By Pastor Steven Molin
He is Risen! (He is risen indeed!). And with that exchange, we join the chorus of Christians of the last 2000 years who have awoken on Sunday morning with the great good news that Jesus is alive. Death could not hold him down. The stone which sealed his tomb could not contain him. The grief of Good Friday has been replaced by shouts of “Alleluia!” Jesus is alive, and now we are free to live. Happy Easter, friends! Will you pray with me…
Lord of Life, we rejoice this day because you have risen from the grave. Now everything you said is true; sins are forgiven, eternal life is promised, and we are free to live! Amen.
In the spring of 1981, the president of national hotel chain was speaking at a conference in Atlanta Georgia, and while he was there, he decided he needed a haircut. While sitting in the chair of a neighborhood barber, he struck up a conversation. “What are you doing for a vacation this summer?” The barber’s face brightened, “My wife and I are taking a road trip, and we’re driving to Phoenix.” “Really” the hotel president asked, “and where are you going to stay while you’re on this road trip?” The barber said “Well, on the way out there, we’re going to stay at the cheapest hotels possible, so that when we get there we can afford to stay in something really nice.” And the hotel president thought to himself, “This guy is never going to stay in my hotel, because when he’s driving to Phoenix, we’re too expensive, and when he gets to Phoenix, we’re too inexpensive.” He immediately flew back to his office in Silver Spring Maryland, called his Board of Directors together and announced “One size does not fit all! We need to diversify to meet the different needs of people.” And the result was a company that began to offer four different levels of hotels; The Sleep Inn, The Comfort Inn, The Quality Inn, and The Clarion. The name of the company is “Choice Hotels.”
With that rather earthy illustration, I would suggest to you that on that first Easter Sunday, those who were the followers of Jesus had a variety of needs as well. And further, I believe that the diversity of needs remain yet today. We’re not all drawn to this place for the exact same reason today. Some of you are here because you are curious. Others have come to keep peace in the family. Still others walked in because they have worshipped on Easter every year, and they cannot imagine being anyplace else. One size does not fit all. But the story of Easter is such a gripping story that it ultimately meets the need of every person in this place. This morning, allow me to speak to you about Passion, and Proof and Purpose, and assume that one of those words will hit you right where you live.
Now the word “passion” means, quite literally, “to suffer.” It suggests deep emotion, perhaps even a feeling of one’s heart breaking. The word “compassion” means “to suffer with.” If you have a friend who is hurting, then you are hurting too. That’s what it means to have compassion. You can give an impassioned speech, or you can feel passionately about someone. All of it has to do with the fact that you care so much, it hurts.
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I will apologize in advance to any Chicago Cubs fans in our midst, but the Cubs have not won the World Series since 1908; that’s 96 years. Haley’s Comet has come twice since they were world champions. When Jim Finks was named GM in about 1980, he was asked by a reporter “Will the cubs win the World Series in my lifetime?” Finks answered “That depends; how long are you going to live?” But it happened again last week; a 90-ish Cubs fan at their home opener said he had suffered with the Cubs since his childhood, and he is still a passionate Cubs fan. That’s passion, but it does not reach the level about which I want to speak today.
When Mary Magdalene went to Jesus’ tomb on that first Easter day, she wasn’t expecting to find Jesus alive. She watched him die on Friday, her own heart broke when they whipped him and ridiculed him and nailed him to the cross. But her love for him did not die when he died; if anything, his passion proved the depth of his for his friends. Mary went to the grave because Jesus’ death changed her life.
I know there are people in this church who have had the same experience as Mary. You have read the Good Friday account and it has brought you to tears. You are absolutely convinced of his love for you. He took your place on that cross, he paid the penalty for your sins, and you will forever be overwhelmed by his astonishing love. St. Augustine once said “If you were the only person on this earth who needed a Savior, Jesus would still have died for you.” Like Mary, Jesus death has changed your life.
