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The Chair – My Easter Sunday Sermon

The Chair – John 20

Preached at Clarksville Highway Church of Christ

April 16, 2017

            Scotty Smalls, Hamilton “Ham” Porter, Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez, Alan McClennan “Yeah-Yeah”, Michael “Squints” Palledorous, Kenny DeNunez, Timmy and Tommy Timmons are fictional characters from the movie The Sandlot. The Sandlot was released in 1993 and highlights a group of kids who spent the summer playing backyard baseball but also chronicles their mischief typical of kids that age. From Squints kissing Wendy Peffercorn by the pool to the ongoing feud with a massive dog named “The Beast” this movie is filled Americana at its finest. The movie’s main plot is Smalls effort to get a baseball he borrowed from his stepdad that was signed by Babe Ruth that was hit in the Mr. Mertle’s backyard where the beast lies. They have to get it and eventually they do through some divine intervention by Babe Ruth himself. There are a number of lines from the movie that people quote even to this day:

Ham Porter: Hey, Smalls, you wanna s’more?

Smalls: Some more of what?

Ham Porter: No, do you wanna s’more?

Smalls: I haven’t had anything yet, so how can I have some more of nothing?

Ham Porter: You’re killing me Smalls! These are s’more’s stuff! Ok, pay attention. First you take the graham, you stick the chocolate on the graham. Then you roast the ‘mallow. When the ‘mallows flaming… you stick it on the chocolate. Then cover with the other end. Then you scarf. Kind of messy, but good! Try some!

“You play baseball like a girl!”

What I find intriguing about that movie is how that one summer changed the lives of those kids forever. Eventually the kids moved away from the neighborhood and the team was never the same but that one summer shaped the narrative of their lives forever. It changed them. Each character in this story had an integral part and the movie chronicled how that particular summer changed each character forever.

Today is Easter which, if you have participated, is the culmination of the season of Lent that started with Ash Wednesday some 46 days ago. The season is one that historically highlights the need for cleansing from our sin and so disciplines like fasting, confession and repentance are substantial components in this season. If Advent celebrates the birth of Jesus then Lent mourns his death as a result of our sin. All across the globe, most Christians are celebrating today. While Lent does spend time in mourning and repentance, Easter itself is about newness and life. Death, as it were, could not hold Jesus captive. The grave could not contain him. This morning I want to share some stories from John 20 of different characters. Like the Sandlot, the resurrection changed the lives of these characters forever. I want to use their stories as a mirror so that by reading their post-resurrection life we can see ourselves in that story and live in the newness offered to us. I am jumping ahead. First, the text.

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes. But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her. When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

MARY MAGDALENE

After Jesus rose the first one on the scene is a woman by the name of Mary Magdalene. We do not have much to go on about this woman. There are ten references of her in the New Testament and most of those centers around the resurrection. Luke records an incident in Luke 8 where Mary is mentioned in passing. There was a host of women who were cured from evil spirits and infirmities that followed Jesus during his ministry and Mary is listed as one of those but adds a detail: she had been healed from seven demons (Luke 8:1-2). Seven. It is bad enough to have one demon tormenting your spirit with malicious mischief but to have seven of those things inflicting demonic torture must have been too much to bear. Luke does not give us grand details of how it happened so all we have is a simple statement that she was healed.

In our text Mary does two things: 1) She informs Peter the body of Jesus is missing and 2) She is most likely the first person to see Jesus. For Mary, the resurrection solidified her long service to Jesus. We do not have a lot of details about Mary perhaps because she was too busy serving Jesus and ministering to him. Jesus didn’t appear first to his apostles but to a woman. Her job was to share the message of Jesus with the other disciples that he was there. I think many of us think we have to contain some huge mission for us to participate in the kingdom. Her mission during the life of Jesus was to minister to him and when he arose her job was to say, “I have seen the Lord.” Nothing magnificent or book worthy. Just simple acts of obedience.

Many times in my life I struggle at knowing if I am really following the will of God. I have this utopic vision that my walk with God must mirror Paul’s Damascus vision or it has to be grandiose in some divine fashion. Yet, many people who seem closer to God than myself (which is a lot of people) advise that to do the will of God is as simple as doing the next obedient thing. Mary was obedient to Jesus and the resurrection allowed her to flourish in that obedience sharing the message of newness with everyone.

