Monday, April 16, 2018

Missionary Dreams, Part 2: YOUR Missionary Dreams (Sermon for April 15)


MISSIONARY DREAMS, PART 2: YOUR MISSIONARY DREAMS
Matthew 5:13-16

13 You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
                                                --Matthew 5:13-16 New Revised Standard Version

In my sermon last week I made a very important announcement. The basic gist of it was that starting in July, I’ll be stepping down from pastoral ministry for one year so I can do some mission work in Tanzania and Cambodia.

And I opened that message by saying, “I’ve always wanted to be a missionary.”

Now, here’s my message for today. Are you ready?

-       YOU HAVE ALWAYS WANTED TO BE A MISSIONARY!

Now at this point you may be saying, “Claude! Last week I was concerned about your mental state. Now I KNOW you’ve gone off the rails! I have never wanted to be a missionary—to live in a grass hut in the jungle and eat insects for dinner!”

Well, I don’t want to do those things either. But I know for a fact that you, like me, have always wanted to be a missionary.

And here’s how I know: I know because within the heart of every human being there is a deep-seated need to make a difference.

It’s a basic, fundamental drive—the desire to make an impact on your environment. Psychologists call it the need for a “feeling of efficacy.” It’s a God-given desire to change the world around you.

This desire to make a difference is within you. You say, “Well why don’t I feel it?” The reason you don’t feel it is because it gets buried beneath the junk of everyday life. But trust me, it’s there.

You want to make a difference. You want to change the world.  You want to be a missionary.

Now, let me do like I did last week and define the terms.
Last week when I said “missionary,” I meant the kind that goes overseas.

This week when I say missionary, I mean ANY CHRISTIAN who obeys Jesus’ command to “Let your light shine before others.”

That can be you.

That should be you.

And deep down inside, you WANT IT to be you!

LET’S PRAY: Lord, awaken the Missionary Dreams in each of us. Show us what it means to be salt and light. Amen.

You’ve always wanted to be a missionary.

As a human being, you have basic fundamental needs. Physical needs: Air, water, food. Psychological needs: To feel loved, to feel safe, to feel valued. Spiritual needs: To be in relationship with God; to be forgiven; to grow spiritually.

And in addition to those, you have another deep-seated human need that is as basic as all the others: YOU NEED TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE!

Every human being wants to know that their life counts. Kennon Callahan says,” What scares most of us about death is dying.  What further scares us is that, in the end, our lives might not have counted for anything.”

YOU NEED TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE!

And that’s how I know that you’ve always wanted to be a missionary--because everybody wants to live a life with purpose. Everybody wants to be on mission—you know, like the Blues Brothers: “We’re a mission from God.” Or like Mission Impossible: “Your mission, should you choose to accept it …”

Everybody wants to be on mission. Everybody wants to make a difference. Everybody wants a life that matters!

And so, how wonderful, how amazing, how marvelous, what good news it is, that Jesus says to you today:

            “You are the salt of the earth”

This is a huge compliment, because in Jesus’ day, salt was extremely valuable. People were actually paid in salt. That’s where we get the word salary.

In those days salt was used as a preservative. They didn’t have refrigerators, freezers, Tupperware or Saran Wrap—so the only way they could keep food from going bad was to salt it.

Have you ever had beef jerky?  That’s beef preserved by salt.

Have you ever had country ham?  That’s pork preserved by salt.

Salt is a preservative.

So when Jesus comes to his followers and says, “You are the salt of the earth,” he’s saying that we are the preservative that keeps this world from going completely bad.

The preservative that slows down the decay of this world—IS YOU.

And then Jesus says, “You are the Light of the World.” Another huge compliment.

Because in Jesus’ day, light was a symbol for everything good, moral, holy, beautiful and true.

Light was a symbol of God’s Word: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105).

Light was a symbol of life: “After he has suffered, he will see the light of life...”  (Isaiah 53:11).
Light was associated with the creative power of God. What’s the first thing God says in the Bible? “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3).

Light was a symbol for teaching: “…this teaching is a light” (Proverbs 6:2).

In the time of Christ, light was associated with the soul. It was associated with doing the right thing. It was as symbol of TRUTH.

