Monday, April 26, 2010

Ordinary People, Extraordinary God (Acts 3-4)

April 25, 2010 (30th Anniversary of Good Shepherd Sunday)
Sermon by: Robert Austell

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Have you ever seen something extraordinary – I mean really out of the ordinary?

My mind first goes to expansive views in God’s creation – a certain panoramic view on top of the Blue Ridge Parkway or the endless horizon at the beach. I once stood on Mt. Sinai at sunrise – that was extraordinary.

But my experience of the extraordinary is not just of creation’s wonders. As I think back over my time at Good Shepherd, I have witnessed the extraordinary more than once. And hearing some of the extended stories of this place during the Sunday school hour this morning, I recognize that this is a very, very special place, and has been since its birth.

And yet, have you ever tried to describe Good Shepherd or explain this to someone?

You don’t say, “Drive through Old Providence until you see an amazing church building.”

You don’t say, “Come listen to the amazing (good looking) preacher.”

As good as the music is, I’ve realized you don’t even say, “Come hear our awesome choir or awesome band.” Each are, indeed, quite good, but some Sundays there’s a full choir or band and others it’s a much smaller ensemble or group. And never (I hope!) does one come in to find either group on display as some kind of showpiece.

No, there is something else going on here. And when I talk about “ordinary people” I am not saying that the people you’ll find here are not talented or kind or good people. Rather, we are normal people. Some are gifted, some are wealthy; some are struggling emotionally and some are financially struggling. Some have a lot of knowledge and some are new to faith. But it’s never, “Come look at us! Look what we can do! Look what we’ve built!”

To be honest, that is a temptation common to humanity: to build it bigger, longer, faster, stronger, and then show it off! That was what led to the Tower of Babel, the desire to make the human extraordinary. But what I think pleases God, describes our journey thus far, and hopefully charts our future, is the desire of ordinary men, women, and children to listen carefully and follow God through faith in Jesus Christ and attention to the Scripture.

Hall of Ordinary Fame

We think of biblical characters as “heroes of faith” – the stories are miraculous and extraordinary and bigger than life. But if you stop to look at many, maybe even most, of them, they really illustrate what an extraordinary God can do with an ordinary human being.

We’ve invited the children of the church to remain with us today. Anyone receiving a children’s bulletin should have also received an activities booklet, which highlights several of these ordinary men, women, and children. I want to remind you about each one and then if you want to, you can do the activities in there while I’m finishing the rest of the sermon.

DAVID was known for many things, but he was chosen precisely because he was ordinary. The first king, Saul, had been chosen because he was so big and strong and impressive. That didn’t work out well, so when God sent his prophet to find a new king, he looked for someone a little more ordinary. David was young, smaller, and was the baby brother of the family, left to take care of the animals while his brothers went to fight in the army. But you’ll remember the story of how he went to fight the champion, Goliath. David was not even wearing armor because it was too heavy for him. But he killed the mighty warrior with a slingshot and stone. God did extraordinary things through David because David trusted and obeyed Him.

MOSES first appears in the Bible as a baby. He couldn’t do anything yet! And Pharaoh, the ruler of Egypt, was trying to kill all the Hebrew baby boys. Helpless as Moses was, God miraculous protected him and caused him to be found and raised in the household of the very person who was trying to kill him. Later, when he was a grown man, God used Moses to speak to and challenge Pharaoh and lead God’s people, the Israelites, out of slavery to freedom. You’d imagine Moses to be a great speaker, but he stuttered! But he did what God asked him to do and God did extraordinary things through him.

SAMUEL was a “miracle baby,” given by God to his mom when she couldn’t have children. He was raised in the Temple by the priest, Eli. Even at a young age, God spoke to him and Eli taught him to listen and obey. Samuel grew up to be a prophet, specifically the one who God would use to choose the first kings of Israel.

TIMOTHY was also a young boy when he first believed in God. His mother and grandmother (Eunice and Lois) told him about the faith and he believed in God. Later, God called this young man to travel with the Apostle Paul and eventually be one of the first pastors to the Greek-speaking world. He did not have worldly qualifications to be a great leader, but in 1 and 2 Timothy Paul encourages Timothy that he doesn’t need those things, but faith and obedience to serve the Lord.

