Sunday, April 16, 2017

A Resurrected People

The satirical site, The Onion, ran a humorous (note: fictional) article with a biting truth. The article was titled "World Death Rate Holding Steady at 100 Percent." The article reported:
World Health Organization officials expressed disappointment Monday at the group's finding that, despite the enormous efforts of doctors, rescue workers and other medical professionals worldwide, the global death rate remains constant at 100 percent. Death, a metabolic affliction causing total shutdown of all life functions, has long been considered humanity's number one health concern. Responsible for 100 percent of all recorded fatalities worldwide, the condition has no cure.
"I was really hoping, what with all those new radiology treatments, rescue helicopters, aerobics TV shows and what have you, that we might at least make a dent in it this year," WHO Director General Dr. Gernst Bladt said. "Unfortunately, it would appear that the death rate remains constant and total, as it has been since the dawn of time."
Well…almost.

There is a story about one man. And the story of that one man has had quite an impact on our world. Whether you are religious or not, the Acton Institute collected some interesting stats about Easter:
  • In 2015, more Americans searched for "church" on Google in the week leading up to Easter Sunday than any other week in the year.
  • The major television networks also pay attention to these trends, which is why two of the four big networks, ABC and NBC, ran overtly Christian programming during the primetime slot on their Easter Sunday schedule last year.
  • Easter spending—projected to break records at more than 17 billion dollars this year. Americans even spend more on candy for Easter than they do for Halloween! The average American celebrating Easter is expected to spend $28.11 on candy this year.
Our world has been shaped by Easter. There are more people in church today than on any other Sunday of the year. We spend millions on candy and new clothes. Television studios change their programming! And it all comes back to this one story, folks. Hear the word of the Lord from the Gospel of Luke:

Read Luke 24:1-12 (CEB)

Well, I’ll tell you what happened: He is risen! That story has changed our world! But here is a more poignant, personal question for you: Has Easter changed you? Let’s forget about the larger stage of world history for a moment. How has the fact that Jesus didn’t stay dead, how has that reality changed your life?

Bible scholar and pastor N. T. Wright tells a story about an archbishop who was hearing the confessions of sin from three teenagers in the church. All three boys were trying to make a joke out of it. So they met with the archbishop and confessed to a long list of ridiculous and grievous sins. They hadn’t really committed any of them. It was all a joke to them. The archbishop, seeing through their bad practical joke, played along. He allowed the first two to “confess” their sins. They both ran out of the church building laughing. But then he listened carefully to the third prankster and before he got away told the young man, "Okay, you have confessed these sins. Now I want you to do something to show your repentance. I want you to walk up to the far end of the church and I want you to look at the picture of Jesus hanging on the cross. I want you to look at His face and say, 'You did all that for me and I don't care that much.' And I want you to do that three times."

And so the boy went up to the front. He looked at the picture of Jesus and he said, "You did all that for me, and I don't care that much." And then he said it again: “You did all that for me, and I don’t care that much.” Then, “You did all that for me…” But then he couldn't finish it the third time because he broke down in tears. And the archbishop telling the story said, "The reason I know that story, is because I was that young man."

Now, in our tradition, we do things differently. We do not have confession booths. We may not even revere “pictures” of Jesus the way some other Christian traditions do. But I think the principle is still the same. Could you look at the cross of Jesus and say something like that? “You did all of that for me, but I don’t care that much.” Maybe. Maybe not. But how often do we say that with our lives?

Sometimes we live our lives as if no hope exists. Sometimes our lives look like every other life in this world, the same as those who have no idea who Jesus is. Sometimes we live as if injustice simply does not exist, we just bury our heads in the sand! What difference does the cross of Jesus Christ and His resurrection, what difference does that make in your life? How are you a different person because Jesus didn’t stay dead? It seems to me that is the most important question for us to answer on Easter Sunday. Because if Jesus’ Resurrection doesn’t change us, then Easter is just a nice story.

But Easter is more than just a nice story.

We serve a Resurrected God, and we are to be Resurrected people. What does that look like? It means our lives should not revolve around our happiness. It means when we look at the world, we think not only about our rights, but also the rights of others. It means we not only protect our family, we also protect those strangers in this world who have no one else to protect them. I want this church to be a body of Resurrected people.

