05/08/2016 – II Peter 1:16-21 – Living Stones: “God’s Word Is Available and Reliable”

For this week’s audio version click here.

Mark Wheeler

II Peter 1:16-21

Living Stones: “God’s Word Is Available and Reliable”

05/08/2016

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Who here remembers the very first church song you learned – maybe as a young child, maybe taught you by your mother?

Here’s the one I think I learned first – I’ll bet it was early on many of your play-lists, too:

Jesus loves me, this I know – for the Bible tells me so.

Little ones to Him belong, they are weak but He is strong.

Yes, Jesus loves me, yes Jesus loves me, yes Jesus loves me – the Bible tells me so!

If I’m wrong about that song being first, then it was this one, for sure – (How about you?):

The B-I-B-L-E! Yes that’s the book for me.

I stand alone on the Word of God!

The B-I-B-L-E!

Children, as well as adults, find comfort in knowing that there are places of safety, places where they can find help and guidance, places where they can trust the source to be trustworthy! The Bible is just such a place!

 

The First Century spiritual climate wasn’t all that different from our 21st Century spiritual climate. People practice individualistic religions of personal preference. Even our prayers tend to be prayers for what I want, or think I need. When was the last time we prayed together and just listened??

2,000 years ago people could pick from a spiritual smorgasbord of cults and deities that they felt most met their personal tastes and desires. As long as you worshiped the Emperor and the statue of Caesar, you could add all the other gods you wanted to, and no one really cared.

Today we hear things like, “Whatever is true for you is true for you … whatever is true for me is true for me.” There is no absolute Truth allowed in our society. It’s really all the same thing.

 

Peter says something totally different, though. And John and Jude agree with him. “Jesus is the Truth (capital T Truth); and we can tell you about Him!

Peter agreed with the Jewish assertion that there is only one God, and we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength! And Jesus made God visible and tangible! This so shocked and surprised those First Century listeners that they stood in awe of this Good News!

And, Peter said, we don’t have to search out the Truth about this God or even this Jesus by ourselves. God has not hidden His Truth! We are not left to grope blindly, guided by nothing more than our own hopes and dreams! God has given His Truth; He has revealed His Truth so that we might continually read, study, and apply it to our lives every day!

The Living Word of God, found in Scripture, the B-I-B-L-E, is the help we need so that when the rains fall and the rivers rise and the wind beats against our house – we will not fall because our faith is built on that Solid Rock!

 

During these couple of months following Easter we are invited to listen to the Apostle Peter, and hear some Biblical instruction that’s been around for nearly 2,000 years, and is based on totally true counsel, about “good masonry” with Jesus Christ as the Cornerstone of God’s Cathedral.

 

Listen to these words from the Apostle Peter. This comes from a letter he wrote to the churches in Asia Minor, south Turkey, to people who faced death daily. Listen to how he says we find faith-filled integrity when we apply ourselves to God’s available and reliable Word – the Bible.  II Peter 1:16-21….—-

 

16 For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” 18 We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain. (Peter was with James and John on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus when this happened. All three synoptic Gospels tell us about this.)

19 We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

 

Not only can we tell you about our personal convictions, says Peter, but we also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable!

Luke tells the story about the events of the day Jesus was resurrected from the dead about two disciples, not the main 12 Apostles but just two other guys who followed Jesus, who were walking home to Emmaus from Jerusalem and the resurrected Jesus catches up to them and He tells them, from Moses and the prophets (from Genesis, the Books of Moses, thru Malachi, the major and minor prophets – that’s the whole Old Testament) how the promises of the some-day Messiah, the coming Christ, the descendant of Abraham who would come to save the world, were fulfilled in Jesus Himself!

Peter tells us that this Old Testament is available, “we also have the prophetic message”, and is completely trustworthy, “as something completely reliable”!

 

A week ago we had our Spring New Member Class, and I asked at the beginning, as I always do, what the participants think the Bible is. “In one word, or one phrase, how would you describe what the Bible is?

The answers that people share almost never surprise me: God’s Word, the Truth, Guide Book, story of God’s power and love.

Do you have a copy of the Bible in your possession? That’s one of the questions we will learn from the families and leaders of the church and the Shim Children’s Center in Kiminini, Kenya. Do you own a Swahili version of the Bible? It is available for you to read!

Is it trustworthy? Do you trust it as God’s Word to tell you what you need to know about God and about yourself? If it is trustworthy, do you obey what it tells you to do?

Peter goes on to say, “you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

 

Can someone shout out a benefit of incorporating God’s Word into our lives as believers?

Do you see what we just did there? As a gathered community of faith, a local church, we added to each other’s benefits. It’s entirely possible that no on other that Diana would have thought of “vitamins” as a benefit of having God’s Word in our hearts, trusting the Bible as dependable and reliable as a source of Godly wisdom. Thank you, Diana, for adding that particular benefit to our collective wisdom!

 

In today’s Call to Worship we read in Hebrews 10 that part of being a collection of Christ-followers together is that we “consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together … encouraging one another, and all the more as we see the Day approaching.”

Can someone give a shout out about how, maybe, you have experienced being strengthened/supported/encouraged through a difficult season of your life by being involved in this wing of God’s Cathedral, by being a part of LPC? Describe some ways you have been blessed through your church:

This is what John Calvin calls “be[ing] guided and receiv[ing] maternal care until [we] grow into the perfection of faith.

 

We are to build our spiritual “house” – our church mission, our lives of faith, our families – on God’s firm foundation, with Jesus Christ as the Cornerstone; and this requires that the Bible be our Book!

We live in a world that insists we build our “house” on sand; that we ignore the Truth taught us in Scripture; that we deny the Divine claims of Jesus Christ.

Living like we believe what we say we believe – as followers of Jesus Christrequires a desire to live counter-culturally! Even deciding to get up on a Sunday morning and giving that time to the Lord has become a unique and counter-cultural activity! (And yes, I know that I am preaching to the choir here.)

But, as an encouragement to yourself, write down on the bottom of your Sermon Notes Page any description you can think of of an experience in your life in which you had to choose to act in accordance to your Christ-centered beliefs in spite of pressure to do otherwise. What happened? Was there a Bible verse, or a Sunday School lesson, or a voice from your Mom, that strengthened your faithfulness during that temptation?