PETER

Rabbi Abraham Heschel once said, “Only those who are lost will find the promised land.” If that statement is true than there is no better person who bear witness to that truth than the Apostle Peter. One of the worst smells I have discovered in recent years is what I call the post-baseball-softball-soccer-foot smell. The stench is, for all intents and purposes, unbearable. I am not sure what unholy demon camps inside their sock during a ballgame but it is clear that when they take their shoes off evil is on the prowl. Something that is equally as disturbing is that a couple days after their ball game I will open my truck door to get in and to my surprise the smell is still alive and well in my vehicle.

Just two days before the empty tomb the last thing Peter did was deny Jesus despite claiming he would NEVER do so. In Luke’s account he even said, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death” (Lk. 22:33). It was also in Luke who recorded Peter’s three denials and then adds this eerie detail: “The Lord turned back and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord…and he went out and wept bitterly” (Lk. 22:61-62). Here Peter is, two days later standing at the tomb of Jesus and, like my kids feet smell, the stench of his sin is still very fresh. Fresh is not the word…the smell of his sin is “putrid.” Perhaps this is why he and another disciple get in a foot race toward the tomb. We are not told the name of this disciple. Some say it is the Apostle John while others think it was Lazarus. It does not matter as to the identity of this disciple more so than the veracity of which they ran. Perhaps Peter was beat because he was not as gifted or maybe he spent too much time eating fish. Who knows?

Of all the disciples I think Peter most wanted the resurrection to happen. There was no closure and, more importantly, no meat to the understanding that Jesus died and rose for him. I think many of us are like Peter. Peter truly was not going to follow Jesus like he should until he fell completely on his back in his sin. The same pain that Peter experienced is exactly the same pain that would propel him to helping lead the early movements of the church. Jonathan Martin, in his book How to Survive a Shipwreck, said this:

If you wish to become someone and something else entirely than the you that was before the storm came . . . you will have to peer into the sea that threatens to swallow you whole, dive into the mouth of it— and trust. You will have to let God happen to you, which requires letting life happen to you, all the way down. You cannot continue to flail your arms, beat against the sea, and damn the waves. You have to let yourself go all the way under— into the depths of God, into the depths of your own soul, into the depths, of life itself.[1]

Many of you have been in this chair and are even in this chair right now. Outwardly you look like you got it together but inwardly you have not identified the shipwreck that is sure to happen. You may not deny Christ overtly but inwardly your denial is as fresh as Peter’s was. The resurrection for Peter was a fresh start on an old problem.

THOMAS

Many of you will not be able to relate with Mary Magdalene and perhaps a few of you can relate to Peter but I think all of us, Christian and non-Christian, can relate to Thomas. When everyone made the claim, “We have seen the Lord!” he had his tight fists and shouted, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails, and my hand in his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). Since uttering those words folks have dubbed him, “Doubting Thomas.” I don’t think that is very fair, do you? I am going to make a claim that will probably offend some but will hit home with most: “A faith that is free of doubt isn’t really faith at all.” Greg Boyd in his book Benefit of the Doubt said,

A true and living faith is never a destination; it’s a journey. And to move forward on this journey we need the benefit of doubt. There’s a kind of doubt that is appropriate as we’re making our way toward a covenantal relationship with Christ, for we need to rationally decide what and who we’re going to base our faith on. Otherwise our faith commitment is determined by nothing more than chance.[2]

Perhaps we could learn from Thomas a bit and realize that having faith in Jesus is something that is difficult. We do not have the luxury of the disciples who could see the risen Lord but that does not lessen the reality that he did rise!

If you are here this morning I totally understand if you don’t buy into this Christian thing. Perhaps you have lost loved ones tragically and somehow hearing about God’s love just does not resonate with your story right now. Or maybe you would like to believe in Jesus but there are so many who don’t act like him. Perhaps they post heated political messages or maybe they cast judgment on folks when it isn’t their place to do so. I totally understand where you are coming from. Yet, at the same time, our doubt and struggle does not weaken our covenantal relationship with him but it actually strengthens it. Think of how confident Thomas was after wrestling with his doubt and then getting assurance from Jesus himself. He wasn’t a “lesser disciple” because of his doubt, rather I would argue he had a deeper commitment post resurrection. Frederick Buechner said, “Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving!”

