Sermon

JOYFUL SERVICE: IN THE RISING!

The Feast of the Resurrection of our Lord, 21 April 2019
A Sermon on Luke 24:1-12 by Samuel Zumwalt, STS

Luke 24:1-12 English Standard Version, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers]

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. 2 And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. 5 And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6 He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” 8 And they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, 11 but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.

[I found Professor Jeff Gibbs’ exposition very helpful: https://concordiatheology.org/lalp/#/10443/987/3-7-0/2019-04-21]

JOYFUL SERVICE: IN THE RISING

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Why did those who followed Him go with Jesus? Was His look into their eyes and the sound of His voice so authoritative, so compelling, that they knew they would never be the same if they went? Was the same-old-same-old so predictable, the same-old, same-old so ordinary and so expected, that they were willing to risk everything they knew for all that they didn’t? Why did they follow? Was it youthful exuberance?

Were there late nights later on, perhaps between the hours of three and four in the early morning, when the gnawing, nagging voice of cold, hard rationality asked: “What were you thinking?” And did Judas or Peter answer that voice with: “Yes, what was I thinking? I guess I wasn’t?”

There is always that inner umpire in our head that says, “You could have done a better job,” whether talking about ourselves or, more often, talking about others. Life is filled with “coulda, shoulda, woulda.” The inner umpire in our head is relentless. Athletes, who lost a championship, especially if it was their last chance, replay in their heads the missed swing, the missed catch, the missed shot, the missed score, the missed win. Some re-live such a nightmare for the rest of their lives. Oh, if only. So close!

That Thursday night, or early Friday morning as Jews count the days, after Jesus was arrested, when they realized that Judas had betrayed their Master, after Jesus was carried away to that kangaroo court conducted by the Sanhedrin, the religious leaders in Jerusalem: Did the disciples begin replaying their lives from the moment Jesus called them? Was it then they had regrets?

When they saw Him nailed to a cross as a common criminal, was it, for most of them, from as far away as possible? Were they paranoid that Judas had sold out all of them as well? Did the inner umpire ask: “If you had known it would all turn out like this, would you have gone with Jesus?”

What was it they expected when they followed Jesus? Did they expect He was going to Jerusalem to become the Davidic king for which Israel had been waiting for 600 years? Did they expect, as young people often do, that all their dreams would come true if they just believed hard enough? When they saw Jesus do signs and wonders including resuscitate the dead, did they imagine that He would do that for them, so that they would go on living in that conflicted world?

When Jesus was dead, and those old dreams of theirs were buried with Him, did they, then, remember that He said that He would suffer, die, and be buried? Did the inner umpire then begin to haunt them with: “And you thought it would turn out differently? Why?”

The Roman Catholic Southern writer Flannery O’Connor wrote her first novel “Wise Blood” in 1952. It began as a series of short stories revolving around one Hazel Motes, a 22-year-old Korean War veteran, the grandson of a Tennessee preacher. He returns home from the war believing in nothing at all, a not uncommon fate for veterans of wars. He begins to preach on street corners saying: “… I preach the Church Without Christ. I’m member and preacher to that church where the blind don’t see and the lame don’t walk and what’s dead stays that way. Ask me about that church and I’ll tell you it’s the church that the blood of Jesus don’t foul with redemption.”

Hazel Motes, like a lot of young people in their 20s and 30s today, had no declared religion. As we noted last weekend, many of these today are the ones featured in a study from 2005 in which their beliefs were described by Carolina sociologists as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. It is a non-prophet religion (that’s P-r-o-p-h-e-t) in which you try to be happy, nice, do good things, and, if you really need God to step in to solve a problem, then, and only then, you pray, and, of course, all the good people (whatever that means) go to heaven. It’s a syncretistic mishmash of ideas that includes both American optimism and self-help psychobabble. Like Hazel Motes, many of these are sure they don’t need Christ’s redemption or miracles. Like Hazel Motes, and, yes, like the women, the eleven, and the others in Luke 24, many of the so-called Nones (those who mark “none” for their religion) expect the dead to stay dead. So much for Jesus.

