Sermons from Rev Julie Wagstaff

2016

Sunday 27th March (Easter Sunday)

Alleluia He is risen indeed!

On this Easter Sunday morning, with the church alive with colour and beauty we come to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Our readings speak of new beginnings, of hope, of wonder, of joy and the dawning realization of the disciples that God’s promises are being fulfilled.  In Isaiah we hear the echo of the creation story and our own hearts are awakened as we dare to look forward in awe to the assurance of a new creation, of a life lived in God’s kingdom where everything will be as he intended it to be.   

The verses from Acts give us Peter proclaiming the Good News to the household of the Roman Centurion, Cornelius and the chapter ends with their realisation that this message is for all peoples, not just the Jews, a new beginning for the gentiles .....

and our Gospel reading is the start of a story that tells about a new beginning, not just for the amazed disciples after the despair of Good Friday, but for the whole of creation.

And this is what today should be about – celebration, praise, gratitude ..... and relief. Through Lent and particularly through Holy Week our hearts and minds have dwelt and reflected on the rejection, denial, betrayal and suffering of our Lord.  The apparent hopelessness of a world that seems no nearer to living as God’s children now than it was when it nailed Jesus to that cross.

But God resurrected Jesus, He is alive .... he defeated death.  He defeated death on behalf of us all, that we may enjoy eternal life in God’s kingdom ..... and there are millions of his followers spreading his message of unconditional love and grace throughout the world.  We rarely hear of them, or the impact they are having among the people they serve.  We only seem to hear of the hatred, the violence, the cruelty and the lust for this world’s power, but in the words of John Taylor in his reflection from the LBoL ‘[in] a world of sceptical manipulation [Christ’s followers] keep on affirming that human nature can be changed and that the future of our nation and our world is not being made by us nor marred by us but is coming to meet us from the hand of God.’

We are an Easter people and Alleluia is our name and we must never let go of that, never let go of the promise and the hope.  We must never be overwhelmed by the darkness. 

But no one can become a witness to the resurrection simply by attending to outward acts and attitudes.  Just as the Easter fire is lit from the Paschal candle, so a convincing witness to the resurrection is generated only from contact with the Risen Christ himself.

That doesn’t, of course, mean we will never feel sadness, never be burdened, never experience grief, or the sense at times of being forsaken.   We are followers of Jesus and we shouldn’t expect our paths to always be smooth. 

But there are potholes in the path ...... and then there are great big craters.  And we can suddenly feel that we are falling into a big, dark, gaping pit – perhaps when life simply threatens to overwhelm us ...... there are so many situations that can catch us off guard and send us plummeting into that dark hole - being confronted by a serious or even terminal illness, either in our own or the life of somebody close to us .... when a loved one is taken, somebody so precious to us that life without them is unthinkable.  When we are abandoned or betrayed by the person who we believed truly cared for us.

At such times it can be hard to remember that God is always there, that His love is still the same unconditional love, that His promises will still be fulfilled. 

But God does remain constant.  Salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ remains constant.  The presence of the Holy Spirit remains constant.  It is the pain of the suffering that is apt to prevent us having any sense of their presence and constancy.

And it’s then that the words inspired by God himself in the scriptures can provide the lifeline, something to cling to.  We need go no further than the Psalmists - they shout at and berate God for what is happening to them, nobody more so that King David, but always come back to words such as  God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. (Psalms 46:1) The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. (Psalms 9:9).  or as The Message puts it ‘God is a safe place to hide, ready to help when we need him’ and ‘God’s a safe house for the battered, a sanctuary during bad times.’

And then there are the words and deeds of Jesus himself. 

Words from John’s gospel for example “I am the way, and the truth, and the life...” (14.6) "Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me”. (14.1) and 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid”.  Or in Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest”.

And his gentleness, compassion and generosity – To the woman caught in adultery, the woman at the well, the one who reached out and touched his robe; when He spoke to Mary as she wept outside the tomb, to the travellers on the road to Emmaus, to Thomas even though he had doubted, giving Peter the opportunity to tell him that he loved him three times to assure him that his three denials were truly forgiven.

When he appeared to the disciples on the beach - after all that he had suffered and done for them and despite their desertion and lack of trust, there he was actually cooking breakfast for them, loving and forgiving and reassuring.

And when it comes to seeking the reassurance that our faith can actually be strengthened through such suffering we need look no further than within our own church family for the evidence.

God has done everything that needs to be done for us to enjoy eternal life in his kingdom where Isaiah tells us there shall be ‘no more sound of weeping or cry of distress, where there will be no more hurt or destruction.’

But His love for us is such that He gives us the freedom to refuse His love, to turn our back on Him, to favour going our own way.  To reject being an Easter people.

In times of darkness we can allow ourselves to believe that we’ve been abandoned, or even worse that we are being punished or simply that there can’t be a God if he allows suffering.

Or we can keep our hearts fixed upon Jesus, the light of the world.  No matter if that light seems very dim or is a mere pinprick at the end of a dark tunnel, or simply that the ways of the world, its demands and priorities are trying to slowly snuff it out. 

It is up to us whether or not we allow the darkness to ultimately prevail; or whether we will trust in Him who died for us.

Judas chose the world and the darkness.  Not because he was necessarily any worse than any of us.  He could see the way things were going, that Jesus wasn’t going to lead them to victory over the Romans and he chose to be on what he saw as the winning side, rather than trust in Jesus.   

Peter and the other disciples allowed their fear to overcome their trust in Jesus – but very understandably.  They knew firsthand about Roman punishment and crucifixion.  Ultimately, however, they were able to trust and to pick up their own crosses and to follow Jesus.

Jesus makes it clear in Luke’s gospel that "If anyone wishes to come after Me, they must deny themselves, and take up their cross daily and follow Me”. 

Jesus isn’t asking us to pick up His cross but our own.   But notice the daily.

Our crosses come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and can change from day to day.  Some days they may be a lot lighter than others, some days more awkward than heavy, some days they can feel very heavy indeed.  But picking them up simply means choosing God’s way so that we can follow Jesus.  If we don’t chose God’s way we’ll be on a different path.

As an Easter people we celebrate the resurrection to eternal life.  For there to be a resurrection, however, there must be a death.  Our crosses, no matter how heavy, are not thank God, leading us to crucifixion.  The death that must take place is our right to ourselves. 

We are after all God’s creation, we are his and we need to allow Him to transform us by his Holy Spirit, free us from our own constraints and our need to be in control and make things happen the way we want them to.  Trust Him to have all things in His hands.

Jesus is not only in the dark places with us, He is with us always.  He delights in our happiness and joy, in our celebrations and our thankfulness.  We are loved unconditionally and we are precious to God, so we can trust Him.

May we, therefore, be willing to place ourselves in His hands and may we join together and go forward confidently and positively, picking each other up when we fall down - or get knocked over - loving each other, trusting each other and reaching out to those who have yet to discover the transforming love of Jesus so that they too may become an Easter people.

So once more:

Christ is Risen. He is risen indeed, Alleluiah!