This Sunday’s Sermon

EASTER PEOPLE – 2-28-21 –Pastor Donna Doutt

2 Corinthians 4:8-12 NIV

8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

Matthew 28:5-7 NIV

5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

I think Easter feels so early this year, but here we are at the second Sunday of Lent already. Ash Wednesday is behind us. I truthfully felt slightly broken hearted that I could not impose the ashes directly to you, but such as things are now, we need to do what we need to do. It marked the beginning of our Lenten season, and that’s what’s most important.

After our Ash Wednesday service, Allen over here, asked me to clarify about our scripture lesson from Matthew 6:1-20 that keeps admonishing us to do things and “be in” secret. Like where it says, in verse 1 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”

And when it talked about giving to the needy in verse 4 “do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

And in verse 6 it tells us,But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

And at the end of that reading where it talks about fasting, it instructs us to not look bedraggled and poorly, instead telling us to put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

We had this conversation about if all of this should be done in secret, is it hypocritical to wear the sign of the cross on our forehead?

Ultimately we are doing this because biblically it is a sign of repentance. Our liturgy that we share over the ashes indicates that is “to make a right beginning, and as a mark of our mortality, let us now bow before our Creator and Redeemer.”

Historically, in the year 601 Pope Gregory moved the beginning of Lent from the fourth Sunday of the year to Ash Wednesday, 46 days before Easter.

This changed allowed for 40 days of fasting with six Sundays counted as feast days, for a total of 46 days for Lent. Pope Gregory also instituted the tradition of marking parishioners forehead’s with ashes in the shape of a cross.

Ash Wednesday is not specifically mentioned in the Bible, however, from Biblical times, sprinkling oneself with ashes has been a mark of sorrow for sin. Several times the Bible mentions people repenting in dust and ashes; for example: Mordecai in the book of Esther (4:1) tore his clothes, put on rough cloth and ashes; or in Job 42:6 when our beleaguered Job declares “So now I hate myself; I will change my heart and life, I will sit in the dust and ashes”; and remember in Jonah chapter 3 when the king of Nineveh took off his robe and sat in the ashes to show how upset he was; and also when Daniel (9:3-4) humbled himself before God and prayed for his assistance, he also put on rough cloth and sat in ashes. Repentance was often done in dust and ashes.

But while ashes can be a sign of repentance, sadness, and sorrow, it can also be a sign of renewal as in the mythological phoenix.  The long-lived bird that is cyclically regenerated or born again.

A phoenix begins new life by rising from the ashes of its predecessor. According to some sources, the phoenix dies in a show of flames and combustion, although there are other sources that claim that the legendary bird dies and simply decomposes before being born again.

In the historical record, the phoenix could symbolize renewal and resurrection. In that case, I would say the phoenix dies to rise again, just like our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Back in 2004, I made my first trip to Rwanda. For those of you who don’t remember or didn’t know, in 1994 there was a horrendous genocide there. At least one million people were killed in less than 100 days. The images are still horrific. So my visit there followed the genocide.

While trials for those associated with that genocide are still going on today, what was most remarkable to me was the good will and forgiveness of those who survived. Some of you may remember, I have mentioned a young friend of mine who was only 12 at the time, and is now a physician specializing in childhood cancers, explained it to me this way after he shared how his parents were murdered and his survival; he said, “I am blessed. God chose me to live. I must honor him for the gift of my life.” I thought he would be bitter and angry, so his response sort of caught me off guard. It was a powerful life lessen for me.

So my role there at that time was to visit small rural churches and link them to churches here in Pennsylvania that could covenant with them in prayer, love, and financial support. Sort of set up “introductions” so to speak.

Many of the churches were simple little mud-style huts with openings for windows. We sat in wooden benches or woven mats on the floor.

But one of the larger churches I visited was made of hand formed brick, with a metal roof and glass windows. Certainly not the norm for that area.  This church had windows and electronic keyboard that ran off a car battery. I entered a sanctuary that was adorned with tablet paper that was taped together and was draped from one side of the sanctuary to the other. It looked like a party was going on there. Indeed there was. This church was celebrating its re-birth. It’s new life. It’s resurrection from death and destruction. This was a church of “Easter People”.

No. I don’t mean “Chreaster” people…the ones who only show up on Christmas and Easter. I really mean “Easter people”.   

How many of you know what makes “Easter People” different?

Well, it’s a person who lives Easter every day. An Easter person is someone who is aware of the awesome and amazing life giving power of the Resurrection. An Easter person is someone who remembers that because of the Resurrection the world is not the end but instead, a beginning, and they will someday wake up into life that is eternal.

The people of the country of Rwanda had certainly experienced their crucifixion, truly by physical death, but the country also celebrated it’s resurrection from the destruction.