In Matthew 14 we read about the miraculous – truly extraordinary – miracle of the “Feeding of the 5000.” Yet, even in that most amazing of miracles, Jesus was pleased to use the ordinary lunch of an ordinary boy to accomplish his miracle. Surely when he packed his lunch that morning, the boy didn’t think, “I’m going to pack the most spectacular lunch possible, for I may eat with royalty today.” He simply said, “Yes,” to God when asked to share his meal. And God did a truly extraordinary thing.

MARY was a young woman preparing to be married. She was not a Bible scholar, priest, wealthy woman, or anything other than an ordinary woman with faith in an extraordinary God. Again, don’t hear me calling Mary or you “ordinary” and hear me saying you don’t have worth or don’t have anything going for you. My point is that you don’t have to have special training or qualifications to be used by God; you only need to tune in and follow.

There are many others in the Bible. Some not only didn’t have special training, but were outcasts or outsiders. RAHAB was a prostitute; RUTH was a foreigner; JEREMIAH was also a young boy; PAUL had some significant hindrance – many think he was visually impaired.

I want to challenge the children with the programs to look at some of these people I’ve named and do the activities in the booklet. Or finish those later and listen while I talk about one more example of ordinary people and an extraordinary God.

Peter and John

The disciples are probably right up there with any other “heroes of the Bible.” We read the stories and talk about how human they were, but I think we nonetheless idolize them a bit. Sure they started off pretty ragtag, but they became Apostles, right?

The text we heard this morning takes place after they have become Apostles. It is after Pentecost – or right in the midst of it really. The Holy Spirit is blowing around and doing some pretty amazing things, including miracles of healing. And that’s precisely what you read about in Acts 3. Peter and John were going up to the temple and saw a lame man begging for money. Peter said to him, “In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene – walk!” And the man was healed and strengthened and leaped up – walking and leaping (it says ‘leap’ twice… lots of leaping!) and praising God. And people recognized him as the one who had been the lame beggar. And those that saw him in the Temple were filled with wonder and amazement.

It would have been so easy for Peter and John to focus in on that miracle and even try to start making a name for themselves. But they remained focused on Jesus and the story of his life, death, and resurrection. Peter is clear about who did the extraordinary thing in Acts 3:12, “Men of Israel, why are you amazed at this, or why do you gaze at us, as if by our own power or piety we had made him walk?” He went on to say, “It’s all God…” and from there told the Good News about Jesus.

In chapter four, Peter and John are arrested for teaching and proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus, but not before the number of those who heard and believed numbered about 5000 (Acts 4:4)! The next day, Peter and John stand trial and boldly proclaim Jesus, even though they face those who arrested and killed Jesus. These were the same authorities Peter and John had hidden from around the time of the crucifixion!

That’s three really extraordinary things described in these chapters. A lame man was healed so he could walk (and leap!), 5000 men (and perhaps then their households) came to believe in Jesus, and formerly frightened disciples now boldly faced their accusers and proclaimed the Good News about Jesus.

Ordinary People

Were Peter and John extraordinary men? Were they doing things you or I could never do? Let’s notice some of the other detail given here. First, they weren’t even equipped to help the beggar in the way he wanted. In Acts 3 he was asking for money and they had neither silver nor gold. It was in fact out of that lack of material wealth that Peter prayed in faith for God’s healing. If you have wealth, it is a wonderful thing to give of that to help the truly needy. But not having wealth does not mean you have nothing to offer those in need in this world! You can be financially strapped, physically homebound, or have little education, and pray for another person and God’s intervention in their life. I realize we don’t normally see healings of this nature; but we do pray for the sick and see God’s healing physically and in many other ways. God was the extraordinary worker of miracles that day; Peter and John simply prayed in faith to the one who could do what they could not.

What about the bold preaching? 5,000 believed and then Peter and John bravely testified in front of their enemies. I’m trained to speak and share the Gospel and 5,000 conversions boggles my mind. Surely they were extraordinary expositors of God’s Word and we can’t measure up. But did you catch what the religious leaders said about them during the trial? When they listened to Peter and John speak, they realized that they were “uneducated and untrained (or ‘ordinary’) men.” (Acts 4:13) Fancy preaching didn’t convert the crowd or confront the accusers; the Holy Spirit worked through two ordinary men – blue collar guys, for both were fisherman who grew up working with their hands.