YOU

So are you like Mary Magdalene? Perhaps you have faithfully served the Lord for years and your post resurrection task is to simply to follow God’s will by being obedient. Are you like Peter? The freshness of your sin is still on you. Perhaps you need to be washed today of your sin and realize the opportunities for you. Are you like Thomas? You can’t seem to make a commitment to Jesus because there are a list of things you are quite comfortable with and you have more questions than you do answers. My only statement is welcome to the club. Wherever you are these three stories remind us that the resurrection changes us. It should at least. Easter is not about chocolate, pastels, eggs, peeps, Instagram pics, cute outfits, family dinner or lunch. Although those are good things (minus Peeps which are Satanic) Easter is really about the risen Lord who offers us a chair that is at his table. Each one of us are asked to sit in the chair…

” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31)

Natalie Grant released a song called “Clean” that I want you to meditate on the words. Then after that song we will stand and sing together as an empty tomb gives us an empty chair so that we can sit in it and come to the table. Will you sit in that table?

Grace and peace.

_______________________________

[1] Jonathan Martin, How to Survive a Shipwreck: Help Is On the Way and Love Is Already Here (p. 23).

[2] Gregory A. Boyd, Benefit of the Doubt: Breaking the Idol of Certainty, (p. 151).

 

Where is Christ in Baltimore?

No doubt you have seen the riots occurring in Baltimore which is a response of the senseless death of Freddie Gray at the hands of the police. The city is on lock-down, curfews are employed, the National Guard is deployed and a state of emergency is declared. Those of you hearing the news have probably reacted like me: This is Ferguson all over again.

Here we go…

I want to make some observations from my own context and then ask the question, “Where is Christ in Baltimore?”

First of all, I can understand why people riot. I am writing this post in a padded chair, in a temperature controlled environment and I will go home to a reasonably safe neighborhood. Many of us cannot possibly fathom the generational poverty, disenfranchisement and injustices many in the inner city have endured over the years. Tensions are high and a lack of trust ensues toward the very people who are there to “protect and serve.” I looked at Wikipedia (I know not always credible but you can see the sources there) and found numerous recent instances of police officers who were involved in criminal activity (Read Here). There is a history there of misusing the badge for power at the hands of Baltimore’s citizens. It is a tragedy.

Yet…

Let us not accuse the entire institution as guilty because of a few belligerents. This is used in churches as well where one member does things that a Christian should not do and therefore an outsider accuses the entire church of the same guilt. I am positive there are hundreds of Baltimore police officers who are getting unfair criticism and damnation because of the decisions of a few officers. This is unfair and we need to be slow to speak and quick to hear (James 1:19).

That reminds…

Just like Ferguson, we do not know all of the facts. CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and other outlets do not have all the facts and so how do you expect that you will know it all? Let us slow down in rushing to judgment and give both sides the benefit of the doubt. Let us also not rush to post the latest “This is how I would handle it” post on Facebook and Twitter. Some of those posts are racist and inappropriate. “They need to get a job” may be a way you can rant at them but until you understand generational poverty and racism then you can’t really speak with any sort of intelligence.

But…

Violence is never the answer. I can understand the riots and feel (in a very little sense) their pain but I still believe in MLK’s maxim, “Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness.” Of course Jesus said it before MLK did: “Then Jesus said to him [Peter – RM], ‘Put the sword back into its place. All those who use the sword will die by the sword'” (Matt. 26:52).

So where is Christ in Baltimore?

I saw something that moved me and it was members of the clergy in Baltimore marching during the riots and protests. See for yourself here.

That moves me folks to great joy. In a beautiful way the march signifies that they stand both against the inequality of the system but also the violence against that system. That is to say, “We do not agree with what has happened to Freddie Gray but we also do not agree with the community’s response.” This seems to be a difference of approach than Ferguson (I might be wrong. Corrections?). Instead of fighting force with force they are fighting force with faith. Their weapons need not have a carry permit as the only thing they carry is the Holy Spirit. “Let us pray” is their motto and they seek not to take but only to give.

