To See Jesus

Sunday, April 21, 2019
Intern Eric Nelson

Matthew 28:1-10

Brothers and Sisters, grace and peace to you from our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen

Can you see yourself in Mary’s place?

A new day is dawning as the sun sheds its light across the horizon. Even in the early light, you feel the lingering darkness of night. You continue to step forward, reminding yourself to keep moving despite your grief. This is the third day since Jesus had died and in the chaos of everything he hadn’t even been given the proper preparation for burial.

Despite your grief you keep moving forward toward to see the tomb where Jesus’ body had been laid. You go to see this final resting place of a son, a teacher, a friend, a healer, the Son of God who walked with you.

You’re not sure how this will go. You know there will be guards there. Will they at least let you near the tomb? Will you simply stand far off as you see again this place of death?

Despite not knowing how you will be received as you reach the tomb, you keep moving forward. With each step you remember Jesus’ life, being propelled forward by something outside yourself and yet deep within you.

As you take those final steps toward the tomb, you feel it. The earth trembles beneath your feet and then shakes violently. An angel descends from the heavens, rolls back the stone, sits on it, and the guards faint away like dead men – the guards more like dead men than Jesus who had died three days before and now was no longer in his tomb, no longer dead, and now back among the living.

The angel, shining like lightning, speaks to you. Your mind races, your heart pounds, and you hang on to the angel’s words in this terrifying moment.

“Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said.”

You remember those words that Jesus spoke. You remember the utter bewilderment you felt hearing them as Jesus explained what had to happen in his arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection. In your mind flashes moments of Jesus’ healing. You remember the daughter of the synagogue leader who had died that Jesus raised. You remember how Jesus seemed so radically different from anyone you’d ever known. Could this be true? Is Jesus really alive again?

As if hearing your tangled hopes and doubts in that very moment, the angel invites you into the tomb to see that there is no body here.

You are invited to be a witness to see that death is no longer the end of the story. Jesus isn’t here!

You hardly need to set foot in that tomb as the angel invites you to see something you long more than anything to see, not an empty tomb, but Jesus himself. You are invited to be a witness again to Jesus’ life!

You arrived expecting to see a tomb and death, but are now invited to see and tell that Jesus is alive!  “Go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.”

As the first witnesses of the empty tomb, you get to tell the others that you’ll all see Jesus alive!

You will see Jesus and are to go tell the other disciples that they will see Jesus too.

As you run back into the breaking daylight to tell the disciples, you see what you have longed for most even before the return to Galilee. Jesus walks up to you and speaks. You drop to your knees in immediate worship of something/someone you cannot comprehend. In awe-struck gratitude you worship your risen Lord as you see Jesus face-to-face.

The meeting doesn’t last long, but it is more than enough to sustain you as you are sent on your way to tell the others that they too will see Jesus. You are a witness to this story. Jesus was dead. You were there as he took his last breath. You saw him placed in the tomb. You approached to see this tomb, this place of the dead.

Expecting to see death, you have seen death defeated. Expecting to mourn, you have gone away rejoicing. You have seen Jesus risen. You don’t know how. You don’t know where to begin. You couldn’t begin to explain this. But you know what you have witnessed. You have seen Jesus alive!

You continue your hurried mission to tell the others. “He is risen! You’re going to see him too!”

As you hurry on your way, the doubts come in again. ‘Will the others believe me?’

But you have a promise you carry with you. ‘Jesus is coming and you will see him too.’

You’ve not just heard it, you’ve experienced it.

As we consider ourselves in the place of Mary Magdalene or the other Mary (quite likely Jesus’ mother) we are left with some of the same questions we have now, but we are also left with the same promises.

We question how this could be real. We question what this all means. But we also are promised that Jesus will be with us. This is hard news to take in.

I distinctly remember a time early in Kaitlynn and my marriage when she shared with me that she really didn’t believe in the resurrection of Jesus.

Not that she didn’t believe in all the good he did in life, but in all she’d been through she had lost faith in miracles- such as Jesus rising from the dead. That can’t happen. It wasn’t real to her.

Those words hit me hard. I wanted her to know and believe that this story was true for her as well.

I wanted her to see the resurrection despite all the pain she has experienced.

But there is no amount of reasoning and explaining for this. It is a matter of belief and witness.

It is a matter of experiencing this to be true in some way shape or from.

I couldn’t make that happen.

When I was alone, I fell to the floor weeping in prayer. ‘Just come to her in a dream. Just come to her in a dream. Let her know you are with her. Let her know what you’ve done.’

I will never forget waking the next morning. In the early light of day, she had her own Easter witness to share. Despite the lingering darkness, there was a light. She had that dream. Her witness was far different from Mary’s, but equally terrifying.

In her dream, she and Jesus were walking through hell together and Jesus said to her, “I did this for you.”

I stared at her in awe.

She shared that all the pain she had experienced in life wasn’t gone, but Jesus had gone through it too and it wasn’t the end of the story. He had gone through all of it with her.

She saw Jesus in death and hell. And she saw him leading to life on the other side.

We can’t explain the resurrection. We can’t reason away why all this is happening.

But we are united with Christ. We are walking with Christ. Just as we experience death, we will experience life. Christ walked in the pains of this earth, united with us. Christ taught others in his life, but Jesus didn’t stop there. Jesus entered death itself, a death which he suffered on a cross like a criminal, and a death that wouldn’t be the end of his story or your story.