And Jesus says, “As my follower, YOU are the embodiment of all those good things to the world around you.”

Is that not awesome?

Everybody wants to make a difference. Everybody wants a life that matters. And so how wonderful to be told that you are

·         The salt that preserves the world
·         And the light that shines in the darkness

Now, let’s look at Matthew 5:13 and 16, and I’m going to tell you how to BE salt and light.  Two things:

First of all— STAY SALTY.

Verse 13:
You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?
--Matthew 5:13

Now this is interesting, because strictly speaking, salt can’t lose its taste. Salt—sodium chloride—is a chemical compound that can’t break down.

There’s only one way for salt to lose its taste—and that’s for other stuff to get mixed in with it. The salt loses its taste when foreign substances get mixed in with the salt and its saltiness gets diluted.

Now listen: Salt is a symbol for the values of Jesus:

When we live by the values of Jesus,
we are the salt of the earth.

When mix in the values of the world,
we lose our saltiness.

Now, how do I know that salt is a symbol for living by the values of Jesus?  Because this statement comes right after the Beatitudes.

The Beatitudes are the “Blessed are” statements of Jesus: “Blessed are the poor in spirit;” “Blessed are the pure in heart;” “Blessed are the peacemakers;” and so on.

Right after Jesus gives that statement of values, he says to those who live by them, “You are the salt of the earth.” But if you mix in other values—the world’s values—values that are foreign to the kingdom of God – you lose your saltiness.

About a month ago, on March 18, I did a sermon on the Beatitudes called, “The Community’s Values.” And I said that the values of the Christian community are
-          Humility
-          Broken hearts
-          Gentleness
-          Spiritual Hunger
-          Mercy
-          Integrity
-          Peace-making
-          Concern for people on the margins

Please read that sermon again, because living by those values is how we STAY SALTY.

When we live by the values of Jesus,
we are the salt of the earth.

When mix in the values of the world,
we lose our saltiness.

So first of all, stay salty. Second, LET YOUR LIGHT SHINE.

Verse 16:
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
How do you let your light shine? Go out and do good works in the name of Christ:
-          Volunteer at a local school
-          Volunteer at an agency like Crisis Control or the Shepherd’s Center
-          Serve at Bethany CafĂ©
-          Help us park cars for Spring Folly
-          Get involved with Forsyth Prison Ministry
-          Work with Kids First on Thursday nights when we partner with First Baptist to do tutoring for at risk elementary students
-          Get involved with New Story Church

We’ve got our Community Picnic coming up in July—we’re going to join with other churches and feed the entire community at Fourth of July Park – Frank Robinson could use your help.

“Let your light shine”—and then when people see your good works, they’ll be much more likely to listen to your message.

So, stay salty, and let your light shine:

Stay Salty: Live by the values of Jesus.

Let your Light Shine: Go out and serve.

Do those two things in the power of the Holy Spirit, and you will be a missionary!



Thursday, April 12, 2018

Meet Sam Om

As I announced plans for my mission-oriented Sabbatical Leave, I explained that in February I plan to travel to Cambodia to work with my good friend Sam Om.

Sam is a native of Cambodia who escaped the "Killing Fields" in the early 80s, and was admitted to the United States as a refugee.  He is now a US citizen and a missionary to his home country.

I met Sam in Charlotte in 1991.  We were both starting new churches; mine spoke English, his spoke Cambodian. We became sister churches, and a mutual partnership began that continues to this day.

Here are a couple of important links that will help you get to know Sam:

First, a blog post of mine from 2014 that briefly recounts Sam's dramatic story.

And second, the video of Sam's visit to Main Street UMC last summer.



Monday, April 9, 2018

Video from Tanzania--November, 2013

Yesterday in worship I talked about the wonderful experience I had teaching United Methodist local pastors in Tanzania. We showed portions of this video that I made when I came back. If you've got 15 minutes, check it out. You'll meet Eric and Liz Soard, the amazing missionaries I worked with in 2013--and will work with again later this year. You'll ride with Eric and me through the town of Tarime, and you'll see the countryside surrounding it. You'll see pictures of my "students" (really, I learned more from them than them from me). You'll see an interview with a pastor who started a church under a tree. 