Ordinary People Like You and Me

Where am I going with all this? The point I hope you won’t miss is that each of you is ordinary – not like, “Hey, you’re average,” but in the same way that David, Moses, Samuel, Timothy, a small boy who shared lunch, Mary, Rahab, Ruth, Jeremiah, Paul, and yes, Peter and John, were ordinary. What makes the biblical story so amazing is that the extraordinary God chooses to work through and with ordinary people like you and me to accomplish His will in the world.

I could give you many examples, but I think what has been happening on Wednesday nights this year is a perfect and recent one. With no special evangelism training, no extra Bible courses, less leadership from me rather than more, God has accomplished more Gospel-sharing and changed lives in the community through this simple “Wednesday night experiment” than I’ve seen in scores of other programs and projects of which I’ve been a part. Ordinary people like you – well it is many of you – just show up on Wednesday night and then go out into the community where God is at work. You go spend an hour intentionally mingling with our neighbors. And without really trying, that act of missional obedience has resulted in significant fruit in terms of sharing Christ, praying for former strangers, and even movement toward answered prayer and emotional/spiritual healing in some cases. It is as exciting a thing as I’ve ever witnessed – and it is so significantly not about us and all about God. It’s that core question we’ve returned to for some time now: “What is God doing and how can I/we be a part of it?”

God has been so faithful – and so extraordinary – in the life of our congregation over the past thirty years. I can’t wait to see where He leads us next!

When people ask me about Good Shepherd, I have learned to invite them, but say that they won’t (and shouldn’t) come to be dazzled by us. But, if they hang out for a few weeks or months, I think they will be significantly impacted by God’s presence in this place.

As I look to the future, that’s at the forefront of my mind. In tennis, my Dad used to tell me to keep my eye on the ball. If I start looking at the stands or thinking about my victory leap over the net, then I’ve already lost. But keep my eye on the ball. That’s my goal for us; that’s my goal for myself – keep our eyes on Jesus and keep asking what God is doing and how we can faithfully and obediently be a part of that… ordinary people following an extraordinary God. Amen.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

God of Second Chances (Lamentations 3.19-26, John 21.1-19)

April 18, 2010
Sermon by: Robert Austell

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Scroll to bottom of sermon to hear Katie singing "He's Always Been Faithful"

This week we hear about Jesus appearing to some disciples at the Sea of Galilee. He has already appeared to them once in the room where they were hiding after the crucifixion. So they know he is alive. John even says that Jesus performed “many other signs” in their presence. But this third resurrection appearance to the disciples happened after all that.

Seven of the disciples were together and Peter announced, “I am going fishing.” The whole group decided to go with him. Many or all of them had grown up as fishermen, and it was natural for them to go together to handle the nets.

It must have been a frustrating night for them, because they did not catch any fish. Maybe they wondered if they had lost the touch they once had. Maybe they were out there contemplating whether they should return to their former lives. Whatever the reason was, no one likes to fish and catch nothing.

And then, as the sun was rising, a man shouted from the shore, “Do you have any fish?” They couldn’t see who it was, but they answered… surely a discouraged (and perhaps annoyed), “No!” And then this stranger tells them to throw their nets back in off the right-hand side of the boat. He tells them that they will find a catch there.

About this time, however, something should have begun to wake in the back of Peter’s mind. It had been three years, but certainly he could never forget what started with frustrated fishing and ended with Jesus saying, “Follow me.” On that day he hadn’t caught any fish either. And Jesus told him to go back out and throw his nets back in the water. Really, it’s kind of strange this happening again…

And about the time enough neurons fired in Peter’s brain to make the connection, the nets began to strain with the great number of fish… just like that other time. In fact, EXACTLY like that other time. It was nothing short of a miracle!

And just then, too, the young disciple, John, turned to Peter and said, “It is the Lord.” Peter put his outer garment back on and dove in the water to swim to shore. The others were left to haul in the fish and bring the boats to shore.

By the time they got to the shore, Jesus had a fire going with fish cooking, and bread ready to eat. And Jesus asked them to put some of their own fish on the fire and invited them to come and have breakfast with him.

And they all knew him and broke bread and ate fish with him.

I’d like to look at the things Jesus said that day as we try to understand what God would teach us from this encounter between the disciples and the risen Jesus Christ.


“Children, You Do Not Have Any Fish, Do You?” (v. 5)

We don’t really know why these disciples went fishing that day. It might have just been for fun, though fishing with boats and nets isn’t the recreational event that heading to the pond with a rod and reel can be. It may be that it was apparent that the days of following Jesus around from town to town were over and the disciples were trying to figure out what to do next, though Jesus had told them that he was “sending them as the Father sent him.” What seems apparent in the scene that follows – when Jesus forgives and commissions Peter to “tend his sheep” - is that Peter was still feeling cut off from Jesus. He had betrayed Jesus and denied every knowing him, and resurrection or not, Peter probably felt like his discipling days were over.

When Jesus calls out from the shore, he is asking more than about the quality of the fishing. As always, there is intent behind his every question. When he asks if they’ve caught any fish, I believe he is asking them, “How are you doing on your own?”

Like Peter, we may have experienced God in a profound way at one point in our lives. Maybe it was at a summer camp; maybe it was on a youth mission trip; maybe at a church service or a revival meeting; maybe in a quiet moment alone with God. Like Peter, we may have walked closely with the Lord for some time in our lives, but now feel distant and are not sure how to get back that closeness. And it may be that we have returned to our former lives or ways of doing things… out of habit, in a search for meaning, or out of a need to feel productive.

The distance between us and God may not be from something as dramatic as Peter’s denial, but is real nonetheless. And whether we’ve known God before or not, being distant from God amounts to the same thing – feeling like we are on our own in the world.

And a stranger shouts from the edge of our awareness, “How are you doing on your own?” It’s a pretty annoying question, especially if things aren’t the greatest right now. But as the clouds clear in our minds, and we see that it’s Jesus asking the question, we have to take the question seriously.

And, having considered the question seriously, I’d have to answer, “Not so great… I could use some direction; I could use some help.”


“Cast the Net on the Right Side of the Boat” (v. 6)

And Jesus offered guidance. “Cast the net on the right side of the boat.” It is not inconsequential that the step of repentance, always a core ingredient in being forgiven and reconnected with God involves turning from one direction to another. “Turn from the left and go to the right.” Stop moving this direction in your life and go this direction.” As Jesus said to Thomas, “Do not be unbelieving, but be faithful.”

And so Jesus may well speak convicting words into our lives… into our not-so-great situations.

Stop pursuing wealth; pursue me. Stop worshiping that idol, that person, and that success story; start worshiping me with your whole heart. Stop sinning; turn to me.

It may be that Jesus’ words cause us embarrassment; they may disrupt what we think of as a balanced life. But if the answer to the question, “How are you doing on your own?” is “Not so well,” then it may be in our best interest to consider what Jesus says.

The disciples’ obedience led them to the miracle. Doing what God says leads us toward His will for our lives, and when our lives are wrapped up in God’s will, then amazing things WILL happen. When we exchange our behavior for God’s direction (that’s REPENTANCE) and obey God’s will (that’s WORSHIP), God works in our lives, offering forgiveness, cleaning us up, and using us for His glory.

The natural response to recognizing God at work and experiencing this kind of miracle in one’s life is exactly Peter’s response – to run to God (or swim!). The more God works in our life, the more we will be drawn to Him in love and gratitude.


“Bring Some of the Fish Which You Have Now Caught” (v. 10)

The third thing Jesus said to the disciples was, “Bring some of what you have now caught.” They arrived on the shore to find him already cooking breakfast for them. Who knows where Jesus had come up with the fish and bread. God has everything we need already prepared for us!

And yet, He invites us to participate WITH Him – to bring ourselves and what we have done to His table.

Though fish and bread were a common enough breakfast, the miracle of the catch and the fact that Jesus provided where none were before would have reminded the disciples of the day he fed 5,000 with one boy’s lunch of fish and bread. It was just after that miraculous event that Jesus taught them that he was the bread of life, the bread sent from Heaven, the living Manna from God.

His lesson that day was that God had sent us exactly what we needed for spiritual nourishment – for eternal life – in the person of His Son, Jesus. By “feasting on” Jesus, we would be fed forever. And yet… God invites us to bring some of what we have. God invites us to exchange our sins for his grace; God invites us to include our praises and words of thanks with the eternal song of Heaven. Even as God offers us rescue and life itself, He invites us to add our will and worship to what is already perfect.

Such is our salvation and such is the table the Lord sets before us. God is and has everything we could ever need. At the same time, God delights in inviting us to “bring some of what we have now caught” – which is what He has produced in our life as we obey and follow Him. What a privilege and what a joy!


“Come and Have Breakfast” (v. 12)

And finally, Jesus invites the disciples to “Come and have breakfast.” Come, sit with Him; come, worship Him; come love Him and be loved by Him; come enjoy God’s provision and the result of God at work in your life. The disciples did not need to ask who this was. They knew him as their Lord and friend.


“Do You Love Me? ... Tend My Sheep” (v. 17)

I’ve never preached this whole passage together, but Jesus’ conversation with Peter flows right out of the encounter with the larger group. If his words and questions about how you are doing and turning around and bringing what we have to share in what he is doing are too vague, what follows with Peter is direct, personal, and to the point. Peter, who has done all the other disciples have and more in terms of giving up, running away, and denying him, now must confront his own failures and see what the Lord has in store for him.

It is just here where we see the truth of those verses from Lamentations: “God’s mercies are new every morning.” It is a second chance and more. Three times, perhaps even once for each denial, Jesus asks Peter some variation of “Do you love me?” Three times Peter has the opportunity to respond. And three times, Jesus answers with some variation of “tend my sheep.” Earlier we saw the invitation to repentance and worship and here it is extended directly and personally to Peter. “Peter, will you turn to me and love me?... Then I have work for you to do – to share in my own work.”


“Follow Me” (v. 19)

Jesus’ words to Peter do not end there, but with the same words with which he began three years earlier. On that day, after telling Peter and others to push back out and throw their nets back in, Jesus invited them to “Follow me.” So also, on this day of second chances and new starts, Jesus calls Peter once again, saying, “Follow me.”

How many of us need to hear God’s declaration, not just that he wants and uses ordinary people like you and me, but that he comes even to those who have failed and fallen to call to them – to call you – again and again. To you who are burned out, used up, off track, ashamed, and full of doubt; welcome to the disciples’ club! I just described those in the boat that day and especially the one to whom Jesus said, “Do you love me? Tend my sheep.” And as he said to Peter, so he would say to you, “Follow me.”

Listen again to the words from Lamentations 3:19–26, which we used for our call to worship. Surely these words would have rung true in Peter’s heart. Maybe they describe your journey as well. Listen to the Good News of God’s gracious love and purpose for you:
Remember my affliction and my wandering, the wormwood and bitterness. Surely my soul remembers and is bowed down within me. This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.  “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I have hope in Him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him. It is good that he waits silently for the salvation of the Lord.

Amen!

Katie singing "He's Always Been Faithful"

 
 

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Guest Preacher - no text or audio available

April 11, 2010

No text or audio available.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Redemption+ (John 10.1-18, Romans 8.1-4,16-17)

April 4, 2010 – Easter Sunday
Sermon by: Robert Austell

No audio available.

Happy Easter to you! Today I want to talk with you about the significance of the first Easter, almost 2000 years ago. More importantly, I want to talk to you about Jesus and what God accomplished through his crucifixion and resurrection.

First, I want to offer two “disclaimers” of a sort. The first is that while we could talk about the historical basis for the crucifixion and resurrection, at the end of the day, a leap of faith is required. I want to be honest about that. You might be tempted to say, “Well if I could have seen it with my own eyes…” but that is just pushing the case back a step. Even Mary, who saw Jesus risen from death and talked to him, had to face the seemingly impossible question, “How is THIS possible?” Even having seen and heard him, she could have attributed it to a vision, hallucination, or wishful thinking. She was faced with a leap of faith, that someone she saw executed, dead, and buried, was now alive. She took that leap of faith and was willing to put herself out there and tell others, “I have seen the Lord.” Even if we sought hundreds of eyewitnesses (which there were) or extra-biblical records (which there are)… I daresay even if we saw it ourselves, there must be a leap of faith to accept the greatest of supernatural events, a true miracle: death did not have the final word. I say it that way to point to two overlapping miracles: Jesus physically and literally was raised from the dead, and in him we have the promise that the end of this life is not the end of our life. Said more simply, the Bible describes a God who is supernatural, who is greater than death. Nowhere is that claim more powerful or pointed than in the resurrection of Jesus on Easter morning. It is okay to struggle with the mental stretch that requires, but each person must either regard it as true or as false. That miracle is at the heart of the biblical story.

Secondly, it is important to ask the question, “Why is this necessary?” A third approach to the resurrection story is to not care, but that indifference probably has not wrestled with the biblical story. We have considered that story for the past six weeks and seen that, if true, we have a desperate, desperate need for God’s miraculous intervention. One must also reckon the story of human suffering, need, brokenness, and despair, as presented in the Bible as true or false. For weeks now we have considered that story and I, for one, have resonated with the stories of real, struggling people.

To that legitimate human need, the Bible claims, God has responded in love and through Jesus Christ. So while we began the service with the narrative of Easter morning, I invite you now to turn to Romans 8, that we might consider the implications of this truth claim about a real Easter resurrection.

The truth claim of the Easter resurrection narrative is “He is risen.” From that, our text in Romans makes at least four applications for those who put their faith in a risen Christ.

Mercy and Grace

Look at verse 1: “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” “I do not condemn you.” That’s what Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery. He did not ignore her sin or disregard it. Rather, he extended mercy and grace, that is, forgiveness. The one who was perfectly right and pure is the only one who rightfully can condemn us, and he chooses not to. Instead, he offers mercy and grace through the forgiveness of sin.

MERCY is not getting what we deserve; GRACE is getting what we don’t deserve. For all who realize just how imperfect and weak we are, that is good news indeed. Beyond the mercy of “I don’t condemn you” is the grace of “I forgive you.” That is the heart of the Christian Gospel.

Freedom and Life

Look at verse two: “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death.” We talked about God’s Law for a number of weeks leading up to today. We saw (I hope) that it was not given to crush us into the ground, but to give us FREEDOM and LIFE. When my kids were little we had a rule that they couldn’t play in the street. That was not to make them miserable or keep them from playing, but so that they could enjoy life in the front yard!

Jesus didn’t come to overturn the Old Testament Law or do away with it; rather, he came to explain and fulfill it, to remind us and demonstrate God’s intended Word and will for our blessing. Living in obedience to Jesus Christ isn’t a downer or a chain to bind us. Rather, it is to bless and keep us in this life and forever, that we might know and experience the freedom and life God created us to enjoy.

Purpose

Look at the end of v. 3 and the first part of v. 4: “…He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us….” Do you see the difference there? Jesus didn’t come to condemn us, but to condemn sin… to deal with the sin that would kill us. He took it into himself, bore the weight of it, and suffered the consequence of it. And by God’s power he emerged victorious over it. He redeemed us – bought us back and brought us back from death itself. In that way he fulfilled the PURPOSE of the Law and God’s PURPOSE for us – to bear God’s image in righteousness through identification with Jesus’ own righteousness.

I know, that’s where the language starts to get really theological and confusing. That’s where the biblical writers launch into analogy to help us understand: Jesus paid our debt to reconcile us with God; Jesus endured the chains of death that we might be redeemed; where we were covered by sin, Jesus washed us clean. All of those analogies simply point us toward the central truth claim of Scripture, that God achieved his long-promised PURPOSE through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection – He rescued us from death, for life.

Belonging, Family, and Home

Finally, look at verses 16-17, which offer us one more picture for understanding the blessings of Easter resurrection: “…we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.” These verses speak of BELONGING, FAMILY, and HOME. We were created in God’s image, as children of God; but the human race and we, individually, turn and run from God like so many prodigal’s leaving home. But Jesus’ death and resurrection are the ultimate loving invitation to “come home, sons and daughters.” Jesus has welcomed us back into His Father’s house, not as guests, but as FAMILY, heirs of all that God intended and purposed for us as His image-bearers. That’s the GLORY that is spoken of in v. 17 – “…that we may also be glorified with Him.” Our purpose is to bear the glory of God here and in eternity.

How can I put words to that? If you think in family terms, you probably have experienced the opposite of glory. If you’ve treated your husband or wife, mom or dad, son or daughter poorly – if you’ve lied, hurt feelings, or been selfish, you know the lack of joy and relationship that can cause, particularly if you let it fester and build. That is not unlike what has happened in the world between God and humanity. And so we avert our eyes, we badmouth the ones we’ve hurt, and we generally avoid the belonging and relationship that we actually crave with the ones we should love most. And every now and then, in a moment of what can only be called grace, someone will suck it up and reconcile – right or wrong, they will try to make peace. In an important sense, this is what God did through Jesus.

