an insight from Pastor Todd Spencer helpful this week. He wrote, “Part of the adventure of Lent is recognizing how we have participated in unfruitful ways.” And he went on to say, “So we ask God who created us to forgive us, so that we may begin anew.”

Humorist Garrison Keillor eloquently stated a long time ago that, “You can become a Christian by going to church just about as easily as you can become an automobile by sleeping in a garage.”

During this week in Lent, and at all times in our life together in the Body of Christ for that matter, Jesus calls us to repent. And repentance is not about feeling a little bit bad or guilty for something we may have said or done with the hope that we will do a little better next time. Repentance is a radical reorientation of oneself; literally a “turning around” – a complete change of heart, a total change of direction.

So you and I shouldn’t worry necessarily about Lenten resolutions, because we’re being invited into something that is far more than that during Lent. We’re being invited to fully believe and live in the paradox that Jesus offers. In light of the chaos and calamities that can happen to any one of us at any time and in light of all sin that still exists in our world today, you and I are invited each and every day to call upon God to repair our own brokenness. Don’t assume that because you are still around on this earth it’s because you bear good fruit all the time and have no need to repent.

The world may want to blame the withering tree for its inability to produce fruit; or the sin of someone else causing our own problems; or the sins of many causing horrific events like towers to fall or hurricane winds to blow. After all, at least then the world has a superficial explanation for why these things occur and someone else to blame.

The good news of the life, death, and resurrection of our savior Jesus Christ is not found in our ability to blame others for our own sin. The good news is that this Jesus offers you and me forgiveness, reaches into our very lives, reminds us of our roots, nourishes us with unconditional and abundant mercy and grace, and allows us to bloom, to flourish, to freely share our gifts with everyone we meet.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus calls you and me to repent. May that be the fruit that we bear during this third week of Lent. Bear good fruit. Amen.