Damariscotta Baptist Church
Tuesday, September 18, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

03/31/13 Sermon

 

 

John 20:1-18

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer, Amen. 

I think I speak for many preachers when I say that as we prepare for preaching the Easter message it can be challenging to try and preach the story with freshness and originality. 

The temptation is to preach the Easter message with novelty; to be clever and entertaining especially when there are lots of folks visiting on Easter Sunday who already know the story.

 

James Harnish, a UM minister in his 1993 Easter sermon, tells the story of a little boy who was not exactly happy about going to church on Easter Sunday morning.

His new shoes were too tight, his tie pinched his neck and the weather was just too beautiful to be cooped up inside.
 
As he sulked in the back seat, his parents heard him mutter:
 

'I don't know why we have to go to church on Easter, anyway; they keep telling the same old story and it always comes out the same in the end.'

 
There’s some truth to what the boy is saying and so there’s a temptation to try and preach an extra special sermon on Easter Sunday, to spice up the story we’ve all heard many times before and try to make it fresh and new.
 
After all, who wants to go see a movie or read a novel with a surprise twist ending that we’ve already watched or read before?
 
Once you know the ending, it can become boring and stale.
 
And of course we know the ending of the Easter story. We know it so well that its surprise twist ending can lose its luster and significance. We know it so well that we’ve almost become numb to it.

Perhaps all of the Hollywood special effect movies and the outlandish, peculiar real life events we see on TV, have contributed to our de-sensitizing of the Easter story.

It doesn’t seem so spectacular………That is until we come together again each Easter to hear the resurrection story with new ears and reflect on what it means and its significance in our lives.
 
For as we really listen and reflect on this story, what we realize is that there’s a whole lot more going on than simply a surprise twist ending you might find in a Hollywood movie we’ve already seen before.
 
For this story is a story that affects us in the most profound way possible. It is a story with a twist ending that is uniquely personal and life changing to everyone.
 
And so today as your pastor on this Easter Sunday, my job is simply to remind you of the story and to point to its life twisting significance in our lives.
 
The story begins as we heard read--- with Mary Magdalene making her way to the tomb where Jesus’ body was laid.
 
John tells us it was still dark as she made her way. Dark in more ways than one.
 

While it was dark from the wee hours of the morning, it was also dark in the center of all the hearts of Jesus’ followers.

After all, for the followers of Jesus that first Easter morning there were the memories of his cruel death.
 
The innocent lamb of God is wrongly accused, betrayed, beaten, scourged, slandered, and hung on a humiliating cross to die.

For them, it couldn’t get any lower or darker…unless that is you’re making your way to the tomb to pay your respects, to find a place to weep and grieve you suddenly come upon another tragedy.

And that’s what we see as Mary came to the site where Jesus’ body laid.
 
Instead of finding a place to grieve and mourn to begin the healing process she finds the stone that guarded Jesus’ tomb has been rolled away.

Things are even darker now for Mary and so in desperation she runs.

She goes and finds Peter and John and screams, “They have taken the Lord, we don’t know where they have put him!” 
 
We read that Peter and John are shocked and so they run to the tomb.
         
John arrives first and sees the stone rolled away just as Mary had said.
 

A stone that enclosed Jesus’ body was out of the way.

It was rolled out of the way for one reason---- and that was for the twist in the story to begin.
 
As we enter into the tomb ourselves, what do we see?
         

Well with Peter, we peek into the darkened cave and see that all that is left are strips of linen.

And the strips are lying in the place where Jesus’ body had been laid.
 
But that’s not all we see---- Jesus’ face cloth is folded up neatly in a place by itself.
 
The significance for detective buffs who might watch CSI was that the scene is neat and orderly; no evidence of a ransacked burglary.
 
Next John arrives---he too sticks his head into the tomb--- and takes it in.
 
He sees for himself that the tomb is empty……….And in John we begin to see things differently. In John we see the “aha” surprise twist in the story begin.

Suddenly the darkness that had prevailed and been the final word is not so final.

For in John we see a flicker of light.
 

