Monday, April 17, 2017

Easter Sunday 2017: All Things New

Acts 10:34-43
Colossians 3:1-4
John 20:1-18

“To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under Heaven.”  Ecclesiastes 3:1

We know, of course, that as one season comes to an end, another season awaits us.  It is the prior season which prepares us for the new season and the necessary changes which will likely come.

Yet it is also written, “That which has been is what will be.  That which is done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” (Eccl 1:9)

It may be part of a greater understanding of the adage that the more things change, the more they stay the same.  This means that as much as we may dread what changes may come, there is One Constant we can still count on.  We will be a year older, but The Word remains.  We will be a year closer to the time when The Lord will return and “make all things new” (Isaiah 43:19; Revelation 21:5), yet The Word remains. 

Sometimes, however, the same ol’ same ol’ becomes so redundant that it no longer packs a punch.  We no longer get as much out of it as when The Word first penetrated our hearts of stone.

There is nothing wrong with being confident in our justification, but there is everything wrong with taking that salvation for granted.  There is a manner of living and serving the Church and the community which is conducive to gratitude, the “fruits worthy of repentance”, when we understand we’ve been given something remarkable for which we had to do nothing.  There was no price we could pay, no “works” to be done in order to receive this Gift.

Yet we must also know there is real and spiritual value in the “works” which build up the Church and lead to sanctification – not in order to be “more saved” than we were before but so we may learn to live into the Eternal Reality which is before us.  We cannot become bogged down, nor may we allow our families and our brothers and sisters in faith to become bogged down, in same ol’.  The Message of Redemption can never be – must never become – redundant! 

We are living in an age of entitlement in which most everyone seems to believe they have – or have been denied – some encumbent right, an unlimited measure of liberty due all Americans.  The problem with this idea, however, is the “rights” are often demanded and expected without the requisite “responsibility”, and “liberty” is confused with “license”.  We want it.  We demand it.  And come hell or high water, we will not be denied.

Could it be the “new thing” we actually seek is whatever tangible thing we can lay our hands on?  Could it be the “new thing” assured The Lord’s people who abide in faithfulness has, in fact, become so redundant, so same ol’, that there is no longer any real meaning attached to it?  That we hardly notice it?  Could it be this “new thing” we are assured comes with a price – a price much higher than we may be willing to pay?

I have shared with you before the redundancy of biblical and doctrinal language which speaks of the “free gift” of salvation; for if it a true gift, there are no strings.  A gift, by its nature, is already “free”.  The gift is given because the giver has a need to share, but that need has nothing to do with an expectation of reciprocity.  That is, there is no price to be paid since the gift comes from the giver’s genuine heart and desire to share something special to enhance our lives.

Every gift, however, requires a response; and it is that response in which we may find something altogether “new”.  Accepting that gift, living into that gift, means our lives will be forever changed, no matter how great or small the gift.  It is the gift-giver’s hope and desire.  Someone has given a piece of themselves for the sake of another. 

This is the theology of the Resurrection, but even the Resurrection is not a stand-alone event; everything is connected.  The Divine Word became human flesh in Christ Jesus; and in giving so fully of Himself, He made it possible for us to become co-heirs with Christ and The Kingdom – above the trappings of our human flesh and its carnal desires.  In the Resurrection, everything changes ... except The Word. 

Change is hard for us, though, isn’t it?  We get used to a certain way of life and living and settle into a comfortable routine; and as much as we may enjoy things just as they are, we know – or we must surely know – change is as much a part of life as breathing.  Sometimes the changes are not exactly what we may have envisioned for ourselves, but the sanctified life learns to trust that The Lord will drive these changes in our lives for the better - especially in helping us to climb out of the spiritual ruts of routine we often fall into.  And most especially if, in our spiritual journey, we find ourselves at a point of “good enough”, that moment when we stop growing in faith and love and actually begin to slowly die.

It is part of the reason why our Methodist tradition cannot accept the idea that we can skip past Holy Week and Good Friday and go directly to Easter.  The Resurrection does, in fact, come at a cost; and that cost is the value we attach to our own lives on our own terms.  Without at least a measure of death to self, however, there can be no Resurrection.

There is real meaning for us in Jesus’ words to Martha upon the death of Lazarus (John 11:24-26).  Recall that as Jesus arrived at Bethany, He had assured Martha, “Your brother will rise again” (John 11:23).  Martha had replied, “Yes, I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day”.

Our Lord had assured Martha – and has assured us – He IS the Resurrection – rather than only the Resurrection to come - for those who suffer death.  Though it may seem otherwise, Jesus was not referring only to physical death.  When we are “born from Above” (John 3:3), a certain kind of death is necessary; a death to self and selfish desire.  When we declare to The Lord that we surrender our whole lives to Him in service through Christ and the Church, we may need to acknowledge there are some parts of our lives The Lord simply does not want, cannot use, and will never accept!

This is a bitter pill to swallow for some, but the reality is the Vinedresser does, in the course of perfecting our lives, cut away dead branches that only weigh us down and choke out the possibility of New Life (John 15:1-8).  These “dead branches” are the things we choose to hold on to, the things that are not pleasing in His sight, yet the things we are more invested in than we are in Him and His Church.

All this cleansing, however, all this death, this sacrifice, this suffering, this “pruning”, is done for One Reason – and only One Reason: so we may share in the Resurrection not only in this life but in the Life of the World to come.  It is not enough to only talk about the Resurrection. We must experience it. 

We need also to understand all which took place.  Jesus is The Word, the Eternal Word, the Living Word.  He taught and preached and lived The Word.  It was The Word, however, which disturbed the Establishment, both religious and political.  It was The Word which called them all to account.  It was The Word which was not always easy to swallow, not always easy to take or even to understand, but it was always The Word which sustained Jesus … and will sustain us.

It was The Word which humanity tried to silence and finally sought to extinguish – and our own part in this even today cannot be ignored or denied.  It is the reason why the Church dare not “skip” Holy Week and Good Friday lest we try to deny our part and assuage our false beliefs.

In spite of humanity’s best efforts, however, it was The Word which was raised, and it is The Word which rests in all Eternity at the Right Hand of The Almighty and Gracious Father.

For it is The Word which “prunes” us.  It is The Word which sometimes seems even to torture us because The Word itself does not give us what we desire or demand.  Rather it is The Word – and only The Word – which offers to us what we need and grants to all who surrender to The Word what we aspire to: Eternal Life. 

So it is The Word in which we must reside.  It is The Word we must learn to embrace in its fullness, for it is The Word which will restore us.  It is The Word alone which will make “all things new”, and our lives given to The Word will never be the same again.  For this we give thanks … in this hour, in this life, and in the World to come.

Glory to the Most High God and glory to the Risen Christ who was murdered, was buried, was raised, and will come again!  “Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus”.  For we are Yours.  Amen.  

No comments: