Saturday, April 11, 2009

Not the End

Tomorrow is Easter Sunday. For many of us in the Lutheran Church, this holiday is synonymous with this hymn much more than with Easter bunnies and chocolate.
Jesus Christ is Risen today, alleluia!
Our triumphant, holy day, alleluia!
...(click here for the music!)...
I'm beginning to write this at 3:00 a.m. on Holy Saturday. It's quiet here at home except for the sounds of the online radio show Sing for Joy. A moment ago I heard the program's host talk about how some holidays, Easter among them, demand music and art and liturgy more than just preaching. (The episode I was listening to can be found here.)

No one can truly appreciate the resurrection of our Lord alone! Please make every effort to gather with others to celebrate this highest and most holy of celebrations. Our Lord has conquered every enemy, including death itself, and has risen from the dead. Alleluia!

I will be preaching two different messages tomorrow. At 6:30 a.m. I'll bring a version of a sermon first preached in 2003 entitled "What's Resurrection for?" At 8:30 and 10:30 I'll share something like this (below) after reading scripture from Mark 16:1-8 which concludes with women running away from Jesus' empty tomb, too afraid to say anything at all.

8:30 & 10:30 a.m.
April 12, 2009

Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! The last enemy, death itself, has been defeated so we can, from the depths of our souls and hearts, sing Alleluia! Praise the Lord for rescuing us! Someday, like the Israelites stepping out from slavery and through the Red Sea, so we will confidently follow our Lord to the promised land!

This is a FESTIVAL day. Every nightmare, every fear, every oppression is wiped away.

Fear is not the end. Because of Jesus' victory over death, fear is never the end. You can see that in the lives of people who have been touched by God's grace. And you can read it in the scriptures. Look closely at chapters such as Romans 8, First Corinthians 15, Second Corinthians 4 and 5 and Revelation 21. They are full of God's promises that connect with this resurrection day.

Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!

Because Jesus has risen from the dead, the sufferings we have here are tiny compared to what God is going to give us in the life to come. The troubles of this life are preparing us, the Bible says, for wonders and joys that we can't imagine. No matter what we face here, even when we go down to the valley of the shadow of death, even when we feel afraid, no matter what--we can be confident, for the Lord is with us to rescue and release and resurrect us and our loved ones again.

Nothing can take away God's love. Nothing can take away his promise of life for those who want to trust in him.

So what's with Mark? In the original Greek, the final undisputed words in his gospel are these: ...καὶ οὐδενὶ οὐδὲν εἶπαν· ἐφοβοῦντο γάρ. I'll say one word at a time... try to repeat...

That's it: "...they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid."

Obviously, that's not the end. If it had ended that way, if no one had told anyone anything about what they had seen and heard at the tomb, we wouldn't know anything about it, would we?

Somehow, the truth was told! Somehow the women got over their fear and did what the angel told them to do--they told his disciples--and especially Peter who had denied his Lord.

We read about this in Matthew, Luke and John. The disciples ran to the tomb, found it empty, and then saw the Lord Jesus with their own eyes. Christ is risen from the dead! Our reading from First Corinthians 15 lists some of the times people saw our risen Lord.

So what's with Mark? Probably the original ending of Mark's gospel was lost, like the ragged last page of a book.

That that happened isn't strange at all. All of the New Testament was written during hard times. Few could read or write. Writing materials were rare and, besides all that, the early Christian believers were often on the run or in hiding.

It's not strange that, in moving from one place to another, or in passing Mark's precious gospel book from one person to another, that the last page was lost. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit another ending was added, and most Bibles continue with verses 9-20.

But I don't think anything in the Bible is there by accident.

Even its ragged edges are there for a reason. God can use this ending--and God can use your ragged edges too.

Like those women at the end of Mark's gospel, silent and afraid, and like Mark's gospel itself, it's last page missing, we live on that ragged edge.
  • On the one hand, we have heard wonderful, glorious, excellent news--news that should bring light and life to every dark moment. Our loving Lord Jesus, who came to this suffering world from God the Father Almighty, showing us God's heart, giving signs of the Almighty God's purpose, to banish suffering and slavery and to forgive sinners, has defeated death, the last enemy. This glorious news should bring light and joy to every dark moment. In our Lord's care, as it says in the Psalm 30, verse 5: We might cry for awhile, even all night long sometimes, but joy will come in the morning--joy has the last word.
We ought to be telling everyone we know that wonderful truth. We ought to be following Jesus every minute, showing God's love, bringing his peace, letting Jesus' kind of love flow through our words and our actions every day.
  • But, often, we are afraid. We're afraid usually to SPEAK of Jesus and what he has done for us. We wonder...
    • Do we know enough about Jesus to tell others about him?
    • Are we secure enough in our own faith?
    • Will we come off as judgmental or hypocritical? After all, other people know we're not all that... we are like this cup cracked and stuck together with tape.
    • And will our friends still be friends with us, will our family members still accept us if we sometimes actually talk about Jesus?
Now, as long as that's not the end, it's okay to have questions like that.

It's good to ask questions. To ask questions about our faith, to do what we can to know what we're talking about, to check to see how our lives line up with what Jesus taught, to make sure we have a good strong base of Christ-loving friends who will back us up in case others let us down. It's good to check those things out.

But it can't end there. If we stay silent, if we never move past our fear, hundreds, thousands, MILLIONS will think Jesus is only for religious people, only to be talked about in church, not relevant or important to their daily lives. Because your ragged edge will minister to someone else if you will only let someone know what the Lord means to you.

The cool thing about those women, when they eventually did tell what they knew about Jesus, is that they were such unlikely messengers--if you think sexism is bad today--if you think you have a hard time being taken seriously as a woman now--in those days a woman was considered little more than property and her testimony wasn't accepted in a court of law.

But the very fact that they were unlikely truth tellers makes the whole story seem that much more believable. I mean, who would concoct a lie where the main characters are thought of as totally unreliable?

Friends--all of you who are gathered here today--each and every one of you has a Jesus story to tell, or you are right in the middle of living your Jesus story. This isn't the end. It can't be. Each of you, when you come to know the Lord personally, the Lord Jesus will minister to you and give you healing and strength and new purpose for your lives, and that story, about how the LIVING Lord Jesus has made a difference for you, that story needs to be told.

We had a great Lenten season here at our church. Fifteen members and friends of our church got up to tell a part of their faith story, what the cross means to each one. John, Veda, Randy, Wayne, Denise, Mike, Ann, Steve, Jerry, Norma Jean, Mark, Phil, Lindsay, Tom, Barb and Becky. Each one a broken patched up vessel for the Lord's treasure. Each one with a ragged edge that meets up with someone else's story.

But it can't end... We don't just tell our Jesus story during lent and not just here at church!

Maybe you still need to get questions answered. Good! Ask your questions and seek answers. Maybe you are still wounded and sick at heart. Ask someone to pray for you, share your heart, everyone needs healing and forgiveness. Immerse yourself deeper into a family of faith, here at this church or elsewhere. Don't just come once a week to church and then be silent about your faith elsewhere.

God wants to do a great work of transformation in many lives! God wants to work though you and me to set the captives free. We do that as we boldly care and love, and as we let others know from where we get the little bit of strength, the little bit of faith that keeps us going from day to day.

In the next days and weeks, God calls each of us to pray and be alert for opportunities to share your faith story, not harshly, but gently, in the spirit of Jesus, always looking out for the good of others.

But how important it is that we don't stay silent! God has blessed us! Let's pray and ask our Lord to work in our lives, so it won't end--not with us... for many more need to be set free... many more need to come out of their tombs.

No comments:

Post a Comment