Monthly Archives: April 2011

“The Stone Has Rolled…Now What?” 4.24.11

Click here to hear the audio recording of this sermon.

Matthew 28:1-10 • April 24, 2011

Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and our risen Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.

A Church School teacher asked his class of first graders during their small group time a couple weeks ago if they knew what happened on Easter and why it was so important. They had been working on this in church school.

One little girl spoke up first and said, “Easter is when the whole family gets together, and you eat turkey and sing about the pilgrims and all that.”

“No, that’s not it,” said the teacher.

“I know what Easter is,” another student offered. “Easter is when you get a tree and decorate it and give gifts to everybody and sing lots of songs.”

“Nope, that’s not it either,” said the teacher.

Finally, a third student spoke up, “Easter is when Jesus was killed, and put in a tomb and left for three days.”

“Whew, thank goodness somebody knows,” thought the teacher to himself.

But then the student continued, “Then everybody gathers at the tomb and waits to see if Jesus comes out, and if he sees his shadow he has to go back inside and we have six more weeks of winter.”

A cute story. Maybe even a little mean given the length of winter that we have experienced this year – but in many ways there is probably a great deal of truth that we can relate to in these first graders understanding of Easter. In fact, I would argue that there is not one person here today, myself included, who hasn’t felt just a little bit like these kids when trying to explain the resurrection to someone who doesn’t believe.

Author Flannery O’Connor once wrote, “Remember that these things are mysteries and if they are such that we could fully understand them, they wouldn’t be worth understanding. A God you can fully understand would be less than yourself.”

I’m not sure why you are here today. I’m guessing that there are some here who question how it was possible for Jesus to rise from the dead or if in fact an angel did roll the stone of the tomb away as an earthquake occurred on that first Easter morning.

I also guess that there are some sitting here who are more concerned about the ham baking in the oven at home right now than actually participating fully in worship.

Regardless of why you are here or how you are participating – I’m glad you are here. And I give thanks on this day for each person who gathers in worship in the name of the risen savior Jesus Christ to once again hear the story of God’s victory over death – a story heard not only in this place, but around the world on this day.

You see – I don’t know most of you. And I would bet that most of you don’t know many of the people you are sitting with today.
I can’t stand before you on this Easter morning and tell you that I know and understand everything that you are struggling with today, or every disappointment you have faced recently. I can’t tell you that I share in the joy that you have felt recently or how excited you are today because of the success you have achieved recently after working tirelessly toward a goal.

BUT – Even though you and I may never have met before this moment. Even though you and I don’t know or understand or feel or experience everything in exactly the same way. Even though all of that may be true, God’s saving act of life given to you and me in the resurrection, connects us together very deeply and intimately as brothers and sisters today and forever.

The good news of the resurrection is not in the pageantry of the angel’s entrance in front of the tomb in a way that resembles a royal wedding in Great Britain. The good news of the resurrection is God giving us new life – a new life that we share as brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.

Believing in the resurrection isn’t just a matter of believing that a dead body came back to life.

Believing in the resurrection connects us together in the mystery and beauty of the most significant event in the entire history of the world that forever heals the relationships between you and I, and God. The transformation in the resurrection for each one of us who call the risen Jesus Christ our savior and lord, takes us from walking constantly in fear to walking boldly with Christ; away from any darkness we encounter toward light that restores hope; from pain and grief in suffering to joy and confidence that God is always with us; from apathy and complacency in our worship to passionate and spirit filled times where we kneel at the feet of the risen Jesus in worship and praise; from times of death where there seems to be no hope for tomorrow to life that is filled with God’s love that will never end.

Jesus may not have shown us his shadow on that first Easter morning, although who’s to say that the sun wasn’t shining enough for his shadow. What Jesus shows us and what Jesus extends to us is the gift of life. And life in Christ does not end.

We may never have met each other before today. That doesn’t matter in the resurrection. The stone has been rolled away. And because of that, we can confidently call each other sister or brother.
Jesus says to us today, “Do not be afraid; go and tell, … there they will see me.” Brothers and sisters in Christ, go and tell in Bismarck and throughout North Dakota. Go and tell around the United States and across North America. Go and tell in England, the Central African Republic, and Japan. We are connected with these first witnesses to the resurrection in Matthew’s gospel and are called to go and tell. I am filled with thanksgiving and joy today, because God unites us through a savior named Jesus who is walking with us every step of the way. The stone has rolled away…now what? Go and tell. Amen.


Hearing with Eyes Wide Open

Click here to hear the audio recording of this sermon.

