My God ... and Your God

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=MsoNormal style='margin-bottom:0cm;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal'>May only God’s truth and Grace be spoken and only God’s Truth and Grace be heard – in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – Amen 

Martin Marty, an editor and publisher of many things had a newsletter called "Context," and tells this true story:

"His classmates noted that eight-year-old Stephen's mental impairment was becoming even more manifest.

In April, the Sunday School teacher asked all eight children in his class to hide within an empty Leggs pantyhose container one small object that represented the new life in spring.

I don’t know if they still have Leggs pantyhose and if they are still in those ostrich egg shaped plastic containers

But I certainly remember them from my childhood – I think that my Grandma might have bought that brand just for us kids to have the eggs to play with

Back to the story…Fearing that Stephen might not have caught on, the teacher had the children place all unlabeled containers on the table so that he could open them.

The first had a tiny flower. 'What a lovely sign of new life!'

The donor could not help but erupt, 'I brought that one.'

A butterfly flew from the second container, and another child bragged that her choice was the best sign of all.

The third Leggs container was empty.

'It has to be Stephen's,' thought the teacher, reaching quickly for the forth.

But, 'Please, don't skip mine,' Stephen interjected.

'But it's empty.'

'That's right,' said Stephen, 'the tomb was empty, and that's new life for everyone.'

"That summer Stephen's condition worsened and he died.

At his funeral on his casket mourners found eight Leggs containers… now all empty! [1]

23Jesus told them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12:23-24)  

When I have an empty stomach, it’s an inconvenience to my day

I need to grab a bite and it is either a can of soup or out I go to fast food restaurant – if I don’t I will have my stomach continually reminding me that it feels empty

When my car’s gas tank becomes empty,

It always seems that fuel prices have just taken another jump

And like any preacher, I don’t enjoy looking out from the pulpit and seeing empty pews

Oddly enough, however, the best news in history is: … “It’s empty!”

On Easter morning the tomb where Jesus was laid was found empty.

The stone had been rolled away, the body of Jesus Christ was gone, and the news of his resurrection began to spread from that moment on.

The women who were the first witnesses of this miracle ran to share the story.

The Church of Jesus Christ has been “running on empty” ever since.[2]

So on this day, brothers and sisters in Christ – fellow empty tombers - when I say:  

“Halleluiah – The Lord has Risen”

            You respond with “He has risen indeed”

This timeless call and response has been with the church for countless years and it is for Easter - the occasion of the greatest celebration

We are not glass half full or glass half empty people

– We are ones that celebrate that it is completely empty!

Christmas is for calendar makers the pivot point in history

            Easter is when the significance of the incarnation reaches its climax – its victory!

                        Today is the highest point in the whole year, for us Christians

                                    It is truly a dramatic day – it is a day of transformation

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

            55 “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”

            57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:54b,55,57)

Charles Dickens' celebrated Christmas Carol is a Christmas story only in its setting;

In theme it is actually an Easter Carol, because it describes the resurrection of a dead soul.

Scrooge was as mean and selfish an old miser as it is possible to imagine;

His heart was cold to every generous impulse and kindly emotion.

He was living in the night — the time when ghosts, like the ghost of Christmas past, come to one.

But in the course of the story he is led to see how hateful a being he has become,

And in the end his old soul dies and a new soul rises within him.

Scrooge is led from night to day and the difference is as different as night and day.

Scrooge inhabits the same body, but he is no longer the same person.

Instead of being a withered old miser – he is a kind-hearted, charitable gentleman.

And this is clearly a story which illustrates the truth of Easter.[3]

Another big break-through at the break of dawn occurred to a newspaper reporter a few years ago.

They hold Easter sunrise service each year on the rim of the Grand Canyon and this particular reporter was assigned to cover the event.

He was not especially noted for his religious fervor.

It was below freezing and he stood there is the pre-dawn darkness shivering dolefully, wishing himself back in bed.

"But," he later wrote, "as the sun rose and light poured into that stupendous chasm, I forgot all about being cold.

One moment everything was gray and formless. Then came a flood of radiance, torrents of light plunging down the canyon walls, making them blaze with color, dissolving the blackness.

Watching the shadows vanish, I had the conviction that the darkness that had filled the great gorge was an illusion, that only the light was real, and that we silent watchers on the canyon rim were somehow a part of the light. …

He continues “I have listened to sermons and read about religion, but for the first time in my life I felt I had made contact with the spirit called God."[4]

There’s a lovely old legend that tells of the priest who found a branch of a thorn tree twisted around so that it resembled a crown of thorns.

Thinking it a symbol of the crucifixion, he placed it on the altar in his chapel on Good Friday.

Early on Easter morning he remembered what he had done. Feeling it was not appropriate for Easter Sunday, he hurried into the church to clear it away before the congregation came.

