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Sermon for Sunday 15 April 2018

FIRST READING Acts 3:11-21

11While {the man who had been healed} clung to Peter and John, all the people, utterly astounded, ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s. 12And when Peter saw it he addressed the people: “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk? 13The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. 14But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. 16And his name — by faith in his name — has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all. 17And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. 18But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. 19Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, 20that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, 21whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.”


PSALM Psalm 4

1Answer me when I call, O God, defender of my cause; you set me free when I am hard-pressed; have mercy on me and hear my prayer. 2“You mortals, how long will you dishonor my glory; how long will you worship dumb idols and run after false gods?” 3Know that the Lord does wonders for the faithful; when I call upon the Lord, he will hear me. 4Tremble, then, and do not sin; speak to your heart in silence upon your bed. 5Offer the appointed sacrifices and put your trust in the Lord. 6Many are saying, “Oh, that we might see better times!” Lift up the light of your countenance upon us, O Lord. 7You have put gladness in my heart, more than when grain and wine and oil increase. 8I lie down in peace; at once I fall asleep; for only you, Lord, make me dwell in safety.



1See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. 4Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. 7Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.


GOSPEL Luke 24:36-49

36As {the eleven disciples and those who were gathered with them} were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” 37But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. 38And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate before them. 44Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”



I know I’ve shared this with some of you before. One of the things I remember most about my maternal grandmother was her baking. Grandma Hargis loved to bake. Anytime there was a family gathering, grandma would bake everyone their favorite pie. And most times at Thanksgiving, there would be a dozen or more pies sitting in the kitchen. That’s not to say that grandma wasn’t a good cook, she also knew her way around a frying pan. I mean the chickens in the chicken coup shuttered every time they heard her get out that old cast iron skillet! As a kid, I can remember the wonderful smells that came from that old ranch house anytime she was cooking. Besides those wonderful pies, the thing I think I remember most about her cooking, was what the family called her Cathead biscuits.
Grandma always kept a big bowl of biscuit mix on the counter with a towel over it. This way all she had to do was add milk and then roll out the dough. In our case, the name cathead came from the fact that she used an old baking soda can to cut them out. It didn’t matter which meal it was, breakfast, dinner or supper, there was always a generous supply of those wonderful biscuits on the table. Now I’ve had good biscuits over the years, but I don’t think I’ve ever had any that could beat grandma’s.
Everyone seemed to agree, because Grandma was always complimented on her biscuits. So much so, that one member of the family, I can’t remember who, even remarked, “these biscuits are so good they could raise the dead.” So, from that time forward, grandma’s biscuits were often referred to as resurrection biscuits. I mean, what else would you call biscuits that could wake the dead besides resurrection biscuits?
It’s obvious, it wasn’t one of Grandma’s “resurrection biscuits” that brought Jesus from the tomb that first Easter two thousand years ago. Jesus was raised from the dead by the power of the living God. But, it was almost more than Jesus’ disciples, and others who loved Him, could process. After Jesus’ crucifixion the disciples went into hiding and thought their journey with the Master was over. They had seen Jesus tried, abused, convicted, crucified and laid in a borrowed tomb.
On the Sunday after His burial, however, the disciples began hearing reports that He was alive. That morning some of the women had taken spices to His tomb to anoint His body. Strangely, they found the stone rolled away from the tomb. And when they entered the tomb, they didn’t find Jesus’ body. While they were standing there wondering about this, Luke tells us that suddenly two men in shining white garments stood beside them. The frightened women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” They remembered Jesus’ words, but apparently, it was still too much to process.
When they returned from the tomb, the women told the disciples and those who were with them what they had seen and heard. And as St. Luke reports, “But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.” Was it possible that all this was a hoax? The Disciples were certainly not immune to superstition. Perhaps it was some kind of ghost. Then suddenly it happened.
Jesus Himself stood among them. The disciples were startled and frightened. Jesus said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself . . .” The response of the disciples could be a sermon in itself.