And you'll hear music from "The Lion King." Did you know that the African language you hear in those songs is Swahili (the language most people speak in Tanzania)? "Simba" means lion, "Rafiki" means friend, "Pumbaa" means foolish ... one of the many interesting things you learn when you go overseas!



Sunday, April 8, 2018

"Missionary Dreams" -- Sermon for April 8, 2018

Today's sermon is not just a sermon. It also contains an important announcement. Well, two, really.

Drawing from a young boy who was listening to today's sermon!


MISSIONARY DREAMS
Genesis 12:1-4; Matthew 28:16-20

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”
So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran.
            Genesis 12:1-4 New International Version

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
            Matthew 28:16-20 New International Version

I’ve always wanted to be a missionary.

Now let me stop right there and say—all Christians are missionaries. Every Christian is called to spread the word, shine the light, make a difference. Every Christian is called to follow God in mission to the world.

But when I say I’ve always wanted to be a missionary, I’m talking about a missionary like Nick and Katie Riddle who spent two years in Africa, or Esther Mueller who’s in the Ukraine, or Connie DeLeo, who’s in the Dominican Republic. I’m talking about someone who goes overseas to a foreign country and shares the gospel of Christ with people in a different culture.

So for the purposes of this sermon, when I say missionary, that’s what I mean.  And when I say, “Missions,” I mean cross-cultural ministry, usually in a foreign country.

So back to my first statement: I’ve always wanted to be a missionary.

Now what got me started on this journey? There have been three steps on this journey—three stages to my Missionary Dreams.

To begin with, God used people from a foreign country to lead me into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ! Our annual conference has a program called The Scandinavian Caravan. What happens with this program is that every other year they bring college-age young adults from Methodist churches in Scandinavia, and they come here and share their culture and their faith—and then every other year our conference sends a group over there. And the year I graduated from High School, the Scandinavians came here, and there was something about those folks that got my attention—something about their love and their faith and their witness that captured my heart—and God used these folks to lead me into a relationship with Jesus Christ.

And so the next year, I applied to be part of the group from here, North Carolina, that went there, to Scandinavia—and oh, my goodness, it was amazing—to be in a different culture, to learn their customs, to eat their food, to be surrounded by their beautiful language—to stand there and sing How Great Thou Art—except they were singing it in the original Swedish. There’s just nothing like worshiping with people from a different country. And the best part was when I got up to share my witness and I was able to say, “Hey, y’all, when you came to the United States last year, God used you to lead me to Christ!”

So at this point, I was thinking, “Missions is fun. I want to be a missionary ‘cause it’s fun. It’ll be interesting and exciting!”

That was Stage One: “Missions is Fun.”

But then I learned something else.

I went to a student mission conference in Urbana, Illinois—17,000 college students all interested in missions. And we heard amazing speakers—Billy Graham was one of the speakers—and I was confronted with the immense needs of the world—a billion starving people—two billion who have never heard the name of Jesus Christ—and as a young college student, I was moved to the depths of my soul.

What I learned at the missions conference in Urbana was that missions was not just exciting and interesting—it was needed!

And that was Stage Two: Missions is Important.

But then I learned something else.

As I kept following this interest in missions, and studying and learning and going to lectures, I learned that God’s heart for all nations is the theme of the entire Bible!

The story of the Bible is the story of God’s mission to the world!

It starts with God’s call to Abraham in Genesis, chapter 12. This is the beginning of God’s covenant with Israel. And God says to Abraham,

“I will bless you …
and you will be a blessing …
and all nations on earth will be blessed through you.”
--Genesis 12:2-3

And there it is, right there at the beginning of the Bible—“all nations on earth”—that’s missions—that’s concern for the entire world!

And you see this theme repeated throughout the Old Testament. God makes that same promise to Abraham’s son Isaac—“all nations on earth will be blessed through you”—and then to Isaac’s son Jacob—“all nations on earth will be blessed through you.”

And you read the Bible stories and you can see God’s passion to reach all nations. David says to Goliath, “I will defeat you …

“…and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel.”
                                                --1 Samuel 17:46

And you see Daniel witnessing to the Babylonians, and Jonah witnessing to the Assyrians, and Esther witnessing to the Persians.