But when he went into the church, he found the thorn branches blossoming with beautiful roses… He was confronted with life.[5]

This morning’s sermon is a collection of stories – and there are a few more still to come

            I tell you this because all of us come to Easter morning with a different story

                        All of us meet the dawn of new light – the risen Son – feel and meet God in a different way

And God, in turn, responds differently to each one of us

The gospel of John, which we have for Easter each year, reveals people coming to Jesus in very personal and unique ways

Some people will see and just believe like the beloved disciple – but no two are the same, see how others in John’s Gospel choose to believe … John is always dealing out options

1.      Peter ran to the tomb and yet even seeing it empty did not understanding that morning – and previously failing with the cock crowing three times and then later received grace on the beach

2.      Nicodemus who wants to believe, yet is confused and questions in the secret of the night but ultimately assists in the burial of Jesus with the highest respect – with the tomb that he purchased and was never used before

3.      Pilate who doesn’t want to make a decision

4.      The man born blind who becomes a follower

5.      The religious leaders who, because their establishment is threatened, refuse to see the signs

6.      The woman at the well, who believes after a significant personal revelation – and then is transformed both in trust and her place in the community

7.      Thomas who finally makes the great confession

·         All these great options to belief

o   Some will believe instantly

o   others through personal revelations and miracles

o   others still gradually

o   others even still faced with all the reports of Jesus, will still go on in unbelief to protect what they have always known

Consider for yourself – how you came to this Easter morning?

            Is it exactly like anyone else?

Would all the circumstances that bring you here today match anyone exactly?

Consider further , when was it when you first came to believe and trust in Jesus Christ

– Your first Easter moment – is it exactly like anybody else?

I suspect if we look at enough details we will see that God has met each and every one of us in a special way… just for us

Look at how John tells the story of Mary – How Mary has come that Easter morning 2000 years ago bringing with her, her own expectations – her own understanding of God

            And she is asked a major question

“Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?”

With John there is always the double entendre – Mary is of course looking for the wrong Jesus, the dead body Jesus

Mary has brought with her the cultural expectations of how to properly deal with a dead body

Mary has come to that morning with a sense that “all is lost”

                        Mary came with deep mourning in her heart

The empty tomb in that moment was for Mary an even more painful sting heaped upon a tragic situation

                        But, it is transformed in a word… her name

There is a song by the band U2 called “Grace”

It is a beautiful even tender song as Bono, the lead singer, gently tells of God’s love – of God’s grace

                        Listen to some of the lyrics

Grace, she takes the blame

She covers the shame

Removes the stain…

What once was hurt

What once was friction

What left a mark

No longer stings...

Because Grace makes beauty…Out of ugly things

Grace finds beauty in everything - It's also a thought that, changed the world

                                    I think you will agree that this is an Easter song

As most of you know we have a daughter named Grace, and there is another lyric in the song

                        Grace... It's a name for a girl

And once our Grace was old enough to understand, I would play this song often … and it became her song

            Now, she needs to hear only the opening few beats and her face lights up,

                        It is beautiful to see that moment when she recognizes HER song

Imagine the moment when Mary Magdalene recognizes her song when Jesus calls out her Name

            This detail captures for us a wonderful moment which we have read each Easter

It is the wonderful moment of Mary’s first Easter –when she first believed

Jesus sings different songs to different people that come to believe throughout the Gospel of John

The song that will turn their head, which will bring them to believe

Personal songs deep in relationship

Jesus calls us to a relationship of intimacy that provides everything that we could need

            And we come to God with vastly different wants and desires

                        Jesus asked Mary “Whom are you looking for?”

Who are we looking for in the Jesus of our imaginations?

When I was growing up, I thought “Hosanna” was interchangeable with "Hallelujah" as if it were a shout of praise for God.

And I didn’t realise until later in life the significance that for Lent the church give up its Hallelujahs

Rather than a word of praise, "hosanna" is a word of pleading. It means, "Save us now!"

But save us from what?

The Jews in Jesus' day, that triumphal moment which we celebrated last week of Palm Sunday, were looking for freedom.

They were looking for a king who would usher in the golden days of centuries gone by.

They were looking for a time when Israel would be securely self-governed and their nation would be respected.

They were seeking justice in an unjust time.

Today, this Easter morning, how have you come to meet the Lord - what do you need to be saved from?

Busyness? Addiction? A sense of meaninglessness?

Who in our community is crying "Hosanna!" – “Save us Now!” - as they face injustice and a sense that those in power don't care about them?

Jesus' entry into Jerusalem signals a new kingdom is on its way. Justice is coming. Salvation is near. Jesus will save us an all who cry, "Hosanna!"

And today, we can take our greatest pride in Christ and declare the response to Hosanna

            Today we bring out the Hallelujahs which in Hebrew means a joyous praise in song, to boast in God

                        Today as Jesus rose from the grave and won the victory over death

                                    We too share in that victory as Jesus declared to Mary

'I am ascending to my Father and YOUR Father… and to my God and YOUR God.' (John 20:17)

So whether you met God in the sun rising and filling the Grand canyon - or with thorns turned into bloom – or in the calling of your name – or saw and believed – or had grace meet you on the beach – or by the visitation of the ghosts of your life – or by understanding the victory of an empty container

            By whatever means – grand – or simple – Hallelujah The Lord has Risen – He has risen indeed

                        Thanks be to my God and YOUR God – Amen & Hallelujah!


[1] Illustration Sourcebank – Series II # 2141, NEW LIFE, EASTER

[2] Upper Room Devotional – Sunday March 25th

[3] Illustration Sourcebank – Series II # 2164, EASTER, RESURRECTION

[4] Illustration Sourcebank – Series II # 1587, EASTER, ENLIGHTENMENT— from sermon "The Sound of Silence" by G. Harris

[5] Illustration Sourcebank – Series II # 2599, LIFE, EASTER

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