First Christian Church, Grand Junction – Praising God, Changing Lives!

Our Response to Resurrection

April 12, 2015 (Easter 2) Sermon
“Our Response to Resurrection”

New Testament Reading – Acts 4:32-35

32 Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. 33 With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35 They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

Gospel Reading – John 20:19-31

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin[c]), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe[d] that Jesus is the Messiah,[e] the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

 “Our Response to Resurrection”

So…Easter Sunday has come and gone. Somehow, we survived Lent and all that focus on human sinfulness and the ways we are tempted. And then, last Sunday, we started to respond to resurrection. How did you respond?

If you have young children, or maybe even young grandchildren or great-grandchildren, you may have responded to resurrection with that most Christian of traditions – the Easter Egg hunt. (I kind of get how eggs became associated with Easter and resurrection, but, I confess, I still don’t get the whole Easter Bunny thing.)

Or, maybe you remember the days of Easter Egg hunts but they’re behind you, so you found other ways to celebrate resurrection. Maybe an Easter Brunch. I think it’s pretty cool that we offer an Easter brunch here in the church building so you can enjoy an Easter brunch with your CHURCH family – at least it makes the brunch FEEL more religious. Not sure what brunch has to do with resurrection, though. (Maybe it has to do with Jesus feeding the disciples a breakfast of fish in a later resurrection appearance in John’s gospel. Who knows?) But it IS a popular thing to do on Easter Sunday. Some people get quite extravagant about it – I know my family did when I was a teenager and young adult. Worship was a “maybe” on Easter, but an large and extravagant brunch was a “definitely.”

Maybe you dressed up special, perhaps even clinging to the grand tradition of wearing an Easter hat or bonnet. I LOVE Easter hats; I’ve always enjoyed seeing all the different styles through the years and how each woman’s hat matches (or in some cases doesn’t match) that woman’s personality. You can learn a lot about someone from an Easter hat.

And, of course, most of you probably responded to resurrection by worshipping God – either here or at an Easter worship service in whatever town you found yourself last Sunday.

I’m sure you have found more ways than these to respond to resurrection, but these are some of the more common responses I’ve seen through the years. I wonder, how do they compare to the response of the first disciples?

It’s not a difficult question to answer; we find a number of their responses packed together in our gospel reading for today.

Interestingly, maybe ALARMINGLY, it looks like their first response was to lock themselves away out of fear, fear of the Jewish leaders. Which has always struck me as odd. I mean, the disciples had just discovered that God had the power to conquer death – and was willing to USE that power; the disciples had just learned about resurrection…but they were STILL afraid of earthly powers, of death. It’s almost as if their first response was to act as if resurrection had NEVER happened. I mean, don’t you think they would have been locked away in that house for fear of the Jewish leadership even if Jesus had NEVER been resurrected? So, their first response was to act as if resurrection hadn’t happened.

But then, Jesus came…and Jesus offered the disciples peace – freedom from their fear and anxiety…and Jesus gave them the Holy Spirit (in John’s gospel, the disciples receive the Holy Spirit on Easter, not on Pentecost)…and Jesus gave the disciples PROOF. In that moment, the Easter experience, the RESURRETION experience, for the disciples changed. Resurrection wasn’t just an empty tomb; rather resurrection was the once-dead Jesus standing right before them IN THE FLESH, walking and talking and offering the disciples peace and the Holy Spirit. I wonder, with this NEW resurrection experience, did the disciples’ response change?

Fast forward one week in time. We’re tempted to think the disciples’ response would have changed – that it DID change. Indeed, they had told THOMAS they had seen the Lord, but, really, y’all, telling Thomas isn’t a reflection of their response in general. Thomas was one of Jesus’ disciples, too. Of course they told THOMAS.

Now, we’re not told what the disciples did during that week in between Jesus’ two resurrection appearances. But we are told that one week after that encounter with the resurrected Christ, the disciples were in the EXACT SAME PLACE they had been a week earlier, prior to that resurrection encounter. “A week later his disciples were again in the house…” Lest we be tempted to think the disciples were in that house again resting in between episodes of ministry/work they were doing in response to Jesus’ resurrection, the gospel writer adds, “Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’” Ok, so John didn’t say the doors were locked like they were a week earlier, but, really, the point he was making was that the doors were shut up so that no one could get in. In other words, they seem to have been LOCKED…STILL.

So, here’s the deal, after Jesus was resurrected, and the disciples KNEW about it (because Mary Magdalene told them), the disciples acted the same way they would have had Jesus NOT been resurrected. And, a week later, after the disciples had had an encounter, an experience, with the risen Christ, their response doesn’t appear to have changed. The gospel writer, John, certainly made no attempt to let us know that their response had changed, that they had gone out and DONE something as a result of resurrection. Which leads me to wonder: if the response of those who had in fact SEEN and EXPERIENCED the risen Christ in the FLESH was so inadequate – if it was no different than their response would have been to crucifixion WITHOUT resurrection – how can the response of WE who haven’t seen possibly be adequate?

So, let’s fast forward a few thousand years, and the followers of Jesus are responding to resurrection with Easter Egg hunts and Easter bonnets and Easter brunches, and, yes, to some extent, Easter worship.