When the angel Gabriel spoke to the 13-year-old Virgin Mary telling her she would be the mother of God’s Son, she asked how that could even be possible. Certainly, hers was a rational question. The angel told her nothing was impossible for God, and the Spirit of God would overshadow her. Later, when she was pregnant with God’s Son and visiting her long, infertile cousin Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John the Baptist, she sang a song of praise we call “The Magnificat,” in which God is a God who reverses expectations: The mighty are cast down. The lowly are lifted up. The hungry are filled. The rich sent away empty (Luke 1:46-55). Already at the beginning of Luke’s gospel, God does the unexpected by taking on our fragile humanity. Throughout His earthly life, God’s Son Jesus does the unexpected. So, even when He told His closest followers and dearest friends three times all that would happen to Him, the Lord Jesus’ words did not register with them. They were listening with the selective hearing of people who try to bring the same-old-same-old along with them when the follow Jesus.

As at His birth, so at the Lord Jesus’ resurrection, angels announced the unexpected tidings of great joy to people who were not expecting anything to be different. That first Christmas night, it was the same-old-same-old for shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night. That first Easter morning, it was the same-old-same-old for Jewish women coming to anoint a dead body. But God did the unexpected; first, God became human for us and our salvation, then He raised His Son Jesus from the dead after Jesus had done the unexpected by dying the only innocent death ever for my sins, your sins, and everyone’s sins!

Many people inside and outside Christ’s Church know that Baptism is the initiation rite for Christianity. In Muslim lands, the Baptism of a Muslim means they have left behind the same-old-same-old and may well be killed by their relatives and neighbors or arrested by their governments. In China and India, where the ancestral cultures are so strong, to be baptized is to depart from the same-old-same-old of your ancestors or to be labeled unpatriotic. Again, the newly baptized may well be killed or, at the very least, be persecuted. In North Korea, where the unholy trinity is a grandfather, father, and grandson who have sequentially ruled for seventy years, Baptism there is clearly an unpatriotic act for departing from the same-old-same-old. And, for that, you will get everyone in your family for several generations thrown into a camp where you will be worked to death or tortured to death. Those coming to be baptized in those cultures understand the cost of following Jesus. But what about here in the West?

In many of the lands that were formerly populated by Christian majorities, including this land, Baptism carries no obvious threat other than to be asked by friends why you would join any religion at all. Of course, if you follow the Jesus who calls and teaches disciples through the words of the four gospels, you will begin to experience the cost of following Him as people label you a hater, when you have the audacity to go against the new same-old-same-old existence where sin and the old evil one rule over you until you die. Let us be clear: Churches that try to make peace with the unbelieving world are, to be blunt, followers of Judas and not of God’s Son, who is the Ever-Living One.

When the women returned from the empty tomb on the first Easter, as the shepherds returned from the stable on the first Christmas, they kept on saying to the eleven and to the others the glad tidings the angels had told them. Yet those who heard them kept on disbelieving, calling their words idle talk or nonsense. In that moment, they were still bound by sin, death, and the devil. They could not yet even imagine that Jesus was indeed God’s Son, truly God and truly Man, and that He had taken the worst sin and Satan could do to Him and to them, and had died in their place and ours. Then, God the Father did the unexpected. He reversed, for the first time, death itself. Jesus was not resuscitated to the same-old-same-old, death-bound biological existence. He was resurrected and is the beginning of a whole new creation. Jesus didn’t stay dead. Our sins didn’t win. And, if you are baptized into His death and resurrection, you won’t stay dead either! That is His promise to you!

But this is the truth about Baptism that persecuted Christians understand much better than we. Baptism is risky business. When Jesus calls us to the waters of Baptism, He calls us to a daily crucifixion. The cruciform life is not always happy, but it can be filled with joy. The cruciform life is not always nice, but it can be filled with unexpected treasures. The cruciform life is not always about doing what others would call loving, nice, or good, but it can be filled with the peace the world cannot give and the satisfaction that comes with following Jesus in lives of joyful, humble service as He, and not the world, shows us how to do His Father’s good and gracious will!