You read the Psalms, and you see phrases like, “Declare his glory among the nations;” “Let all the nations sing;” “Let all the nations worship.” And Psalm 67 says,

May God be gracious to us and bless us …
So that your ways may be known on earth,
Your salvation among all nations.”
--Psalm 67:1-2

And you get to the book of Isaiah and God says to his people Israel,

“…I will give you as a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
--Isaiah 49:6


And then—and then—you get to the Gospel of Matthew and you read the story of Jesus, and the last thing Jesus says—his last command—is,

“…go and make disciples of all nations
--Matthew 28:19


And so what I came to realize is that God’s heart for all nations is the theme of the entire Bible.

And that’s stage three of my journey. I went from “Missions is fun” to “Missions is important” to Missions is the Theme of the Entire Bible.

And when I was in college I went to a missions rally, where this was explained, and at that rally I signed a pledge that said, “Unless God clearly directs otherwise, I will serve as an international missionary.”

Well, as it turned out, God clearly directed otherwise. My first year out of seminary, I was appointed to start a new church in Charlotte. That was definitely a God thing.

By the time I was finished with that appointment, Lorie had developed a grant-writing business, and our children had come along, and I began to fulfill my missionary dreams in other ways. I became really good friends with Pastor Sam Om—some of you remember him—my Cambodian friend who was here last summer.

I worked with Sam to reach out to the Cambodian community here in North Carolina, and I worked with Sam to support his mission work in Cambodia—

And then, Sam took me to Cambodia. And I got to preach and I got to teach, and it was just amazing.

And then my last church had a mission in Nicaragua, so I went down with them, and I got to preach in Spanish. I got to do a baptism, and a mass wedding in Spanish. We had some folks on the team who had medical skills, so we put on a medical clinic, and my job was to pray with people after they saw the doctor.

And one more thing I got to do: I got to eat fried Iguana.

It tastes like chicken.

And then, just a few years ago, I conducted a two-week pastor’s school for United Methodist local pastors in the East African country of Tanzania.  These local pastors have the equivalent of a seventh-grade education.  They have not been to Bible College or Seminary, so missionary Eric Soard invited me to come and do a sort of crash course in Christian Doctrine and Preaching.

Now, here’s where all this is going: I’ve been invited to go back to Tanzania and teach two college-level courses at a new university being started by the United Methodist Church. I have also been invited to go back to Cambodia and teach pastors there.

I believe that this is the contribution I can make to the needs of the world. I’m not a doctor or a nurse; I’m not real good at building things; but I can teach. And after a lot of prayer, I feel that now is the time to follow God’s leading and the dream He instilled in me.

So, this fall, God willing, I’ll be going to Tanzania to teach. That trip will last about three weeks, and I’ll also need to spend a lot of time preparing to teach these two classes.

And then next February, God willing, I’ll be going to Cambodia. And again, the trip will last three weeks, and I’ll need a lot of time beforehand to prepare.

Now, please listen carefully: Because I feel called to do both these trips in one year, I believe that I need to step down from pastoral ministry for the 2018-2019 conference year, which runs from July to June. In the United Methodist Church, we have this thing called Sabbatical Leave. It allows a United Methodist pastor to step down from pastoral ministry for one year without pay to pursue a program of study or travel. I have applied for this relationship with the Annual Conference, and it has been granted, so as of July 1, I will be on Sabbatical and— this is the hard part—this is the part I’m not excited about—I will no longer be your pastor. The bishop will appoint a new Senior Pastor to replace me. We will announce who that is three weeks from today on April 29. Since you are getting a new Senior Pastor, I will not be able to return to Main Street. When I come off my year of Sabbatical, I will be appointed to another church.

I want you to know that this is a difficult choice.  I’m excited about pursuing my Missionary Dreams.  I am not excited about leaving Main Street.  I love this church. You are a great church.  From my first Sunday in July of 2014—four years ago—I have felt a very strong connection to this church.

Now, please listen carefully because I want to try to answer some of the questions that might be rolling around in your mind. The first question you might be asking is, “Why are you leaving? What’s wrong?” And the answer is, there’s nothing wrong. I am not mad at anybody. Nobody has asked me to leave. The bishop is not making me sit out for a year. I truly feel called to pursue these two opportunities to be a missionary, if only for three weeks at a time.

