Sunday, April 8, 2018

What Difference Does Easter Make?


"What Difference Does Easter Make?"

20:19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” 26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth. The kingdom of this world is become; the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ. King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And He shall reign forever and ever. Hallelujah!

A pastor tells the following in the Augsburg Sermon Book for the year 1985: "I’ve never seen such a crowd in church, the woman exclaimed’. I didn’t know her, but apparently she was impressed by the number of people here for Easter worship. Then, as she was shaking my hand an-’ moving toward the front door, she added, "Do you suppose it will make any difference?"

I held on to her hand so she couldn’t get away, "What do you mean?" I said "Will what make a difference?"

"Easter," she shot back. "Will Easter make any difference for all these people, or will life tomorrow be the same as it was yesterday?"

That lady’s question is truly a profound question. "Will Easter make any difference for all these people, or will life tomorrow be the same as it was yesterday. Will Easter make any difference in your life? Has this week been different for you because of the Easter event last Sunday?

Easter is truly a religious holiday. Oh, sure we have the Easter bunny and the tradition of buying new clothes, but in the final analysis Easter has not been commercialized, it is truly a religious event and has this religious event made any difference in your life?

I would like to suggest this morning that Easter does, can and will make a difference in our lives in at least 3 areas, one, we now live in the living presence of the living Lord, two, there is now a profound sense of peace in our living because of Easter, and three, life is marked with a purpose because of the Easter experience. I would like to look at these three areas this morning to see how Easter "does make a difference in our lives."

One: Living in the living presence of Jesus through the Easter event does make a difference in our lives.

Maybe the best way to explain what this means is to tell you a story about a clown which was found in the Emphasis magazine, as you listen, think how Jesus can be like that clown in your life.

"Once, a hospital children’s ward was the most depressing ward because the children had little hope. That little hope was reflected in the faces of the nurses...nurses who requested a change in station, another assignment. Even the parents and friends found it difficult to enter and stay with these failing lives.

One man changed that by dressing like a clown. The nurses were apprehensive, some of the parents were offended, but the children laughed. The children sensed the clown loved them from his heart and hoped for them. The clown hoped that today was not the end of the world. He had a powerful influence on the children because he gave them hope.

The nurses began to work with the clown, and they began to laugh and smile. The children began to love the nurses’ and parents, they in turn began to love the clown.

Then one day the clown didn’t come to the hospital. His life had failed. However, he lives on in that hospital ward, lives on in his smile which is still there because he gave those children hope. Someone else is wearing his silly costume and smile, but most important--someone else is bringing hope through through love."

Living in the living presence of the living Lord, living in the power of the resurrection, living in Christ means we are people who live in hope and victory. Hope that because He lives, we, too, will live. Live in a way which brings hope to the world of brokenness. Hope that lives, people, events, circumstances don’t have to be that way, we don’t have to live in the brokenness of this world, there is that possibility of change, of renewal, of a new life because Jesus Christ has risen. His living presence through the Holy Spirit in this world means we are not people who live in despair, but people who live in hope. Hope that through His presence, his power in our lives God can make winners out of us losers. Life doesn’t have to go on in the same way, Easter can make a difference.

If we open our eyes, we can see all around us living proof of this hope this renewal, this change in the lives of people. People have felt the forgiving power of Easter, the hope that they don’t have to live with guilt, so their lives are changed. People who have sorrow, who have experienced grief have the hope and the promise there is more to death than pain, these is the promise of the resurrection, the promise of new life for their loved one, and the promise that Jesus will heal the pain of death, the sting of death in their lives. People who live with illness have the hope that Christ’s presence will either heal them, or give them the courage to live their lives with this brokenness and that somehow in spite of their brokenness, God will use them to minister to the people around them. We could go on and on, but I think you get the point. Easter does make a difference, because the risen Lord is living with us and he does bring hope, change, renewal, courage and strength, into our lives.