If people who are drawn to Jesus because of his passion, they are following their heart. But you must also know that there are others who follow their head; they cannot be persuaded on emotion along, they need proof. Do you know people like that? Are you in fact a person like that?
In Mark’s gospel, Mary goes to the tomb on that Sunday morning and she sees Jesus very much alive. She sprints back to tell the disciples that she had seen the Lord, but they would not believe her. In fact, they said it was an idle tale!
Do you recall the story about Doubting Thomas?” When Jesus appeared to the disciples, Thomas wasn’t with them; he was off grieving somewhere alone. When he returned, they said “Thomas, we’ve seen the Lord!” And Thomas said “Yeah, right!” Today that response would be translated “What have you been smoking?” Thomas went on to say “Unless I see the nail prints in his hands and feet, unless I reach out and place my hand into the wound in his side, I will not believe.”
Thomas needed proof. Concrete, tangible evidence that Jesus was alive. The next week, Jesus did appear to Thomas, and he did believe. And Jesus made a very significant remark: “Do you believe in me, Thomas, because you have seen me? Blessed are those who do not see me, and yet believe.”
That’s us, isn’t it? People who have never seen Jesus walking around on the earth, and yet we believe in his resurrection. Are we all foolish? Or are we, as Jesus predicted, blessed…because we have not seen, and yet we believe? I have known people for whom faith is a struggle. Without concrete evidence, they feel that, to believe in Jesus would be unreasonable. Ironically, sometimes they come to a place in their lives when everything is turned upside down, and then the only thing that seems to make sense is a God who loves them.
Ultimately, it comes down to faith. In Greek, the word is pisteo. Pisteo means that we risk everything on that one thing in which we believe; if we’re right, we’ve gained it all. If we’re wrong, we’ve lost everything. If you are one who needs evidence, keep looking. In this chaotic, fractured world of ours, glimpses of God can still be seen; in the birth of a child, in the beauty of a sunset, in the wonder of the human body, or in the love of family and friends. God fingerprints are everywhere, if we choose to see them.
But still there are others who need to have a purpose in this life. They cannot simply gather with others like themselves, and sing sweet hymns and pray beautiful prayers. They believe that faith calls them to action…and they are right! Do you know what one of Jesus’ favorite words was? “GO!” Go. He said it all the time. “Go into all the world, preaching and teaching and making disciples.” “Go and heal the sick. Go and visit the lonely. Go and feed the hungry. Go and love. Go and serve.” If we believe that Jesus forgives our sins, if we believe that we are guaranteed to spend eternity in heaven, then serving is not a risk. We’ve already gained all there is to gain.
I loved Pastor Keith’s sermon last Sunday, when he reminded us that sometimes the church is like old wine that stays in the bottle. It’s very good wine, getting more excellent with age, but it serves no purpose just sitting in the bottle. Only when it is poured out does it do anyone any good. And so it is with us. We have what the world needs, but they can never know it unless we go and tell them. And those who are drawn to Easter because of the radical purpose that Jesus gave his disciples know that this is true.
President Abraham Lincoln would often worship on Sunday nights at one of the churches in Washington D.C. Because he did not want to cause a commotion by his presence, the pastor left the sacristy door open, and the President sat in that small room and listened to the sermon. One evening, Lincoln was walking back to the White House, his aide commented “The pastor preached a great sermon tonight, Mr. President.” And after a slight pause, Lincoln responded “No, the pastor did not preach a great sermon because he did not challenge me to do great things.”
If you are one who best expresses your faith in deeds of love and action, you are in good company, because an awful lot of Christians have found their purpose in living by serving others in need.
So there you have it; some are drawn to Easter worship because their hearts were touched by the passion and suffering of Jesus. Others are here because God has granted them just enough proof to believe that he is alive. And still other are here because God has employed their hands and their feet and their lips in acts of service. Who knew that there were people just like us among those first disciples, and God called them all into the Kingdom? Whatever your need may be this day, the Savior who died and rose again can fill your life to overflowing. He is risen! (He is risen, indeed!) Thanks be to God. Amen.