WHY DOES EASTER MATTER?

April 15, 2001

Easter Sunday!!!

Congressman David Obey of Wisconsin tells the story about the late Senator Hubert Humphrey and Federal Judge Miles Lord.

Humphrey and Lord were on a fishing trip in Northern Minnesota. While at a sporting goods store, the Judge noticed a tour bus from California that was broken down outside the store.

Feeling a bit mischievous, he went out and introduced himself as the mayor of the town. He told them he was sorry about their plight; if there was anything that he could for them, just come by his office.

Then he set a trap for Senator Humphrey. He told them that there was an old-timer in town who looked, talked, and acted like Senator Humphrey. The poor fellow even thought that he was Senator Humphrey.

Judge Lord told the people that this man would probably pay them a visit and masquerade as the senator. He asked the tourists to be kind to this confused man and humor him. He warned them not to give him money, but assured him that he was harmless.

Lord then returned to the store and told the Senator that there was a busload of tourists who wanted to meet him. Hubert Humphrey loved people and immediately entered the bus to meet his admirers. Upon his return, Judge Lord asked him how it went. He told the judge that he shook hands with everyone on the bus.

With a puzzled look on his face he told his friend that he just did not understand those California people. Every time he shook one of their hands, that person would turn to the other and they would all giggle.

Appearances can be not only deceiving but also altered, can’t they?

We live in a time with a thing called ‘virtual reality’ which allows us to experience events that we could either not afford or be able to do.  For example, last summer I entered a place called NASCAR Experience at a fairly new mall in the Grand Rapids area.

This shop is designed solely to allow an individual to experience the type of action that your favorite NASCAR driver does only more cheaply and more safely.

They are small places with 10 small-scale replicas of NASCAR machines. You pay a reasonable fee, something like $7.00, go through an orientation, then pick your machine, climb in, strap in and get ready for a race.

The cars act like the real thing from the rumble of the idling engines to the sudden bump of hitting a wall.

I had a wonderful spot on the starting grid. I got away cleanly (I used the automatic transmission feature) and was in the top 10 for several laps. And then it happened; somebody hit me, and caused me to lose my place.

From that point on I would start gaining on the field only to be hit again and again and out of twenty places finish 18th. But, do you know what? There were only about 10 machines in the store. The remaining 10 drivers were computer simulation.

And only one of us driving in that particular store made the top ten. The rest? They were all the computer simulators.

Now it’s fun to do such things and there are a lot of clean and wonderful things to do with modern technology. To the point that reality gets to be, well, rather dull. But there lies the problem.

Reality becomes easy to escape from – but only for a while. Then reality somehow sneaks its way back into our lives and we have to face it.

Reality hit home to the disciples that Friday night when Jesus was laid to rest. The one that had loved them, performed miracles by delivering people who were without hope, and taught them some amazing things, was gone. Dead.

I have always wondered what the Saturday after Good Friday was like for the followers of Jesus. What did they do? Where did they go? What were they thinking? What were they experiencing?

Reality has a way of taking the joy right out of our hearts. But, this is Resurrection Sunday!

Reality was forever changed when Jesus Christ walked out of the tomb where he had been buried. And human existence would never be the same again!

Not only do we live in a time of ‘virtual reality’ we also live in a time of something called ‘pluralism.’ What does that mean?

Well for one it means that Christianity can no longer rely on its status as the ruling faith of America. Yes, Christianity still dominates our religious landscape but it is now challenged by other faiths in ways that few of us would have ever imagined.

Now we can get upset about this loss of prestige and blame the government for the problem or, we can perhaps begin to rely on the power of God to help us be the people of God.

Now the reason that I have mentioned ‘virtual reality’ and pluralism is that both leave us with an empty and confused feeling. For all the hype and glossy ads and big promises of ‘feeling one with the universe’ or the ability to enjoy the high of reality without the responsibilities of it, we are empty. We are dissatisfied with our life in general and our lives in particular.

The result of this dissatisfaction is that we ask a lot of ‘why’ questions, one of which is the title of my sermon this morning, “Why does Easter matter?”

(OVERHEAD UP)

I Corinthians 15, which begins on page 815 in the black pew Bibles and on page1732 in the green pew Bibles, is a very important chapter on the importance of Jesus Christ’s resurrection because it provides very important reasons why Easter does matter.

I encourage you to read the entire chapter but I am going to focus on only three verses this morning, verse 14, 17, and 19:

(OVERHEADS UP)

And if Christ was not raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your trust in God is useless.

And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless, and you still are under condemnation for your sins.

And if we have hope in Christ only for this life, then we are the most miserable people in the world.

What is Paul saying? (OVERHEAD UP)

He is saying that without the reality of the Christ’s resurrection, our trust is useless, our faith is useless, and ultimately our lives our useless. But, that is not true because Jesus did come back to life so that we can come to life as God created us to live.

