"RESURRECTION" - Luke 24:1 - 12; Acts 10:34 - 43
A Sermon by Alex W. Evans, Pastor
Second Presbyterian Church, Richmond, VA
Easter – April 21, 2019
Texts: Luke 24:1-12; Acts 10:34-43
A certain preacher got up in the pulpit on Easter Sunday. He announced to the congregation: “Good people – I have here three sermons (and he held out his papers). I have a $100 sermon that lasts 5 minutes! I have a $50 sermon that lasts 15 minutes! And I have a $20 sermon that lasts 30 minutes.”
Then he said: “Let’s have the ushers come and take up the offering. . . . We will see which of these sermons I deliver this morning.”
You may be thinking that this is the preacher’s favorite Sunday – with all the decorations and fantastic music, with people in the pews, and flowers, all singing and celebrating the resurrection.
But it is hard to preach on Easter.
We all know the storyline: Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed!
One Easter, a preacher and a taxi driver died and went to heaven – on the same day. St Peter was at the Pearly Gates waiting for them.
“Come with me,” Peter said to the taxi driver, leaving the preacher behind. The taxi driver walked with St Peter and after a bit, they came to a big mansion. It was lavish and beautifully decorated – from fine furnishings to an Olympic size pool with a fountain.
“Oh my, thank you,” said the taxi driver to St Peter.
Next, St Peter went back to get the preacher, and the two of them walked off together. They came to an old shack with a bunk bed and a little television set – that was it.
“Wait,” said the preacher. “I think you may be a little mixed up.” Shouldn’t I get a lavish mansion also? I have served God for years, went to church every day, preached God’s word.”
“Yes. That is true,” said St Peter. “But during your Easter sermons, people fell asleep. . . . Yet whenever anyone got into that guy’s taxi, everyone prayed. . . .”
It is hard to preach on Easter. . . .
But what an honor and privilege it is, too!
We have already heard the Easter story from Luke this morning – our first lesson. Those women went to the tomb early on Sunday. When they found the tomb empty, it says, “they remembered his words,” that Jesus would be handed over and crucified, and on the third day rise again. “They remembered his words.”
Our second lesson comes some weeks after Easter morning. It comes from the book of Acts – the Acts of the Apostles.
Luke is the only gospel writer who gives us a sequel. Acts is the continuation of Luke. Luke keeps telling the story of what happened after Easter morning. He wants to show how the RESURRECTION of Jesus changed everything – not just for Jesus who was risen from the grave, freed from the tomb. Luke wants to show how the RESURRECTION of Jesus changed the lives of everyone associated with Jesus – because that is the point of the RESURRECTION – to change us and how we see the whole world.
In Acts, the disciples are no longer the doubting, questioning, fumbling around, falling asleep, fussing about who is the greatest kind of people – as they appear in the gospels. The disciples get loose in the world with the message and the ministry of Jesus.
Just as Jesus had invited them to follow him, the disciples began to call followers. Just as Jesus had pointed to the coming reign of God – with healing, with light over darkness, with miracles, the disciples heal and perform miracles that announce the promised presence and victory of God. It is all because of the RESURRECTION!
By the time we get to Acts 10, the scene is Caesarea and Joppa – two places we visited on the recent trip to Israel. These places are miles from Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified, and miles from Galilee, where Jesus recruited the first disciples. The RESURRECTION has so changed Peter that he offers a sermon to the people, summarizing everything about Jesus, and everything about the meaning of the RESURRECTION. Listen to Acts 10, beginning at verse 34:
34Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35but in every nation anyone who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to God. 36You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 37That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced:38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.42He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
I want to help us get this message today – Easter. Peter is speaking in Joppa – a major port city of the region. The region is part of the powerful Roman empire. Caesar – the Roman Emperor - rules everything about life in that land. Caesar’s face was on the money. Caesar’s name was on buildings. Caesarea – the newest and biggest port – it was built by Herod to butter up to Caesar - was named for Caesar.
Caesar demanded his way or the highway. He did not like threats. He did not like other people getting attention. A few weeks prior to this sermon by Peter, Jesus was crucified on a cross and buried in a tomb . . . . because he was a threat to Caesar.
Think about it this way: “Jesus was raised among the poor and the working poor. . . . Jesus fed the poor. Caesar let them down. Jesus healed the sick. Caesar didn’t care. Jesus called on religion to serve the cause of love and justice and the mercy of God. Caesar bought religion and paid off religious leaders to serve him and give him cover for his political brutality. Jesus moved in an ethic of love, service, and concern for all. Caesar moved in an ethic of manipulation, lust, disregard, and domination against anyone not in his circle.” (see William Barber, Journal of Preachers, Easter 2019, p. 22f)
We keep seeing people try to rule like Caesar, don’t we?!
When Jesus entered Jerusalem during Passover, Caesar’s police force and soldiers were there to put down any type of threat or revolution.
Jesus represents God’s saving way of love and worship and justice and mercy in conflict with Caesar’s ethic of power and hatred and meanness and oppression. This is why Jesus said he would be handed over, to suffer and be crucified. The women - “They remembered his words.” Jesus represents God’s spirit, God’s way, in conflict with Caesar’s way.