 

That is a benefit of accessing God’s very available and readily reliable Word in my life, in your life, in our life together.

 

This Easter Season, this Resurrection Season, let’s trust even deeper in God’s Word!

If you heard God calling your name today, if you sense that Christ’s death and resurrection was meant for you today, if you want your life to withstand life’s storms today – drop a note in the Offering Plate, and I’ll get with you later this week. Let’s dedicate, rededicate, our rocky past into service as living stones today!

 

The B-I-B-L-E! Yes that’s the book for me.

I stand alone on the Word of God!

The B-I-B-L-E!

 

Happy Easter Season! Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed!

 

Resources:

Bettridge, Becce; Living Stones: The Making of an Eternal Fellowship; Presbyterians for Renewal; Louisville, KY; 2012; Pp. 32-39.

 

Calvin, John; Institutes of the Christian Religion IV:I Summation.

05/01/2016 – I Peter 2:4-8 – Living Stones: “Jesus Christ-the Chief Cornerstone”

For the audio of this message, please click here.

Mark Wheeler

I Peter 2:4-8

Living Stones: “The Cornerstone: Jesus Christ”

05/01/2016

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Thus afternoon I am meeting with Michael Bushebi, and the Team going to Kenya, to talk about our trip this Summer to the Shim Children’s Center in Kiminini. One of the phrases that I hear popping up from people involved is that this ministry wants tokeep Jesus Christ as the Cornerstone of its mission”.

Right now there are some 47 children between the ages of less-than-2 and 18. Pastor Rodgers sort of inherited this situation of orphaned children who were literally sleeping on the mud and dung floor of their church. So with very few resources he started a ministry of finding foster families, and sponsors from places like America, to help with the caring and raising of these children. Unfortunately, as in any system where people are involved, some of the foster parents have simply taken a child or two so they would have more hands to work their fields or to fetch water from the well/river – and so the children have not been able to go to school or get their supplies.

Our trip this Summer is so that we can learn from the people on the ground of this mission how we can best partner with them – we believe it will involve helping to purchase property so they can build an actual facility to house these children and hire staff to care for them. But it is more than merely feeding and housing children. With Jesus Christ as the Cornerstone, there is a whole life-movement and eternity involved.

 

For most of the next several weeks I invite you to join me as we listen to the Apostle Peter, and hear some Biblical instruction that’s been around for nearly 2,000 years, and is based on totally true counsel, about “good masonry” with Jesus Christ as the Cornerstone of God’s Cathedral.

 

Peter, whom Jesus nick-named that because of his Rock-of-Gibraltar kind of faith statement when he was the first to say that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, uses the image of the Cornerstone as a metaphor to describe the primary position of Christ in relationship to God’s people.

 

Listen to these words from the Apostle Peter. This comes from a letter he wrote to the churches in Asia Minor, south Turkey, to people who faced death daily. Listen to how he says we find faith-filled integrity when our Foundation is God Himself.

 

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says:

“See, I lay a stone in Zion,     a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him
will never be put to shame.”
(Isaiah 28:16)

Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe,

“The stone the builders rejected    has become the cornerstone,” (Psalm118:22)

and, “A stone that causes people to stumble     and a rock that makes them fall.” (Isaiah 8:14)

They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for.

 

Essential to our understanding of church and mission is our belief that, in Jesus of Nazareth, God brought the cosmic, universal Church together with flesh and blood human beings. We become the Cathedral of God only when we lean into Jesus Christ the Cornerstone!

 

For those who have been involved in constructionI have, but only in a very elementary way, on a grammar school level – you know that the cornerstone is the architect’s point of reference for aligning the entire structure. The cornerstone determines which direction the building will face when it is completed.

In a similar way, a life built on Jesus Christ faces a certain direction, aligned as one loved and called on by God, and created to participate in His work here on earth.

Whether you are one whose faith has developed slowly over the course of your lifetime, born and raised in a Christ-following, church-attending, God-serving home where believing in Jesus has always been true – or someone who can name the exact minute when your faith became real, the exact moment when you “were saved”this Cornerstone reality is equally true! We must lean into the reality of Jesus giving us purpose and direction, as the Cornerstone of the Temple of God – or else He is a stumbling block on which we stub our toe, bruise our foot, and break our ankle – ultimately, trip into the flaming fire!

Is Christ your life’s Cornerstone? Whether it was a dramatic moment or a gradual shift, can you name how life was different before Christ became your Cornerstone? What kind of hope has emerged? Is there joy even in the midst of pain? Do you have a peace in your heart that surpasses the suffering you might experience?

This is Jesus Christ – the Cornerstone!

 

Think for a minute about some personal faith story you could share with a family member who is afraid right now, or with someone who is literally tripping over Jesus. Has He calmed a storm in your life? Has He secured your borders against the enemy’s encroachment?

 

Maybe you are not feeling securely grounded in your relationship with Jesus Christ right now. If that is true for you, take a quiet moment right now and ask Him to bring to mind those concrete ways He is anchoring you today – is there something that, perhaps, you have just failed to notice?

 

In Christ alone my hope is found; He is my light, my strength, my song;

This Cornerstone, this solid ground, firm through the fiercest draught and storm.

What heights of love; what depths of peace, when fears are stilled, when strivings cease;

My Comforter, my all in all – here in the love of Christ I’ll stand.

…for every sin on Him was laid – here in the death of Christ I live.

… for I am His and He is mine – bought with the precious blood of Christ.

… till He returns or calls me Home – here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.

 

Today we come to the Lord’s Table, we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior in the elements of bread and wine (Bethlehem, Ephratha); we recall His gift of love for us as He died on the cross (His body given for us, His blood poured out); and we anticipate His return (He will not drink from the fruit of the vice again until He sees us with Him in Paradise!)

 

That is our Cornerstone! Four months ago we celebrated His birth as we celebrated Christmas. 35 days ago we celebrated His death and resurrection with our Holy Week, Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday celebrations. This Thursday, National Day of Prayer, is also Ascension Day when we commemorate Christ’s ascension, and two weeks from today is Pentecost when we party with Holy Spirit power filling us!