As we read in verse 8, after John has taken in the significance of the scene we read 2 key words………..John believes.

From the certainty and finality of death and darkness, the twist begins in belief.

John believes in a different possibility: That this man, like no other man, who had taught them as no other had taught them, this man who had turned water into wine, who had fed the 5000, who had healed the blind and the paralyzed, walked on water and raised Lazarus from the dead was not dead himself----Instead John believed in the resurrection.

And in this belief of a resurrected Jesus, for John no darkness would ever be too dark, no sorrow would ever lead to despair again, no fear could ever overwhelm.

For John, this surprise twist end in the story changed his life forever.

Still, as John and Peter leave the tomb, we read that Mary is still in darkness.
 
She continues to weep in despair.
 

Then in despair she decides to look inside the empty tomb for herself. And there she sees two angels. They ask, “Woman, why are you crying?”

Mary shares her grief.

She then turns around and she sees a man that she assumes is the gardener. But we see that it is Jesus, we have that luxury.
 
And he asks her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you’re looking for?”
 
And then he speaks her name: Mary!
 
And suddenly she recognizes that voice and for her, just as it was for John, there was suddenly light and hope.
 

The darkness and despair were forever gone in her life. Mary would never ever have to live in desperate fear; no more dwelling in helpless grief and deep depression.

For in the twist of this story on the first Easter; Mary was forever changed into a child of the light……that no darkness could ever overcome.

Now that’s the story. No decorations, no fanfare, no special effects, no gimmicks…

There’s no need on my part to try and be clever or get into some theological jargon to bore you half to death.
 
And there’s no need for me to try and convince any nonbelievers with historical, scientific data to try and change your mind.
 
My job is rather to simply tell the story and point to the life changing effect that the story can have on us if and when we believe.
 
I’m reminded of how the story had an effect on a certain preacher.
 

At the age of 30 he was wrestling with the darkness of doubts. He doubted whether or not he could trust what he read in the Scriptures.

He was struggling with the philosophical and psychological questions people were raising about the Bible. For weeks he searched for answers, praying and pondering.
 
Then one evening, in 1949, that preacher was walking in the San Bernardino Mountains.
 
After much turmoil and confusion, he knelt to pray, Bible in hand.

And he said, "Father, I am going to accept this as Thy Word-by faith! I am going to allow faith to go beyond my intellectual questions and doubts, and I will believe this to be your inspired Word." ----------I’m just going to believe….

And a few days later Billy Graham would begin the crusade that would launch him into one of the most powerful ministries the church has ever known.
 
I bring up Billy Graham especially because as a preacher, he was well known for how he simply told the Easter gospel story in his preaching.
 
He told the story, invited people to believe and then got out of the way and let the Holy Spirit change their life from there.
 

And so today as your Easter preacher, I invite you to engage in the story, to encounter it for yourself; to take a trip to the tomb.

And as you do, reflect on where you might be living in darkness?

Perhaps it’s the darkness of despair over the loss of a loved one, or your own failing health.
 
Maybe it’s your anguish in a broken relationship or feelings of being bound by an addiction.
 

Perhaps it’s the darkness of guilt or shame from past sins or a bitterness in your inability to forgive.

Or maybe it’s your own fear of death that has you paralyzed and keeps you from living.
 
Whatever it may be, put yourself in the story. Walk past the rolled away stone and enter into the empty tomb.
 

Listen for Jesus’ voice and receive his grace to believe. For when we do, our lives are changed forever.

For this story brings forth light over darkness, hope over despair, joy over sorrow, life over death………………………………..
 
Today we are reminded that the story of Jesus’ resurrection is not some Hollywood movie with the same old surprise twist ending.

It’s not some tired old story that we’ve heard before that bores us.

Instead it is a story that has the power to change your life.
 
Today the stone is rolled away for you. The empty tomb waits for you to peak inside for yourself.
 
Enter the story; believe it and make it your own.

For when you do, light overcomes darkness, hope triumphs over despair and life defeats death.

For today we celebrate that:
 
Jesus Christ is risen!
 

He is risen indeed!!

 

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen