FIRST LESSON Zephaniah 3:14-20
SECOND LESSON John 21:15-19
During a Pastor’s meeting, an old pastor stood up to testify to his faith. Yet his testimony surprised a number of People. The pastor stood up and looked at the group and said, “I am a lay pastor of a small, not-growing church. I am not ordained. I am not seminary trained. I was asked to leave both Bible colleges I attended. I am divorced and remarried. On any given day I am capable of being a jerk with my wife and family. I am terminally insecure, which causes me to compensate with bouts of arrogance. At times people irritate me, and I hide from them. I am impulsive, which causes me to say things I shouldn’t and make promises I cannot keep. I am inconsistent. My walk with Christ is a stuttering, stumbling, bumbling attempt to follow Him. At times His presence is so real I can’t stop the tears, and then, without warning, I can’t find Him. Some days my faith is strong, impenetrable, and immovable—and some days my faith is weak, pathetic, helpless, knocked about like a paper cup floating on the ocean in the middle of a hurricane. I have been a Christian for 45 years. I am familiar with the vocabulary of faith, and I am often asked to give advice about matters of faith. But I am still a mess. I am light-years away from being able to say with Paul, “Copy me.” I am 56 years old and still struggling—a flawed, clumsy, unstable follower of Jesus. A bona fide failer.” Have you ever felt like you let somebody down? A spouse, a boss, a team-mate; it’s not the best feeling in the world, especially when you had boasted how they could beyond a shadow of a doubt depend on you. You could be trusted, you wouldn’t let them down. But you did. Now to disappoint someone who loves you hurts, but to disappoint the One who laid down His life for you, that’s painful. Painful, indeed, but it doesn’t have to be permanent We all make mistakes. We all do those things we ought not to do and neglect to do things we ought to do. Some of us know when we are doing wrong, but don’t seem to be able to help ourselves. At other times we think we’re doing the right thing and it turns out all wrong. Two Kentucky horse racing stable owners had developed a keen rivalry. Every spring they each entered a horse in a local steeplechase. One of them thought that having a professional rider might give his horse an edge in the race, so he hired a hot-shot jockey.
Well, the day of the race finally came, and as usual, their two horses were leading the race right down to the last fence. But that final fence was too much for both of the horses. Both of them fell, and both riders were thrown. But that didn’t stop the professional jockey. He remounted quickly and easily won the race.
When he got back to the stable, he found the horse owner fuming with rage. He really didn’t understand his behavior, because he had won the race. So the jockey asked, “What’s the matter with you? I won the race, didn’t I?”
The angry owner nodded, “Oh, yes, you won the race. But you won it on the wrong horse!”1
That jockey had the best of intentions. He intended to win the race. But he became distracted from the task. He made a bad decision. And, ultimately, he failed in what he was trying to do.
Peter, good old, impetuous Peter, loved the Lord Jesus with all his heart, was willing to die for him, boasted he would never betray him, but we know he couldn’t help himself. While Jesus was being interrogated by the high priests and government officials, Peter denied even knowing him. There have been moments when I have thought, ‘not a bad strategy – “He who fights and runs away lives to fight another day.” We will never know what would have happened if Peter had tried to defend Jesus, or even just stand with him. Suppose Peter had prevented the crucifixion. As we noted last Sunday without the cross there is no resurrection. I doubt at this point Peter had worked out that theological point. He just knew he felt horribly guilty. Note that when they had finished eating and Jesus began to talk to Peter he said, “Simon, son of John . . .” The Lord isn’t calling him Peter, the rock on which he would build his church, just now. “Simon, son of John, takes them back to the beginning of their relationship. In the midst of his guilt and sadness at Jesus’ death mixed with his joy at seeing the risen Lord once again, Simon doesn’t feel worthy to be the foundation on which the Church will be built. Whatever causes us to feel guilt and shame has to be dealt with before we can move on. Sometimes it works best to go back to the beginning, to recapture what brought us into a loving relationship with someone in the first place. Even if we have grown, or grown apart, we can find reconciliation in remembering what brought us together with someone in the first place. No longer Peter the Rock, Simon Peter is questioned, “Do you love me more than these? What? The fish? No. The other disciples. “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” “Feed my lambs.” Think back for a moment to your first or best romantic relationship. He (or she) says he loves you. Does he spend time with you? Does he call you? Does he bring you a card and gift on your birthday? After a long, hard day, will he listen to your story, wrap you in his arms and hug your tired soul?
