Monday, March 24, 2008

Easter Sermon: It's How you believe

Sermon Text: Colossians 3: 1-4Matthew 28

Sorry, no transcript this week either. I'm preaching in more of an extemporaneous style now. If the manuscript sermons have been a big help to you, leave a comment, and I'll look into getting an ipod or something that I could put podcasts of the sermon on the website. If I don't hear from anyone, I will keep giving you the talking points of the sermon and what I can remember of it. (and some improvements I've made in the past 24 hours. :) )

My earthquake experiences have been unextraordinary. Leaning back in my chair during seminary during one, asleep during the other.

Quite possibly, this earthquake that Matthew recounts was not that extraordinary too. After all he's the only writer to remember it. Perhaps this was just indicative of a resurrection that kind of "flew under the radar," anyway. John tells of the disciples going back to their fishing after the encounters with the risen Christ.

So, no hard feelings if you merely think of Easter Sunday as a day to go to church in pastel colors and have an egg hunt.Our ultimate antagonist to having a life of faith is the disease of apathy. Apatheism, some call it. (Here, some of the teenagers in church were busy texting each other, and made a good illustration about apathy and the Easter story.)

But perhaps we are apathetic because we believe that the Easter event is just another event that we are supposed to believe "happened" so that we can "believe the right things" and "get into heaven." Once we've gotten the story down, and believe that it has happened, we're "okay." Hmm.

Perhaps all this talk of an earthquake and an angel and the clunky narrative about guards being placed at the tomb is just Matthew writing in a convenient explanation as to why the Romans and Jews keep dismissing the early Christians talk about a resurrection by saying that they had stolen the body. Or, if you watch the Discovery or History Channel, you can learn about all the other theories about how Jesus might have "come back from the dead." Some say Jesus was drugged, feigned death, and later escaped from the tomb. Others say the disciples just got so worked up in their grief that they made up the whole thing.

So, that "story that we have to get down right" in order to "believe the right things," isn't so simple after all, is it?

The gospels sure don't help us.  They each tell the story in different ways. Which one am I "supposed to believe" preacher?

What if Matthew, with all this talk about guards at the gate, is trying to communicate to us the idea that it's not what you believe, it's how you believe?

The guards at the tomb witnessed everything the women did! They surely "believed the right things." They were right there so scared they couldn't move! They got the information, because they took it back to the authorities. The difference was "how they believed." They were content to be paid off to change their story. They sold out while the women shared the good news.

Bishop Will Willimon points out. "There are so many ways to "explain" the resurrection. The point is, we can't explain the resurrection. The resurrection explains us!"

This past week, we recounted the stories about how Jesus was "there for us," but how his disciples failed to be "there for him." They deserted, they shrunk away in fear. They lied about their association with him. They betrayed him. Now an angel who "has the appearance of lightning" is telling us this man is back. Uh-oh! But notice what Jesus tells the women. "Greetings! Tell my brothers to meet me in Galilee." My brothers! The two most important words of this story. My brothers.

The women become not only missionaries of the resurrection message, but also agents of reconciliation.Resurrection faith isn’t just a matter of believing that a dead body came back to life. The soldiers and the priests believed this as well, and were quick to work against the resurrection. Resurrection faith is knowing that this event heals a relationship between you and God. It is the understanding that you are a “brother” or “sister” being summoned to go and share the good news with others. Dear friends, Matthew tells us that it’s not about “believing.” It’s about what you do with that belief that identifies you as a child of the Resurrection.

When the Resurrection compels us to be agents of reconciliation, that's letting Easter shape "how" and not just "what" we believe. Easter means you have another chance to be the person God created you to be, and you can start doing that at any moment, even after you think it's too late. The disciples whom Jesus called "brothers" and "sisters" learned that it was never too late. This is "how" we believe. We believe in the resurrection by believing in the possibilities for redemption and reconciliation that happen every day. We believe in the resurrection by making those moments happen.

But, if you think being a child of the resurrection means you have everything figured out, then think again. When the disciples meet Jesus on the mountain in Galilee, Matthew tells us "but some doubted." That's okay. The resurrection is big enough to handle our doubt. "Thus the same elements of worship, doubt, and little faith inhere in the church after Easter as before. Whatever the nature of the resurrection event, it did not generate perfect faith even in those who experienced it firsthand. It is not to angels or perfect believers, but to the worshiping/wavering community of disciples to whom the world mission is entrusted." (New Interpreter's Bible) This is the good news.

This is what is exciting. The resurrection hasn't ended. It is still going on in your life and in mine. We have the opportunity to participate in it by our life lived in the name of Christ. That's why it is so beautifully fitting that we had a baptism today and added another sister to the community of faith. We've added a witness to the resurrection. She will be brought up in the faith.And it won't be what she believes that makes a difference to Christ. It will be "how" she believes that witnesses to the resurrection.


  1. Thank you, Nathan. You gave me the inspiration to put together a message for Easter Sunday. I'm quoting you at least once and will make sure to give you the credit.

  2. Thank you, Nathan. I too got a lot of inspiration from you. God continue to bless you and your insight.