Jesus rose to life again! Not to say, hey that wasn’t so bad. Jesus rose to say, now you are going to see me too. Death is not going to be the end of your story. Pain is not going to be the end of your story. Sin is not going to be the end of your story. He is risen! We too are raised to life in Christ!

Our story continues in life. God’s story is your story! We have a God who enters and defeats death itself so we might see God face-to-face and share in life forever together with our God. That is some news worth sharing! He is risen! Thanks be to God! Amen

Romans 1:1-17

The book of Romans is a letter.  An actual letter.  Like, a letter written by hand and then sent to someone else for them to read.  Paul, the author of this letter, wrote a lot of letters.  Paul was an apostle, that is, someone who is sent – in this case, he is one who is sent to preach the good news of Jesus Christ to the furthest reaches of the known world.  He’s really, really good at it.

At the time that Paul writes this letter to the church in Rome, he’s been doing this work for probably twenty years and is at the peak of his career.  He’s developed a great pattern in his work: visit a place, get to know the people, continually share his faith with them, help gather a community of believers from all walks of life, and stay with them while they learn how to be followers of Jesus.  Then Paul leaves – after all, he’s got other places to visit and more people to teach.  He is an apostle – he is sent. But he doesn’t leave the church abandoned.  He writes letters back to these churches, especially when he hears about crises or conflicts.  Sometimes they need comfort, sometimes challenge, sometimes critique, but always he writes as one they know and love.  They welcome his input.

The letter to the Romans is not like that.  Paul has never been to Rome.  There is already a Christian church there, one brought over likely from Jerusalem very early in the faith.  And the church in Rome has recently seen conflict.  A few years before the writing of this letter, the Roman emperor expelled all the Jews from Rome.  Because Christianity was effectively a form of Judaism at the time, Christians were also exiled.  After the emperor died and the Jewish Christians returned, they found a church that had continued to grow and develop – this time with Gentile Christians.

It’s hard for us to understand how shocking and despicable this would have been.  Two weeks ago I preached on Acts 10, and how Peter’s vision of God calling all animals clean and good to eat flew in the face of millennia of culture, history, and society for Jewish Christians.  Jesus himself was Jewish and kept these laws – surely if anyone else wanted to be Christian, they could likewise follow these rules.  Peter’s vision and the general movement of the church revealed otherwise.

That didn’t mean it made things easy.  It is hard to let go of tradition and expectation and legislation as the Spirit moves us to new places. I hear people struggle when someone sits in their pew or wears sweatpants to church.  Let’s be honest: those are enormously trivial things.  If still we grind our teeth at the thought of these worthless infractions how much more might faithful people be driven to despair by moving on from the purity laws ordained by God?

This is the faith community to which Paul writes.  He writes to a church redefining and fighting.  It is a church that feels a deep rift, a painful split, one that goes deep into matters of identity and righteousness, one that threatens to dissolve into name-calling and condemning and finger-pointing and disgrace to the very name of God in whose name they mean to gather – and if we’re honest, we know how that feels. Those fears are not unfamiliar.

So how does Paul start his letter?  He has no standing in that church in Rome.  They don’t even know who he is – and if they do, it’s possible that they might still remember him as he was in his youth, an aggressive persecutor of the early faith.  What can he say that would possibly invite them to listen to him, to hear the word he will share, to receive the message that he hopes will join them together in the work of the gospel?

He keeps it simple: he tells them the truth.  He tells them who he is, and it is fully wrapped up in who Jesus is.  His self-introduction is the story of the gospel.  Nothing he can say about himself means more than who he is in Jesus Christ.

He tells them he wants to come see them, that he wants to be with them, that he hopes he can share some spiritual gift – but even more than that, so that they might mutually encourage each other in faith.  He doesn’t want to come to them because he’s better than them, because he can fix them so they can get things right, because they’re obviously sinful mess-ups who just haven’t been taught the truth.  No, he wants to join them for mutual encouragement in faith.  He wants to walk with them.  He hopes he has something to offer them in his teaching and leadership, but just the same, he knows he will grow by being with them as well.

What if that’s how it’s supposed to be?  What if we’re supposed to talk about what we believe and why, not because we’ve got it right and we want to establish our superior knowledge, but because we know that God works through our mutual encouragement in faith?  What if we were not ashamed of the gospel, not afraid of getting it wrong, not worried that someone would think we were weird for talking about what we believe and why and then asking others the same?  What if we trusted that the power of God was at work in this mutual encouragement?  What if we were not so proud and short-sighted as to think that the way we see God is the only way God works in the world?  What if we actually believed that God is at work in the world, that God has already been working long before we showed up, that we arrive as much to learn as to teach?

Ah, but I know the argument against it: we’re supposed to keep polite conversation, right?  What don’t you talk about at the dinner table?  Religion and politics, right?  Look where it’s gotten us.  It’s gotten us to a place where we can no longer have civil discourse, where we are more likely to condemn than to seek to understand, where we claim a Christian can only look one way, live one place, vote one direction, take one moral position.  It’s gotten us built up and walled off and fighting against our own beloved members of the family of God.

So don’t do it.  Take Paul’s example.  Tell people who you are.  Tell them where you’re from. Tell them what you believe.  And then invite them to do the same.  Make your story of faith as natural a part of your introduction as where you work and where you live and who’s in your family.  And when someone’s story is different, listen to it.  Hear it.  See God at work in it.  Be amazed.  Allow for the mutual encouragement of faith, because this is how the gospel is shared.

No matter where you go from here, no matter where you find yourself, no matter what comes next for you – you can do this.  You are called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel which is the power of God for salvation for everyone who has faith – no matter what.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

Past Sermons