Every time I read this passage I remember the song from “My Fair Lady,” “Show Me.
Words! Words! I'm so sick of words! I get words all day through;
first from him, now from you! Is that all you blighters can do?
. . .
If you're in love, Show me! . . .
Make me no undying vow. Show me now!
Sing me no song! Read me no rhyme!
Don't waste my time, Show me!
Don't talk of June, Don't talk of fall!
Don't talk at all! Show me!
Jesus asks you the same question. ___________________, _________________, ________________________. Do you love me? Show me.
Peter was sure that he would never do what he did. And many of us make the claim that we would never find ourselves in the sins that others commit. But we never know. That is why we should always be vigilant, always on guard. David never thought he would commit adultery, Solomon never thought he would get caught up in idolatry, and Peter never thought that he would deny even knowing Jesus Christ. That’s why 1 Corinthians 10:12 says, "If you think you are strong, you should be careful not to fall.". A man sits talking to his friend from out of town. His has been passed over for a promotion for the third time, his career has stalled and with the company downsizing, he fears a layoff at any moment. Yet when his friend asks, “So, Frank, how are things at work?” Frank responds by saying, “Fine, just fine.”
A Christian arrives to church on Sunday morning just as the church bell rings to welcome the faithful. And even as he enters the church, he feels that God is a million miles away. He no longer has the urge to pray and he any longer hungers for God’s word. He has for weeks now known that the cancer is eating away at his body and inside he feels as though God has betrayed him. He is mad and at times a stray thought or two has crossed his mind that maybe, just maybe there is no God. Yet on Sunday morning, when the pastor asks the question, “How is it with your soul this morning?” the man replies, “…Fine…just fine.”
Let me ask you, how is it with your soul this morning? Is it “fine”? Don’t pretend your relationship with Christ is fine if it’s not. And let me tell you, it’s okay to admit that. If you go to any 12 step meeting, the first step they will tell you is necessary in recovery is to first admit the problem; to be honest about it. And here within this church, this is the place to say that.
The church was never meant to be a pretty place of fine people; it’s a place of dirty, hurting people in need of grace and assistance. And we come together to help each other grow in the faith and grow closer to God, but we need to admit that we need that help.
Do you love the Lord who died to pay the cost of each and every one of your sins? Do you love the Lord who gives you life and life abundant? Show him. And trust that he is able to restore you to a full and loving relationship. He waits patiently for you. Show him. Let him restore you to a right relationship. And when your relationship is on solid footing, show him your love by helping tend his sheep
1 (From 1001 Humorous Illustrations for Public Speaking, by Michael Hodgin, p. 148.)
HEBREW BIBLE LESSON Isaiah 53
GOSPEL LESSON Matthew 28:1-10
SERMON: “A Crib, a Cross and a Cave”
I have it on good authority that the story I am about to tell you is true. A United Methodist pastor was asked to conduct a graveside service for a member of his church. The only problem was, the cemetery was more than an hour and a half away from the church and the pastor wasn't feeling well. The funeral director offered to drive, so they traveled together.
By the time they arrived at the cemetery, the flu had invaded completely and the minister said he felt like the Chinese Army was having a pogo stick derby on his head and stomach. In spite of feeling feverish and sick, he made it through the service, but he was starting to look like most flu victims, like death warmed over. As they headed back home, the funeral director suggested the pastor stretch out in the back of the coach. He would pull the curtains closed and nobody would see him. The pastor thought it was a good idea and promptly fell asleep.
He awoke when the vehicle stopped. Taking a few minutes to fully awaken, he slowly sat up and drew the side curtain to see where he was. He was face to face with a gas station attendant, who was surprised and shocked to see a body in the back of the hearse staring back at him.