The eleven and the others soon got to see for themselves that the unexpected had happened. And, many went on to proclaim the angel’s glad tidings to a world that fears what Easter means: The days of the same-old, same-old, world without Christ are numbered! And, as a reward for telling the world what it did not want to hear, eleven of the twelve, including Matthias, all except John, were killed. But…they went to their deaths with joy! Why? For Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

©Samuel David Zumwalt
szumwalt@bellsouth.net
St. Matthew’s Ev. Lutheran Church
Wilmington, North Carolina USA

Bulletin Insert
Joyful Service: In the Rising

Praying

“Almighty and everliving God, in your tender love for the human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection; through your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen” (The Daily Prayer of the Church, 1087).

Listening

Luke 24: “But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb …”

St. Augustine [late 4th – early 5th century Bishop of Hippo Regius, Algeria]: “The Lord’s day is called the first of the sabbath. But the first day itself falls away when the second follows it. That day, which both the eighth and the first, represents eternity. It is that day which we abandoned at the beginning by sinning in our first parents and so came down into this mortal state, and also the last and, as it were, the eighth day, to which we again look ahead after the resurrection, once our last enemy death has been destroyed. Only then will this perishable thing put on imperishability and this mortal thing put on immortality” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Luke, 374).

Luke 24:4 “…behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel.”

St. Cyril of Alexandria [5th century Patriarch of Alexandria, Egypt]: “Angels also brought the joyful tidings of the nativity to the shepherds in Bethlehem. Now they tell of his resurrection. Heaven yields its service to proclaim him, and the hosts of the spirits which are above attend the Son as God, even though he is in the flesh” (375).

Luke 24:5 “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”

St. Cyril of Alexandria: “The Word of God ever lives and by his own nature is life. Yet, when he humbled and emptied himself, submitting to be made like us, he tasted death. But this proved to be the death of death, for he rose from the dead to be the way by which not so much he himself but rather we could return to incorruption. Let no one seek among the dead him who ever lives. But if he is not here, with mortality and in the tomb, where then is he? Obviously in heaven and in godlike glory” (375).

Luke 24:6 “He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee.”

St. John Chrysostom [late 4th – early 5th century Patriarch of Constantinople]: “Do you see that they clearly understood nothing about the resurrection? They expected that the kingdom would come to him immediately in Jerusalem because they had no better grasp of what the kingdom of heaven really is. Another Evangelist hinted at this when he said that they thought of it as a human kingdom. They were expecting him to enter into it but not to go to the cross and death. Even though they had heard it ten thousand times, they could not clearly understand” (375).

Reflecting

1. Do I understand that God’s Son Jesus rose bodily from the dead and that changes everything?

2. How foolishly do I cling to the notion that death can be avoided and set myself up for despair?

Learning

The Sacrament of the Altar (from Martin Luther’s Small Catechism)

As the head of the family should teach it in a simple way to his household.

Who receives this Sacrament worthily?

“Fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training. But that person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’ But anyone who does not believe these words or doubts them is unworthy and unprepared, for the words ‘for you’ require all hearts to believe.”

Doing

1. Pray for every unbaptized child you know and for the child’s parents, too.

2. Pray for your unchurched loved ones and friends. Invite one or more of them to worship.

3. Discuss with your spouse, your family, or a friend what it means to take the Lord Jesus at His word of promise. How does rationalism (trying to explain how this could be so) is actually nothing more than a sophisticated form of unbelief that refuses to hear Christ’s promise and, thus, makes the sacrament simply a family bonding experience without forgiveness, life, or salvation.

4. God’s incarnate Son, Christ Jesus, rose bodily from the dead. Our celebration of His resurrection from the dead lasts fifty days. The marks of His death in His hands, feet, and side remain forever as the prima facie evidence of His victory on the cross over sin, death, and the old evil one. Spend some time today looking at old pictures of loved ones who are with the Lord awaiting their own bodily resurrection from the dead. Imagine what joy it will be again to hold and to be held by them and to know that one will never have to say goodbye again. The promise of our Baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection fills us with hope. The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

5. Set aside time daily, preferably first thing, but when you are able to focus, to hear the Word of God, to reflect upon that Word, and to ask the Holy Spirit to grant you grace to be shaped by and conformed to that Word. Daily Bible readings may be found at www.stmatthewsch.org. If you haven’t previously done so, please take a devotional booklet from the welcome center table in the narthex.

For Husbands and Wives

Repeat daily: “I (name) take you (name) to be my wedded wife (husband), to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish until death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I pledge you my faith.”

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