Thursday, April 8, 2010

Sermon for the Resurrection of our Lord

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti Amen. +

Text: Luke 24:8
Theme: Remembering His Words

Christ is risen!

Dear worshippers of the risen Jesus,

The tomb was empty. The body of Jesus did not suffer decay. Death’s victory was short-lived. Our celebration is eternal! Jesus Christ was not resuscitated in the manner in which Lazarus was raised. Lazarus was restored to the life he knew before- limited by the rigors and constrains of an existence still governed by sin. But Jesus’ time of limitation was ended. He had assumed His glorified body for eternity. He had inaugurated His kingdom of glory. Easter dawns with the unending light of His immortal existence.

The Holy Spirit generates joy in the heart and praise on the lips of all who continue to be gathered to that great cloud of witnesses to these events. Then women were the first. “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 into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again’”1

Then others followed. The apostle Paul says, “What I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”2And so the ancient Christian Church has confessed it in like manner- stating it similarly in the Nicene Creed. In that universal confession of faith we say “and the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures.” This is the vindication of His passion. His death was not in vain.

But how can we verify these truths? The Holy Spirit engenders faith, but only and always through the vehicle of the word. The Jesus we have is always the Jesus of the Holy Scriptures. The tendency to disconnect the work of the Holy Spirit from the Word is an extension of the practice of unshackling Christ from the Scriptures. But the two tendencies have a mutual influence on one another. The human will always wants to be free to reconstruct the evidence of Jesus in a manner suitable to its own wisdom.

But this alleged freedom is really bondage to human philosophy and capitulation to the desire of individual interpretation. The meaning of the individual’s take on the resurrection, or crucifixion, or sending of the Spirit supersedes the common witness of the church. “What does this mean?” is cast aside in favour of “What does this mean to me?” The temptation is to answer in an ego-centric manner. This may go no further than harmless speculation or even helpful edification about God’s purpose and place for you in life. The danger lies in making this the method of determining God’s truth. The satisfaction gained from arriving at a pleasing answer is often short-lived. We soon find ourselves chasing up further affirmation and questioning our assessment. What is the Holy Spirit saying to me now? Has God’s plan changed in this new situation? How can my feeling of the Spirit’s work in my life be sustained? These questions must be answered by the unchangeable biblical witness or even the resurrection risks becoming relegated to the past.

A number of motivations underpin this pursuit. One is a degree of skepticism about the ancient witnesses. It is a desire to be distanced from any ideas or interpretations that appear to be too rudimentary or fundamentalist. Consider the phenomena of the crucifixion, including the hours of darkness and the earthquake; the descriptions of Easter morning, including the angels, the empty tomb, and the bodily resurrection of Jesus- the modern mind often wants to be free from an archaic interpretation of any details which are unverifiable by science. It balks at being identified with dogmatic beliefs. Yet there stands the risen Christ with nails marks still visible.

More influential still is the intense need to feel God’s personal working in one’s life. People seek to answer crises of meaning by believing that God has singled them out for a special purpose or the Holy Spirit leads them in a way that is unique. Modern secular marketing has its spiritual parallels. Identify your ‘giftings’ and claim the niche in God’s kingdom that is rightfully yours. The inescapable heresy involved is that one must convince God to acknowledge something more appealing in us than He does in others and so expect He will treat us differently.

To be favoured by God is not the same thing as being His favourite. “Noah found favour in the eyes of the Lord,”3 and Mary was greeted by Gabriel as the one who was “highly favoured.”4 The mystery of why they were chosen is not solved by claiming they had a higher degree of inherent righteousness. They were favoured by God, they were not His favourites. The particular expression of God’s blessing to one believer does not compromise His grace to the next. In heaven any temptations to such speculation will be obsolete. The promise of Easter is that Christ’s victory over death is universal- the same blessing to one and to all.

Most problematic of all is the desire to be in control. When the influence of the common witness of the church and the objective meaning of the Scriptures are kept to a minimum one can easily arrive at a self-directed life of sanctification. This may be done under the auspices of the Holy Spirit but only loosely regulated by the inspired Word. Everything then becomes turned on its head. The individual becomes the judge of which biblical truths are desirable and which are obstacles to the pursuit of his or her personal spiritual agenda. This makes us vulnerable to the short-comings of self-limiting the content of faith.

Self-authenticated faith lacks dexterity. Café-style faith is not fortified and nourished by the full wisdom and truth of God in Jesus Christ. We soon find that our own resources are very limited. How will you negotiate the minefields of temptation, fear, failure and doubt? What will cushion your fall when you plummet from the heights of self-reliance, crumble under weight of expectations or despair in the goodness of humanity? Will you take comfort in your record of obedience? Will you flee to the certainty of your feelings? Will you recommit yourself to doing better and trying harder?

The grace of Christ frees you from these pressures. You are one of God’s elect. You know this not from believing you believe strongly enough to never falter. You know it from the promise of your baptism. God calls you by name at a particular time and place and in a specific way. In it the Holy Spirit applies the objective promise of God to you. God promises to be faithful to you. He does not lie. Of course baptism is not a means to short-cut the struggle of faith. No one can play God as the fool. Like grace, it is not a license for apathy, idolatry, or immorality.

But Baptism is where the divine favour of God becomes relevant to the human soul. God’s chooses you- a sinner- and takes in hand to wash away your sins, receive you into the fellowship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, saints, and angels, and promise you life and salvation. Adam’s curse which bound you is overcome by Christ’s favour which frees you. The Bible says of Noah’s flood, “This water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also- not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”5

Dear friends, today we rejoice that the living voice of the gospel continues to proclaim ancient truth to a new generation. We worship in continuity with the saints across the ages. We receive the same body and blood and are freed by the same promise of forgiveness. The liturgy of the church is the edifice that supports the interface between time and eternity. The words of Scripture are the currency the Holy Spirit uses to draw us into an ancient conversation. On this Easter Sunday, and every Sunday, we worship with a living community of believers. Some are still bound in time others exist in eternity. But all have the same future- through the risen Christ: Eternity with the triune God. Amen.

Christ is risen!
+ in nomine Jesu +

The Resurrection of our Lord
4 April 2010 Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Luke 24:5-7
2 1 Corinthians 15:3-4
3 Genesis 6:8
4 Luke 1:28
5 1 Peter 3:21