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Apr 16, 2017

True North | Hope

True North | Hope

Passage: Matthew 28

Speaker: Jerry Deck

Series: True North

Category: Weekend Message

A couple of weeks ago when all of you were down at the beach my family and I headed to everyone’s favorite spring break vacation spot of Marion, Indiana. Not only did we get to go to Marion, but we got to go roller skating as a family at this classic roller skating rink that had been around for 79 years. It was awesome. I mean everything was like I remembered from when I was a kid. The blaring rock music, the disco ball, the brown roller skates that you had to tuck the shoelaces into before you returned them. [show slide] I hadn’t been on roller skates for 2 decades or so and I was a bit worried about whether or not I’d still have the sweet moves that I had back in the day, but well I can tell you that Megan was pretty impressed with the way I rolled and, in all honesty, I was pretty wowed by her moves as well. I kept waiting for the DJ to come over the P.A. with the “Couple skate, couple skate only,” so that we could make all of the other couples jealous, but unfortunately that never happened.


The reason we went up to Marion was because my cousin who lives up there has two sons and were having a birthday party at the roller rink. It was a fun party and, a blister or two notwithstanding, it was a great time. It got me thinking about celebrations and how much we as a people love to have a party. I mean think about it, birthday parties are basically just celebrating the fact we lived another 365 days. It may not really be that big of a deal, but doggone it we’re going to party anyways. Yes, we love to celebrate.

And, of course, we gather together again this year to celebrate once more and for the 2,000th time or so, not the birthday of Jesus, but the “rebirthday” of Jesus. The day that Jesus was made alive again. The vast majority of us have gathered here this morning, not because we are going to hear the story for the first time and not even because we think that some sermon is going to tell us something about the resurrection story that we’ve never heard before (at least I hope you don’t have that expectation), but we gather primarily to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, to celebrate the hope that we now have because death has been overcome. And so we get dressed up, we put out the flowers, we as a staff make sure that everything is working and that nothing will distract us, we have more instruments to add to our music, we set out more chairs because we know the crowd is going to be much bigger than usual and we celebrate. Now, I know that if you come here often you think I’m saying all of this to set us up so that I can say how we have it all wrong, but that’s not what I’m doing. I think it is great that we are having this celebration and I think we need it. I think amidst everything going on in our faith community, in our community at large, in our country and in our world that we need to gather and to remember the hope of Jesus Christ, to remember the resurrection, to remember that we are an Easter people. We need to celebrate.

One of the things we celebrate is that Jesus is here with us in the most difficult of times. A couple of weeks ago we talked about the difficult subject of death and one of the reasons I wanted to talk about it is because, since that last time we gathered at Easter, we have had to mourn the losses of those who were far too young. And that has been really, really difficult for the families of those who have died and for us as a church body. And one of the things I said was that it’s critical that we be a community that doesn’t hide just how difficult that has been. That we don’t act like it hasn’t brought us pain or doubts or fear. One of the things I love about Matthew’s telling of the resurrection story is that he doesn’t shy away from the real world and from the emotions that we, even as followers of Jesus, often feel. The angel tells the two women to not be afraid, and I picture them saying, “Sure, okay, we’ll try that.” And after he tells them that Jesus is alive and they see that the tomb is empty, after they begin to run to tell the disciples to get to Galilee as soon as possible, even after all of this excitement that Jesus may be truly alive, we are told that they are filled with joy, yes, but also fear. [We gather together to hear this story in order to remember that the resurrection of Jesus doesn’t meet us simply in the times and places where we feel like everything is going well, but that the hope of Christ meets us in the midst of our struggles and our fears.]