But look what Peter proclaims: God raised Jesus from the dead. That is what the women discovered and told. That is what the disciples figure out. The RESURRECTION is God’s affirmation that Caesar’s way is not the way!
So just a few weeks removed from the suffering and crucifixion of Jesus in Jerusalem, Peter stands in the busy port city of Joppa, a place dominated by Caesar and Caesar’s ways, and he proclaims the full story, the very meaning of the RESURRECTION. Jesus – not Caesar – is Lord of all. He came preaching peace, through Judea, beginning in Galilee. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree. (It looked like Caesar won again.) But God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear to us. . . . And we are commanded to preach to the people and to testify that Jesus is the one ordained by God – Lord of the living and the dead. This is the Good News – the essence of the Christian faith!
The Christian faith remains so wildly and often misrepresented in American culture. We tend get so stuck on the brokenness, instead of realizing Christian faith is all about our potential. We tend to focus on sex, not realizing Christian faith is all about love – God’s love for us and our love for God and for one another. We get deep into judgments, . . . instead of reconciliation. We get so certain of our answers, . . . . instead of asking deep questions. We get focused on the afterlife . . . . rather than giving energy to the present life and life in abundance for everyone.
Yet real Christian faith is what Peter is talking about in Acts – Jesus came preaching peace, healing and loving, doing good. Christian faith asserts that God raised Jesus from the grave, refusing to let Caesar’s mean and brutal and death-filled ways win in the world. Christian faith is about “how God continues to reach into the graves we dig for ourselves, and God pulls us out, giving new life, in ways both dramatic and small” (Nadia Bolz-Weber. Pastrix)
The RESURRECTION, then, calls us to align our lives with God – not Caesar - with love and generosity – not meanness and greed.
The RESURRECTION shows us life is about mercy and justice – not brutality and oppression.
The RESURRECTION says we cannot just put on our Sunday best, and get our lovely pictures taken – we are part of another way in the world – the way of Jesus, the way of compassion and care, the way of help and healing, especially to the less fortunate and needy.
The RESURRECTION affirms that God raised Jesus from the dead – and that changes everything: cruelty and evil do not win; selfishness and lies do not win; terror and threats do not win. Peter says “they put Jesus to death by hanging him on a tree. But God raised Jesus on the third day . . . and we are his witnesses.” Even in the face of massive egos and a harsh empire, God’s wins.
So, RESURRECTION intends to change us and everything about us. Can you hear this today?
Where and when have you forgotten that God wins?
Is it a personal heartache that feels overwhelming? RESURRECTION reminds us that God wins – always.
Is it a political situation that beats you down, a nagging frustration that keeps you discouraged? We are those who hear Peter – God raised Jesus from the dead. This matters. We deal with lots of crazy Executive Orders from the President; we see character issues in so many areas of leadership. We have climate issues; we got debates about the Mueller report; we got world tensions and uncertainties.
But where do we align our lives? Peter stands in Joppa and affirms – they hung Jesus on a tree. And God raised Jesus from the dead – God wins!
This is what we hold to!
RESURRECTION changes everything – our losses are not forever; our tears are temporary; our disappointments do not dominate us; our darkest moments are never too much for God’s light! Racism, militarism, meanness, hatred, oppression – all of that is the way of Caesar. Sickness, depression, lupus, cancer, heart attacks, gun violence – that is the stuff of the world. Yet, God raised Jesus from the dead! That is the truth that holds, that molds, that shapes our lives.
In October, 2006, there was a horrible shooting in a one room schoolhouse in Nickel Mines Township in the Amish country in PA. You probably remember – though mass shootings continue. In Amish country, PA, a man named Charlie Roberts shot 8 out of 10 girls in that school, killing 5 of them before committing suicide.
Terri Roberts, Charlie’s mother, became a living witness to the RESURRECTION – and its power to change everything - in the years following that horrific shooting. Terri Roberts took it upon herself to develop relationships with the families of those wounded and killed. Rosanna, a young girl who survived the shooting, is in a wheelchair and eats with a feeding tube. Every other Thursday, before Terri died in 2017, Terri visited Rosanna and helped to bathe her, read with her, and sang with her. Spending time with Rosanna helped to heal the wounds of the tragedy. And every time Terri visited, she was confronted with the horrors and pain her son had caused. Yet she was also enacting the truth – the promise and purpose of God - that violence does not get the last word, meanness and death do not get the last word, pain and heartache do not prevail. (see Christian Century, March 13, 2019, p. 23)
God raised Jesus from the dead. God is always at work turning death to life, despair to hope, hatred to love, defeat to victory.
“Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5)
In what part of your life, with what issue in your heart and in the world, do you most need to hear this?
Friends, Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Prayer of Commitment: We believe, O God; help our unbelief. And keep molding us, shaping us, using us in the world following the risen Jesus. Amen.
Alex Evans, Pastor, Second Presbyterian Church, Richmond, VA preached this sermon during morning worship on Easter, April 21, 2019. This is a rough manuscript.