“Believe Indeed” Easter sermon

“Believe Indeed”   Luke 24:1-12
Delivered to Church for the Highlands
Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016

The ancient Easter greeting we have said here today, “He is risen! He is risen indeed!” remind us of our belief that the tomb of Jesus was empty and that he won victory over death.  I guess it is the “indeed” part that is the biggest part of that greeting.  Indeed, we say, he is risen.  Indeed is a statement of belief.  Believing involves an understanding that reality is beyond our senses and/or finitude.  Isn’t that what the two men in dazzling clothes were trying to get the women there at the tomb to see? Why are you looking in the tomb for Jesus; he is risen. Indeed.

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This is true for us today as well, as we stand at a distance of some 2,000 years from the tomb of Jesus.  The messengers of God say to us this morning, “He is not here, but has risen.”  But how, we ask?  How can we honestly say “indeed?” How could it be that someone who is dead can live again?  How is it that a loved one we put into the ground could ever come back to life?  These are important questions, ones we all ask from time to time as we wonder if we are suspending our reason to believe in something we can’t prove happened.

Perhaps the best place to begin in finding an answer is just outside this door, in the beauty we see in spring. Did you wonder if the trees would ever bud out again, if the bulbs you haven’t seen since last spring would ever return, or if the dark grey of winter would ever be replaced with the vibrant shades of red, blue, and green surrounding us this spring? Isn’t it inspiring to see the white crosses of a dogwood in full bloom against the lifeless background of an exiting winter?  The New York Times just featured “Recognizing Spring, Scientifically,” an article by Nicholas St. Fleur about some fascinating indicators that spring is here: how the soil prepares itself for spring, how the Grey Whales make their annual 10,000 mile trek with their calves, how inchworms arrive and do their string thing, and how foxes spend springtime.  One other is how Robins have a springtime ritual.  As the author describes it,

The American robin nests early in the year and typically lays a clutch of four eggs, two to four times each breeding season, which ranges from spring to early summer. After an incubation period of 12 to 14 days, the little birdies hatch, naked, blind and helpless. In five days, their bulging eyes will open, and down feathers will fluff up the little nestlings.

Within two weeks, the baby birds will leave the nest, unable to fly for another 10 days or so. If you ever see a baby robin hopping around its nest, leave it – its parents are watching it learn. In fact, the parents will continue to incubate, feed and protect their young for up to four weeks as they learn to fly and take care of themselves. After that, the young robins are on their own.

Spring is a busy time for Robins and all God’s creatures; a time of reproduction and recreation; a time for new life.

But there’s more than just nature available to help us with our belief.  An Armenian Orthodox priest points out what else is required in a letter he recently wrote to his diocese about Easter, ” To experience the Holy Resurrection, it is imperative that we renew our spiritual life.  Otherwise, the human mind and reasoning are unable to pierce through the folds of the mystery of the Resurrection and find a new path of life leading to Christ, our Lord.” Though I’m not a part of the Orthodox church, I do love the emphasis on mystery in their worship and practice. The Archbishop mentions both reason and mystery, indicating the necessity of both.  Maybe that’s where we need some help with our belief.  We often approach resurrection with only our minds, like the women who first arrived at the tomb. Their thinking was normal. They expected to see death. That’s a logical, reasonable thing to expect when someone dies and you go to a burial site.

The same is true for us.  People we love die and we no longer expect to see them alive.  Our health fails in some way and we no longer feel alive.  Our dream fades into death and we feel that things for us are all over.  Our addiction crushes us once again and we expect nothing different for the future.  Our world explodes with ISIS and we grow accustomed to living in fear and eventually accept this as normal for our world today.  These are our expectations about things that die.   But since when did God work according to our expectations and assumptions?

Easter.Slides16.004So how we are to believe with both our minds and our hearts? Maybe our belief should look like Peter’s, the kind that gets your attention with a possibility about something you want to be true more than anything else in the world; that causes you to jump up from your seat and run full throttle to explore it.  You know something is amiss with what you’ve heard about him, but you can’t ignore what people are saying about him or the experience of his reality in this world.  Have you felt like that with Jesus lately or ever?  Have you allowed the reality of the resurrection of Jesus to renew your life?

This mysterious thing of belief —with our heart and our mind—is something we sometimes struggle to identify with words, but there are few things we can know about it.  For one, belief is something that happens in the context of community, so you are certainly in the right place this morning if you are interested in believing.  It often begins at church though it doesn’t have to; but it is certainly nurtured by other people who are exploring and/or practicing theirs.  We believe by hearing other people’s stories of faith at church. We believe by being silent. We believe by being intentional about what is out there. We believe by remembering the words of Jesus. Belief is also something that involves doubt at times. Doubt and belief are not mutually exclusive. Belief is also something that is strengthened and enhanced by the beliefs of other people, specifically people who do not believe exactly as we do. Learning what others believe actually strengthens our faith because we understand more of what it is that we believe and also more of why.
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All of this is certainly true when it comes to the resurrection of Jesus. And to our resurrection as well. There’s something within each of us that points towards to and yearns for the eternal. We know that this life cannot be all that there is. Yes, God continues to recreate in beautiful ways. Jesus amplified this reality with his words, his life, his death, and, most of all, his resurrection.

[Audio of this sermon is here]

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