"Life’s Mutation Caused By One Idea"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - April 12, 2009
I Corinthians 15:1-11; John 20:1-18
This morning our text comes from the Gospel of John, a Gospel that is strikingly different from the other three. For example, John has no account of Jesus’ birth, his baptism, his temptations, the Last Supper, Jesus’ experience in Gethsemane and nothing concerning his ascension. There is no mention of people being healed of demons or evil spirits. Perhaps the most striking difference is that there are no parables that remain such a priceless part of the other three Gospels.What makes this Gospel such compelling reading, however, is that John appears to provide testimony that could only come from an eye-witness. For example, the loaves which the young boy brought to Jesus at the feeding of the 5,000 were made of barley. There were six stone jars at the wedding in Cana. Only John tells about Jesus’ crown of thorns. There were four soldiers gambling for Jesus’ robe. John records the exact weight of the myrrh and aloes that were used to anoint Jesus’ body. When Peter threw his fish nets on the other side of the boat and dragged his catch to the shore, there were exactly 153 fish. No one would know these details unless they had been there.
My point in providing these observations involves the verses in John that set the stage for our Easter message this morning. Since the disciple, John, is never mentioned in the Gospel that bears his name, we must assume that it was Peter and John that ran to the tomb. Because of the way the linens were neatly arranged, both of them realized that Mary Magdalene’s speculation that Jesus’ body had been taken was not the case. They believed that something remarkable had happened. Up until Peter and John encountered the empty tomb, they and Mary had no idea that Jesus could survive his physical death. (John 20:9) This one piece of information, however, changed their lives and is one of the reasons why the Church has survived for thousands of years.Use your imagination to consider all the changes that might come to your life as a result of the knowledge that we do not cease being when we leave our solid forms. There would have been no point to the resurrection of Jesus if what happened to him was not also the reality for everyone who ever lived.
New insights and information about every aspect of our lives have always come to the visionaries in every generation, but such discoveries only reveal what was here since the beginning of time. Even King Solomon understood that there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9)
Do we use our identity as infinite beings to propel us toward more creative phases in our spiritual awareness and evolution, or is our orientation toward life and death based in our faith -- a hope that we survive the grave?
Last week a woman was telling me about the death of her dad. She is a registered nurse and the wife of a physician. She is well aware of the circumstances that caused her father’s death. He had experienced delicate abdominal surgery, a procedure that had been successful. He was to be on a liquid diet during the initial phases of his convalescence. The attending physician, however, wrote the orders that he could have a standard diet. Within minutes of his eating his first meal, he literally exploded internally and died of massive internal hemorrhaging. There was nothing the medical community could do to save him.
The idea of our infinite nature is the pearl of great price. This one idea was the Gospel that Jesus preached to his listeners when he presented his message of the Kingdom of God. This one idea has the power to mutate, i.e., to change everything about how we order our lives. The experience of an empty tomb certainly changed the lives of John and Peter. Jesus said to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? How blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” (John 20:29)
Think of how unthreatening any phase of life is when we know that what we are experiencing is not the end. Imagine the risks we can take to further our understanding of what we know. Think of how quickly we can surrender the trivia that has the capacity to consume us when our life experiences are not what we want them to be. In fact, we no longer have to worry about who loves us and who does not, whether or not we are succeeding or failing, or whether or not we have reached our life’s purpose.
Even when our choices have made a mess out of our lives, we are still infinite beings. God knows that many of us ignore our spiritual nature. God knows that many of us are not quick learners. God knows that some of us come from challenging backgrounds that have molded many of our less-enlightened responses. God knows everything about us. Does such knowledge give God the option of changing our future because we did not perform well? Is the goal of life really correct beliefs or somehow earning the right to deserve God’s love? Is this what life is about? It could be, but God would never settle for that. Who we are is not God’s call; it is ours.
Truth is all around us and often it comes to us in strange forms. Years ago Turner and Hooch was a movie that made the rounds in local theaters. Tom Hanks played Turner and he had a dog that wanted to play with everything in the house. One day, Turner put Hooch in his kitchen pantry while he completed some errands.
While Turner was away, the dog became very anxious and kept ramming his head against the lower door panel until he broke through it. The dog went on a playful rampage destroying nearly everything in the house. He broke the lamps, chewed holes in the stereo speakers, ripped gapping holes in the furniture. Not many furnishings in the house were left undamaged.
