Sunday, April 4, 2010

Sermon - 4 April 2010

EASTER DAY — 4 April 2010
St. Paul’s, Durant — 9:00 a.m.

Acts 10:34-43 | Psalm 118:1-2,14-24 | 1 Cor. 15:19-26 | Luke 24:1-12

“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”

Well, you never can quite be sure, but it does seem that maybe spring is finally sprung in eastern Iowa. (It seems to me that I remember a few years back when it was warm and sunny on Palm Sunday and on Easter we had six inches of snow. Oh well.) But it’s very easy for us to forget that the conjunction of Easter and the return of spring is part of the experience of only a minority of the world’s Christians. Most of the Church lives in tropical or at least semitropical regions (did any of you just get back from Florida?), or else in the Southern Hemisphere (where summer is passing into autumn right now). Spring, in the dramatic way we know it, is largely a northern European and northern North American phenomenon. Still, I guess if our little corner of the world presents us with a vivid image of resurrection, it’s okay to use it, as long as we remember that the analogy does break down: the yearly, cyclical, dependable renewal of growing things as winter turns to spring — the whole business of eggs and lilies and bunnies and chickies — is not the same thing as what God is doing in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. A fertile egg, no matter how inert in may look on the outside, is full of life inside. A daffodil bulb in the ground does not really die during the winter; it simply goes dormant, to awake (as it were) when the soil warms up again. These are the regular processes of nature.

On the other hand, Jesus was dead. Dead as a doornail. And God raised him to life. Raised him to a whole new kind of life. Not back again for another round of the same old thing (like spring does), but something utterly new. As God says in the lesson from Isaiah [65:17] today (that we didn’t hear because it’s more usual to read Acts as the first lesson instead): “I am about to create new heavens and a new earth!” And we shall share that utterly new life, if we are in Christ. We can experience the beginnings of it, a down payment as it were, even now. But St. Paul makes clear, in the letter to the Romans [6:3,5]: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into his death?…For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” And to the Colossians [3:3] these words: “You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” In order to be raised with Christ, we first must die with Christ. We first must die.

I hate to think what this world would be like today without the witness and ministry of the Christian Church, the community of the people of God in Jesus Christ, over the past two thousand years. We may sometimes wonder whether we’ve done any good at all. Well, we have. Despite everything, we really have. But not nearly what, in the full power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we could have done. We ourselves over the centuries have been as much a part of the problem as we have been the solution. If the world still remains unconverted to the Kingdom of God as proclaimed and inaugurated by Jesus Christ, let’s face it, there isn’t all that much of God’s kingdom that the world has seen in us. The history of the Church, right up until and including the present, is one appalling chapter after another. We do not show the world the new life of resurrection, the life of the risen Christ in us, because we ourselves have refused to die.

It isn’t, I think, just that we stumble and fall. It isn’t just that we are sinners. The world understands about stumbling and falling. Heaven knows God understands that we are sinners. No, it’s that our vision itself is so short and narrow. We have a Gospel, Good News, of the radical transformation of human life in Jesus Christ, the Gospel of the Kingdom of God; yet we ourselves are so resolutely resistant to transformation, we insist on puttering about in a petty religiosity that has very little to do with the Reign of God. The world continues to be plagued with hatred, greed, violence, vengefulness, exploitation, oppression, self-gratification, arrogant pride, the thirst for power. We have good news for this world, good news of new life, life for the dead, good news of love and peace and joy. But the world does not see that good news in us. Our vision of the Kingdom of God in our own lives is dim and blurry. It’s so hard for us to let go of ourselves. It’s so hard for us to die to ourselves that we may live for one another in love. Because we refuse to die, we are unable to live. And being ourselves unable to live, we are unable to share life with the world.

But what can you or I do about all the problems of the world? They are so massive, so global. Well, directly, this week, maybe not a lot. But every world problem started sometime, somewhere, as a personal problem, as a family problem, as a neighborhood problem, as a local community problem. Hatred and injustice among nations has its roots in hatred and injustice between persons. We can do something about our own little corner of the world, and it is all our own little corners that make up the world as a whole. Those of you who are as old as I am will remember Pogo the Possum, “We have met the enemy and they is us.” “Us” is a place to start. And if we will die to ourselves, die to our blind narrow self-interests, so that we can live with the transforming life of the risen Christ, it will not end there. It will not end any short of the transforming and healing of the world.

The Easter Gospel is the Good News of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. But it is not just good news about Jesus, it is good news from Jesus for us, good news in Jesus for the world. God can and does and will raise us from death to life. But this Gospel of Resurrection is not a mere cheery hopefulness that things will get better, it is not a message of “if winter comes can spring be far behind?” It is good news of new life, utterly new life, news of the triumph of love and peace and joy, news of life from death. God can raise the dead to life; but God can only raise the dead to life. We first must die — die to ourselves. Then and only then can we live — live in Christ to God, live for the life of the world.