Second question you might be asking: “Claude—if you’re taking two trips that are three weeks each, then why are you stepping aside for an entire year?” Here’s why: It’s not just the three weeks of being away.  It’s also the weeks and weeks of preparing to teach and preparing to travel. And after a lot of prayer, I came to the conclusion that I need to focus on these mission opportunities, and you need a Senior Pastor who is focused on the mission of Main Street. And so, I need to step aside and let a new Senior Pastor be appointed.

Understand also, that in addition to the mission work, I also plan to pursue a program of study in the art of storytelling.  I’m signed up for a week-long workshop with a well-known storyteller named Donald Davis, and I’m planning to attend the National Storytelling Festival in Tennessee, and as many other workshops and festivals as I can get involved in. Many of you have complimented my storytelling.  I would like to hone that skill to speak to people of all ages.

Another thing I’ll be doing during this Sabbatical year is spending a lot of time with family. I’ve got a son and his wife and my grandson who live in Asheville, and—get ready for this—a new grandbaby on the way. I’ve got a daughter in Chicago. I’ve got elderly parents who live in Greensboro, but I don’t see them near as much as I want to. So when I’m not preparing to teach, going overseas to teach, or attending a storytelling workshop, I plan to spend extra time with family.

Third question: Where will Lorie and I live? Some years ago we bought a house at Lake Junaluska so we’d have a place to retire. Many of you know that Lake Junaluska is the Methodist Holy Land.  It’s where old Methodist preachers go to die. Well, since we have this house, that’s where we’ll live during this one-year Sabbatical.

Fourth question: Why am I doing this now? Well, the opportunities I’ve been given to go and teach are available now. They might not be available later. After a lot of prayer and soul-searching, I feel called to pursue these opportunities while they are available.

Final question: How much time do I have left at Main Street? Those of you who are familiar with our Methodist system know that our conference year runs from July to June, so I’ll be here through most of the month of June, and then the new pastor will start in July.  So that’s about three months from now.

I’ve always wanted to be a missionary—and you, Main Street, have always been a missions-minded church. So please consider me your latest missionary. When I leave in July, please don’t say, “We’ve lost our pastor.” Instead, say, “We’ve sent out another missionary.”  

I want to close with this quote from a theologian named Emil Brunner:

Mission work does not arise from any arrogance in the Christian Church; mission is its cause and its life. The Church exists by mission, just as a fire exists by burning. Where there is no mission, there is no Church; and where there is neither Church nor mission, there is no faith … Mission, Gospel preaching, is the spreading out of the fire which Christ has thrown upon the earth. Those who burn propagate the fire. Those who do not propagate the fire show that they themselves are not burning.
Emil Brunner, The Word and the World

Monday, April 2, 2018

"And Now, Everything is Different!" (Sermon for Easter Sunday)


AND NOW, EVERYTHING IS DIFFERENT!
Luke 24:1-12


On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning 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 look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” Then they remembered his words.
When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. 12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.
                                                Luke 24:1-12 New International Version

LET’S PRAY: Lord, show us what this story means to us, here, now, today. Show us what it means to be people of the empty tomb. Amen.

It’s early in the morning. It’s dark. It’s cold. You’re walking down a dark, lonely road to perform a dark, lonely task.

The heavy mist hanging in the air reflects the fog of emotions that you feel right now—loneliness … despair … ANGER … intense sadness … grief so painful that it makes your whole body hurt.

In your hands you’re carrying a jar full of spices—rich, aromatic spices. This is because in your day they don’t have embalming and nice caskets and vaults in the ground. In your day, bodies are wrapped in cloth, anointed with spices, and placed in a tomb that’s not much more than a cave. But your friend was buried in a hurry and they didn’t do the spices, so you’re on your way to do that now.

It’s the last thing you can do for this person you love so much.

 The sun is coming up now. The mist is starting to burn off.

You’re at the graveyard now – and there’s the tomb--gaping open like the hole in your heart.

And you know that what’s inside that tomb is death—the death of friendship … the death of love … the death of your hopes for the future.