To understand the importance of the resurrection and what it means for us today I want us to look at the role of trust, faith, and hope and compare what the other major faiths have to say regarding them.

During a retirement party for Larry Bird in the old Boston Garden, former Celtics coach KC Jones told of diagramming a play on the sidelines, only to have Bird dismiss it, saying,” Get the ball to me and get everyone out of the way.” Jones responded, “I’m the coach, and I call the plays.” Then Jones turned to the other players and said, “Get the ball to Larry and get out of his way.”

Jones trusted Bird’s judgment enough to tell the team to give the ball to Larry and get out of his way. In life, as well as in sports, trust is a vital element.

We trust that our cars will get us to where we are going. We trust that the seats that we sit on are going to hold us. We trust that the preacher will be done in time so that we can get to dinner and the NASCAR race on TV this afternoon.

All of us need to have an element of trust in our lives. But, when that trust is broken it sure is hard to give it again.

But the other faiths of the world show little evidence of trust in God for salvation. For example, (OVERHEAD UP)

In the Islamic tradition trust is placed in our good deeds we have to perform to obtain our salvation. But what Paul says is that because of what Christ has done, we can trust God for our salvation. We can trust God to forgive us and help us on the right path to Him. Our good deeds are the evidences of that trust.

In one of the daily news e-mail columns I get was an article entitled, “Ex-Moslems Explain ‘Why I Chose Jesus’ “

A new study reveals why some 600 ex-Moslems decided to leave Islam to follow Jesus, even in the face of heavy persecution, sacrifice and death threats.

According to Professor Dudley Woodberry, who teaches at Fuller Theological Seminary in California and conducted the study, the most important reasons were as follows:  “Many were attracted by the certainty of salvation in Jesus … He does not retaliate, is humble, loves the poor and outcasts; the power of His love is unique, and one can enter a relationship with Him, completely different to Islam.

Woodberry goes on to say that other reasons were that “Christians are the only people who really work for justice for the poor and repressed; Christians’ unconditional love, and their peaceful and contented aura are very noticeable.”  “Also,” he noted, “a number of ex-Moslems had supernatural experiences which were decisive in their finding Christ.”

If Christ did not rise from the dead, then how could we explain the noticeable peaceful and contented aura that these ex-Muslims saw in the Christians they have encountered?

One of our astronauts lay strapped into his capsule, ready to be launched, when a reporter asked via radio: “How do you feel?”

“How would you feel, “replied the astronaut, “If you were sitting on top of 150,000 parts, each supplied by the lowest bidder?”

Closely linked to trust is faith. Hebrews 11:1-2 says, “What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see. God gave his approval to people in days of old because of their faith.”

What do you believe in? In what do you place your confident assurance?

The historic place of assurance in the Christian faith is in what Jesus Christ did from Good Friday to Easter – died on the cross, was buried, and rose again.

But, many people today place their faith in a lot of things other that God through Christ to. Material things, power, wealth, and education are often cited as the way to a better life.

We need education to live a better life. God gave us a mind to use and develop and a good education is a plus. But life is more than learning the facts. There is a character dimension to our lives that no amount of book learning can improve on by itself. It needs to be connected to a higher power, if you will.

We need a good home, a reliable car, and money to live. I Timothy 5:8 says, But those who won’t care for their own relatives, especially those living in the same household, have denied what we believe. Such people are worse than unbelievers. These are things that we need to provide for our families. But, there is more to life than these things.

What do other faiths have to say about the source and aim of faith?

(OVERHEAD UP)

Eastern faiths such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism reject a personal reality that Islam, Judaism, and Christianity accept. However Islam and Judaism do not believe in the Trinity.

Now a key question is raised: What are these faiths supposed to do for us in the reality of every day life? This is where the issue of salvation comes in. How are we saved from our flaws, our failures, what the Bible calls our sins?

(OVERHEAD UP)

The main views of these other faiths can basically be in summed up in two different, yet similar words: annihilation and DETACHMENT.

Regarding salvation one branch of Buddhism says salvation is annihilation of any existence. I call this spiritual suicide. Hinduism sees reality as an illusion and the purpose of salvation is to detach yourself from it and merge with the impersonal reality of the universe and become one with it.

At this point I want to ask a question, “What about the issue of personal responsibility?” It seems according to this line of thought there is no need or requirement for personal responsibility.  Life is an illusion so there is no right or wrong? You have good and bad. A good karma or a bad karma that, according to these faiths, are already set in place so you have to live many lives before you can get it right.

But what about the guilt and the shame that we experience, what about the freedom that we have found when we have allow God to forgive us of our sins; what do we say to the reality of these things?