That is the Christian yearbuilt on the Cornerstone of Jesus Christ! Let’s “keep Jesus Christ as the Cornerstone of our mission”.

 

This Easter Season, this Resurrection Season, let’s build our faith on Jesus Christ – the Cornerstone!

If you heard God calling your name today, if you sense that Christ’s death and resurrection was meant for you today, if you want your life to withstand life’s storms today – drop a note in the Offering Plate, and I’ll get with you later this week. Let’s dedicate, rededicate, our rocky past into service as living stones today!

 

Happy Easter Season! Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed!

 

Resources:

Bettridge, Becce; Living Stones: The Making of an Eternal Fellowship; Presbyterians for Renewal; Louisville, KY; 2012; Pp. 25-31.

 

04/24/2016 – I Peter 2:4-10 – Living Stones: “God, the Right Foundation”

For the audio version of this message, please click here.

Mark Wheeler

I Peter 2:4-10

Living Stones: “God: Our Foundation”

04/24/2016

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Humans make mistakes, after all, no human is perfect. One mistake made in the 12th century resulted in a 14,500 ton leaning tower. This miscalculation would later become a symbol of civic pride, but tell that to the man who designed it!

The Leaning Tower of Pisa is different from most medieval architecture. It is the third oldest building on Pisa’s Piazza del Duomo (cathedral square), the Cathedral and Baptistry were first.

Utilizing many columns and arches, this Tower represents an advanced understanding of weight and load characteristics, showing the Italian architect’s knowledge.

What the architect didn’t account for however, was the base of the tower being built on a dense section of clay.

The construction of the Tower of Pisa began on August 9, 1173. Originally designed to be a bell tower, the tower actually stood upright for over 5 years, but just after the completion of the third floor (1178) it began to lean. The citizens of Italy were shocked as it began to lean ever so slightly.

The foundation of the Tower, only 3 meters deep, was built on a dense clay mixture and impacted the soil. As it turned out, the clay was not nearly strong enough to hold the Tower upright, and so the weight of the Tower began to diffuse downward until it had found the weakest point.

After this, construction halted for 100 years. The government hoped that the soil would settle, giving it enough strength to hold the weight of the Tower.

After the 100 year hiatus, Giovanni di Simone stepped forward in 1272 and began to add four more floors to the tower. He actually managed to cause the Tower to lean even more when he tried to compensate for the original lean by making one side of the upper floors taller than the other.

In 1284 construction was halted again because war.

In 1319 the 7th floor was finished. The bell-chamber was added in 1372, and then the Tower was left alone until the 19th century.

In 1838 Alessandro Della Gherardesca, an established architect, dug a pathway near the base of the Tower so that people could see the intricately crafted base. The Tower began to lean even more as a result, due to the decreased amount of support available within the soil.

Then came WWII. This war was brutal and bloody for the entire world, and its effects were felt everywhere from America to rural Africa. In relation to the Leaning Tower of Pisa, however, it is pure luck.

When the American soldiers invaded, they were ordered to destroy any and all buildings in order to neutralize the threat of enemy snipers. There were no exceptions to this rule, and hundreds of buildings were blown up as the forces steadily advanced over the Italian countryside. The only thing which prevented the Leaning Tower of Pisa from being destroyed was a retreat that took place shortly after the arrival of the Americans, necessitating no need to destroy the national monument.

In 1964, Italy asked help to prevent the Leaning Tower from toppling. They wanted to keep the lean though, because of its importance for Pisa’s tourism. A team of engineers and historians came together on the Azores to discuss the problem. As a temporary measure, a leaden counterweight (882 tons) was installed.

In 1987, the Leaning Tower of Pisa was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site, along with the entire Piazza Del Duomo.

In 1990, the Leaning Tower was closed. The bells were removed and the tower was anchored.

Reopened in 2001 for tourists, the Leaning Tower of Pisa is finally sturdy and safe.

 

That was a super long non-biblical, non-churchy, intro to today’s sermon. From today’s Sermon Title, why do you think I started with that history lesson? [Because “Foundations” matter!]

 

For most of the next several weeks I invite you to join me as we listen to the Apostle Peter, and hear some Biblical instruction that’s been around for nearly 2,000 years, and is based on totally true counsel, about “good masonry”.

 

The foundation upon which our Christian faith is built is this: there is ONE, true, living God! And God is so BIG, strong, faithful, trustworthy, LOVING that he is the foundation of everything, including our very lives. Yet this same (giant-sized) God made possible a very personal relationship through His SON. He expressed Himself with a free outpouring of love in such a way that He remains in a close, vibrant relationship with His creation, and, in particular, with human beings made in His image!

­For this same God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever would believe in Him would not perish but have everlasting life!

The Bible never argues for the existence of God. From Genesis through Revelation, writers describe their conflicts with God, their anger and doubts about God’s purposes in the world, but there is never any doubt that God is fully present!

Deuteronomy 6:4-5 plainly states this foundation: Hear, O Israel. The Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength.

 

Listen to these words from the Apostle Peter. This comes from a letter he wrote to the churches in Asia Minor, south Turkey, to people who faced death daily. Listen to how he says we find faith-filled integrity when our Foundation is God Himself.

 

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says:

“See, I lay a stone in Zion,     a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him
will never be put to shame.”
(Isaiah 28:16)

Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe,

“The stone the builders rejected    has become the cornerstone,” (Psalm118:22)

and, “A stone that causes people to stumble     and a rock that makes them fall.” (Isaiah 8:14)

They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

 

Peter is writing to a people who are confused about who God is and what God stands for. The Church in Asia Minor was filled with people who could face death, real death, every day – and they may have wondered where their God is. They may have thought their God had abandoned them. They may have been convinced, by their own backgrounds and former religions, that if their “good” outweighed their “bad then their suffering would be short and their eternity secured.

Hmmm. Are Peter’s people any different than our people? Do you think Peter’s neighbors were more confused than your neighbors? I get the feeling that we live in the same confusion today that they lived in then.

They stumble because they disobey – read don’t believe, maybe believe but aren’t willing to change, say they believe but they don’t really trust this God or this message any more than they trust the weather forecasters on TVthey stumble because they disobey the message.”

What is this message? That we are sinnersWait, what? I’m not a sinner!  – Really? It would be a true privilege to have that person over for dinner because to date there is only one person in all of history who has made that claim with legitimacy!