You stand there staring, looking at the tomb. You don’t wanna go in. But you have to. You have to do this for your friend.

As you move closer to the tomb, you thank God that it doesn’t stink. That’s one less thing to endure.

You stoop your head. You go in.

You look around.

And the body’s gone!

There’s nothing in here except a pile of linen cloths!

The tomb is empty.

THE TOMB IS EMPTY!

And it takes you a while, but eventually you catch on. The tomb is empty because

Christ is risen
Christ is risen indeed!

            -AND NOW, EVERYTHING IS DIFFERENT!


Think about some of the earth-shattering events that have changed everything:

A little more than 500 years ago, everybody was sure that the world is flat. Think about how that way of thinking affected everyday life. If you believe the world is flat, you’re going to go to the beach and look out at the ocean and say, “There’s the edge of the world, right out there.” You’re not going to travel very far because you don’t want to fall off the edge!

This way of thinking affected the economy, travel, science, politics …

But then, “In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”

            -AND NOW, EVERYTHING IS DIFFERENT!


A little more 100 years ago, everybody was sure that it was impossible for human beings to fly. Scientists were convinced that heavier-than-air flight would never happen. Lord Kelvin, the famous British physicist, said in 1902 that “…no airplane will ever be practically successful.”

But then one year later, two sons of a United Methodist bishop[1] took the train from Ohio to North Carolina. And on a blustery winter day, Wilbur and Orville Wright successfully flew the first airplane.

            -AND NOW, EVERYTHING IS DIFFERENT!


A little more than 60 years ago, everybody was sure that computers would only be used by an elite few. Back then computers were big clunky machines that took up an entire room. Business executives said that the computing needs of the entire world could be met by … THREE computers. One executive is quoted as saying, “There is no reason that anyone would want a computer in their home.”

But then, Steve Jobs created Apple, and Bill Gates created Microsoft,

            -AND NOW, EVERYTHING IS DIFFERENT!

Computers have changed the way we work, the way we play, the way we shop, the way we watch TV and movies, the way we communicate …

-         Raise your hand if you have a smart phone
-         Raise your hand if you have an email account

Computers have changed the world!

            -AND NOW, EVERYTHING IS DIFFERENT!

 A little more than 2000 years ago, everybody was sure that Jesus of Nazareth was dead. His movement was over, his followers were finished, and his body was rotting in a grave. When they saw him nailed to a cross, and they watched him die, everybody was sure that it was over.

But then a group of women discovered an empty tomb—

-         AND NOW, EVERYTHING IS DIFFERENT

Now we know…

-         That death is not death!

-         That the end is not the end!

And to paraphrase the great theologian Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over … because it ain’t over!”

Here’s what the empty tomb means:

It means there’s hope!

It means that God has the last word!

Yes, we have to suffer in the meantime.  All kinds of pain.  All kinds of hardships and difficulties. Sadness, grief … times when we feel like we can’t go on.

But the empty tomb shows us that our present sufferings are not all there is. God has the last word.

My dad used to say, “Son, when your mother and I argue, I always have the last word. And the last word is, ‘Yes, Dear.’” Well, when God and the forces of evil argue, God always has the last word. And the last word is RESURRECTION.

The empty tomb is proof that God is going to win! We are in the last days of March Madness—the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. And as of last night, all four of the teams I pulled for have lost—Virginia, Carolina, Duke (yes, I pulled for Duke!), and now Loyola. All my teams have lost.

But here’s the Good News: The empty tomb is proof that at the end of time, when the final, final, final buzzer sounds, God is will come out on top.  God is going to win.

And how do I know? I know because

Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed!

Now, go back for a minute to those events that changed everything. Our whole world is different because Columbus discovered America.[2]  Our whole world is different because the Wright Brothers discovered the power of flight.  Our whole world is different because IBM discovered the Personal Computer.

But is your world any different because those women discovered the empty tomb?

There are still people who believe the earth is flat.  And there are still people who have never flown in an airplane. And there are still people who’ve never used a computer. All these powerful changes don’t do a thing for you unless you accept them into your life.

And whether you’ve ridden on an airplane or used a computer, I don’t care. But I care deeply about whether you experience the power of the resurrection in your everyday life.