With all the color drained out of him and his eyes as wide as saucers, the gas pump flew into the air, and the attendant ran on shaky legs back into the gas station, while the funeral director tried to catch up to explain the whole situation.
I'm pretty sure that's how the women who came to the empty tomb that first Easter morning must have felt. They had to have run on shaky legs back to the disciples, their hearts pounding with both shock and excitement.1
The news on that first Easter morning was startling, and so powerful that it changed the world. This story actually begins in a crib. We all know that the empty cross is a symbol of Easter and that the empty tomb was discovered on that first Easter. That’s why over the years I’ve done children’s messages that featured empty eggs and hollowed out loaves of bread. But this story began 116 days ago when we celebrated the birth of the Christ child. When we were singing “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” we were preparing for today’s celebration. The manger-made-into crib wasn’t just about a miracle birth. It was the opening move in a series of events that brought us to the moment when we know we were right to sing, in Charles Wesley’s words, “Glory to the newborn King, Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinner reconciled.” Martin Luther said, “Christ became what he was not – sin – in order that we might become what we were not – “the righteousness of God.
Without the crib, we never get to the cross. One of our Christmas Eve readings is always from Isaiah 9:
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.
Without the crib, we never get to the cross. And without the cross we never get to the empty tomb.
In a certain church marketing newsletter, called the Church's Advertising Network, a campaign has been developed to attract people to church during the season of Easter. In this public relations campaign, it is suggested that the cross be removed from the altar. According to the author, a survey has revealed that the cross is one of those symbols that the new generation of church goers considered too "churchy " One pastor interviewed for the campaign gave his whole hearted endorsement. "We are going to attempt to concentrate on the resurrection, and not the death of Jesus.
Easter without the cross. Rather an interesting thought. Is it possible to have resurrection without crucifixion? It distorts the entire gospel if crucifixion is separated from resurrection. The road to the empty tomb will always pass by a cross. The one who is raised from the dead is none other than the crucified God. Easter without a cross is a fraud.
What began in the crib was perfected on the cross, and what was perfected on the cross was validated in the empty cave.
Of course, we started with only the women’s testimony that the tomb was empty. Why am I convinced it is true? In part because the gospels record that the women were the first to see the empty tomb. Had the tomb not been empty and the gospel-writers just made up the story, they never would have had the women be the first witnesses. Remember we are talking about a highly patriarchal society, one in which the testimony of women was essentially legally meaningless.
Just because the tomb was empty doesn’t prove to some people that there was in fact a resurrection. What are the possibilities?
1. His enemies stole the body. If they had, and they never did claim to have done so, they would have produced the body to put an end to the talk of resurrection and the beginnings of our Christian faith.
2. His friends stole the body. Had they done so would they might have begun preaching the risen Lord, but they never would have continued it. A person may die for something they believe to be true, but rarely will a person die for something they know to be false. That all the disciples ultimately died proclaiming Christ risen from the dead tells us they did not steal the body.
3. Some have put for the theory that Jesus wasn’t actually dead, but just fainted when he was placed in the tomb. Don’t believe that science and faith are not compatible. Luke, the physician, tells us that when Jesus went to pray on the Mount of Olives, “his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Luke 22:44) This suggests a condition called hematidrosis, a rare condition, usually brought on by extreme stress, in which a human literally sweats blood. With modern medicine, it can be treated, but at the time of Jesus’ passion, untreated, he was already a dying man.
There are more ‘proofs’ for the resurrection than I have time this morning to share. But the only possibility that cannot be disproved is that the tomb was empty and that God vindicated his sinless life and his sacrificial death by raising him from the dead. In a nutshell this is the Christian faith, that Jesus of Nazareth, whom we call the Christ, was uniquely the Son of God and Son of Man, that he paid the price for human sin through his suffering and sacrificial death and that the empty tomb testifies to his glorious resurrection.
