"Jesus' Gift, Our Real Identity"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - 4/4/1999
Matthew 28:1-10; Colossians 3:1-4
To give a timely example, think about the Albanians currently leaving Kosovo. Up until recently they lived like most of us. They went to work, ate supper with family members, and took walks in the community parks. Life was normal. Within a month, the story line of their movie changed. The news briefs suggest that many of them left their homes with only the belongings they could carry. If you had ten minutes to decide, what would you take for a journey to nowhere? Think of it! As they walked toward the borders of neighboring countries, some of them could see their towns burning behind them.
Who would you be if all the records concerning your birth, your finances, your academic credentials and your professional licenses were destroyed? As is the case with many Kosovars, suppose you could no longer legally prove who you are? And if you became separated from your loved ones, not even the identity provided by your family would be there for you.
With all these events going on in your life, how prepared would you be to listen to the words of Paul? In our lesson today Paul wrote, "You have been raised to life with Christ, so set your hearts on the things that are in heaven. Keep your minds fixed on things there, not on things here on earth." Would any of you listen to such words?
No doubt most of us would consider Paul delusional, a person who had completely lost touch with his surroundings. We would say, "Paul, people are starving. They are experiencing hyperthermia. Many of these people need immediate medical attention. Can't you see what is going on here? Who can keep their thoughts on the qualities of heaven at a time like this?"
The Albanians of Kosovo are an extreme example, but all of us face issues that can just as easily prevent us from caring about the truth of Easter morning. Dramatic change is very distracting. Many people spend a lot of time and energy responding to all the changes taking place in their lives and they miss the substance Jesus came to give us. 6
For example, perhaps this is the first Easter without your spouse. Maybe you have just moved to the Bowie area. You have left all your friends, associates and neighbors in a city miles from here. Perhaps one of your primary relationships has suddenly become very complicated. When we think about it, is there part of our identity that is not subject to change? Everything about us from our physical attractiveness to the clarity of our mind is constantly changing.
Paul's words this morning give us hope. He wrote, "Your real life is Christ." Because of the resurrection of Christ, Paul wrote, "You have been raised to life in Christ. . ." In other words, we are not our jobs, our relationships, our marriages, or our abilities because such things will always be changing. Paul wrote that we have an identity that will never change. We are eternal beings living as various characters in a movie we call our life experience.
Few of us are prepared to hear that. Paul was telling his readers that in spite of their circumstances, they had the ability to live as Easter people for the rest of their lives. How do we know this? At every opportunity Jesus brought his eternal nature into the story line of his movie. So can we.
When Jesus invited his listeners to follow him and when he gave them the great commission to go into the world, he told them that they would be as equally equipped as he. He said, "I am telling you the truth: those who believe in me will do what I do -- yes, they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father (John 14:12).
Jesus' greatest gift to us was insight into our authentic identity. We do not identify Jesus with his carpentry skills, or by his lack of concern about the Roman occupation, or by his silence about the injustices he experienced during his last week of life. We identity with how he carried himself while his life supports were collapsing.
The difference between Jesus and many of us is that he did not wait until the death of his physical body to demonstrate the qualities of his eternal nature. He demonstrated them during his trial, his meeting with Pilate, his beatings, his crucifixion and his resurrection. There was no difference, for example, between the spirit of Jesus who spoke to the thieves hanging next to him on their crosses and the spirit of the risen Christ who spoke to the women outside the tomb.
Paul wrote that all of us can live that way when we choose to keep our minds on the things of heaven. It's our choice. We are Easter people. To live any other way is to choose blindness over the truth Jesus brought. His resurrection was his gift to us, a timeless insight into who we are.
Jesus said, "In my Father's house are many mansions. If it were not so would I have told you that I now go and prepare a place for you? After I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself that where I am you may be also." Think of what would change about our lives if we lived that truth every moment of every day? Paul wrote that such a life is possible. Such a life will be our experience when we choose to keep our minds fixed on the things of heaven, not on the story line of our particular movie. Amen.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Eternal and ever-faithful God, we thank you for the powerful witness of Jesus Christ. He came into the world to demonstrate and to teach the wondrous qualities that are our inheritance. He taught us how to turn away from the voices of this world and live in a kingdom where only love reigns. Yet our steps falter. We seek security when none is needed. Too often we desire only what inspires further loyalties to this world. Teach us how to stretch in our awareness. May the resurrection of Jesus Christ inspire us to live with joy and thanksgiving. Use us to be healers of this world. Use us to make your kingdom visible. Help us to recognize every experience as an opportunity to radiate the love that is possible for everyone else. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
As all of us focus our attention now on talking to you, O God, we thank you for the surprises of life. We thank you when our children become selected for some honor. We thank you for the experimental medication that works on our particular kind of cancer. We thank you for the moment of silence when we look at our gardens ablaze with the colors of Spring and experience the humility of such a blessing. So many times we only see the hurts and frustrations of life. How wonderful when so many miracles abound, we take time to experience them with gratitude.
This morning we celebrate another surprise of life. Few of us can understand the depth of joy that came to the women at Jesus' tomb when they were greeted with the unexpected. The stone had been rolled away. Christ had risen. You provided humanity with the greatest insight into life that we could possibly have. We thank you that a cloud-covered Friday surrendered to the sunrise of Easter morning.
Jesus said to his disciples, "Do you believe because you see me? How blessed will be the lives of those who believe who have not seen me." Each one of us thanks you for that truth. Help us develop the courage to take our cues for being from his Kingdom instead of our own. May we learn above all else to live as Easter people, fearless as we radiate from that confidence in all that we do. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus Christ, who taught us to say as we pray. . .