Folks, just out of curiosity, are these the kinds of responses you think God was looking for from resurrection?

I know I’m a minister, and so to many of you that means that my thinking isn’t quite normal, that my thinking is a little different, maybe even a little off. I’m a minister, so you might think that I’m SUPPOSED to think that these responses aren’t what God was looking for from resurrection. But, really, y’all – think back to what your last week has looked like. Do you REALLY think that THAT’S how God wanted you to respond to resurrection? Do you think that whatever you have been doing and the way you have been living is what God resurrected Jesus for?

I look around the world; I look around the CHURCH, and I can’t help but wonder…”isn’t there some OTHER way to respond?”

And then I read our passage from the book of Acts this morning, and I think, “THAT’S IT! That’s what God wanted from resurrection.” Take a look at the change that eventually came upon the disciples. I know it didn’t happen over night. It didn’t even happen in a week or two. But eventually, those disciples who originally responded by being locked up out of fear, eventually they responded to resurrection differently:

  • They were of one heart and soul. I don’t think this means they agreed about everything. When you read the rest of the book of Acts, they obviously didn’t agree about everything. What it means is that they let what they held in common – which was Jesus (not what they believed about Jesus, just Jesus) – be THE PRIMARY FEATURE of their identity. The one thing that mattered to them was JESUS; they were of one heart and soul in that regard. The disciples’ response to resurrection was to identify themselves in terms of Jesus FIRST just as God’s people, Israel, were supposed to identify themselves in terms of God first.
  • They held everything they had in common; no one owned ANYTHING for themselves. I know, I know. In the modern world, we call that communism or socialism and declare it to be a bad thing…because capitalism is supposed to be the best…to us. (And I’m not trying to get into a discussion about that.)  But, y’all, what this passage from Acts is telling us is that the disciples response to resurrection was to ELIMINATE SELFISHNESS from their lives. Think about that for a second. Isn’t that what Jesus did in his life? And isn’t that a logical response to resurrection? If we truly live as if God has power over EVERYTHING, even death, and if we believe God cares for us and will use God’s power to take care of us, there is absolutely no place for selfishness.
  • The disciples shared their knowledge about and experiences of Jesus with everybody…and they did so with great power. Of the three responses to resurrection offered in this passage, I find this one the most interesting. In the modern Church, our membership and even our leaders are bemoaning that people are leaving the Church in droves and are adopting an attitude of indifference toward Jesus. Folks, I’ve got news for you: that’s NOT THE FAULT of THOSE WHO ARE LEAVING. It is OUR FAULT. If we would only respond to resurrection by proclaiming Jesus with GREAT POWER instead of shrinking from that responsibility out of great fear, EVERYTHING would change.

What do you all think: if WE, if the members of First Christian Church Grand Junction, were to respond to resurrection the ways the disciples responded in Acts 4, do you think it would make a difference for God’s kingdom in the world, at least in this little corner of the world?

OK – so how do we do it? How do we go from being scared, selfish disciples who keep the great news of resurrection locked away to becoming selfless champions of God’s cause who usher in a kingdom of equality and spread the news of resurrection and that kingdom of God with great power? How do we make the transformation?

Well, it’s kind of a trick question…because we CAN’T. Actually, I’ve put the emphasis in the wrong place. WE can’t. What happened for those disciples was God; what happened for those disciples was more resurrection experiences with Jesus. What happened for those disciples was God’s HOLY SPIRIT.

In our reading from John 20, Jesus told us what OUR part is: we must BELIEVE. And Jesus didn’t mean an in-your-head-belief. Jesus didn’t mean “believe the right things ABOUT Jesus.” Jesus didn’t mean, “get your theology right.” Jesus didn’t mean “accept the right people and condemn everybody else.” NO – that’s what so many in the Church have done over the past 2,000 years in response to resurrection, and I would submit that they got it WRONG, and that’s a big part of why the Church is where it is today.

What Jesus meant by “believe” – based on my research of what the word means and my reading of all that Jesus said and all that happened to the disciples after resurrection – what I believe Jesus meant is THIS:

Live your life FIRST and FOREMOST as a follower of Jesus – the Messiah, the one resurrected by God:

  • Not as a member of your family;
  • Not as a grandparent or parent or child;
  • Not as a social worker or nurse or doctor or farmer or accountant or construction worker or whatever you do now or once did to make the money needed to survive in this world;
  • Not as a card player or domino player or wood worker or quilter or magician or singer or pianist or whatever it is you do for fun;

Live your life FIRST and FOREMOST as a follower of Jesus – let THAT be your primary identity…and the rest will follow. Do THAT, and you WILL find yourself:

  • Living for others instead of yourself, just like Jesus did;
  • Speaking and teaching with great power, just like Jesus did;
  • Wielding amazing spiritual gifts for the common good of all, just like Jesus did;

Y’all, it’s so simple, and yet it’s the secret to life. Every time you try to live for yourself or a few select people who are in your family or are otherwise your favorites in life, you are rejecting the power of resurrection. ONLY when you choose your primary identity to be a follower of the RESURRECTED one will you truly live in response to resurrection, will you truly LIVE.

How will you respond? Amen.