Maybe one the reasons these other faiths are so attractive is that they can logically move us to a place where personal responsibility is no longer an issue. May be the reason that Christianity is so hard to swallow, especially on Easter Sunday, is that we are forced to confront the truth about ourselves – that we are in need of a repair from the inside out. That we need something or someone to help us with our struggles with anger, depression, lust, jealousy, envy, rage, addictions, and a whole host of other things that we cannot change without outside intervention.

One of the characters in the movie, Toy Story, is Buzz Lightyear, a new toy to Andy’s room. Buzz is an astronaut, with a lot of neat things attached to him.

Buzz comes into the other toys’ lives thinking that there are no other Buzz Lightyears around. He is the only one.

Woody, a cowboy toy, and Andy’s favorite tries to convince him that he is only a toy not the character that he says he is.

Well in the course of the story, Buzz and Woody find themselves next door at Sid’s house, a little boy who likes to blow-up toys. During an attempted escape Buzz runs into a room in which we find Sid’s dad sound asleep in a chair with a beer in his hand and the TV on.

Buzz walks into the room at the very moment an Al’s Toy Barn commercial comes on about Buzz Lightyear’s on sale! As he watches the commercial he begins to realize that he is not who he thinks that he is.

He walks out of the room in a state of shock and dismay to the top of the upstairs landing. He deploys his wings, and in what turns out to be a final attempt at trying to prove that he is Buzz Lightyear by trying to fly.

He sails into the air, at first thinking he can, and then as the action is placed in slow motion you watch the expression on his face change to a grimness that fades as he does to the bottom of the landing.

As he lands, one of his arms comes off and the camera pulls back to a shot of Buzz lying there on one of the bottom steps and looking at this other arm on another step. He is broken and he cannot fix himself.

One of the painful realities of life is that we cannot fix ourselves nor, despite the illusion that we can, fix one another. We are broken; we are in need of a repair that we cannot make.

Paul said, “ And if we have hope in Christ only for this life, then we are the most miserable people in the world.” What did he mean?

He meant that this life is not all there is. Because Jesus Christ did come back to life, because one day there will be a resurrection of the dead, there is hope for us now!

The hope is not in us, but in God through Christ who by his crucifixion and resurrection can bring changes to our lives that are real and that do work. Changes that can help us deal with our pain and disappointments. Changes that can help us walk through those moments of fear, anxiety, pain, and disappointment as well as through the joys and triumphs as well.

Can Buddha do that? Can Allah do that? Can our kismet, our fate, do that? NO!

Easter matters for the following reasons:

(OVERHEAD UP)

First of all God understands the challenges of reality. I Corinthians 10:13 says, “But remember that the temptations that come into your life are no different than what other experience. And God is faithful. He will keep the temptation from become so strong that you can’t stand up against it. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you will not give in to it.”

Can Buddha do this? Do we have a karma that allows us to do this? NO! The Christian faith is the only faith in which its God can identify with the human race because He, not it, existed on this earth as a perfect human being for a period of time. None, none of the other faiths, as far as I have been able to determine, can say that. They are about denial and escapism. They are fatalistic; they are hopeless and demanding. Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life!” The Christian faith is about life. Easter Sunday is about life. God is about life!

Second, God understands our humanity and all of its needs. A verse closely related to I Corinthians 10:13 is Hebrews 4:14-15: That is why we have a great High Priest who has gone to heaven, Jesus the Son of God. Let us cling to him and never stop trusting. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same temptations we do, yet he did not sin.

Once again I ask, “Did Buddha do this?” “Are we equipped with a Karma that allows us to do this?” “Did Allah die for us?” NO! The Christian faith is the only faith that I have been able to determine faces the reality of the human condition head on with out glossing it over and tells us that there is hope! That there is forgiveness! That we don’t have to live with guilt and shame; that there is a God that we can trust; that there is a faith in someone that is real and is there for us; that life can be and is wonderful with God involved.

The High Priest mentioned in this passage was responsible for going to God on behalf of the people to seek forgiveness for their sins. You and I could not do what the High Priest did. You and I could not go into the Holy of Holies in the temple and sacrifice an animal to God seeking forgiveness.

A week ago Friday night about 25 of us from this congregation went to the “Living Cross” at Calvary Chapel in Ft Wayne. At the moment in the presentation that Jesus died, a fire red firework went sizzling above our heads like a dart and ‘split’ the veil in two.

In Matthew 27:51 we read, “At that moment the curtain (or veil) was torn in two from top to bottom.” In other words, no longer were sacrifices necessary for us to obtain forgiveness. The old way was gone. A new way to God was available.

But there was one other thing about that production that made realize the importance of this time of the year – Jesus’ care for others by giving them hope, healing, and forgiveness.

The miracles that were re-enacted were about people who often were down to their last straw. God intervened in their lives.

Can Buddha do that? Is Muhammad able to deliver us? Can we break free of our bad Karma and be truly free? NO!

But God through Christ did! And because He did, we can overcome defeat, despair, and death! And that is why Easter matters! Amen!

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