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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter Sunday, 2014

Live into Life (1 Corinthians 15:1-20)
Rob Tennant, HillSong Church, Chapel Hill, NC
Sunday, April 20, 2014 (Easter Sunday)

        At the beginning of this year, I posed a question to our pastors, deacons, and elders.       What does it mean when a believer says, my identity is in Christ?  If you were explaining Christianity, how would you help someone understand what it means to be in Christ?  Do you understand that phrase and that idea? 
I have been taught from a very young age that Jesus lives in my heart.  Now, I am a parent of young children and they think of things very literally.  My four-year-old daughter ponders what her daddy tells her.  She does not question the validity of the statement.  But she does ask if Jesus gets really small so he can be in there.
Do we even know what it means to have Jesus in our hearts?  Do we understand that when we claim Christianity, it literally means we are ‘little Christs?’  We are followers of Jesus, doing things the way Jesus did them and commands us to do them?  We see people the way Jesus wants us to see people.  We actually think his way is better for our lives than our own ways, so we turn to him, appeal to his Holy Spirit, and try to live out his plans and purposes.  When his way and our preference are opposed, we go his way.  Well, we try. 
That is a clumsily effort at summarizing what it means to be in Christ.  My effort is not clumsy because I did not try to make it smooth.  It is just that the way of Christ is thoroughly different than how we are conditioned to think, choose, speak, act.  Jesus’ way is the way of the holy God.  The world around us, prompted by Satan and vulnerable to our own tendencies toward sin, leads away from God.  How do we walk the Jesus way and what does it look and feel like?
On Easter Sunday, I wrestle with this question because the resurrection defines who we are in Christ. Yet we can’t see it and unable to see, we end up living toward death even though we have trusted Jesus.  That’s what Mary Magdalene did when she went to the tomb on that Sunday morning.  We read her story at the sunrise service.  I’ll read a bit of it now.
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look[a] into the tomb;12 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. 13 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.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.15 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.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew,[b]“Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).

Sir if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him.  Mary was still looking for a corpse.  Just before this encounter with the risen Christ, she brought Peter and the Beloved Disciples, presumably John, to the tomb.  They saw the empty tomb and it says John believed (v.8)?  Believed what, exactly?  The very next verse tells us they did not understand the scripture, “that he must rise from the dead.”  And in what I just read, Mary sees two angels.
The tomb was empty.  John believed … something.  The scriptures indicated that the Messiah would be the first resurrected.  Angels appear.  Jesus stands before Mary.  Yet, her worldview conditioned her to accept that when someone dies, they are dead.  Even all this evidence could not awaken her to a new way of seeing and living.  She was incapable of living into life.
This fundamental idea, that God is God of the living and in God there is only life, no death, this idea was impossible for his followers to grasp the day Jesus was resurrected.  We struggle to understand it and embody as much now as they did then.  In writing about it in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul describes resurrection as a matter of first importance. 
He recites all those to whom Jesus appeared: the 11 disciples, 500 other followers, his half-brother James, and Paul himself.  Then, Paul makes the case that the bodily resurrection of Jesus is essential.  Everything else that he says about God rests upon the fact that Jesus was buried and rose from death, resurrected back to being fully alive.  “If Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain” (1 Cor. 15:14).  He concludes that portion of his argument by saying, “in fact Christ has been raised from the dead” (1 Cor. 15:20).  All else that Paul says proceeds from that truth.  Resurrection defines him and all followers of Jesus.
Of course our circumstances are different that Mary’s and Paul’s.  In very different ways, each looked the resurrected Jesus in the eye.  These events happened so long ago from our perspective, we call it antiquity.  Something that is history happened a long time ago; antiquity is a really long time ago.  We think someday we’ll sort of gain understanding when we enter the resurrection, or when Jesus comes back.  But that is in an unknown future, so it might as well be a million years from now and between now and then each of has to go through that unpleasant thing we call the death of the body.  The only way we can accept any of this is on faith. 
Faith can be shaky.  It is easier to fall in line with the worldview of the world around us.  So, we live like people who are dying instead of people who will live forever.  Can we do otherwise?  When the diagnosis comes – the cancer is terminal, no cure – can we in all honesty sing the song of Paul at the end of 1 Corinthians 15?  Where O Death is your victory?  Where O Death is your sting?
I came across a story this week that gave me perspective on what it means to live into life instead of living toward death.  In the Central African Republic thousands and thousands of Christians and Muslims live peaceably, side-by-side.  However, political groups vying for power under the names, Christian and Muslim give more energy to killing each other than practicing their faiths.  They also kill everyone caught in between.  We call it genocide. 
In the Central African Republic the Muslim groups had control and killed Christians in waves.  Then, the tide swung and now the Christian militants have the guns and the Muslims are the targets.  Both the BBC and Christianity Today magazine have a story of Catholic Priest Father Xavier Fagba.  His church is in the middle of Boali, an embattled town.  His church is full of people who are convinced they will be killed on the spot if they step foot outside of the church building.  They are all Muslims.  He, a Catholic priest, is protecting them from murderous men who bear the name Christian.  His life has been threatened for doing so.
This man of God is putting his own life on the line for the sake of protecting the lives of people of another faith.  Here is a quote from the article
Now is the time for men of good will to stand up and prove the strength and quality of their faith," said Father Fagba, standing in his floor-length black cassock beside a concrete wall peppered with bullet holes.  “When I did this, nobody in the community understood me. They attacked and threatened me.  The Muslims discovered in our church that the God we worship is the same as their God.  And that's the vision the whole of this country needs to have.  We should consider them as our brothers. What happens here gives me a certain conviction."[i]