That God sent His perfectly sinless Son to pay the debt of sin we have accrued (death, resurrection, ascension) and one day He is coming back for those who have believed in Him.

They stumbled because they disobey the message – which is also what they were destined for! But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light!

That’s the message!

 

Peter was present when Jesus told a parable about two houses that were built, one on a rock foundation and one on shifting sand. Right at the end of the 3-chapter Sermon on the Mount Jesus says it’s not good enough to simply say the right things, you have to believe them.  “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matthew 7:24-27)

 

You can see that this is more than mere happy platitudes. Christ is calling us to faithful obedience!

Peter reminds us of this truth.

 

Paul, in his 2nd letter of leadership advice to Timothy, the young Pastor in the Turkish city of Ephesus, tells Timothy, “God’s solid foundation is still sturdy with this sign: the Lord knows those who belong to Him, and everyone who confesses the Lord’s name must avoid wickedness” (II Timothy 2:15)

 

What is the Foundation of your Christian faith? Do you believe the Gospel message? Is your trust in God’s reliability as the only means of salvation growing? When the storms come, when the rain comes down, when the streams rise, when the winds blow and beat against our faith, will we fall? Or will we stand firm because of the Foundation of God’s power and love?

 

The foundation upon which our Christian faith is built is this: there is ONE, true, living God! And God is so BIG, strong, faithful, trustworthy, LOVING that he is the foundation of everything, including our very lives. Yet this same (giant-sized) God made possible a very personal relationship through His SON.

 

Let’s not be like the Tower of Pisa – while it still stands, it stands as a leaning curiosity. May we stand straight, with the believable Good News that comes through Jesus Christ.

 

This Easter Season, this Resurrection Season, let’s claim the Right Foundation: the God of the Bible, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God and Father of Jesus, the God who claims you as His own.

If you heard God calling your name today, if you sense that Christ’s death and resurrection was meant for you today, if you want your life to withstand life’s storms today – drop a note in the Offering Plate, and I’ll get with you later this week. Let’s dedicate, rededicate, our rocky past into service as living stones today!

 

Happy Easter Season! Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed!

 

Resources:

Bettridge, Becce; Living Stones: The Making of an Eternal Fellowship; Presbyterians for Renewal; Louisville, KY; 2012; Pp. 19-24.

04/17/2017 – I Peter 2:4-10 – Living Stones: “Setting the Stones”

Click here for the audio version of this message.

Mark Wheeler

I Peter 2:4-10

Living Stones: “Setting the Stones”

04/17/2016

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

This brick mason was involved in an on-site accident and had to fill out this report for the accident. 

Dear Sir:
I am writing in response to your request for additional information in Block 3 of the Accident Report Form. I put “poor planning” as the cause of my accident. You asked for fuller explanation, and I trust the following details will be sufficient.

I was alone on the roof of the new six-story building. When I completed my work, I found that I had some bricks left over which, when weighed later, were found to be slightly more than 500 lbs. Rather than carry the bricks down by hand, I decided to lower them in a barrel by using a pulley that was attached to the side of the building on the sixth floor.

I secured the rope at ground level, climbed to the roof, swung the barrel out, and loaded the bricks into it. Then I climbed back down and untied the rope, holding tightly to ensure a slow descent of the bricks.

You will notice in Block 11 of the Accident Report Form that I weigh 145 lbs. Due to my surprise at being jerked off the ground so suddenly, I lost my presence of mind and forgot to let go of the rope. Needless to say, I proceeded at rapid rate up the side of the building.

Somewhere in the vicinity of the third floor, I met the barrel, which was now proceeding downward at an equally impressive speed. This explains the fractured skull and the broken collar bone, as listed in section 3 of the Accident Report Form.

Slowed down slightly, I continued my rapid ascent, not stopping until the fingers on my right hand were two knuckles deep into the pulley.

Fortunately, by this time I had regained my presence of mind and was able to hold tightly to the rope in spite of beginning to experience a great deal of pain. At approximately the same time, however, the barrel of bricks hit the ground and the bottom fell out of the barrel. Now devoid of the weight of the bricks, the barrel weighed approximately 50 lbs.

(I refer you again to my weight.)

As you can imagine, I began a rapid descent down the side of the building. Somewhere in the vicinity of the third floor, I met the barrel coming up. This accounts for the two fractured ankles, the broken tooth, and the lacerations of my legs and lower body.

Here my luck began to change slightly. The encounter with the barrel seemed to slow me enough to lessen my injuries when I fell on the pile of bricks; fortunately, only three vertebrae were cracked.

I am sorry to report, however, that as I lay there on the pile of bricks – in pain and unable to move – I again lost my composure and presence of mind and let go of the rope. I could only lay there watching as the empty barrel begin its journey back down towards me. This explains the two broken legs.

I hope this answers your questions.

Sincerely

 

That story has been going around for a few years – if it’s true, it is a horrible story of poor planning when it comes to brick masonry.

For most of the next several weeks I invite you to join me as we listen to the Apostle Peter, and hear some Biblical instruction that’s been around for nearly 2,000 years, and is based on totally true counsel, about “good masonry”.

 

There is a settler’s cabin not far from my house: I could probably find out from county records who he was and when he lived here. Was he a lone hunter, grubbing a corn patch along the creek, or did he raise a family here in this lost hollow? … His are the hands that set these stones one upon the other …. No one living near knows of a cabin site here …. Nothing is left of this man who set the house among the forest. Nothing but the stones. (These are the words of Charles McRaven in his book called Building with Stone.)

Nothing is left to commemorate this settler’s life, writes McRaven, “Nothing but the stones.” Have you ever wondered what will remain of your life when you are gone? What is there of permanence? What actually lasts?

 

Listen to these words from the Apostle Peter. This comes from a letter he wrote to the churches in Asia Minor, south Turkey, to people who faced death daily. Listen to how he says we make meaning in our lives that outlast our last breath.

 

 

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says:

“See, I lay a stone in Zion,     a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him
will never be put to shame.”
(Isaiah 28:16)

Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe,

“The stone the builders rejected    has become the cornerstone,” (Psalm118:22)

and, “A stone that causes people to stumble     and a rock that makes them fall.” (Isaiah 8:14)

They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

 

What does Peter say makes for a lasting legacy? It is not our individual accomplishments that give us durability. It’s not our level of education or our perfect credit or our bank accounts.