The power of the resurrection is the power of hope!  

It’s the power of new life!

It’s the power to change things!

Are you stuck in a dead marriage?
-         The God who raised Jesus can resurrect your marriage. 

Are you stuck in a dead end job?
-         The God who raised Jesus can resurrect your career. 

Are you struggling financially?
-         The God who raised Jesus can provide for you in ways you didn’t expect. 

Are you in a death spiral of substance abuse?
-         The God who set Jesus free from death can set you free from addiction. 

Are you so discouraged you just want to give up?
-         The God who surprised those women at the tomb can surprise you with reasons to keep going. 

Are you so lonely you feel like you could die?
-         The empty tomb says you’re never alone because the risen Christ is with us. 

Are you afraid? Afraid of the future? Afraid of death? Afraid of what’s going to happen in these crazy times we live in?

-         You know what? I don’t blame you!

-         But the empty tomb says that the worst thing that can happen just might be the best thing there ever was!

As Frederick Beuchner (a real theologian) said,

“Resurrection means the worst thing is never the last thing.”
           
And if you really believe that, it will make a difference in your everyday life.

Today is April Fools’ Day. One of the best April fool’s jokes of all time was on April 1, 1957 when the BBC did a news story about the “spaghetti harvest” in Switzerland. They showed Swiss farmers picking strands of spaghetti off of trees. The next day hundreds of people called the BBC to say, “Where can I get a spaghetti tree?”

And the BBC operators said, “Put a strand of spaghetti in a jar of tomato sauce and hope for the best.”


You know how April Fools’ Day got started?


Nobody’s really sure, but some people think it goes back to the 1500s, when we adopted a new calendar. Under the old calendar, the New Year started in April. Under the new calendar (the one we still have), the New Year starts in January. And the story goes that some people either didn’t know or didn’t care that the calendar had changed, so they kept celebrating the New Year in April.


And these people were called “April Fools.”


Why? Because everything had changed, but they didn’t—and for that reason, they were considered foolish.


Are you foolish?



-         Are you among those who don’t know or don’t care that the empty tomb changes everything?

-         Are you among those who only come to church on Easter, but as soon as the service is over, you’re going to walk out of here and it’s going to make no difference to your everyday life?


-         Are you among those who come to church every single Sunday, and still it makes no difference to your everyday life?

The resurrection changes everything, but if it hasn’t changed YOU, that’s a problem.

Don’t be an April fool! Commit your life to Jesus Christ. Tap into the power of resurrection. Let God breathe new life into your marriage, your career, your finances, your emotions--whatever part of your life needs resurrection.

Hand your life over to God and say, “God, here I am. I’m not perfect, but I’m yours. Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me. I want to be different, and I want to make a difference—through the power of resurrection.”

The tomb is empty—AND NOW, EVERYTHING IS DIFFERENT!

I pray that everything is different for you.

LET’S BOW OUR HEADS:

If you would like to commit, or re-commit, or re-re-re-commit your life to Christ, then pray silently in your own words something like this: “God, I’m yours.  Forgive me in Jesus’ name. Fill me with your Spirit, and help me follow Jesus for the rest of my life.”

[Silence]

And now let’s do this: Think of an area in your life where there needs to be resurrection. Picture that situation in your mind. So if it’s your marriage, you might picture your spouse.  If it’s your job, you might picture your workplace. If it’s your finances, you might picture a pile of bills.

[Silence]

Lord, you see what’s on our hearts. I pray that you would pour out your Holy Spirit on my brothers and sisters and breathe new life into these areas where they are struggling. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.



[1] Bishop Milton Wright was a bishop in one of the denominations that merged to become the United Methodist Church. His name is listed in our Book of Discipline.

[2] I am aware that historians now believe that Vikings were the first Europeans to set foot on American soil. I’m also aware that the notion of “discovering” America is problematic. As author Russell Freedman says, “[Columbus] wasn’t the first, and neither were the Vikings.  That is a very Euro-centric view. There were millions of people here already, and so their ancestors must have been the first.” Nonetheless, it is accurate to say that it was the journeys of Columbus that led to European expansion into the New World, which (for good or ill) led to the world we live in today.