Sunday, April 5, 2015

A Generous Easter

We sometimes refer to the gift of Easter, and when some folks think of Easter gifts they think of new clothes and chocolate.  And while those might be Easter gifts they aren’t the gifts we are talking about today. 

And this message really started on Friday because there couldn’t be a Sunday without a Friday.  Easter Sunday couldn’t and wouldn’t exist without Good Friday.  Because every gift, at least every gift that is truly a gift cost somebody something.  It might be time, it might be money but there is a cost there.  And so before Jesus could be raised from the dead he had to die, before we can accept the gift of salvation a debt has to be paid, in order for a sacrifice to be acceptable there has to be a cost to the person making the sacrifice.  Without a cost it might be a nice gesture but it wouldn’t be a sacrifice.

And that was my Message two days ago, what Good Friday Cost, and we looked at what it cost for the Father, the Son, Peter and the People of Jerusalem. 

But that was Friday and today is Sunday. 

And this is not only Easter Sunday it’s also the first week of Money Month at Cornerstone.  And that always makes it a little awkward, so a little background as we go ahead. 

For the past thirteen years Cornerstone has treated Stewardship differently than we did for the first seven years that we existed.  For the first seven we treated money the way most churches do.  We prepared a budget each year, which actually is probably more responsible than a lot of churches, but the budget really wasn’t based on reality.  It was more of a wish list than a budget.

And then I would preach on money whenever money became an issue.  Which unfortunately probably came across as scolding or begging.   In 2002 the leadership team decided that wasn’t working and so we moved in a different direction.  Each year in the month of April I focus on the theology of giving at Cornerstone and so for three or four or five weeks, depending on the April and Easter, I preach on money, how we make it and how we use it.  And then at the end of April we ask those who make Cornerstone their church home to make a commitment of what they intend to give weekly for the next 12 months and that is what we base our budget on.  In a very real sense the people of Cornerstone determine what type of church they would like to have. 

Normally when Easter falls in April we take a pass on stewardship that week, but this year we have Easter on the first Sunday of April and our Anniversary Service on the second Sunday.  So we will at least introduce the theme for the next four weeks, and that is “A Generous Church”. 

We good?

Two days before, the world was dark as Pontius Pilate the Roman Governor, who ruled Palestine at the direction of the emperor had Jesus Christ the Son of God crucified.  And the crime of Jesus?  He had displeased the religious rulers of the day, he had threatened the status quo with his talk of grace and forgiveness and how people could have a personal relationship with God.

And when Jesus died on the cross the hopes and dreams of those who followed him died as well.  For three years they had followed him and held unto to every word he said, in him they saw the promise of a better world.  But on Friday their dreams died with Jesus.

But that was Friday and this is Sunday.  In the scripture that was read for us earlier we read Mark’s account of what happened early on Sunday morning.  And the scholars tell us that Mark was writing Peter’s account of what happened. 

If we go back to Friday you may recall that Jesus’ body was taken down from the cross and laid in the tomb of Joseph at the end of the day.  And because the end of Friday signified the beginning of the Sabbath there was no time to take care of the body of Jesus.  And so now we see three woman returning to the tomb as soon as was practical to give their final gift to their friend.    They were there to wash his body and anoint it with the burial spices that custom dictated.  It is interesting to note that one of the gospel accounts names some of the spices that were brought, and one of them was myrrh.  You might recall the first time we see myrrh mentioned in the gospel accounts was when the Magi presented their gifts to the new born Christ.  And so it seems that myrrh was destined to be both the first and last gift given to Jesus. 

And so resurrection Sunday begins as a day of generosity, the generosity of service when these woman got up early so they could be at the tomb as soon as possible to take care of their friend’s remains.  The generosity of those who provided the spices, we are told there was seventy five pounds in total.  And the generosity that allowed them to be identified with one who had been declared a heretic and branded a traitor to Rome. 

And so here they were, only to be greeted not by a tomb sealed with a stone and guarded by Roman soldiers but by an open tomb with a messenger from God. And the message?   You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead!”

And so on Friday we talked about what that day had cost, but that was Friday and this is Sunday. 