As we learned on Friday as some of us gathered to remember Darlene’s husband Ed, that which gives our lives meaning and purpose and permanence is our connection with God and with others. Peter offers us an opportunity to remove our self-focused, time-bound eye glasses in order to view the massive and eternal cathedral of God’s people into which we are being built as “living stones”. It is as these “living stones that we will find permanence.

 

So, if we’re going to be a stone … how do we do that? What is the job description of a stone?

Peter, John, and Jude (the last three New Testament sets of letters before Revelation) describe the Church as a community in which each person gives into the common life the strengths and gifts that God has given to them. This God-built cathedral is not a pile of unrelated rocks just randomly heaped together, but a planned structure made up of stones whose unique connection in Jesus Christ holds each other up.

How, exactly, does God build a cathedral with rocks like you and me, when we feel like a rabble of rebellious rubble?

The job description of these stones is simply to lean into the corner stone and to do so firmly enough that we can hold the stones around us to do the same.

Why might Peter be using this metaphor to describe a healthy church, a growing people, a discipling community?

Do remember that story in Matthew’s Gospel when Jesus took His disciples to Caesarea Philippi and looking at the giant pagan temple made of rock asked them who they thought He was? Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And what did Jesus say?I no longer call you Simon. You are Peter (which means Rock!). On this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it!

Peter loved the image of the Rock, the Stone.

Peter reminds us that we have been chosen and called by God to be these “Stones” in His cathedral. Look again at the opening verses of today’s passage, and put your names in there: As you [_______] come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you [_______] also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

When have you felt most alive, most motivated, most excited about your involvement in a Christian community?  I would wager it was when you were most involved, trusting most in God to lead you, and giving most to the community you called home.

 

Peter was not writing this letter to the church leaders – but to the people in the church. Look at today’s closing verses, and put our church name in: But you [Lidgerwood Prez] are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you [LPC] may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you [LPC] were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

What God-given dynamics are visible at LPC that hold up “living stones” supporting each other? Are they when the choir sings a beautiful four-part harmony anthem?

          Is it when the Deacons work together to feed the hungry?

Do we see “living stones” in God’s cathedral when we pray together for God’s power and love to be known?

And isn’t it always when we are leaning, loudly or quietly, into Jesus Christ our corner stone, depending on Him for every aspect of serving our neighbors the peace of Christ?

 

I imagine, if Peter had a favorite Psalm, it might have been Psalm 18: I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the Lord who is worthy to be praised, so I shall be saved from my enemies.

 

This Easter Season, this Resurrection Season, let’s accept our role as “living stones”, and let’s allow the Creator of all stone to set these stones into His cathedral.

If you hear God calling your name today, if you sense that Christ’s death and resurrection was meant for you today, if you want your life to have a more lasting impact today – tell me on your way out the door today. Let’s dedicate, rededicate, our rocky past into service as living stones today!

 

Happy Easter Season! Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed!

 

Resources:

Bettridge, Becce; Living Stones: The Making of an Eternal Fellowship; Presbyterians for Renewal; Louisville, KY; 2012; Pp. 11-18.

 

McRaven, Charles; Building with Stone; Storey Publishing; North Adams, MA; 1989.

 

 

 

04/10/2016 – Matthew 28:16-20 – “Still the Doubts, Fill the Order, Fulfill the Mission”

Click here to listen to the audio.

Mark Wheeler

Matthew 28:16-20

Still the Doubts – Fill the Order – Fulfill the Mission

04/10/2016

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Today’s Scripture passage is one of my favorites, when I’m feeling good about myself; and one of my least favorites when I’m not. Usually, it seems, we walk away from this story just feeling guilty for not being a “good enoughChristian. I hope to turn that tide today.

There’s a story about a pastor who honestly wanted to make “evangelism” easier for his church members – so he scheduled a Christian music group called The Resurrection to come and perform at their church, and all the church members had to do was invite their friends and families to come and hear them.

But, as luck would have it, a big snowstorm delayed the performance, so the pastor changed the outside sign to read, “The Resurrection is postponed.”

As you can imagine, now even the Pastor felt guilty for not being a good enough Christian.

 

So let’s hear today’s guilt-producing passage from the Gospel According to Matthew. The story-line is:

  • Jesus was crucified on Friday afternoon, He died, and was buried in a borrowed tomb
  • Before sun-up on Sunday, the women came to anoint His body for a proper burial
  • But they found the tomb empty, and met angels and the risen Lord
  • They went to tell the Apostles this Good News
  • The Roman Guards went to tell the Chief Priests the same news, and were paid to lie about it
  • And then we come to today’s passage; we’re not told how much later this happened (hours? Days? Weeks?). Listen to the Word of God from Matthew 28:16-20; I’m reading from the NIV…. —-

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

 

Somebody give me a shout-out about why we usually feel guilty (or defensive) after a sermon on this passage: [because we’re not very good at evangelizing – sharing our faith – making converts; maybe we don’t even think that that’s what we should be about!]

 

Let me start today by affirming those fears of a guilt-producing sermon. Frankly, I am glad that this Great Commission is not principally a commission about evangelism! I’ll come back to that in a minute.

 

First, let’s look at this paragraph and see what’s going on. Why did the “eleven disciples” go to Galilee? They went because “Jesus told them to go” there. Remember the angel’s words to Mary Magdalene on Easter morning?Go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’

Notice which disciples actually obeyed Jesus and went to Galilee: All eleven disciples OBEYED Jesus even though “some DOUBTED”.

Isn’t that an interesting piece of the story. These weary, grieving, followers of Jesus were not of perfect faith – but they all obeyed their Lord even when some had serious doubts. There’s a lesson there for us, isn’t there? When life is hard, when our world is dark, when bad news pounds against our souls, when we wonder if God even exists, or if He does, does He even care – who here has ever been in that state of mind? Who is there right now? You are not alone. These disciples, this story, reminds us of the potential fruit that is borne when we are obedient even when we are full of doubts and we wonder if this whole Christian-faith thing is full of baloney! Obey anyway.