Luke tells us that “they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement . . .” I guess you could rephrase that by saying they still did not believe because it was simply too good to be true. He was alive, and He was with them–right there in their midst. It was an event that had never happened in human history. No wonder they had difficulty believing. And when you think about it, the first disciples aren’t alone in their reactions; there are a good many folks today that have difficulty believing that Jesus is alive. I think many desperately want to believe, but something holds them back. “Look at my hands and my feet,” says Christ. “It is I myself . . .” Why is it that some folks have a problem believing that Jesus has risen from the grave?
Is it possible that some have difficulty believing that God really loves us that much–that God sent His Son to suffer and die and then be resurrected in our behalf? There are those I suppose that are more comfortable with an impersonal God who is the First Cause, the Ground of Being, a Source of life and power, but not a personal God. The idea of a God with nail prints in His hands and feet, and the scar of a spear in His side, all because of His great love for us, is an idea they’re not quite ready for.
Max Lucado writes about Christ’s crucifixion in a beautifully poetic manner: “He looked around the hill and foresaw a scene. Three figures hung on three crosses. Arms spread. Heads fallen forward. They moaned with the wind. Men clad in religion stood off to one side . . . Arrogant, cocky. Women clad in sorrow huddled at the foot of the hill . . . Faces tear streaked. All heaven stood to fight. All nature rose to rescue. All eternity poised to protect. But the Creator gave no command. ‘It must be done . . .’” he said and withdrew. “The angel spoke again . . . ‘It would be less painful . . .’” The Creator interrupted softly. “But it wouldn’t be love.”
No, it wouldn’t be love. It’s a magnificent portrayal of the mind of God. How outrageous are the claims of the gospel. St. Paul called it the foolishness of the gospel (1 Cor. 1:18.) The One through whom all things were created, came down to earth and suffered and died just to say to us, that no one on this earth is beyond His love and concern. No religion in the ancient world made this claim–that human beings are loved by God. As another author has written, “No one wrote songs that said, ‘Zeus loves me, this I know, for the Iliad tells me so.’” That would have seemed absurd to the mindset of that time.
The ancient gods were to be feared, the gods were to be obeyed, the gods of old were to be approached with trembling and awe. To think that one of the pagan gods could be more loving than one’s own most loving parent was beyond their understanding. But the One true God is different and that’s the outrageous claim of our faith. In trying to deal with the meaning of the cross on which Christ died, the early church came to understand that those nail prints in the hands and feet of the Master should have been in our hands and feet. But God so loved the world that He sent His own Son to bear the burden brought about by the iniquity of us all. Jesus came to accomplish what we could never do for ourselves; pay the penalty for our sins. Are we able to fully deal with that? Can we really believe that God cares that much about us?
Bishop William Willimon tells of once visiting a man with only a couple of days left to live. He asked the man whether he was fearful. To Willimon’s surprise the man replied, “Fear? No! I’m not fearful because of my faith in Jesus.” The man continued, explaining, “I look back over my life, all the mistakes I’ve made, all the times I’ve turned away from Jesus, gone my own way, strayed and gotten lost. And time and time again, He found a way to get to me, looked for me when I wasn’t looking for Him. I don’t think Jesus will let something like my dying defeat His love for me.” Now that’s someone that knew how much God loved him.
The question is, can we believe God loves us that much? That’s one reason some people have difficulty believing in the resurrection: they have a problem believing that God really loves them that much. And then there are others who have difficulty believing that life really goes on beyond the tomb. I like the way the Pastor Dennis Marquardt explains it. He says, “Most people have a hard time believing in a resurrection because it just seems too incredible!
But, only a couple hundred years ago if you had told your great, great, great, great grandfather that you could fly from New York City to Los Angeles in a little over 5 hours on a vehicle that weighed hundreds of thousands of pounds with over 300 people on board 5 miles high in sky, he would have laughed in your face; he couldn’t believe this, because it had never been done! If you told that same relative, from a couple hundred years ago, that men would walk on the moon, or that messages could be flashed to England or China in less than a second, or that a machine called a computer could do a billion math calculations in a matter of seconds or milliseconds, they wouldn’t believe that either! But for us it’s commonplace.
We can easily believe these things because we take them for granted, having witnessed and even experienced these things over and over again . . .” Some day when we’ve been resurrected and are with Christ, these unbelieving folks will see how foolish they were for not believing. We have so many reliable witnesses who reported what they saw on that Easter Sunday, and for weeks after that, that it’s hard not to believe.
Yes, I know that for some, it’s simply too wonderful to believe that there’s a world beyond this one–another existence in which, that which dies here, will be resurrected to new life. Yet such a conviction is at the heart of our faith. My hope, in this Easter season, is that those who can’t seem to believe, will at least entertain the possibility that the resurrection, the greatest news that the world has ever received, is worth investigating. Sometimes people can be like the twin boys who were sharing their perceptions while in the womb.