          He is living into life even though he may die.  He understands that the resurrection is a statement of the life God wants us to have.  We may quarrel about whether or not Muslims and Christians worship the same God.  I think a lot of people – Muslims, Mormons, Christians – have imperfect ideas about God.  My theology is far from complete.  But discussions and even arguments should happen as the dinner table where we sit together in peace, and extend love to each other even when we disagree.  Father Fagba is not endorsing Islam.  He is endorsing the lives of these humans who are Muslims and are threatened with death by people bearing the name Christian.
          Jesus himself said it in John 10:10.  He came to give abundant life.  When we live into life, we follow him to the cross trusting by faith alone because faith is what makes us certain that resurrection comes after the cross.  When we live into life, we protect people who are threatened with death even if doing so puts us in the path of those bent on bringing about death.  We know the death of the body comes, but it is not the end. 
          In other words, if this is possible, we think about death differently than other people.  It is not possible, of course.  The only sure things are death and taxes; but with God, all things are possible.  When we are with Jesus, we are with God.  We can see everything from the Resurrection point of view. 
          I am reading a memoir of someone who grew up speaking evangelical Christian lingo but not understanding freedom and life in Christ.  She spent her high school days fantasizing about going ‘on mission’ and living ‘on mission.’  One of the many things that shattered her faith was what happened in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.  She writes,
The pilots of the planes were on a mission.  Their mission was death that would take others to their death, death big enough to speak a message to the American people and to the world.  I wasn’t comparing the missionary boys I knew to terrorists; it was clear to me that something had broken in these men that had caused them to see humans as disposable.  But I couldn’t stop thinking about the word mission.[ii]

          God creates each person.  No matter how anonymous we may seem in a world of 7 billion people, we are known to the almighty God.  God sees us.  He has invested himself in us, first in making us, and second, in dying for us on the cross, and third in resurrection, inviting us to Jesus, to eternal life in God’s embrace.  This eternal life begins now – the moment we give ourselves to Jesus.  For God, humans are not disposable. 
          Mary at the tomb seeks a corpse.  She loves Jesus, but she has not escaped death’s grip. Some fanatics board planes and fly them into buildings, killing themselves and thousands; living into death.  A group with murderous intentions lurks around a Central African Republic church, sometimes spraying the building with gunfire.  They bear the name ‘Christian,’ but they are living toward death. 
          Inside that church, a Catholic priest risks his life to protect the Muslims the mob wants to kill; he may die, but he is living into life.  The Apostle Paul, who only met Jesus after the resurrection, said “I will not boast, except of my weakness.  … [Jesus] was crucified in weakness but lives by the power of God” (2 Cor. 12:5; 13:4a).  Mary and the disciples could not know it until they fully understood resurrection, but once they did, nothing could stop them from sharing the gospel with the world.  The African priest, the Apostle Paul, and millions of Christians know that to live into life does not delay the body’s death or even make it less painful.  It is just that knowing resurrection is real, we know the body’s death is not the end. 
And sometimes, the body’s death can happen in such a way that our deaths testify to someone else the truth of Jesus.  In those cases, by dying, we live into life.  It is the life of Christ and life in Christ that gives us hope.  Additionally, life defines us. 
Do we understand? 
Easter is good news because of the promise of salvation that is eternal.  Easter is hope.  Easter is the best news when because we know He lives, the knowledge defines how we live.
This weekend, a few of our church members worked on a ramp at the home of some women who cannot do the work themselves and cannot hire someone to do it for them.  Our members were living into life in that work.  The women graced our folks by receiving what they offered.  We live into life when we give and honor others who give to us by graciously receiving their gift.
This afternoon Grace Church, which used to meet here in our building, and St. Joseph’s CME Church will meet at the town commons in Carrboro, right by the fire department.  Everyone in town including anyone here who’s interested is invited to gather for a meal of smoked pork barbeque and sides and desserts.  They’re calling it the Easter Feaster.  They want Carrboro to see how Christians celebrate Resurrection Day.  These two churches are living into life.
Next Saturday, more folks from our church are working on ramps to help people; living into life.  Next Sunday, we will take communion, have a potluck meal, and spend the afternoon together as a church,; we’re living into life. 
Work projects, shared meals, shared laughter, going out of our way to care for each other – these are examples of the people of God living by the love God showed in sending Christ.  Easter is the best news there is when Easter defines how we live. 
Celebrate Easter with joy, with bright colors and happy music, with friends and family; and, live Easter out by discovering you can meet God as you live into life.

[i] Christianity Today (April, 2014), p.17.
[ii] Addie Zierman (2013).  When we were on Fire.  Convergent Books, Santa Rosa, CA, p.107.

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