Is it like when we’re on a diet, or in physical therapykeep on track even when you don’t see results today! Stay focused even when the scale tips in the wrong direction. Keep on keepin’ on even when your ligaments are tighter today than they were yesterday.

In faith, what are the kinds of things that cause us to doubt? Is it when a prayer doesn’t get answered the way we wanted it answered? Is it when we wonder how much more we are expected to take? Is it when a family member asks a question we have no hard and fast answer to? What kinds of things cause you to doubt?

How do we get back to that place of confident faith?

Last week, and on Easter Sunday, we saw that simply remembering what we used to believe can be a helpful first step to rediscovering hope.

Today I want to say that this paragraph in Matthew 28 suggests obediencepray again, go back to reading God’s Word, find someone who needs your help. Listen for God’s voice … and obey.

 

In this paragraph Jesus gives His disciples one very specific order – and He uses one very strong verb which is surrounded by dependent verbs: What is the strong verb? (What do you think? Frankly, I’ll admit that it is super hard to see in any English translation, but in the Greek language in which Matthew was originally written it is super obvious. Any guesses?)

MAKE DISCIPLESmaqhtesath. The helper verbs are: going, baptizing and teaching. The sentence might awkwardly read: “Being gone, then, make disciples of all nations, baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

To whom does Jesus give this command? Obviously, He is talking to the eleven disciples. But, and I think this is significant, Matthew uses the word “disciples” here – notapostles”. So the “disciples” are to MAKE DISCIPLES.

So, we have to define the word “disciples”. Does anyone know? I think Matthew purposely uses the word “disciples” so that all disciples would hear this order as if it were given to them.

A disciple is “one who learns, one who follows, one who is being trained up by a Master”. So, to whom does Jesus give this command? He really is talking to you and me, anyone who calls himself a Christian, a follower of Jesus. It’s more than simply saying we believe in Him, accepting Jesus into our hearts, being saved. Being a Christian means listening for God’s daily call on our lives, and learning from Him, following Him, being trained by Him as our Master.

And the ORDER is not simply to be an evangelist. That word never shows up here. He says, “MAKE DISCIPLES.”

This is where the guilt should be relieved. What are some steps one might take to achieve this goal of DISCIPLE-MAKING?

Look at the definition of the word again: invite someone to walk alongside you in your faith. That could be our husband or our wife. Our children. Our grandchildren. Our neighbors, or co-workers, our friends. Just honestly show them what your faith means. Honestly living like we believe what we say we believe.

 

How do we go about fulfilling this MISSION in our daily lives?

The Great Commission, to MAKE DISCIPLES, is the call of Christ for His disciples, you and me, to extend His authority over the whole world. To share the Gospel, to speak of our faith, and to invite our life-mates to walk with us in our faith to MAKE DISCIPLES … of all nations!

Jesus tells the Apostles in Acts 1:8 to do this in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Jerusalem is home – in our households, our families, our neighborhoods, our work-places; Judea and Samaria spreads out a little further; and the ends of the earth covers all seven continents. Jesus does not say to do one, then go a little farther, then after that go a little farther still.

So how do we do this. We cannot all actually travel beyond our own city limits. Not everyone is a Billy Graham or a Luis Palau. But we all have our corners of the earth, our own spheres of influence. And we can support the Gospel by supporting others who do go beyond our own grasp.

But it is always Christ’s agenda with which we “being gone, then, MAKE DISCIPLES”. It is never our own agenda. What does God require of us – but to seek justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8), to be disciples who make disciples, who worship God and follow Jesus passionately.

 

You know the Story. You have the authority of your call and Christ’s Great Commission. You have the power of the Holy Spirit to stare down Death itself… “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

 

Guilt-free, except for the ways we decide to hide from God’s call, let’s MAKE DISCIPLES by living our faith out loud.

 

This Easter Season, this Resurrection Season, let’s live like we believe Jesus is victorious over deathHis death and ours; that Jesus offers us all the truth the Gospel tells and all the hope to overcome any desperation and all the calm over every fear.

 

Happy Easter Season! Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed!

 

Resources:

Detterman, Paul; Staring Down Death Itself; The Fellowship Community; March 2016.

 

Sproul, R.C.; Christ’s Call to Make Disciples; TableTalk; May 2016; Pp. 4-5.

 

 

 

04/03/2016 – Matthew 28:11-15 – “Christian Character and the Word of a Witness”

Ckick right here to find the audio link.

Mark Wheeler

Matthew 28:11-15

Christian Character and the Word of a Witness

04/03/2016

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

The cell phone buzzes as the night turns into morning, and a voice speaks words that change everything.

The newscaster begins the broadcast with a litany of another shooting, another attack and more senseless violence.

The doctor calls after agonizing days of waiting with the devastating test results.

The doorbell rings….

The friend confides….

The child falls ill….

The lawyer calls and says that there will be no appeals hearing, the judge has already made a decision – and we are forced to wait 7 more days to hear what that decision was!

And we find ourselves in a liminal space — a space of transition, a space of not knowing, a space of waiting, a space between the comfortable confidence of what was and the frightening proposition of what is to be. In this space in between, our minds and our lives are often filled with sadness, confusion, doubt and disbelief.

And in these spaces, we wait. What else can we do?

 

In today’s reading from the Gospel According to Matthew, that’s where we find two different groups: the women who went to the empty tomb on that Sunday when Jesus was resurrected, and the Roman Guards who were stationed at that tomb to make sure nothing happened there!

Let’s listen to these people as they stand in the threshold between showing Christian Character and accepting payment to tell the story the officials want told. I am reading from Matthew 28:11-15, from the NIV. This takes place on Easter Sunday as “the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell Jesus’ disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. ‘Greetings,’ he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’

Listen to the Word of God …. —-

11 While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, 13 telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.”

 

Luke’s Gospel gives a few more details than Matthew’s does, but the experience is the same: the women go to the tomb, discover it empty and then experience the risen Lord. They go back to the Apostles to tell them this Good News (Euangelion, Gospel), and the Apostles don’t believe them.

In John’s Gospel we get the Doubting Thomas story and Luke tells the Road to Emmaus story. Matthew simply tells us, “while the women were on their way….”

