Monday, April 9, 2012

Is Your Faith Worthless?
April 8, 2012
Easter Sermon - Jonathan Firme

Isn't it wonderful that we are gathered this morning to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, on the first day under the care of our new settled pastor? Before I begin my thoughts this morning, I have to thank this congregation for giving me the confidence to get up here and speak to you. It really is a privilege. I have said before, this is not something I had ever envisioned myself doing. It is only because of you that my faith has grown enough to do this. I thank you all for all that you have given me.
Well, I want to share something with you that has made me think long and hard about my faith. I figured, heck, if I have had to look long and hard, I might as well make you all do it too. Maybe a study group will emerge from it. Of course, this self examination has caused some difficulties and discomfort, but I think we can get through it.
A friend sent me a picture in an email. I'll describe it for you. Perhaps some of you have seen it, as it is making the rounds on the internet. I think there are various versions out there. The one I got was a newspaper headline, false, of course, that exclaimed, “Easter Canceled – Jesus' Body Found!” Now, this was sent to me, I believe, to insult my faith, and it worked as planned. I was insulted! The false article had a couple sub headlines, one saying that churches around the world were closing their doors, another that Christians everywhere were confused, and feeling betrayed.
Did I mention I got this email just a couple days after Melinda asked me to fill the pulpit this Sunday.... Easter Sunday? I believe that the Lord guides us, much like sheep. He guides us along, and lets us graze. He protects us from dangers, still some of us fall to predators. Eventually, we have to move to another pasture, or else we will get lazy and fat. We will get too comfortable. So the Lord moves us along. He does this with the help of sheep dogs, which nip at our heels, making us uncomfortable, so that we move away to graze somewhere else. This email picture was nipping at my heels. It would not leave me alone. I was comfortable in my faith, but this picture, it moved me. That picture made me wonder about my faith, about all of our faiths. I was forced to move to another pasture. The same way one may be moved by a book that argues there is no actual place called Heaven, and not a real place called Hell. I initially thought, “What! Christianity would not fall apart if they found Jesus body!” And I set out to prove it.
I want you all to pretend that Jesus' body has been found. Some archaeologist out there actually found the body of Christ. There are holes in his feet and hands. There was a crown of thorns on his head. It has been proven, beyond any doubt, to be authentic. They found Jesus' body. What does that do to your faith?
Paul writes, in First Corinthians, chapter 15, verse 17, “And, if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” When I looked further into this, I found that most scholars believe this, literally. If Jesus did not undergo a physical resurrection, your faith is worthless. Well, I just told you, they found his body. Is your faith worthless? Are you prepared to bank your entire faith experience on an empty tomb? I am willing to bet that most of you are thinking, “no way.” Some of you are probably thinking, “Thank God we hired Kay, because Jonathan just went off the deep end!” And, some of you simply are not able to pretend that they found Jesus body. That is all okay, but I want you to think about it.
Do we need a physically resurrected Jesus to justify our faith? There are ten distinct appearances of the resurrected Christ in the Bible. They happen in a variety of places, at differing times. He appears to individuals, small groups, and a crowd of 500. But he always appears. He does not knock on the door of the house the apostles are meeting in. He is not seen coming down the road, and recognized. He isn't introduced to a group of 500 people. He appears. Jesus certainly did not need a human body to transport himself around. He was fully human, and fully divine. Jesus has risen above death, and, I argue, above life itself. Why do we feel the need to restrict his abilities with a human form. Christ has risen, above all.
Rather than worry about the logistics of his resurrection, we are better off examining the results of it. Jesus changed the lives of not only those who saw him after his resurrection, but those who did not see him as well. Have you ever seen Jesus? Has he changed your life? The Romans knew full well that, if they killed Jesus, they would kill this rebellious movement. Where did they get the courage to continue? From an empty tomb? No! Their courage came from the stories of people who were moved by Jesus, after his death.
So, if you, like me, have never seen Jesus, what gives you your faith? Do tired and aching people go to work at Broadway Bargains because they know that the tomb was empty? Do people feel the power of our prayers because a tomb was empty? Have we gathered up the strength to get through the last 4 years as a congregation because the tomb was empty? Did Kay leave family and friends, travel 1500 miles to the middle of the desert because she knows, deep in her heart that the tomb was empty? I should think not. I believe that all of those things are a result of people knowing Jesus in their lives. Jesus who, at the right hand of God, is fully divine.
Truly, our faith cannot be based on emptiness. And, much to the dismay of the friend who sent me this email and started me on this journey, my faith this Easter is stronger than ever. I am quite sure that the email was meant to cause me to doubt myself. To call faith in general into question. But, such as is the case every time, when I question God, he is not afraid. He welcomes the opportunity to strengthen me.
God raised Jesus so that Jesus could always be with each of us. That is the truth of the matter. We are always searching for the truth, and we often turn to the Bible to find it. The trouble is that the Bible points us to the truth. The Bible is not the truth itself. Just like your dearest friend, it has flaws, but it always points us towards the truth. The truth about God cannot be captured in human words. God is a truth that exists within us, written on our hearts. We will always try to express that truth in words for others, but we will always come up short. There are no words to fully explain Jesus, to explain God. We buy books that purport to tell us the truth, but they don't. We hire pastors to put it into words for us, and we get upset when they can't do it either. So, we use words and ideas like Christmas, and Easter, and Holy Week, and Resurrection, and Santa Claus, and The Easter Bunny to help us understand and explain. When these things are taken as the truth, instead of understood as pointing towards the truth. We become lost and feel disappointed. You cannot touch the truth of the resurrection. You cannot read the truth, you cannot hear the rest of the story, but you can do it. The truth has to be experienced. John wrote that Christ came so that we can have life, and have it abundantly. That means getting out of the tomb ourselves and experiencing Jesus in our lives, so that others may experience the truth of Jesus through us.

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