Prolific author and blogger Jen Hatmaker said this on her Facebook about the clergy:

This has me speechless. An army of clergy in Baltimore – pastors, priests, every denomination – walking arm in arm both WITH the protestors in their grief and AGAINST the violence.

Church, this is what we do. We come together like this, we SHOW UP. These spiritual leaders are not at home condemning the desperation and anger. They are walking the same wounded streets, hand in hand, mourning with those who mourn while demonstrating peace and unity. I am both moved and broken open by it.

Reporter: “What do you think of the state of emergency the governor has declared?”
Clergy: “There has been a state of emergency way before tonight: an emergency of poverty, a lack of jobs, disenfranchisement from the political process. It’s been a long time coming.”

Let us pray for Baltimore and the law enforcement and our country and repentance and all this pain. Let’s show up however we can. God, give us eyes to really see what is happening, what is broken. Help us champion peace and justice [Emphasis Mine].

So there you go friends. Jesus is there working like he always does seeking to redeem people and using the church to do it.

So what can you and I do? Pray. I know that is anti-climactic and borders reductionism but it’s true. While we pray we also prepare ourselves for the injustices in our own hoods and seeking to help the tensions boiling in our back yards. I can only speak from Springfield, Tennessee and I assure you that there is tension there. What about where you live?

I came across this prayer on the Church of England’s website and thought I would share it with you:

Make your ways known upon earth, Lord God,
your saving power among all peoples.
Renew your Church in holiness
and help us to serve you with joy.
Guide the leaders of all nations,
that justice may prevail throughout the world.
Let not the needy be forgotten,
nor the hope of the poor be taken away.
Make us instruments of your peace
and let your glory be over all the earth. Amen

To the Cross 4 – Sadness

Then David and the people who were with him raised their voices and wept until they had no more strength to weep. (1 Sam. 30:4).

Part of the Lenten journey is about ridding oneself of the old and making way for the new. New things are wonderful and we should all strive to attain and seek what God is making new. Yet, in the newness of things comes a painful releasing of the old. We like those things that we have painstakingly held onto for many years (perhaps for a lifetime). One can see this on the negative side with trying to shed an addiction. It does not go away without a nasty bout. It is no wonder many lose this battle with addiction for it is so hard to get rid of it. On the other hand there are those things that we lose that come with much sadness and despair.

In the text above David and his people were weeping because the Amalekites had ransacked the city of Ziklag and taken captive the wives and daughters of David and his men. David wept until he could not weep anymore.

He was free to express his emotions and he did with the thought of losing something perhaps forever.

What are some things you have lost that you still have not expressed sadness and properly mourned for? Society sometimes lifts up those who are “strong” and don’t shed a tear. Even those in the church will glance at someone who rarely cries or becomes sad and think: “They must have intense faith at God!”

Jesus told us “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:4). In this process of repenting I am sad over the things I am trying to rid myself of. I am also sad now at the loss I have experienced in the past year. Losing friends who have moved away, changing jobs, changing churches, and a host of other things that have made me sad. Chip Dodd is right when he says:

Sadness is proportional – the more sadness you feel after a loss, the more you value what is lost. Chip Dodd, The Voice of the Heart, p. 59.

Isn’t that the truth? Think about those who experience divorce, or a loved-one passes away, or they lose a job they have held for many years. The sadness is intense depending on what we lose. The problem arises then when we do not accept the sadness but instead turn into self-pity. Again Dodd is informative:

Acceptance is having emotional and spiritual serenity about a situation that we can’t do anything about. It comes through the willingness to grieve and is a result of working through the pain of life problems, in hope that good will come. Acceptance is rooted in the certainty that comes from experiencing the truths of the heart. The Voice of the Heart, p. 61.

So what things do you need to own when it comes to the loss you have experienced recently? It is ok to be sad. I want you to say this if you are reading it: “IT IS OK TO BE SAD!”

Grieve…

Mourn…

And then accept the loss and move toward what we all must do and that is hope.

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:4).

To the cross…