In our tradition, we excel in teaching. We really do. We know the Bible! When I was in graduate school at Emory, we had to take classes related to Scripture and classes related to theology. There was another guy who came from a tradition like ours, one that puts a lot of emphasis on knowing the Bible. The two of us barely studied for those Bible classes, and we blew the curve for everyone else. But on those classes centered on theology, we had to study many long hours! I love our passion for Scripture. And we see it even in the way we structure our meeting times. For the most part, we come here to worship and we study Scripture together. Many of our Connection Groups study the Bible together. Our Sunday morning Bible classes center, of course, on Bible study. And our Wednesday evening gatherings, also, have centered on Bible study. We have a strong heritage of studying the Bible! That is the one of the most important and praise-worthy things about us, I think. The Churches of Christ have always been known by their knowledge of Scripture!

In addition to our knowledge of the Bible, I’d love for people to know us for something else too, the way we serve the world. Wouldn’t it be great if you meet someone on the street, they said, “Where do you go to church?” (Hey, this is Tyler, that could be the first question they ask you!) You tell them, “Glenwood Church of Christ.” Wouldn’t it be great if the next words out of their mouth were: “Oh yeah, that is the church that serves this community so much!” What if we were known for the way we serve? The fact is, this church is filled with service-oriented people. When I attend a gathering for a service organization here in Tyler—PATH, Christian Homes, Bethesda, EEM—I’ve noticed that it is typically a room filled with us! We are service-oriented people. And I’d like for us to find a way to serve together. To build relationship with each other while we serve! So, in the coming weeks, we will begin offering an opportunity for all of us to serve together.

As I mentioned, we currently have multiple venues wherein we come together to teach and learn. We are going to take one of those venues, our Wednesday night gathering, and use it as a time to serve together. We have in mind to do many things: On some weeks, we will meet for prayer and then go out in groups to visit our shut-ins. On some weeks, we will meet for prayer and then travel around the block to Rice Elementary, a school with which we already have a relationship because of Kids Hope. We might help clean up their campus, or find other ways to partner with their administration to serve that student body. On some weeks, we might visit the apartment complexes around us, Many of the families of Rice Elementary live there. We might host a VBS for those kids on Wednesday nights for a month. On other weeks, we might go sing at a local nursing home. On most weeks, we will probably stay here in the building and find ways to serve our community. Collect and pack up food to bring to PATH, write letters to families associated with Christian Homes and Family Services, put together care packages for missionaries. One thing we will do early in the process is partner with the East Texas Food Bank. They have something called the Backpack program. It exists because hundreds of children go hungry in our community every day. They pack backpacks full of nutritious food and send them home with these children. This is the only access some of these children have to a meal on weekends and holidays! We are going to partner with them to put these backpacks together for children.

The kind of service will change periodically, but we want to use that time to serve our community and our world together. Though our types of service will change, there are some constants. This is for everyone! All ages, from children through senior adults. Don’t worry young parents, we will have a nursery. We will have some activities for your young children to do that will not involve wrapping their arms around your legs for an hour! Because we want everyone to engage service together. There will be plenty for people of all ages to do. Isn’t that exciting?!

Kim and I saw the movie The Case for Christ this past week. I highly recommend it! It is the true story of Lee Strobel, a reporter for the Chicago Tribune. He and his wife were both atheists. But, his wife converted to Christianity and that radically changed their family and their relationship. so, Strobel set out, with his journalistic skills, to show how Christianity was just a sham. He did that through investigating the historicity of the Resurrection. For many months, he read and interviewed biblical scholars and psychologists and medical doctors. He was completely biased against the church and against Jesus. He did everything he could to prove that the Resurrection never really happened.

And throughout that entire time, his wife just loved him. She prayed for him. She listened to him. She was patient with him. And, in the end, after all of his research, he couldn’t disprove the Resurrection. He became a believer himself. He wrote a few bestselling books and he eventually became a pastor! But there is one pivotal scene toward the end. Strobel is confessing to his wife what he had been doing. She was completely unaware of his quest to disprove the Resurrection. She asks him: “What finally convinced you? Why do you believe?” In the end, it wasn’t about the evidence, he said it was because you loved me. No matter what I did you kept on loving me.

The most convincing proof of the Resurrection is when people shaped by the Easter story love this world, even when this world doesn’t deserve it! Church, Jesus is Risen! And because Jesus didn’t stay dead, we can’t stay dead either. Let’s show our community just how alive this church is!

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