 

Have you ever had incredibly good news to tell? I mean, truly so good it was literally “unbelievable”? Maybe Denise felt that way last week when she went to tell Jack the good news of his impending release!

You plan to surprise your parents with the news of their up-coming grandchild; you giggle as you tell your spouse of your promotion; you practice your speech with giddy excitement.

Maybe you’ve been the bearer of unbelievably bad news! How do I tell someone this? I remember the first time I was given the responsibility of telling a wife and her two young children that their 40-year old husband/father had died of a heart attack that morning.

You know what that threshold leading from “normal” to “nothing will be the same again” might feel like. You pray for the right words (and there are none); you hope for the right opportunity (and there is none); and you rehearse your announcement with solemnity (and all you feel is a gut-wrenching knot, sprinkled with tears of remorse and sadness).

 

And here’s the thing – you never know for sure how someone will take the news. Will they believe you? What if they don’t? How do you convince someone who hasn’t seen what you’ve seen that what you’ve seen is really true?

 

That’s the space these women were in – and these Roman Guards!

The Apostles did not believe the women – they were just women, after all….

But, by all apparent circumstances, the Chief Priests and the Elders did believe the Guards!

 

The Apostles did two things: Peter (and John) ran to the tomb to see for themselves! When we hear “unbelievable” news, often our first reaction is to CONFIRM its truth!

Until that was done to everyone’s satisfaction, the Apostles locked themselves up in their “safe-room”.

The Chief Priests and Elders devised a “more believable” story. So they paid the Guards to tell something that the Guards knew was a lie (and these religious officials knew that this lie could get these Guards in big trouble – sleeping on the job was a criminal offense worthy of the death penalty!).

 

Easter has come and gone! Let me stop, for just a minute, and ask if you truly believe this Good News! If your answer is YES, then the follow-up question is, “Do you really?How has this “fact” changed your life? What do you do differently as a result of this Good News? How do you experience God’s presence and power differently because of this Good News? Is this news SO good that you’ve been afraid to tell others? (What if they don’t believe me? How could I possibly convince them it is true?)

 

It’s OK to be like Thomas, wanting a little irrefutable proof (John 20:27) needing to CONFIRM its truth. And it’s OK to cling to Jesus’ promise that “blessed are we who have not seen, and believe any way” (John 20:29).

 

The women in Matthew’s Gospel demonstrate true Christian Character, Christ-like qualities: they know the truth and they are not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16).  Paul says to Timothy, “So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. (II Timothy 1:8)” Peter wrote, “However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. (I Peter 4:16)” These women carried with them these Christian Character traits. When we actually live like we believe what we say we believe, we become more trustworthy to the world around us. And, always, when the source of the news is considered TRUSTWORTHY, people are more likely to believe it without confirmation.

And so, I am forced to ask whether I carry Christian Character traits as well as these women did….  Do you think you do?

 

Because we all live in that liminal space, don’t we? All of us live in the threshold of the assurance of God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and yet not fully being able to experience the fullness of that gloryJesus is, indeed, risen; and yet no one in this room has fully lived into the gift of His perfect presence and power, at least not for an extended period of time.

 

How do we know His resurrection is true? What evidence suggests that it is real?

Let’s listen to the Word of His Witnesses:

The Guards were paid to lie, and Matthew tells us that, to this day, those lies are still circulating.

And then there’s the Witness of people who might be thrown to the lions for telling this truth.

  • Mary Magdalene in the Garden of the Tomb (John 20, Mark 16)
  • The other women who went to anoint Jesus’ body (Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20)
  • Two disciples on the Road to Emmaus (Mark 16, Luke 24)
  • 10 of the Apostles in the locked Upper Room (Luke 24, John 20)
  • All 11 remaining Apostles in that same locked Upper Room (John 20)
  • More than 500 people at one time (I Corinthians 15)
  • All 11 Apostles again at His Great Commission (Matthew 28, Luke 24)
  • All 11 Apostles at Jesus’ ascension (Luke 24, Acts 1)
  • Saul on the Road to Damascus (Acts 9, 22, 26; I Corinthians 15)

 

That is a ton of eye-witness accounts, all of them believable for the simple fact that their testimony put their lives a risk – but they were not ashamed of the Gospel!

 

The historical evidence is compelling. Jesus Christ arose from the dead just as He had promised He wouldFor His Apostles, hope came back to life. For you and me, hope lives forevermore!

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful!” (Hebrews 10:23, NASB)

 

This Easter Season, this Resurrection Season, let’s live in this luminal space filled with conviction and Christ-like Character. May the Word of our Witness ring believable as we live like we believe Jesus is victorious over deathHis death and ours; that Jesus offers us all the truth the Gospel tells and all the hope to overcome any desperation and all the calm over every fear.

 

Happy Easter Season! Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed!

 

Resources:

Fowler, R.D.; Jesus’ Resurrection Appearances; Biblical Illustrator; Volume 29, No. 2 (2002-03); center-section.

 

Shivers, Brian; The Liminal Moments; The Presbyterian Outlook; March 15, 2016.

03/27/2016 – Luke 24:1-12 – “Does It Still Make You Wonder?”

Click here for the audio version.

Mark Wheeler

Luke 24:1-12

Does It Still Make You Wonder?

Resurrection Sunday, 03/27/2016

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Three blondes died and are at the pearly gates of Heaven. St. Peter tells them that they can enter the gates if they can answer one simple question. 

St. Peter asks the first blonde, “What is Easter?” 

The blonde replies, “Oh, that’s easy! It’s the holiday in November when everyone gets together, eats turkey, and is thankful.”

“Wrong!” replies St. Peter, and proceeds to ask the second blonde the same question, “What is Easter?” 

The second blonde replies, “Easter is the holiday in December when we put up a nice tree, exchange presents, and celebrate the birth of Jesus.” 

St. Peter looks at the second blonde, shakes his head in disgust, tells her she’s wrong, and then peers over his glasses at the third blonde. He asks, “What is Easter?”

The third blonde smiles confidently and looks St. Peter in the eyes, “I know what Easter is.”

“Oh?” says St. Peter, incredulously. 