When Turner returned home, he was heartsick at what he saw. He put Hooch outside as he wept over his losses. While Turner tried to recover and bring his living space back into some semblance of order, the dog howled and howled. Finally, Turner softened and allowed the dog to come back inside. The dog engaged in wild and enthusiastic barking, slobbering and wagging his tail. Turner picked him up, held him in his arms and loved him just as he was. Those of you that have a dog may recognize this kind of bonding. Would God be any less loving toward each of us?
Hooch did not know what he was doing, just as those who stood at the foot of the cross mocking Jesus and taunting him to come down. In spite of how badly we mismanage our lives, God’s love is beyond anything we can imagine. We can count on God’s love being there for all of us whether we believe that or not.
A number of very committed Christians have challenged my theology from time to time. This should not come as a surprise to you. “If everyone survives death,” they ask, “what is the point of following Jesus Christ?” Believers who ask this type of question are those who look upon living beyond the grave as a reward instead of a process. Living beyond our limited experiences on earth is not a reward any more than being born was a reward. Just because we are all infinite beings, however, does not mean that we transition from the earth with equal awareness, equal consciousness, equal creativity or equal understanding.
Not all architects, for example, are like Frank Lloyd Wright. Not all visionaries are like Gene Roddenberry or as multi-disciplined as Isaac Asimov. Not all physicians have equal perceptive, diagnostic skills. Not all financial advisors can accurately understand all the economic indicators or the sophisticated instruments that are now available to investors.
We will transition to life eternal either having developed skills of spirit or as beings that spent our time on earth pursuing and treasuring what no longer exists for us – a physical world. I have a cartoon that shows two butterflies in flight. One says to the other, “Do you remember all those things we learned as caterpillars? Now, none of that applies.”
Jesus meant what he said, “Where your treasure is, there will your hearts be also.” In spite of what we do, think or believe, the truth remains -- God waits for us with open arms for as long as it takes for us to make the choices that add more definition to our loving energy patterns as our infinitely evolving spirits continue their quest toward even greater levels of creativity.
Be not mistaken – the message this morning is that physical death does not stop our spiritual evolution. Jesus demonstrated this truth knowing that we will either grow spiritually or engage in delay. As with all decisions, the choice of which path we follow is ours alone to make.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
O God, how often we enter the experience of life with resurrection-faith in our minds, but the doubts of Thomas in our hearts. Like the disciples of Jesus, we hear the words of others, “He has risen!” but we continue to hold on to our fears. Help us this Easter morning to walk away from the tombs that so easily imprison us: a spirit that cannot forgive, hurts we cannot surrender, pursuits that prevent us from being here on Sunday mornings, worries about life-issues over which we have no control, personal addictions that compromise our characters and decisions that bind us to the constantly changing material world. Open our minds today to a future that is lived in the sunlight and filled with hope. Jesus left his tomb and bid us to follow him. Help us to stand up, pick up our mats and do just that. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Loving and eternally faithful God, we thank you for your inexhaustible patience with our world. We are grateful that your love for us is so all-encompassing that you have provided insight through Jesus that life is eternal for all of us. There is no greater lesson that enlivens us with hope for those times when we must endure the loss of everything because of tornadoes as our neighbors have in the South, of fires that have recently swept hundreds of homes in Oklahoma and Texas, of the floods that have threatened entire communities in North Dakota, or of economic challenges that have affected hundreds of thousands of families where breadwinners have lost their jobs as well as their homes.
This morning we recognize how much our minds are frequently tormented by the headlines when sad stories take up residency within us. Inspire us to recognize that the world is what it is and that all of us are angels in the flesh that are only passing through. Help us never to grow weary of sowing our seeds that demonstrate how better to extend our love to each other, to ourselves and to our planet as Jesus taught. Cause us to remember how fortunate it is that our lives can become a vehicle through which your love comes to a world that desperately needs diverse people to embrace collectively what it means to live in community. Help the scales to fall from our eyes so that we can grasp the significance of what it means that our lives continue after our earthly experiences. We pray these thoughts through Jesus, the Christ, who taught us to say when we pray . . .