Unleashing Resurrection-Fueled Hope

Sermon Series: Easter 2019

By: Donnell Wyche – April 21, 2019

We’re so glad you are here with us this morning. We’re grateful for you and the gifts of God that you bring with you into this space. Together we’ve been welcomed into God’s family through Jesus. As we become the people of God and learn how to neighbor, we choose to reflect God’s love in our gratitude, in our joy, and in our generosity as we navigate the complexity of our daily lives. We pray that whether this is your first time with us this morning, or you’ve been a part of our community for a while, that you will feel the invitation of the Holy Spirit to join in with our vision. If you are looking for a church home, we would love to be your church home, and I, in particular would love to become your pastor.

Today is Resurrection Sunday.
As my grandmother Jolethia would say,
He is risen,
He is risen indeed!
He is risen. A simple shorthand to explain so much.

Every Death Buys Something
Last week on Palm Sunday, we entered into the Holy Week story. As Jesus entered Jerusalem from the East gate, the Roman governor of region, Pontius Pilate, entered the city with all the power, authority, and force of the Empire from the West. Neither Jesus not Pilate were very aware of each other, but as the week came to a close, Pilate would become acquainted with Jesus because Pilate would order Jesus’ death: a death usually reserved for those who committed sedition; those who threaten the Pax Romana; the death of a usurper; death on a Roman cross.

From the point of view of the Empire, Jesus was another in a long line of would-be Messiahs, usurpers claiming that their God had anointed them to accomplish something significant. Each usurper in Rome met the same fate: all who followed in their footsteps were executed–a painful, agonizing death, a separation from life and love.

I’ve heard it said that “every death buys something.” We certainly don’t like thinking about death as a currency to obtain something, something that we want or need.

Yet, tangled very deeply within the mystery of the Easter story is a life that was freely given, and a resulting death that seems to buy us something.

Zero-Sum Game

You may already know this story, it’s about the first humans who were planted in a garden by God.

“Adam and his wife, Eve, were both naked, and they felt no shame.” (Genesis 2:25)

Then someone else came along and told them that everything they had been told was a lie. Instead of being planted in this garden and given freedom, authority, and space, and being told that this was very good, an enemy told them that God wasn’t really providing, caring, or loving them, God was really just trying to control them. This enemy described God as a petty god, who was threatened by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, a petty god, who didn’t have their best interest in mind.

In one sense the first humans weren’t really satisfied, they were looking for an upgrade. They were looking for something better, which set them up to believe the enemy’s false claim that they would become like God. Instead of seeing God as the source of life, their desires for something better gets the best of them making them believe that were were in competition with God.

Believing this false report, they decided that they wanted more than what had been given to them. They wanted everything. Since they didn’t believe that they had everything they needed, they took what didn’t belong to them.

And in that act, they start a rebellion.

I call this a rebellion because it describes what we do when we reject God’s provision, love, and care for us, we rebel. We tell God that we know better. We tell God that what God has provided isn’t enough.

When we join with the first humans and participate in the rebellion, we can feel alienated from God because we fail to see God as the source of life.We join with the first humans and believe that we are in competition with God. When we can’t trust God for the fullness of life, that means that we are on our own, we have to determine our own worth, significance, and security.

When we join with the rebellion, we tell God that God is no longer needed to sustain our life. We establish ourselves as the sole determiner of what is right or wrong, what is good or bad, what is true or false, we make it clear we have no need for the Creator God in our lives.

When we participate in the rebellion, we experience a broken relationship with each other, we see this clearly as the first humans fail to take responsibility for their actions and start to blame each other.

It’s your fault, God. (You gave me this woman.)
It’s her fault.
It’s the enemy’s fault.

We pit ourselves against everyone else because we falsely believe that we need to fend for ourselves. This leads us to develop an “Us vs. The World” mentality, and the world be damned if it means that we are in danger of losing something.

We are so driven by the fear of rejection, being ridiculed, failure, being wrong, and being taken advantage of that we abort who we are and how God sees us, as human beings, and become something distorted: human doings, defined not by who we are, but by what we do, what we can acquire, what we can get especially from others. All of this drives us to strive to scrape up a morsel of worth, love, significance, and security from where ever we can find it.

When we join with the first humans and participate in the rebellion, we experience a death – while it is true that the first humans didn’t die immediately after taking what didn’t belong to them, they did start to experience the effects of death. The first death they experienced was a death in their relationship with God, which caused them to become afraid of God, to flee from him, and experience shame in his presence.

We fear death the most because we believe that the universe and everything within it is operating around this idea of a zero-sum game. This is the idea that my gains come at the expense of your losses. When we live life through this prism, we are stunted, we don’t get all the resources and nutrients that we need to grow, thrive, and flourish. We live like weeds, choking others of life because we fear that all we have is all there is.

If my gains come at your expense, then I can’t see you sharing in my humanity. I can’t see you as my neighbor, my friend, or even as my lover, you, like God, are just my competition and since only one of us will survive, it might as well be me, right!

We become self-centered, greedy, willing to lie, steal, and cheat to protect ourselves, our image of ourselves, and our stuff. These are the fruits of the rebellion.

Disappointed, but not defeated, God, turns his face in love toward the humanity that has just rejected him. As a sign that God still has a purpose for them, God provides clothes for their shame–a foreshadowing of the innocence that will be lost to restore humanity again. God protects them by exiling them from the garden so that they wouldn’t live forever in their rebellious state. As the first humans start their exile, their future is uncertain, but there’s hope. There is always hope!