“Easter is the Christian holiday that coincides with the Jewish celebration of Passover. Jesus and his disciples were eating at the last supper and Jesus was later deceived and turned over to the Romans by one of his disciples. The Romans took him to be crucified and he was stabbed in the side, made to wear a crown of thorns, and was hung on a cross with nails through his hands. He was buried in a nearby cave which was sealed off by a large boulder.”

St. Peter smiles broadly with delight. 

The third blonde continues, “Every year the boulder is moved aside so that Jesus can come out… and, if he sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter.”

 

Most of us gathered here today could quickly and correctly answer St. Peter’s question. LPC used to have a very active member whose husband came to church every Christmas and every Easter. Finally, one year the pastor asked him why he doesn’t attend a worship service at any other time, and his answer was classic: “Why would I come more than just the twice a year – the preacher always preaches the same sermon and the we always sing the same songs! Twice-a-year is enough of that for me!

 

Let’s hear this same old Easter story, once again, for the first time – and remember the truth it tells and the hope it offers and the fears that it calms. Does this story still make you wonder? I am reading from Luke 24:1-12, from the NIV.

Listen to the Word of God …. —-

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” Then they remembered his words.

When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. 12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

 

A group of women, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and some others known to the main group of 12 Apostles, went to the tomb as early on the day after the Passover as possible – this was their first opportunityto finish the EMBALMING process. So they brought their spices and they mustered their gusto, and they made the trip from their homes and hotel rooms, through the Path of Sorrows that Jesus had walked on Friday, all the way outside the city walls to the tomb that Joseph of Arimathea had reserved/given for Jesus’ burial.

They had a job to do, and they fully planned to get their job done, even if it meant forcing the guards to push the stone away from the entrance to the tomb so they could do it!

But they were utterly shocked, surprised beyond words, because the tomb was already opened! So they went in, and there was no body there! Their friend, leader, and teacher and Lord was gone! In John’s Gospel Mary asks one whom she thought was the gardener where he might have moved the body….

Instead they find some dudes dressed in lightning white clothes which, of course, scared them to their knees.

 

But listen again to how they address these women: “Why,” they asked, “do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here! He has risen!

Then these men challenge the women, “Remember how He told you, while He was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” And that’s when they did remember!

Their first reaction was to WONDER about all this. But their wondering was stilled when they remembered what He had told them.

 

However, the women were not alone in their wondering. It looks like they wasted no time in gathering themselves together and hurrying back to the Apostles to tell them the Good News! But the Apostles did not believe the women, Luke tells us, because it all sounded like so much NONSENSE!

 

Does any of that describe you? Do you ever wonder if any of this could possibly be true? Do you think, as St Paul tells us will happen, that this is just all foolish nonsense. Is it as make-believe as “Vernal Rodents concealing unfertilized aviary embryos for young offspring to recover every Paschal holiday season” (I hope you saw what I did there….)?

 

These women told the terrifying, awe-inspiring, inexplicable truth that Jesus lives – and that makes all the difference in the world for these women, and for the Apostles, and for us. Skeptics are out there, maybe they’re also in here this morning. Is it possible that our witness, our testimony, our proclamation will help motivate them to be like Peter, and go and look for themselves? They may well be amazed even if they do not yet believe.

That’s what happened to some of the greatest defenders of the Christian faith in the previous century: GK Chesterton, CS Lewis, Lee Strobelall of them were out to reveal the fallacy of the resurrection of Jesus and all of them were convinced of its truth as they went and looked for themselves.

 

It took time, but finally, the women and the Apostles and many other disciples REMEMBERED what they had been told – they remembered what they once knew – and their lives were renewed, their hopes were revived, their fears were removed!

 

Are you in a place this morning where you wonder if any if this really matters? Are you sitting here this morning feeling hopeless? Are your bills so much more than your income that you are buried in debt? Did your last doctor appointment discourage you beyond the end of whatever hope you used to have? Are you alone or lost or afraid of what tomorrow might bring?

Let me ask the rhetorical question asked of Mary and Mary and Joanna: Do you remember? Can you remember what Jesus told you last year? Or 40 years ago? Do you remember the stories your Sunday School teachers told you? Or the ones you learned in Confirmation or VBS? Do you remember the Scripture read at your wedding or maybe the ones your Mom asked to have read at her memorial service? Do you remember the Lord’s Prayer, or the songJesus Loves Me”, or the 23rd Psalm? Do you remember the promises made when your child was baptized? Do you remember?

Let me ask the very real question we must ask every day: Why do you look for the living among the dead? Why do we refuse to leave the graveyard when God is calling us to places of new life? Why are we anticipating endings when God is offering radical, new beginnings? Why are we looking for the dead among the living, writing off, throwing away so much of what God is working on? Why do we think reconciliation is absolutely impossible? Forgiveness improbable? Scarcity, hostility, and war inevitable?

 

What might Jesus’ resurrection have to say about these things? With God nothing is impossible! Victory over death! Eternity over death. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?

 

So often we are not only hanging out in the cemetery looking for the living among the dead, we are going through life looking for the dead among the living. Easter should turn both those expectations upside down and inside out.

Remember? Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. Jesus is living water, the bread of heaven. Jesus came to save sinners, heal the sick, put people in their right minds and clothe them. Jesus came that we might have life and have it abundantly.

Even if you think these things are part of a fairy tale, I invite you to follow Peter’s lead to be intrigued enough to go and see for yourselves and be amazed at what you discover.

 

This Easter, this Resurrection Sunday, today, celebrate this Christian holiday that coincides with the Jewish celebration of Passover. This Christian holiday when Jesus and his disciples were eating at the last supper and Jesus was later deceived and turned over to the Romans by one of his disciples. This Christian holiday when the Romans took him to be crucified and he was stabbed in the side, made to wear a crown of thorns, and was hung on a cross with nails through his hands. This Christian holiday when He was buried in a nearby cave which was sealed off by a large boulder.

This Easter, this Resurrection Sunday, today, celebrate this Christian holiday when Jesus was victorious over deathHis death and ours; this Christian holiday when Jesus offers us all the truth it tells and all the hope to overcome any desperation and all the calm over every fear.

 

What do you remember? Does is still make you wonder?   Happy Easter! Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed!

 

Resources:

Duffield, Jill; The Preaching Pressure of Easter Is Real; The Fellowship Community; March 2016.