Easter Sunday 4-16-17, Acts 10:34,37-43, Psalm 118, Colossians 3:1-4, John 20: 1-9
Ending the Fear of Futility, Failure and Finality
He is risen! He is risen indeed! This is it -the highpoint- indeed the reason for the Christian faith. After all, those who opposed Jesus’ message long ago saw the crucifixion and death of Jesus as a way to stop the growth of this strange renewal of the Jewish faith. But his death was followed by resurrection, and everything changed. It is a day of celebration, amazement, of remembering and claiming promises of life after death and a close, personal unity with God.
American Christians today struggle not against an oppressive Roman Empire, but against the promises and the amazement growing stale and feeling irrelevant; and this struggle occurs against a background of a chicks-and-bunnies-focused society – symbols of fertility borrowed, interestingly enough, from that same oppressive Roman Empire.
So, we must ask, “How do these readings apply to the world that awaits us as we leave here today? “How can our faith be faithfully and accurately interpreted into a hip-hop world? It’s not always easy. But for today, we can find 3 points of the Easter story that truly do make direct contact with our lives: the fight against Futility, Failure, and Finality.
Futility is a widespread problem today. Research says close to 40% of Americans say they don’t think there is a God. Instead people put their “faith” into clothes and cars and jobs and houses and social status – and substance abuse. This approach to life is pretty futile. According to the Center for Disease Control, the US suicide rate increased 24% during the last 15 years, with the rate of yearly increase doubling since 2006. Suicide is now the leading cause of death in teens and young adults. Heroin overdose deaths have increased 45% in 4 years. It is called, “Death by Despair”- lives based in futility.
The Easter story is about a risen Jesus, who lives. But it is also about the personal decisions of people like Mary Magdalene and the disciples of Jesus who saw the truth of God, who witnessed healing and resurrection, who chose to believe, who learned their efforts were not futile, and who found value in their lives and their actions – beyond stuff & society. They created a new cultural importance in the actions of individuals. This has opened a way of life that is filled with joy and certainty, even in the midst of hardship and suffering. Life has become victorious over death. We must live and share this truth! Easter people show their joy, the goodness of life shines thru them. Even in difficult times, they can show love to the unlovable.
Then there is Failure. We, for the most part, live in a world where people don’t just fail, but they crash and burn, drowning in a sea of negativity on Facebook; they are crushed in the media.
Forgiveness and new beginnings are what the Easter story brings; Peter is not only reinstated as a disciple but in the Book of Acts he becomes a fearless and powerful preacher of the Word. The women at the tomb were broken and grieving; they had put their money, their reputation, and their lives into supporting Jesus, and thought it was all a failure. Jesus and angels came to tell them otherwise. Jesus came to the scene of the disciples’ lackluster attempt to return to fishing and put the Spirit’s fire back into their hearts. Jesus picks them up, dusts them off and, by his presence, gives them new certainty and determination.
Easter people go way beyond the lukewarm, “Don’t worry about it,” and offer real forgiveness. They see pureness in the jumbled brokenness in people. The Easter church needs to be the place where failure can be embraced with forgiveness and love, where doubt and fear can accept truth, where our presence and support are available for those oppressed by failure.
Then there is finality. Jesus always left the door open for people. He offered choices. He did not reject people, but probed their motivations and offered alternatives. Even after his resurrection and Ascension, he said he would return. He did not leave us without the Holy Spirit to guide and comfort. There is no end to God’s love.
Finality is one of the main reasons I am in ministry. To know that our lives are important to the One who created us – makes a difference. Knowing that the transience of the material world is not to be feared, frees me to put my time and effort into people, not product. I can find value in how life really is, without the glitter. I find significance in the ritual of a holy, shared meal because time and finality do not exist in the realm of an Easter faith. I don’t need my name engraved on a brass plaque, for my eternity will be found in union with God and in the love of God I share with God’s people.
The Easter church thinks in terms of eternity, so personality differences and petty disagreements shrink in importance. When we can keep in touch with Jesus’ humility, it becomes natural to treat others as more important than ourselves. When we can operate out of that humility, our lives move people to want the faith we have and we get to share our joy with them.
In the weeks ahead, each of us will have opportunities to silence the fears of futility, failure and finality. May the Spirit of the Risen Christ lead you to bring hope, joy and love to all you meet.