John 9:1-41 • April 3, 2011

Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.

Mrs. Smith was stark-naked and just about to step into the shower when the doorbell rang. She hollered, “Who is it?” He shouted back, “It’s the blind man.” She figured it was safe, so she opened the door. He looked at her in shock and asked, “Where do you want me to hang these blinds, ma’m?”

That’s not necessarily the way in which this story in John’s gospel today unfolds, but we’ll see and I’ll let you make that determination for yourself.
There are seven “signs” in John’s gospel that point us toward Jesus and his identity. They are not meant as a means to an end all alone, but meant move us or lead us toward this Jesus in ways that are visible and unlike anything else we experience.

These signs are Jesus turning water into wine in Chapter 2, healing of the royal officials son in chapter 4, healing of the sick man in Bethzatha in chapter 5, Jesus walking on the sea and feeding the 5,000 in chapter 6, raising Lazarus from the dead in chapter 11 – of which we will look at next week. In this week’s text Jesus heals the man who was born blind in chapter 9.

These gospel readings during lent are quite long, so I want to break us out of the mold a little this week and walk through this gospel text scene by scene rather than simply reading it all the way through.

SCENE ONE – Verses 1–7a

A prevailing understanding of sin in Jesus’ day, maybe even still today, is that there must be some relationship to sin and something a person has done. The immediate questions raised by the disciples are “who sinned?” Whose fault is this man’s blindness? Is it his fault or his parent’s?

This man hears the voice of Jesus, has Jesus’ spit and dirt on his face, and the faith to walk to the pool of Siloam to wash as Jesus says. This man had never met Jesus before and I would guess had never thought that being able to see would ever be possible for him. Yet he had enough faith in this stranger to go and wash.

When someone comes to the baptismal font to receive the sacred gift of washing in the waters of Holy Baptism, do we celebrate with them or begin the interrogation and debate over who’s at fault for the sin they bring with them to the font?

SCENE TWO – Verses 7b–12

The man goes as Jesus tells him. Returning to the neighborhood and the beginning of the interrogation. The man doesn’t seem to be shaken by this, he simply says “this one called Jesus did this to me and I do not know where he is now.” He only knows that he was blind a little while ago and now can see. This isn’t an illusion or the man’s stunt double, he is healed.

SCENE THREE – Verses 13–17

The neighborhood can’t figure this out, so they take the man for a second interrogation. This time by the leaders in their community who will know what’s going on. The man seems to be getting a little frustrated with having to tell his story again, so he seems to simplify it a little in the hope that they will understand it then – “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.”

The leaders in the community don’t get it either and are increasingly divided over the whole situation.

SCENE FOUR – Verses 18–23

The leaders don’t believe the man or the fact that he was actually blind, so the need reinforcements. Let’s call in the parents to make sure he isn’t just lying about the whole thing. His parents don’t understand the healing or who did it and seem to be much more concerned with their own standing in the synagogue than the well-being of their son.

SCENE FIVE – Verses 24–34

The blind man has not had a chance yet to celebrate his new freedom from the darkness of being blind from birth. He continues to be subjected to questioning and analysis. The man’s frustrations cause him to get a little irritated and turn the interrogation around. He asks the Pharisees, “Do you also want to become his disciples? If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

Well – that wasn’t very helpful in the debate. It just made everyone even more upset. The fear of being kicked out of the synagogue that the parents had, has just become a reality for the man who once was blind.

SCENE SIX – Verses 35–38

Finally – maybe we’ll get a little clarity in the mess that has taken place here. Jesus, help us out here, please. Three beautiful things happen here. Did you catch them?

First, remember that the blind man only hears Jesus voice and feels his touch. The man wants to celebrate what has happened to him, but after the extreme interrogation that he has just endured that resulted in getting kicked out of the synagogue, he’s not sure what to think or believe. It’s not until now that he sees Jesus. Second, his conversation with Jesus is pretty simple, yet life changing. Third, I think the complete healing for this man comes as Jesus says to him, “You have seen him.” The man’s response is one of worship. Thanksgiving. Belief. Faith.

SCENE SEVEN – Verses 39–41

In the gospel of John, “sin” at its most basic is not recognizing Jesus as the messiah, the one through whom God is at work in the world to save the world. The blind man recognizes Jesus as his savior by hearing his voice and feeling his touch first and then seeing him.

As you and I hear the voice of Jesus this week and feel his healing touch, my hope and prayer is that our response in faith will be one of worship and praise as we proclaim, “Lord, I believe.” Listen and walk faithfully with eyes wide open. Amen.