Monday, April 1, 2013

Easter Sunday Sermon - March 31, 2013

All the Facts but Total Confusion
Luke 23.50 – 24.12
Rev. Andy Ferguson
            This is Easter Day – the Day we mark the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. This day is the hinge point of all history. You see, with his resurrection, Jesus opened possibilities that did not exist before that day. The events of this day are so earth shattering that we are called up short – stopped in our busy lives - to reflect on the impact of this day.
               So, we greet one another on this day: Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed! We mark this day because it is not like other days. It is the day we tell again the story of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and the promise that, as he was raised, we too will be raised. It is the hope established by Christ Jesus through the cross, through his death, then through the Resurrection.

            Back when TV was in its infancy, there was a police drama titled, “Dragnet.” Joe Friday was the main character. Along with his partner, they solved the crimes of L.A. in 30 minutes week after week. One of staple lines in the drama came as Detective Friday would begin to ask the witnesses for information about the crime. The witnesses would be flustered or chatty and begin to ramble as they told what they had seen. Friday would prompt them, every week it seemed, with the words, “Just the facts, Ma’am; just the facts.”
            Since those early days of TV, we have been in love with the idea that if we could just get the facts about anything, then we could figure out what had happened OR what is about to happen. The conviction is that the facts are all we need; the meaning of those facts would be self-evident. But, across the years, we have come to realize that the truth is a weightier matter than the collected facts about any event. And yet, we continue to stumble over this old assumption.
            As we read Luke’s witness to the burial and resurrection of Jesus, you get the idea that Jesus’ disciples had been trained in the Joe Friday School for Biblical Detectives. They have all the facts about the resurrection, but they keep struggling to make sense of them. Look at the passage we just read beginning in Luke 23.50.
+After Jesus died on the cross, Joseph of Arimathea asked for his body so that might bury it.
+The women saw this and went to prepare spices so they could attend to the body after the Sabbath was past.
+They came to the tomb on the first day of the week, bringing their spices.
+They found the stone, which had sealed the door, rolled aside.
+Like good detectives, they looked inside -- but did not find the body.
 +Two men suddenly appear and ask them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he is risen. Remember how he told you (more than once) that he must be crucified but that he would rise again from the dead?”
+They did remember his words and they went to tell the eleven disciples.
At this point, these women, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them had all these facts. They did all this and saw all this with their own eyes.
            BTW, notice that it was these women who became the first witnesses to the resurrection of Christ. In that day of strict roles for men and women, the men would be expected to pose a risk to any guards at the tomb; only the men would have the strength to move a stone or a body. Only men carried weapons; only men could testify in court. Because women were considered to be less of a threat, they were freer to move around in the days after the crucifixion. Thus, the women became the first witnesses to the Resurrection while the men stayed out of sight.
            The women go back to tell the men of the disciples all they have seen. What follows now, according to Luke, is a series of events which I describe as, “Having all the facts, but suffering total confusion.” Throughout this period of confusion, the followers of Jesus were NOT going around greeting one another, “Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed!” It looks more as if they were saying to each other, “What’s going on? What’s going on, indeed?” There is no certainty. There is no joy. There is only confusion and indecision.
1)     In v. 11, Luke tells us that the women went back to the men of the disciples to tell them what they have seen. “But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” How dismissive! The verse, which follows about Peter going to see for himself, almost seems like an addition to save face for the most prominent disciple. You could leave it out without hurting the story.
2)     Immediately following our passage, Luke begins a long story about two of Jesus’ disciples walking to Emmaus. As they walk, they are trying to figure it out.
            17 And the Risen Jesus said to them, "What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?" They stood still, looking sad.
            18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, "Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?" 19 He asked them, "What things?"
            They replied, "The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him." (Luke 24:17-24).

They have all these facts, each of them consistent with the experience of the women, but they are unable to make sense of them.
3)     When Jesus did make himself known to them, they rushed back to Jerusalem with their good news. This time, Jesus does not leave them to figure things out. He appears among the assembled disciples, greeting them, “Peace be with you.” Again, they are startled and terrified, assuming that they are seeing a ghost. (1) With all the facts they have from the women, (2) with the news from the two who walked with the risen Christ on the road to Emmaus, and (3) from the evidence they have of their own eyes, you would think that they would respond with joy at the sight of the risen Lord. You would think they would be ready greet the world with the news, “Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed!” But, it seems the best they say is just, “Is it a ghost? Is it a ghost, indeed?” (Luke 24.37).

In every case and time after time, there is no fact that can give them understanding. The only understanding and joy they experience comes when the Risen Christ enters to show them himself
1)  The women only understood at the tomb when the two men reminded them of all that Jesus had told them in advance.
2) The men on the road to Emmaus only understood when Jesus opened the scriptures to them and especially as he broke the bread with them.
3) The rest of the disciples only understood when Jesus addressed their doubts.
            Perhaps this is the lesson on faith for us this Easter Day. We too have assumed that with sufficient facts, we might believe. We too have assumed that whenever we can grasp the situation, then we could also live by faith. But, I think that Luke has a different understanding of how we come to faith. The facts are important; Luke has been careful to lay the events of Easter morning out for us. He wants the record to be complete. But, in every case, facts alone fall short of the task of leading those who loved Jesus best to faith in the risen Jesus. We should think of the facts as our earliest teachers; they prepare us to believe. Following Christ to learn from him would continue the lessons for us. I would be very uncomfortable with a Christian faith that had no place for the facts and events surrounding this great faith. But, faith, according to Luke, comes at the point where prepared and earnest followers of Christ encounter the living Christ.
·       In Jesus’ presence, the stories about him come alive.
·       In Jesus’ teaching, the facts lead to the great conclusion that the facts of Easter point to resurrection.
·       In Jesus, the evidence about him leads us to the understanding that his life, death and resurrection address our lives.
[POINT:] Faith in this Resurrected Christ follows as the living Christ seeks us out, moves among us in the breaking of the bread, and leads us to believe.

            Like that long ago TV detective, Sargent Friday, we have lived in the foolish confidence that facts alone will win the day. We have lived in the faith that somehow we could gain enough facts to displace all our doubts and answer all our questions. Better yet, we fervently hope that the facts will step forward to provide us with joyful lives. But, the experience of the disciples, both men and women, on the day of the Resurrection shows us otherwise. They had the facts. They kept running into them and discovering these facts for themselves. The facts were important, of course. But, faith did not come until these same disciples met the risen Christ in the places where they were asking questions.
·       Meeting him there, it was enough.
·       Meeting him there, they were moved to action.
·       Meeting him there, they were empowered to live with a power that the world had never before seen.
            So, hear the witness of the ancient scriptures – on Easter, the crucified Christ was raised from the tomb by the power of God. Hear the witness of those who encountered this risen Christ in their lives. Then, take their claim with you as you leave this place. Jesus Christ is the risen Lord. And, our lives are completely bound up in his life. Come, follow Christ as his disciples. In all these ways, wait on the visitation of the Risen Christ, which leads us from information to joyous, life-giving faith.

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