Jesus' presence in our lives through the Easter resurrection is like the lamp lighter in this Robert Louis Stevenson story: "The boy from the country came to London to visit his grandparents. One night as it was getting dark, he sat on the front porch watching the sights of the city. As he watched, he saw a man coming down the street. The man would stop at each corner and pause beside the lamp post, and then a round globe of light would burst forth through the darkness. As the boy watched in wonderment, the street gradually changed from darkness to a place of light. He became so excited, that he ran into the house and called his grandmother, "There’s a man outside poking holes in the darkness".

Yes, the living presence of Christ through the resurrection does poke holes in the darkness of our world and because he does, I maintain that Easter can and does make a difference in our lives.

Secondly, Easter makes a difference because through that experience, we have a profound sense of peace in our lives. Peace that God through Christ and the Holy Spirit is in control of life. Peace that I can surrender life into his hands and he will more than adaquatly take are of me. It was a peace that Thomas was looking for which drove him away from the community of believers, a peace he thought he could find through his own conditions and his own demands, but he only found frustration, loneliness, despair and sorrow.

But, when he returned to the community of believers, when he returned, Christ appeared to him and in that appearance, he found peace as he cried, "My Lord and my God". Thomas gave up his own conditions, his own demands for life and began to live in and through Jesus and when he did, life had a sense of peace, a sense of confidence, a sense of strength, a sense of quiet strength that God through his son and the spirit was indeed in control. Easter makes a difference when we realize that we don’t have to control life, we don’t have to have our way, we don’t have to have our demands or conditions met, but God is the one who is in control in a way which brings peace into our lives. There is peace to the Easter message which says we belong to God regardless of the circumstances in life.

A story in the same Augsburg sermon book says this about peace, "A little boy had a terminal illness. He knew he was dying even though his parents hadn’t told him, so one day he asked his mother, "Mom what’s it like to die? Will it hurt?"

The mother thought for a moment as she searched for an answer to the question then said, "Charlie", do you remember when you used to play with your friends all day? You’d be so tired that when we’d sit around and watch TV afterwards, you’d fall asleep in the chair with your clothes on. Well, that wasn’t where you belonged, but in the morning, you always woke up where you did belong--in your own bed. Your Dad carried you up the stairs, into your room, and tucked you into your own bed where you belonged."

"Charlie," she continued, "I think that’s what death is like. It’s like waking up some morning and finding ourselves in another room, in the place where we belong, safe in the strong loving arms of Jesus."

That is the peace, which Christ gives to our lives, the knowledge, the conviction, the comfort, the confidence that we belong to him that no matter what happens in this life on this earth, we belong to God. It is a sense of well being in the middle of disease, brokenness and despair. It is the sense of confidence knowing, believing, and trusting that somehow God is in control. Even when we have a difficult time seeing his hand, even when we cannot understand all the chaos around us, God is still in control, that is peace~ that is shalom, a sense of blessing in our lives.

Easter makes a difference because of this sense of peace, this sense of well-being, this sense of shalom, the sense of God’s blessing in our lives. It is this peace, this well being which enables a widow to go on living, which enables a person racked with pain and illness to still see joy in life, a young person searching for meaning and purpose to finally find, his/her place in life. A peace which enables a mother and father, husband and wife, to overcome the difficulties of family and marriage in the peace, the forgiving power of Jesus Christ. Do you understand? The Easter experience, the Easter resurrection brings to life even in the worse circumstances, a sense that God is in control, that I, we, belong to him, that somehow life can and does go on in and through him. The Easter resurrection does make a difference in that it brings that marvelous peace which does pass all human understanding. It bring that shalom, that sense of God’s blessing and wholeness into life, that sense of well-being in spite of all the brokenness in our lives and those around us. Yes, I am convinced that Easter does make a difference in each of our lives because of this sense of peace.

And finally, we come to the third way Easter makes a difference in our lives in that it marks life with a purpose, with meaning, with a goal and direction.

A way for us to understand this is to share with you a very old legend.