Let’s go back to the scripture that we started with two days ago and that was John 3:16 “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.   The key word here is “Gave”.  Jesus was not taken from the Father, the Son was not demanded of the Father.  The Father Gave His Son The bible is clear, we were each created to have a relationship with our creator.  That was the plan from the beginning and in the beginning mankind chose to reject that relationship and that set the pattern
.  And sometimes we struggle with the why of free will.  Wouldn’t be it be easier for us if we were unable to sin, unable to choose to do that which was wrong?
It is the double edged sword of free will, we all want to be able to choose to do as we wish, we just don’t want to pay the consequences.  In the case of rejecting God the consequences are plain, eternal separation from the God we rejected. 
But how do we bridge the gulf that exists between us and a perfect God?  We can’t on our own and so the price was paid when God gave his Son.  And I spoke about this on Friday.  The Trinity and the nature of God is and will remain a mystery to us until our eyes are opened on the other side of eternity.  How can one God exist as three persons?  How can there be a Son who has always been?  If you can’t understand it that’s alright, I’ve quoted Augustine before who said “If you deny the Trinity, you lose your soul; if you try to explain the Trinity, you lose your mind.” What we need to understand is that what God gave was Himself.  The ultimate gift to redeem a people who had rejected him.   
The next thing we need to realize is that 2000 years ago The Son Gave His Life Sometimes when we think of Good Friday and all that happened on that day we picture Jesus being dragged from the temple to Pilate and from Pilate to Herod and back to Pilate again.  Of Jesus being forced to carry his cross and losing his freedom and his life at the whim of a fickle governor giving in to the vindictive and selfish desires of the religious leaders.
But long before Jesus was crucified and before Jesus was arrested in the garden, and before Judas was bribed to betray him Jesus told his apostles in John 10:17 “The Father loves me because I sacrifice my life so I may take it back again.”  Jesus didn’t say his life would be taken from him, he said he would sacrifice his life.  A sacrifice is not something that is taken that is something that is given.
It was Gandhi who said “The mice which helplessly find themselves between the cats teeth acquire no merit from their enforced sacrifice.”
But for Jesus it was not an enforced sacrifice, he was not like a mouse caught by a cat. 
Listen as Jesus continues  John 10:18 “No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.” Did you catch that?  Jesus said “I sacrifice it voluntarily.  I lay it down.”  And ultimately he said that he would take it up again.
Later on, John, one of Jesus’ closest friends, would reiterate this when he wrote to the early Christians 1 John 3:16 We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.   Jesus gave his life for us. It wasn’t taken it was given. 
And maybe you are thinking:  But when they came to arrest him did he really have a choice?  When they took him to the high priest who sent him to Pilate who turned him over to be crucified.  How was that his choice? 
When the story is told of Jesus’ arrest you might remember that Peter grabbed a sword and tried to fend off those who came to arrest Jesus, and in doing cut off one guy’s ear, and we’ve talked about that before.  That was a mistake, Peter never intended to cut off the guy’s ear, Peter meant to cut off the guy’s head.  And Jesus reaches over and picks up the ear and puts it back where it belonged, which is kind of cool, would have been cooler if Peter had of cut off the guy’s head and Jesus had of fixed that, just saying.   But then Jesus tells Peter to put down his sword and he makes this remarkable statement, Matthew 26:53 (Jesus said) “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?”  This isn’t legions like we have legions, what Jesus was referring to here was the largest unit in the Roman army which at that time numbered around 6,000 men.   And so Jesus is saying that at his word, the Father would send 72,000 of the biggest meanest angels the world had ever seen and it would be game over. 
Right up to the end Jesus could have put a stop to what was happening.  He wasn’t a helpless puppet or pawn.  He gave his life for us.   
And if the story had of ended with that, with the Father Giving His Son and the Son Giving His Life it would have made a good story, but that would have been it.  Because that was Friday, and this is Sunday.  You see the cost was paid on Friday but the gifts were revealed on Sunday.  Because on Friday Jesus’ body was laid in a tomb and all he had said and all he had done was buried with him. 
Now let’s go back to the scripture that was read for us earlier, the woman arrive at the tomb expecting it to be sealed, but instead it is opened and we pick up the story in Mark 16:5-6 When they entered the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a white robe sitting on the right side. The women were shocked, but the angel said, “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Look, this is where they laid his body.”
It was at that point that the gift was revealed, because up to that point the Father had lost his Son and the Son had lost his life.  The resurrection is the proof of the gift.  And you might be asking:  But how does that affect me? 