I recently did an informal survey. I simply asked the question, “What does Easter mean to you. Of course, I got some answers like “Cadbury Eggs” or Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs, but others were so thought provoking.  

Some simple answers were “Renewal” (which is really what I was hoping for), but others said “a new beginning, a new day”, “a fresh, new beginning”, “salvation”, and one person wrote “we’re always given a second chance.” It made me think of phrase we always use in our house, “you never have time to do it right, but you always have time to do it over.”

Others answers equated Easter with spring. A time when the earth celebrates new life, and that rebirth reminds us that “the incredibly tragic death of Christ allows us all to have true life.”

One of my cousins wrote, “Easter is an equal chance for all humankind because the love of God is stronger than all the hate and evil that exists.”

One person wrote “Jesus is BACK…and better than ever!” I like that answer particularly.

Easter people are people of new beginnings. Let us remember the scripture from Matthew 28:1-10 The Message (MSG)

28 1-4 After the Sabbath, as the first light of the new week dawned, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to keep vigil at the tomb. Suddenly the earth reeled and rocked under their feet as God’s angel came down from heaven, came right up to where they were standing. He rolled back the stone and then sat on it. Shafts of lightning blazed from him. His garments shimmered snow-white. The guards at the tomb were scared to death. They were so frightened, they couldn’t move.

5-6 The angel spoke to the women: “There is nothing to fear here. I know you’re looking for Jesus, the One they nailed to the cross. He is not here. He was raised, just as he said. Come and look at the place where he was placed.

“Now, get on your way quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He is risen from the dead. He is going on ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there.’ That’s the message.”

8-10 The women, deep in wonder and full of joy, lost no time in leaving the tomb. They ran to tell the disciples. Then Jesus met them, stopping them in their tracks. “Good morning!” he said. They fell to their knees, embraced his feet, and worshiped him. Jesus said, “You’re holding on to me for dear life! Don’t be frightened like that. Go tell my brothers that they are to go to Galilee, and that I’ll meet them there.”

This man, this person, this persona, this Son of God was once dead and now is alive. He’s RISEN from the dead.

Lyrics in the contemporary Easter classic praise for resurrection song, “IN CHRIST ALONE” reaches its CRESCENDO when it approaches the subject of the resurrection. The lyrics go from the tomb to Christ’s victory over death here: “There in the ground His body lay / Light of the World by darkness slain / Then bursting forth in glorious day / Up from the grave He rose again / And as He stands in victory / Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me.” 

Has sin lost its grip on you? I think there have been times in each of our lives when we have felt “slain by the darkness” of sin. We have been “slain by the darkness” of sorrow, of pain, of grief, of heartache. We have seen others who were “slain by the darkness” of poverty, hunger, drug or alcohol addiction.

Can you call yourself an “Easter” person? Like Jesus have you been buried in life’s negative events or situations? Have you been burned in the fire? Are you sitting in ashes?

2 Corinthians 4:8-12 tells us, “

“We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we’re not demoralized; we’re not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we’ve been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn’t left our side; we’ve been thrown down, but we haven’t broken. What they did to Jesus, they do to us—trial and torture, mockery and murder; what Jesus did among them, he does in us—he lives! Our lives are at constant risk for Jesus’ sake, which makes Jesus’ life all the more evident in us. While we’re going through the worst, you’re getting in on the best!”

What comes to mind for you? What do you need to do to rise from the dead part of your life? What’s it going to take to get you to stop saying, “Oh woe is me?” What’s it going to take to get up out of the ashes, dust yourself off and be an Easter person? Pope John Paul II declared “Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and Allelujah is our song!”

What comes to mind when you think about how we, as a community of Easter People need to rise up? We are called to rise and stand up for ourselves. We need to rise with ANYONE who is oppressed and sitting in ashes. We are called to rise up and serve our neighbors. We are to rise up and protect all creation. Overwhelmed? How do we do this? We do it ”one act of love at a time.” Jesus performed the greatest act of love. We need to follow Him.

As Easter people, our most important call is to rise up and follow Jesus the Christ. We are to learn OF Christ and to learn FROM Christ. Let’s moved along in our walk to the cross by to repentance of our failures, our sins…. looking toward renewal, and rise from those ashes on the holiest morning of the year when we celebrate the greatest resurrection in history. Our risen savior, Jesus Christ. Let us celebrate the way Christian Easter people do with joy and love and appreciation for the gift of life….And let’s not forget who made it possible for us.

Amen.

Go now, and speak of what you have seen of God’s glory.
Do not cling to the holy moments when heaven overshadows you, but as the Lord lives, listen to Christ and follow him from the places of revelation 
to the places of mission.

And may God shine the light of glory into your hearts.
May Christ be with you and never leave you. And may the Spirit renew the image of God within you.

We go in peace to love and serve the Lord,
……..In the name of Christ. Amen.