"When birds were first created, they could not fly for they had no wings. They looked with longing at the clouds, the high branches and the best fruits at the tops of the trees. If only these could be theirs. God heard their desire. One night, while all the birds were sleeping, he attached wings to their backs. But when they awoke, the birds were furious that God had given them an unwanted burden which now they would have to carry about with them the rest of their lives. How could God lay upon them more than they already had to bear?

But when one bird began to move its new wings. It was lifted aloft and given a freedom it never knew existed. The birds discovered their burden was a gift. Their wings became a way to a more abundant life."

The message of the Easter Resurrection, the message of the gospel, the responsibility of living in the commandment of the Lord, the duty of being a holy temple, a living sacrifice to the Lord, is the burden placed on each of us as we became God’s children in baptism. But at the same time, I believe all those things are a gift from God to bring meaning and purpose into our lives. They are like the wings for the birds, a burden to carry, but a blessing at the same time for in and through them, life, your life and my life has a sense of direction, a sense of purpose, a sense of calling in and through the Easter resurrection, the power of the risen lord.

Men and woman have found meaning and purpose to life. Many of our great saints all found direction in their lives through the burden of the gospel, the weight of the Easter message. To name of few, Albert Schweitzewr, Martin Luther King, St. Francis of Assisi, Martin Luther, John Wesley, Sister Treasa, Bishop Titu of South Africa, we could go on and on. When the gospel message becomes more than a weight, more than a burden, when it is viewed as a gift to enrich life, then life has such freedom, such power, such courage, such strength, there is no limit to what can be done. When life is seen through the power of Easter one can see for miles and miles and see all that needs doing, all the hurt, all the pain, all the suffering, all the hunger, all the inhuman conditions in which we find human beings, then we can help find solutions to these needs and through our lives.

Easter makes a difference if, and only if you and I are willing to carry our burden, carry this gift of the gospel with us in our walk down the road of life. But, I think, in this day, many people have absolutely no burdens to carry, no direction for life. They wander, they flow with the tide of life, never staying one place long enough to make their mark in the sands of time. I see this in our young people when I ask what do you want to do with your life? They don’t know. They go off to college and some come back because they don’t know what they want, no goal, no direction. Maybe, just maybe, if more of us were open to the gospel message, open to God’s spirit working with our spirit, maybe if we took this Easter message more seriously, maybe we could find some direction, some purpose, some meaning to life in and through God. Maybe if God’s hand were doing the guiding, we would not have so many people wandering aimless along the road of life. But with God’s hand, he would be leading them in a direction he wants for their life, and then life would have meaning and purpose.

Maybe, if we carried our burden of God’s grace in our lives in a way that it wasn’t seen as a burden, but as a gift which adds not subtracts from life, then, life would take on a meaning, a purpose, a sense of direction as God’s grace leads us to do his will.

I would like to close with an old, old story that has been quoted in many different place, in many different books, and because it has been passed around for so long, its origin has been lost, however its message is timeless:

"Someone once met a lad going to (school long before the days of buses and cars. The boy was carrying on his back a smaller boy who was clearly lame and unable to walk. The stranger said to the boy: "Do you carry him to school every day?"

"Yes," said the boy.

"That’s a heavy burden for you to carry," said the stranger.

"He’s no burden," said the boy, "He is my brother."

The burden of God’s grace is really no burden because it is carried out of love, our love for God and God’s love for us.
God our Father, you have promised to remain for ever with those who do what is just and right. Help us to live in your presence. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
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The Bible texts of the Old Testament, Epistle and Gospel lessons are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Church of Christ in the USA, and used by permission. Sermon contributed by Rev Tim Zingale, St. Olaf Lutheran Church, Fort Dodge, Iowa on Apr 18, 2001.
If we carried our burden of God’s grace in our lives in a way that it wasn’t seen as a burden, but as a gift which adds not subtracts from life, then, life would take on a meaning, a purpose, a sense of direction as God’s grace leads us to do his will.

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