Sermon for March 27, 2016

Sermon for Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016

St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas

Sermon Text:  Luke 24:1-12

Sermon Theme:  “A Truth Great Enough to Split Your Head Open”

(Sources:  Brokhoff, Series C, Preaching Workbook; Emphasis Online Commentary; original ideas; Christian Easter Jokes; Online about “John Chrysostom”; Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol. 22, Part 2, Series B)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

One Easter, a priest and a taxi driver both died and went to heaven.  St. Peter was at the Pearly gates waiting for them.

“Come with me,” said St. Peter to the taxi driver.

The taxi driver did as he was told and followed St. Peter to a palatial mansion.  It had everything you could imagine, from a bowling alley to an Olympic size swimming pool.

“Oh, my word, thank you,” said the taxi driver.

Next, St. Peter led the priest to a rough old shack with a bunk bed and a little old television set.  “Wait, I think you are a little mixed up,” said the priest.  “Shouldn’t I be the one who gets the mansion?  After all, I was a priest, went to church every day, and preached God’s word.”

“Yes, that’s true,” St. Peter replied, “but during your Easter sermons people fell  asleep.  When the taxi driver drove, everybody prayed.”

I think all of us who are pastors fear that our Easter sermon will put the congregation to sleep.  When my daughter Rae Ann was a little girl, she loved to watch Mr. Rogers on TV.  One day Mr. Rogers taught the kids the meaning of the word “soporific,” which means “causing sleep.”  When he asked his TV audience to make a sentence with soporific, Rae Ann said out loud, “My pastor (this was before I became a pastor) — my pastor is soporific.”

It’s amazing how many pastors actually dread the task of writing an Easter sermon, and not just because we fear it might put the congregation to sleep.  For all of us, it’s probably the most difficult sermon of the year to write.  Why?  Because Easter is the most important day, the most important festival of the entire church year; Easter is everything!  Easter is what Christianity is all about, and human words cannot fully convey a reality that exhausts the power of human vocabulary, nor can the mind adequately grasp the divine mysteries of the Resurrection!

In a story by H. G. Wells, there is a Bishop, who does what all clergymen do, — we pray, read, seek and search to try to understand the great mysteries of our Christian faith.  One day the bishop meets an angel from heaven, and he demands that the angel explain to him such mysteries as the incarnation, the miracles, the resurrection, and the ascension, just to name a few.

“I’m struggling with this.  I want to know the truth,” the Bishop exclaimed.

Placing his hands on the bishop’s head, the angel said, “The truth, all the truth in this little head?  Why, the truth would split your head open!”  That’s kind of the way we preachers feel on Easter Sunday, and we don’t want our head to split open.

In order to even attempt to preach the Easter truth, I must be convinced of the historical reality of the Easter truth, and I must want to convince you of that, too, because without it, Christianity has nothing to say that other religions have not already said.

Here are the basics of the Easter truth:  ONE, Jesus’ resurrection was a resurrection of the body – not a soul leaving the body at death.  TWO, Jesus’ resurrection was not a physical resurrection like Lazarus’, but it was a resurrection of a spiritual body that could not die again because of its immortal nature.  THREE, the risen body was both recognizable and unrecognizable.  Jesus could eat and drink and still be spiritual enough to pass through closed doors.  FOUR, the resurrection was an act of God.  Acts 11:30 says, It was God who raised Jesus from the dead.

FIVE, the resurrection confirms Jesus as Son of God, and assures man that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah.  In other words, it confirms the words and promises of Jesus.

So how do we know those five truths are true?  Because of the reliability of the Bible, God’s book of truth, not lies.  Because of the integrity of the witnesses; they were honest, God-fearing, reliable men and women who gave their lives for their faith.  Because of the witness of the church; all through the ages, the church has lived, served, and died on the fact of the resurrection.  And because of the personal experience of each believer.  Am I a deluded fool?  Am I giving my life to a corpse?  No, Christ lives, because He lives in me.

So how do YOU AND I react to an experience like Easter?  Before we answer that, let’s look at how the women in our sermon text reacted.

I don’t envy them.  They faced a difficult task.  On Friday, they witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion.  They knew the nature of the job they went to the tomb to do, so they got up early in the morning to do the work, feeling it was their duty to do it.  It would not be pleasant work, but it was something they were willing to do because of their love.  So they gathered together the spices and the ointments and the things necessary for preparing a body, and they went to the cemetery expecting to unwrap Jesus’ earthly remains and prepare them for a proper burial.

Those women were like the women of this church.  They are willing to do some unpleasant, but necessary, things, because of a sense of duty and because of their love.  At covered dish dinners, we men sit around and talk while the women clean the tables and wash the dishes.

And so they went.  They found the stone rolled away from the tomb.  But when they entered, they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus.  What a surprise!  There was no body in the tomb.  It was empty!  While they wondered about this, suddenly two men in clothes that dazzled their eyes stood beside them.  In their fright, the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do  you seek the living among the dead?”

The hearts of these women were filled with love for Jesus, but they lacked something.  They lacked something of ultimate importance.  What they did here plays out over and over again in our lives, my life and your life.  They were looking for the living among the dead.  How often this happens also today!  People look for life in all the wrong places!

Some people look to fame for fulfillment in life.  Do they believe their lives will be fulfilled if somehow they become famous?  No doubt the Easter angels would look at people with this attitude and say, “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?”

Others may seek fulfillment in life from pleasure, the pleasure of the five senses.  Why do people drink too much?  Use illegal drugs?  Suffer from sexual addiction?  Become addicted to pornography?  Sensual pleasure has become the goal of their lives, yet they will ultimately discover that they’re looking for the living – their own lives – among the dead.

Others may seek fortune.  If my house is bigger, and fuller with things, and my garage is full of cars and boats, then my life will be fulfilled.  But all lives, whether they’re filled with fame or fortune or pleasure or anything else in the world besides Jesus, are lives that end not with an empty tomb, but in a tomb that’s filled with a body, their body.  This is the certain consequence of looking for the living among the dead.

The women went to the tomb with love in their hearts for Jesus.  In fact, these women may have loved Jesus more deeply at that moment than anyone else in the entire world, but they were lacking one thing.  They were lacking faith.  They had not believed Jesus’ words that on the third day He would rise.  They expected to find the tomb filled with Jesus’ body, not empty.

No doubt most preachers hope to one day preach that one great Easter sermon, like the one John Chrysostom (                               ) preached in 400 A.D.  When he was the Archbishop of Constantinople, he preached an Easter sermon so powerful, so outstanding, that in Eastern Orthodox churches, his sermon is read on Easter Day every year, even till this day.

It would do us well to hear some of his words this morning, words that for sixteen hundred years have been speaking the life of Easter to Christian people:  “Christ is risen, and you o death are annihilated.  Christ is risen, and the evil ones are cast down.  Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice.  Christ is risen, and life is liberated.  Christ is risen, and the empty tomb is emptied of its dead; for Christ, having risen from the dead, is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.  To Him be glory and power forever and ever.”  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.