Does that change our lives? Each one of us must answer that for ourselves. John’s gospel consistently urges us to choose the redemption won for us by Christ. If he is the Savior, how can we not listen to and apply to our daily living what he taught? If he is the risen Lord, who promised that through him we too shall have eternal life, then how can we not be filled with joy and gratitude?
Do you fear that Jesus may have died for others, but not for you? Remember, “Jesus didn’t die on the cross for the perfect. Jesus didn’t die for the ‘godly.’ He didn’t die for the good. If so, none of us would have a chance. Jesus died for the imperfect, ungodly sinners like all of us. The crib, the cross and the cave are empty, and the hope is for each and every one of us.”1
Thanks be to God. Let all God’s people say “Amen.”
FIRST LESSON Matthew 21:1-11 (p. 1531)
SECOND LESSON Matthew 26:1-4, 14-30 (p. 1542)
SERMON: “What a Friend He Had in Judas”
Would you ever consider naming your child Judas? There are some 317 million people in the United States, Less than 1600 have the first name of Judas. I was surprised to find out there are that many. For anyone who knows the passion narrative, and even for many people who don’t know it, the name Judas is synonymous with “betrayer” or “traitor.” Who wants to name their child that? The name actually comes from the Hebrew and means “praised one.” So, not such a bad name after all.
Some of you may recall hearing me talk about the fact that before my grandson was born, my daughter-in-law was determined that he would have an ‘unusual’ named. No David, John, Robert. . . When I visited at Christmas-time a little more than 4 months before the baby was born Carrie was thinking of naming him Aniken. Unless you have never watched Star Wars movies, the first thing that pops into your mind when you hear the name Aniken, is that Aniken Skywalker is the character who grew up to be Darth Vader, possibly the most evil person in the universe. I am so glad my son and daughter-in-law ultimately made a different choice!
Judas – praised one – now means “traitor” to most of us.
I count myself fortunate to have a vocation that involves the study of scripture. I continue to learn new things every time I study a passage. Not only does the name Judas mean both ‘praised one’ and ‘traitor,’ there are other words that carry more than one meaning. I learned just recently that in Matthew’s gospel that calling someone ‘friend,’ is not always an endearment.
Word studies can be both fun and important. Understanding the intended meaning of a passage can depend on reading and hearing it in context. Double meanings happen. A word means one thing here, and something quite different there.
For fun – think about how much humor is dependent on more than one meaning to a word or phrase. Try these out:
© The other day I held the door open for a clown. I thought it was a nice jester.
© Have you ever tried to eat a clock? It’s very time consuming.
© The butcher backed up into the meat grinder and got a little behind in his work. (Ewww!)
© Did you hear – the police were called to a day care center? A three-year-old was resisting a rest.
© And for the musicians among us: Show me a piano falling down a mineshaft, and I’ll show you A-flat minor.
Jesus speaks of Lazarus, whom he raised from death, as a friend. We are comforted and reminded to pray when we sing, “What a friend we have in Jesus.” But Matthew uses the word, more than once in a sarcastic, rather demeaning way. In the parable of the workers in the vineyard, when the workers who were hired at the start of the start to grumble and complain that the ones hired late in the day get just as much pay, the owner of the vineyard says, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ Matthew 20 13b-15
He also tells the story of a great banquet and all the guests who made their excuses not to show up, “10 so the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.
11 ”But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.
And Jesus calls Judas ‘friend.’ Matthew tells us, that the time of Jesus’ death has come. He has shared a last meal with his disciples and then, separating himself from the others, prayed the great prayer of anguish in Gethsemane’s garden. Rising from prayer, he returns to the disciples and announces ominously, “See, my betrayer is at hand.”
Right on cue, Judas enters the picture with a band of tough guys armed with swords and clubs. Judas and his cohorts have a secret signal: Judas will go up to Jesus and kiss him. That way, Judas no doubt reasoned, the gang will know which one is Jesus but the kiss will be a perfect camouflage. Jesus will be fooled into thinking that Judas is still a devoted and loving disciple.
It didn’t work. If the armed men were not enough of a giveaway, Judas betrayed himself with his own words: “Greetings, Rabbi!” he burbled as he smeared the kiss on Jesus’ cheek. Greetings rabbi?
“Friend,” replies Jesus, not missing a beat. “Friend, do what you are here to do.” What Judas was there to do, of course, was betrayal. What a friend he had in Judas.
A pre-schooler resisting a rest.
A flat Minor . . . When Jesus calls Judas “friend,” it has to be heard at two levels. There is, first, the bitterly ironic level. Standing there with an armed posse bestowing an insincere kiss, Judas is no friend of Jesus. So, for Jesus to call him “friend” in this moment of treason is to use the word in Matthew’s peculiar vocabulary, as a verbal jab. “Well, what do we have here? If it isn’t my good friend, my old pal, Judas.”
At the same time, we know that Jesus is the one who has taught us to love our enemies. The one who could say from the cross, “Father forgive them; they don’t know what they are doing,” is also the one who loves Judas even in the midst of this betrayal. Jesus is the friend of sinners. Jesus is the friend of Judas, and he is the friend of all the disciples who “deserted him and fled” (Matthew 26:56), and he is the friend of all of us ... even we who, like Judas, do not know how to love him and are betrayers of his trust.
No matter who you are, no matter what you have done, God’s grace is for you.
HEBREW BIBLE LESSON Psalm 139:1-12
GOSPEL LESSON John 11:1-45
SERMON: “The Resurrection of the Body”
Quite a few years ago, a letter appeared in the national news that was sent to a deceased person by the Indiana Department of Social Services that said: Your food stamps will be stopped effective March, 1992 because we received notice that you passed away. May God bless you. You may reapply if there is a change in your circumstances. Well, except for an occasional Lazarus, there haven’t been too many who have seen a change in those circumstances! The powerful story in John 11 is one of the few occasions on record. Mary and Martha, who live in Bethany, are some of Jesus’ closest friends. They send word to him that their brother, Lazarus, is desperately ill. “Please come. We need your help. Hurry. He is sinking fast.” But by the time Jesus gets there, Lazarus has died and has been in his grave for four days. John tells us that Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem and many friends and neighbors had come to comfort Mary and Martha. It is still customary in Jewish families to “sit shiva” with the family after the death of a loved one. The word “shiva” comes from the Hebrew for the number seven, and the official shiva period lasts seven days starting with the day of the funeral. So Jesus joined the family and community as they were “sitting shiva.” Traditionally, no greetings are exchanged and visitors wait for the mourners to initiate conversation, or remain silent if the mourners do not do so, out of respect for their bereavement. Once engaged in conversation by the mourners, it is appropriate for visitors to talk about the deceased, sharing stories of his or her life. Mary and Martha come out to meet Jesus and they are filled with grief: “He’s gone. We’ve lost him. O Lord, if only you have been here, our brother would not have died.” John tells us that along with all the other mourners, Jesus wept. For all of you who struggle to memorize any scripture, this is your verse. It is the shortest in the whole Bible: John 11:35 – “Jesus wept.” It is more profound than we might think, as it tells us that in the midst of our troubles, Jesus is there, going through our troubles with us. It can be a bit daunting for seminary students the first time they are given the opportunity to administer the sacraments. One young ministerial student went over to the chapel of the church where he was doing an internship on a Sunday morning to serve Communion. He had never served communion alone before and he was anxious. The church had a communion ritual printed on a laminated card. It started with the Invitation to Communion, followed by the prayers and then just before the people would come forward to receive communion, the minister would stand, face the congregation and say, “Hear these words of comfort from the scriptures.” But there was a blank there on the communion card so the minister in charge could at that point quote a favorite verse. When they got to this point in the service, the young seminary student stood and said, “Hear these words of comfort from the scriptures...” And then he went absolutely blank. There was a long pause, and then he blurted out the only verse he could think of at the moment: “Jesus wept.”