It’s Not the End, It’s Just the Beginning 
Into the fog of broken peace, Jesus proclaimed what we all wanted to hear: that’s God’s favor was reversing what was lost in the rebellion, that the Lord’s favor was breaking in… with freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight to the blind, that the oppressed would be oppressed no more… that God’s kingdom was finally coming… it was breaking in, not with condemnation, no, we already knew we were condemned, we only need to look at our brokenness within our selves (our anger, fear, lust, pride, greed, envy, and apathy) and within our relationships with others to realize this!.. No, Jesus was coming to save the world and us in it… this was Good News….

“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16-17)

Anyone joining the story at the end would be forgiven for assuming that Jesus had failed in God’s rescue mission, finding himself in need of rescuing.

Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:39-40)

The hopes of the people of God seemed to die along with Jesus.

We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. (Luke 24:21)

In John’s account of the crucifixion, Jesus is just dead. There’s nothing in John’s account of Good Friday to give you hope. Because no one imagined that salvation would come through death on a cross. Jesus on Good Friday, was just another person executed by a religious-political machine. By Empire.

Yet, it is on the cross that Jesus wages battle with the powers unleashed in the rebellion: sin, death, and evil. While many in Israel were hoping for a battle, they expected very different set of actors.

Jesus’ disciples had visions of the righteous taking up arms against the godless. This is often a repeated battle cry, God defeat our enemies! We cry out because we misunderstand what God is trying to accomplish in us. Jesus doesn’t join the Empire and use military or political power. Jesus doesn’t join the Empire and use force or status. Jesus doesn’t join the Empire and use might or coercion to defeat evil, sin, and death. Instead, on the cross and under the curse, Jesus takes on the full force of cosmic evil, and in so doing exhausts its power. For Jesus, the battle would not be won by killing the enemy, but in allowing himself to be killed, to give up his life on the cross.

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13)

His act of surrender forever enthroned the rule of love.

“For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:19)

Here Jesus takes the sin and brokenness of the world, the fruits of the rebellion, on himself so that the world might be healed. He dies, nailed to a Roman cross taking on our shame, guilt, and punishment, creating a way for us to restore our broken relationship with God. In his act of self-less love, Jesus exposes the lie that the world and universe is some kind of zero-sum game. No longer would humanity have to fear death. That’s over too. Jesus declared it so, “It is finished” (John 19:30). With his death, Jesus opened a new way for us to enter the very presence of God.

His death isn’t the end of the story, let’s push in…

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. (John 20:1)

It was the first day of the week and it was dark. Does that sound familiar?, it should! It’s the beginning of the creation narrative, where we find the earth unproductive, empty and dark.

John is setting the stage for us, darkness on the first morning of a new week.

He is invoking our memory, he wants us to see something, he wants us to understand something. “This is important, God’s about to do something… don’t miss it!” Not all is lost. Though it seems that there is no reason to hope, keep hope alive.

…the earth was unproductive, empty and dark… and the Spirit of God was hovering of the waters. (Genesis 1:2)

Just as the Spirit of God hovered over the waters before creation, God’s Spirit is at work again.

John is setting us up for a big explosion, similar to the first words of the first speaker in this grand story. Life is about burst onto the scene were there was no life.

Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”

At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary.” (John 20:11-16)

Where does Mary have her first encounter with the resurrected Jesus? In a garden. John wants us to think of the Garden of Eden and of humanity’s original task, which was to care for this garden. Who does Mary confuse Jesus with?

The gardener–John is going to great pains to make the comparison. The gardener is back in his garden with his creation again.

Just as Adam stood as the first human of the old world, Jesus now stands at the gate of the new world, the first of the new creation. Jesus isn’t dead, Jesus is echoing something that God says in Revelation, “Look here! I’m making all things new!”

Behold, I’m Making All Things New – Whee

The only time we hear from God in Revelation is when God declares,

“Look here! I am making all things new!” Revelation 21:5

There’s this invitation from God for us to see the Resurrection, what we are here to celebrate today, Easter, in another light. Easter isn’t the happy ending of the Gospel story, it’s deeper than that, Easter ushers in a new reality, where all things are being made new.

The good is the age to come is breaking into our present reality, if we let it. This is what it means to follow Jesus into life through death.

But, if we continue to live in the old age, the age of death, we won’t live free, we will continue to be bound up by death, by the limitations of the “age of death,” by the fear and scheming, and won’t experience the full life that Jesus promised us.

No fear. No shame. No death. Yeah!
When we accept the universe as a zero-sum game, all we have is infinite sorrow.

But — God acted on Easter, the resurrection is the breakthrough that forever opens the universe to possibility of life, and, if we allow it, drains our fear!

This is good news!

We don’t have to be afraid.

God invites us into life, a new kind of life, resurrected life.

We take hold of his salvation by doing what Peter instructs us to do:

“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)

We take hold of the salvation that Jesus won for us on the cross, when we surrender our allegiance to sin and death. We reject their twin claims on our life and turn our back on them. And we have to die. When Jesus call us, he calls us to come and die.

We enter the kingdom through our baptism. For it is in the waters of baptism (where the spirits hovers) we die. In that bold act of surrender, we break solidarity with sin and death; we change our status and we enter the kingdom of God.

The life of a follower of Jesus is a life of ongoing transformation. Setting aside the old life and the patterns of this present age, living instead with the promise of the age to come. We entrust ourselves to the ongoing work of the Spirit who is transforming us into new creations in Christ. Behold, I’m making all things new!