Weeks passed, as the twins developed. As their awareness grew, they laughed for joy: “Isn’t it great that we were conceived? Isn’t it great to be alive?” Together, the twins explored their world. When they found their mother’s cord which gave them life, they sang for joy: “How great is our mother’s love, that she shares her own life with us.” As the weeks stretched into months, the twins noticed how much each was changing. “What does it mean?” asked the one. “It means that our stay in this world is drawing to an end,” said the other. “But I don’t want to go,” said the one. “I want to stay here always.” “We have no choice,” said the other. “But maybe there is life after birth!”
“But how can there be?” responded the one. “We will shed our life cord, and how is life possible without it? Besides, we’ve seen evidence that others were here before us, and none of them have returned to tell us that there is life after birth. No, this is the end.” And so, the one fell into deep despair, saying, “If conception ends in birth, what is the purpose of life in the womb? It’s meaningless! Maybe there is no mother after all!” “But there has to be,” protested the other. “How else did we get there? How do we remain alive?”
“Have you ever seen our mother?” said the one. “Maybe she lives only in our minds. Maybe we made her up, because the idea made us feel good!” And so, the last days in the womb were filled with deep questioning and fear. Finally, the moment of birth arrived. When the twins had passed from their world, they opened their eyes and cried for joy. For what they saw exceeded their fondest dreams.
It’s wonderful analogy of what awaits us when we pass to a better world to be with Jesus. There are some who have difficulty accepting that God loves them that much. Others have difficulty accepting the reality that life goes on beyond the grave. But even more significantly, there are some who simply don’t want to deal with the implications of these two truths. What does it really mean if there is a God who loves us without reservation? What does it mean for our lives, if life goes on beyond the grave?
Lutheran theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg once put it this way, “The evidence for Jesus’ resurrection is so strong that nobody would question it except for two things: First, it’s a very unusual event. And second, if you believe it happened, you have to change the way you live.” Stop and consider what Dr. Pannenburg is saying: “If you believe the resurrection happened, you have to change the way you live.” That’s what happened in the lives of the first disciples.
Their lives were changed in a matter of days or a few weeks after their encounter with the risen Christ. They went from being frightened and uncertain men marked by doubt and envy, to becoming apostles of great courage and self-giving. But what does our belief in the resurrection say about us? Does it make a difference in our lives? Have we changed the way we live?
As a teenager, Joni Eareckson Tada enjoyed riding horses, hiking, tennis, and swimming. However, in July 1967, she dove into Chesapeake Bay after misjudging the shallowness of the water. She suffered a fracture between the fourth and fifth cervical vertebrae and became a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the shoulders down. According to her autobiography, during her two years of rehabilitation, she experienced depression, anger, suicidal thoughts, and religious doubts. But then one day she experienced the presence of the risen Christ.
Even then, however, there were times she caught herself envying people who could do things she couldn’t, even such things as kneeling to pray. And then a glorious thought occurred to her. When Jesus returns, she will receive a new body including new legs. And the first thing she will do with her new legs is drop to her new glorified knees and worship Jesus. As many of you know, this experience with Christ turned Joni Tada into a radiant witness to God’s mercy and grace.
How has our encounter with the risen Christ affected our lives? Has it caused us to take more seriously our walk with the Man from Galilee? Has it had some effect on the goals we’ve set in our life? After all, if life is indeed eternal, some of our goals are going to seem awfully short-sighted and self-serving, are they not? God really does love us that much. Life really does go on beyond the tomb. So, what is our response to those two great truths? “See my hands and my feet . . .”
British author Leslie Weatherhead once wrote: “No one doubts that Hannibal crossed the Alps, even though Livy and Polybus, the two chief historians, give completely irreconcilable accounts of it. For the Christian, the enheartening truth is that Christ defeated man’s last enemy and still lives, the conqueror over pain and sin and death. This gives the Christian the ability to believe that evil does not have the last word for them either, and that we will find unspeakable joy at the end of this journey, with all that seems hostile to love woven into a plan greater than their present power to perceive.”
The fact remains, God really does love us that much. Life really does go on beyond the grave. The question we must wrestle with is, how do these resurrection truths change our life? If we truly believe that Jesus was resurrected and lives and will return, shouldn’t our lives reflect this belief. God does indeed love us that much and Christ is alive. Hallelujah.

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