Well, because of the resurrection Peter Was Given Forgiveness.  We told the story on Friday, how Peter Jesus’ BFF had promised just hours before Jesus’ arrest that he would never deny him that he would die for him.  And how Jesus had never asked Peter to die for him, only to live for him, but in the end Peter was unable to do either.  
After Jesus’s arrest Peter had the opportunity three times to take a stand for Christ, three times he was asked about his relationship with Jesus and three times he denied that he even knew his friend.  And with his third denial Peter turned and looked into the eyes of the one he had just denied.  And we are told that with the realization of what he had done Peter was crushed, how could Christ ever forgive him?  How could he ever acknowledge a relationship with Jesus ever again?   
But if we go back to the scripture that had been read earlier we pick it up with the Angel’s words in Mark 16:7 Now go and tell his disciples, including Peter, that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you before he died.”   He didn’t just say “go and tell his disciples” instead he added “including Peter”.  And when the disciples heard that the grave was empty it was Peter who was first out of the gate to run to the tomb to see for himself.
For all of us who have felt at some time or another that we have blown our Christian witness, that through our actions or through our words that have denied Christ.  And we wonder how we can ever look into his eyes again he offers us the gift of forgiveness. 
You see the issue isn’t whether or not Jesus can forgive us, the issue is whether or not we can forgive ourselves.  Jesus was telling Peter that not only did he forgive him he believed in him.  And that there were greater days ahead.
Jesus was there to help Peter back to his feet.  Last month I talked about when Peter saw Jesus walking on the water and wanted to walk on the water as well.  You know the story, Peter gets out of the boat and as he starts to walk through the storm toward Jesus he panics and begins to sink.  And how Jesus reached out his hand and saved Peter.  Do you remember that?  And I made the comment in that message that Jesus took time to save the sinker before he rebuked the doubter. 
There would come a time, John records it in his gospel that Jesus would challenge Peter about whether or not he truly loved him.  And three times Peter affirms his love for Christ.  But before Jesus asked Peter to affirm his love for him, he affirms his love for Peter.
And if you feel that you’ve blown it, that you could never face Jesus again he wants you to know that when he conquered death he conquered it for you. 
Last Sunday was Palm Sunday and part of my message was how Jesus wept over Jerusalem.  He wept for those who would reject him, and reject the truth of his message.  And it wold appear that there was no future for the people of Jerusalem.  But listen to the promise that Jesus gives to the Apostles before returning to the Father, Acts 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
With the crucifixion Jerusalem may have given up on Jesus but with the resurrection it become very evident that Jesus hadn’t give up on Jerusalem.  And so with the resurrection Jerusalem was Given Hope for the Future
On Friday I said that when Jesus wept over Jerusalem he was weeping over all those who rejected his message and his truth.  But he didn’t give up on Jerusalem and he hasn’t given up on those who reject his message today.  Peter reminded the church 2000 years ago of that reality when he wrote in 2 Peter 3:9 The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.  
And we don’t have to read very far into the book of Acts when we see the Holy Spirit empowering the apostles and we see Peter, Peter who had denied Christ, now preaching and literally thousands of people in Jerusalem coming to know Christ.  And the message that Peter preached to the people of Jerusalem was simple.  “God sent his Son, you killed him, now say you’re sorry.” 
And it was in Jerusalem that the church was born, and the gift that Christ gave to the world was the gift of the Church.  And Jesus had said this about the church in Luke 6:47 I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it.  And from out of the generosity of Easter the church was born and generosity has been the legacy of the church for 2000 years. 
From the very beginning we see the early church tending for the “least of these” and they followed the example of Christ.  Jesus’ brother James remind the early church in James 1:27 Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.
And they got it.  And since the birth of the church we see followers of Christ reaching out to widows and orphans, to the sick and the despised.  History has recorded the generosity of those who follow the risen Christ who have built hospitals and orphanages who have ministered to the hungry and the displaced.  And today when there is a disaster it is still Christian relief agencies funded by Christian churches that are in the forefront.  And they are simply responding to the generosity of Easter. 
How will you respond to the gift of the resurrection?  Maybe like Peter you need to realize that Christ has not given up on you even if you feel that you gave up on Christ.  Or maybe you are like the people of Jerusalem who turned their back on Christ while he was on the Cross and rejected him but he hadn’t given up on Jerusalem and he hasn’t given up on you either. 
Forty years ago Bill Gaither wrote these lyrics Because He lives, I can face tomorrow,
Because He lives, all fear is gone; Because I know He holds the future,
And life is worth the living, Just because He lives!

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