He felt awful until one of the members came up to him after the service and said to him, “When you quoted that verse, ‘Jesus wept,’ that was so meaningful to me because it made me suddenly realize that… the Healer of our pain is the feeler of our pain!” The older I get the better my forgetter gets, but as long as I live I will never forget one Sunday morning in White Pigeon. It was late August. About 11:00 p.m. the night before I received a phone call from the aunt of one of our recent high school graduates, Sarah. Sarah had been in a car accident when she was out on a date Saturday night. The car in which she was a passenger was hit broadside by a vehicle that ran a stop sign on one of the back roads. Her date was not seriously injured, but Sarah had a closed head injury and was in critical condition at Borgess Hospital in Kalamazoo, about 40 miles away. I quickly dressed, drove to the hospital, and found the family in the E.R. We prayed and we waited, and we prayed some more. Knowing that I had to lead worship in a few hours, the family sent me home about 6:00 a.m. I took a quick nap and then got ready for church. I didn’t know how emotionally involved I was until the moment came for me to tell the congregation what had happened. Suddenly my throat tightened and the tears began to flow. Afterwards, I apologized to a group of church members during coffee hour for breaking down. One of the women said to me, “If you had announced that to us without a tear, we would have thought you didn’t care. Your tears told us of your love and compassion for the family. You are one of us.” Jesus is one of us. He smiles when we smile and he weeps when we weep. Jesus then asked where the body has been laid and when they arrived at the tomb he told them to remove the stone. Practical Martha objects, citing the fact that the body has been in the tomb for four days, and by now it surely stinks in there.
Jesus looked her in the eye. “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”
“Then to the others, “Go ahead, take away the stone.”
“They removed the stone. Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and prayed, ‘Father, I’m grateful that you have listened to me. I know you always do listen, but on account of this crowd standing here, I’ve spoken so that they might believe that you sent me.’
“Then he shouted, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ And he came out, a cadaver, wrapped from head to toe, and with a kerchief over his face.
“Jesus told them, ‘Unwrap him and let him loose.”
The raising of Lazarus from the dead is a physical demonstration of God’s power and plan to put death to death. God’s power to raise the dead removes the sting and pain of death. This miracle was performed to remind people of all ages, including all of us here today, that those who trust in God will have new life! It teaches us that death is not the end, but the beginning of life with God.
In his book, Improve Your Serve Chuck Swindoll wrote, “Let’s play ‘Let’s Pretend’. Let’s pretend that you work for me. In fact, you are my executive assistant in a company that is growing rapidly. I’m the owner and I’m interested in expanding overseas. To pull this off, I make plans to travel abroad and stay there until a new branch office gets established. I make all the arrangements to take my family and move to Europe for six to eight months. And I leave you in charge of the busy stateside organization. I tell you that I will write you regularly and give you directions and instructions. I leave and you stay. Months pass. A flow of letters are mailed from Europe and received by you at the national headquarters. I spell out all my expectations. Finally, I return. Soon after my arrival, I drive down to the office and I am stunned. Grass and weeds have grown up high. A few windows along the street are broken. I walk into the Receptionist’s room. She is doing her nails, chewing gum and listening to her favorite disco station. I look around and notice the wastebaskets are overflowing. The carpet hasn’t been vacuumed for weeks, and nobody seems concerned that the owner has returned. I asked about your whereabouts and someone in the crowded lounge area points down the hall and yells, “I think he’s down there.” Disturbed, I move in that direction and bump into you as you are finishing a chess game with our sales manager. I ask you to step into my office, which has been temporarily turned into a television room for watching afternoon soap operas. “What in the world is going on, man?” “What do you mean?” “Well, look at this place! Didn’t you get any of my letters?” “Letters? Oh yes! Sure! I got every one of them. As a matter of fact, we have had a letter study every Friday since you left. We have even divided the personnel into small groups to discuss many of the things you wrote. Some of the things were really interesting. You will be pleased to know that a few of us have actually committed to memory some of your sentences and paragraphs. One or two memorized an entire letter or two - Great stuff in those letters.”
“OK. You got my letters. You studied them and meditated on them; discussed and even memorized them. But what did you do about them?” “Do? We didn’t do anything about them.”
God’s word is clear that there is resurrection. There is new life, eternal life in Christ. What are you doing about that?