And if you’ve ever experienced that reconciling, that peace, in a relationship, you know the beauty and power of it. That amazing moment is a pale reflection of GLORY – the joy and relationship of being at home with God.

Redemption+

It is correct to say that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. But that is only one part of God’s bigger purpose, and it can become so trite that we don’t really even weigh its significance. What God did through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is bigger and broader. In our great need for God to intervene and act, God showed MERCY and GRACE, “Neither do I condemn you.” God reminded us of His desire for us, spoken to us through Word and Spirit, that we know and enjoy FREEDOM and LIFE. God revealed His PURPOSE for us, understood through a number of analogies: redemption, rescue, reconciliation, adoption, and more. And God made good on His promise of BELONGING, FAMILY, and HOME such that those who put their trust in Him will shine with the glory of God.

How do you enter into that? How do you “get it?” I would invite you to talk to me after the service or contact me for follow up. My phone number and e-mail are on the bulletin. I’d encourage you to check out the sermons from the past six weeks – several are out on the table and all are online at the website listed on the bulletin. I’d encourage you to tell a friend to help mark your interest and encourage forward momentum. Most importantly, I’d encourage you to pray – it’s nothing you have to have special training to do. It’s simply talking to God like you would talk to a person. Ask for God’s help, particularly in taking that “leap of faith.” You don’t have to check your brain at the door, nor do you have to have answered every question. I still have questions; I still have doubts. But I trust in a God who is bigger than my doubts; He wouldn’t be much of a God if he weren’t!

Let’s pray together now…

God, Easter is at the heart of it all – all of the story about you. I need your help to believe, to trust. I want to know your mercy and grace; I want to experience freedom and life; I want to understand my purpose and to belong to you. Help me; help each one here to trust you for what you have promised. We ask it in Jesus’ name, Amen.
 

I Have Seen the Lord (John 20.1-18)

April 4, 2010 – Easter Sunrise Service
Sermon by: Robert Austell

No audio available

For weeks now we have been talking about sin – about the human condition and our need for God’s miraculous intervention.

God accomplished significant things on the cross: namely, our reconciliation with Him through the forgiveness of sin. Yet until the Resurrection, the disciples and women who followed Jesus could not have known this apart from Holy Spirit theological insight. And as verse 9 relates, that understanding simply hadn’t been provided yet.

So Mary Magdalene came to the tomb to visit the body, expecting to honor her Lord and friend who had been executed. Shock and distress superimposed over sorrow when she saw the stone rolled away and the body gone. As she told Simon and John, “They have taken the body and we don’t know where!”

After returning to the tomb, she encounters two angels who ask her, “Why are you weeping?” She answers them in the same way, “They have taken the body and we don’t know where.”

A bit later, Jesus himself sees Mary and asks again, “Why are you weeping?” She pleads with him to tell her where the body has been taken.

At least three times Mary is presented with some evidence that Jesus is no longer dead. But she clings to her sorrow and loss and misses the truth and hope of an Easter that has already happened.

Finally, Jesus calls her by name, “Mary!” And… she recognizes him. Even then, she could have attributed the encounter to hysteria, a vision, wishful thinking, or a hallucination. He tells her to carry the news. She chooses to believe and to hope, and goes from there, the first with the Gospel, the Good News, “I have seen the Lord!”

For weeks now we have been talking about sin – about the human condition and our need for God’s miraculous intervention. When we do face our needs and don’t live in denial or distraction… when we face our disappointment and sorrow and shame, it is easy to lose sight of God. We may go to the house of God, but not see the Lord. We may spend time around the people of God, but not see the Lord. We may hear the very words of God, but not see the Lord.

The power of Easter – the power of a risen Christ – is of a God who isn’t absent, isn’t uninterested, isn’t powerless; rather, it is the power of a God who cares deeply and who has acted and who knows you intimately enough to call your name, “Mary.” Even then, we can chalk it up to any number of things. But our very hope and faith is there in our response to this Easter news of a risen Savior, “I HAVE seen the Lord.”