Sermons

pastorEric aug2014Sermon for Easter Sunday - 9am & 11am Services

Our DNA is BNA!
By The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer -

 

It must have been terribly frightening, that first Easter morning.  The two Marys, Mary Magdalene, and Jesus’ mother, Mary, are on their way to Jesus’ tomb. 
 
 
Now, life for Jews under Roman rule in Jerusalem was never easy, it was always hard.  The Romans were to be feared, wanted to be feared.  Crucifixion, the Romans’ favorite punishment, was public and brutal.  It is quite possible that the two Marys, as they walked to Jesus’ tomb, had to pass others who had been crucified, whose lifeless bodes still hung on their crosses.  You can imagine them staring at the ground to avoid looking at the horror around them.
 
 
And, the two Marys had additional fears.  Jesus, Mary Magdalene’s friend and Mary’s son, this Jesus had been crucified, murdered, by the Roman authorities.  Jesus’ male disciples were in disarray, in hiding, fearing the same sort of punishment by the Romans that was given to Jesus.
 
 
And, now, to make matters even worse, the other gospel writers tell us that there were rumors around that Jesus was now not in his tomb.  Perhaps his body had been stolen and burned?
 
 
How could it get much worse?  The women were full of fear for Jesus, for their male disciple friends, for themselves.  They really did not know what they would find at Jesus’ tomb that morning, but it was their best guess that it would be bad and even more fearful.
 
 
Fear, as they say, was in the air.
 
Fear was in the air.
 
That was nearly 2,000 years ago.
 
 
For many, for far too many, fear is in the air in 2017 also.  Story after story tells us how our immigrant brothers and sisters, even those with needed credentials, are living each day in fear.  Those who care about our environment, who understand the truth of global warming, fear for our world and some for their livelihoods. Refugees around the world, millions of them, fear for their future.  People in Syria and Iraq and in downtown Los Angeles fear for their lives.  Christians and Muslims in too many countries fear for their lives and even find their lives ended by so-called Muslim terrorists, even while at worship.  Schoolchildren and parents fear that some random person will come into their classroom and start shooting, just like a so-called Christian pastor did last week in San Bernardino.
 
 
And, if this is not bad enough, we can all again fear the possibility of a nuclear war, this time perhaps caused by an irrational North Korean dictator.
 
 
Fear, as they say, is in the air.
 
 
Fear is in the air.
 
 
The women headed to Jesus’ tomb that first Easter morning.  They were full of fear.  At first, their worst fears appeared to be true – an earthquake, the tomb stone door rolled away almost by magic and then an angel who looked like lightning.  And, the Roman guards were so frightened by all of this, they looked dead.
 
 
But, what does the angel say to the women?  “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here.  He has been raised.
 
 
And how do the two Marys react to this news?  Matthew tells us that they “left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy.’
 

Isn’t that a wonderful reminder that fear and joy are not opposites but, as with doubt and faith, can be experienced at the same time and, indeed, might be inseparable? Fear, as we have noted before, seems quite frequently “in the air” these days and for all kinds of reasons. Jesus’ resurrection does not spell an end to fear for those who follow him, but rather makes it possible to experience joy amid what might otherwise be crippling fear.
 

Resurrection, that is, doesn’t simply answer or end problems, but rather creates something new, and Christian faith does not remove us from the hardships, limitations, and challenges of this life, but creates for us possibilities that simply would not be available had God not intervened, first in the raising of Jesus and again by entering into our own lives.
 

The Easter acclamation, “Christ is Risen,” is an invitation to lay hold to the resurrection power of Jesus to see more possibilities in the people and situations around us than others might see. Because of Christ’s resurrection, we can seek the presence of God and the mixture of fear and joy that always attends encountering God.
 

So many folks will celebrate Easter today and return home to tense dinner tables, or an uncertain employment future, or a continuation of illness with no end in sight, or the loneliness of having endured the end of an important relationship. Christ’s resurrection does not wash those realities away, it makes it possible to experience joy in the midst of them as God continues to create something new.
 

“Do not be afraid” also includes an invitation, even a command – “come and see… go and tell.” And this command is not a burden to be accomplished but a gift to be opened and delighted in. The resurrection of Christ creates the possibility to do spontaneously and joyfully what otherwise would be impossible.
 

HGeorgeAnderson1My dear friend and mentor, former ELCA Presiding Bishop H. George Anderson has written that, as Christians, our “DNA is BNA – Be not afraid!”  By this Bishop Anderson was saying that the Christian answer to fear is not simply comfort but also invitation to a life of courage.
 

The message of Easter is not that everything will be okay.  The message of Easter is “here is the life and work God is giving you.”
 

Despite all of the fears we may have in 2017, the God who raised Jesus from the dead is not done yet. Not done with the world God loves so much, and not done with you and me who are the children of God, who are those who God also loves so much.
 

In other words, my friends, Easter is not over.  Christ’s  resurrection was not a once-and-done historical aberration, but rather reflects the dynamic and ongoing nature and work of the God we meet in Christ.
 

Theologian Karl Barth once said that “the goal of human life is not death, but resurrection.” That does not mean that death is not a fearsome reality, only that death does not have the final word.
 

The promise of the resurrection is not simply what God has done, but what God is still doing, still leading us forward into new life and possibility and forgiveness and love.
 

As Bishop Anderson said so well, our DNA as Christians is BNA, Be Not Afraid, even in the face of all the possible fears we can have, do have, in 2017. 
 

Matthew tells us, “Do not be afraid ….  Jesus has been raised.” 
 

For us, Easter is not over, it is on-going.  Thus, perhaps the best response for 21st century Christians to make to that good news is the 1st century response, “Christ is risen.  Christ is risen indeed!”
 

Come and see.  Go and tell.  Be not afraid. 
 

Christ is risen.  Christ is risen indeed.
 

Amen.
 
 
 
 
 

The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
April 16, 2017


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