Even later on when the disciples have seen Jesus on the mountain in Galilee and begin to worship him, Matthew goes on to tell us that some of them doubted. Again, how refreshingly honest and how important for us to hear. If even those who were there staring at the risen savior struggled, at least some, with not doubting then how helpful might that be to us in those times when we are struggling with our faith. The Easter story is a vivid reminder that hope in Jesus’ resurrection doesn’t mean that we never struggle with the fears and doubts that are an inevitable part of our world, but it does mean that in the midst of those emotions, the resurrection of Jesus tells us that the fear and doubt and struggle and death do not have the last word. We gather to celebrate that.   [Contemporary]

We also celebrate the fact that it is the hope in the resurrected savior that gives us the energy and passion to keep following him today. The resurrection is not just about what happened in the past or what will happen in the future it is about shaping our journey differently today. Eight years ago or so Megan and I were visiting my sister who was living in Germany. Before we had traveled over she’d asked me if we wanted to do a Frankenstein run which took you through a forest pathway and then up a small mountain to Frankenstein castle. I agreed because, how difficult could it be really. Well, the day before we were to do this my brother-in-law conveniently “had” to work and so it was going to be me, my sister, her baby, 3 year old daughter, 6 year old son, their two strollers and my pregnant wife. What could go wrong? “The only hard part,” my brother-in-law said, “is the last part which is pretty steep.” It was a beautiful day as we set off and we had gone about a quarter of a mile when we turned off the paved road and on to the forested trail. “This shouldn’t be too big of a deal,” I said to my sister, “We can do 8 kilometers no problem.” “Eight kilometers,” my sister said, “It’s 8 miles.” I thought she was joking, but she was not. 

Well, it didn’t take long for my nephew and niece to start getting tired and it took even less time for my pregnant wife to get hungry. The first couple of miles weren’t too bad as I pushed the double stroller with my nephew and niece and my sister pushed the stroller with her baby. Before long though it started getting steep and the roots coming across the pathway made the stroller less than enjoyable to push. Not too long after that the large group that we had begun with was nowhere to be seen and it was just the 6 of us, plus Shaughnessy inside of Megan’s womb which Megan was definitely feeling. We were getting hungry and tired and as the path got steeper I kept thinking that my brother-in-law must have been confused and surely it was the middle part of the “race” that was the steepest. But, well, he wasn’t wrong. Hours, and I mean hours, into our journey to Frankenstein Castle (very aptly named), my nephew and niece were complaining incessantly about their hunger, I was literally parallel to the ground as I tried to push the stroller up the hill and over roots, and Megan was weeping along the side of the trail.

But we kept going. And you know why? Not because we were feeling good. Not because we were having a great time. Certainly not because it was easy. We kept moving because my sister kept telling us that at the top of the mountain there was going to be food and a bus to take us back home. In other words, she kept filling us with hope and so we kept moving forward. Now, did we doubt at times that we would make it? Absolutely. Did we wonder whether the bus would still be there because we were at least an hour behind everyone else? You bet we did. Was I fearful at times that Megan was never going to forgive me? I still am! But we kept moving forward because my sister kept telling us that there was hope and even though we weren’t experiencing it, we believed her and, alas, at long last, we came out of the clearing, saw the castle (that by that point we cared little about) and went straight to the bus to eat our measly granola bar. Hope helped us to keep going even in the most painful of times.

Jesus told the women to have the disciples meet him on a mountain in Galilee. You should know, that Galilee is not 8 kilometers away or even 8 miles away. It is almost 100 miles away from Jerusalem. Now Jesus could have met them anywhere, heck he could have met them in Jerusalem, but he doesn’t and because of that we get to see just how hopeful they are that what the women told them was true. If they didn’t have hope I can assure you they wouldn’t have taken one step toward Galilee, but would have stayed where they were safe, where they were comfortable, where they were in control. But there was something inside of them, something called hope, that would not let them rest, but propelled them forward. I’m sure there were times when they got hungry or when the walk seemed too far or when they wondered if they’d end up on the mountain and Jesus would be nowhere to be found. But hope moved them forward. 

And when they arrived Jesus knew, that in spite of the doubt that some of them were wrestling with, a group that was so full of hope that they’d walk 100 miles to see him would be a group who could do things like make disciples of all nations and baptize them and teach them who Jesus was. You see, we need to be a people with the hope of the resurrection because a people with hope are a people who will not be content to remain comfortable, to stay safe, to be content resting at home. It’s a people of hope who can look at our splintered society, at the poverty and racism that seem so rampant in our world, at the anger and fear that are so prevalent and, rather than give up or grow cynical, say, “Hey, this looks like a place that could use some resurrection.” As one scholar says the church is not to be apart from the pain of the world, but to be right in the midst of it, praying and working precisely at the place where the world is in pain. A hopeful Easter people know that with Jesus even the darkest places are not without light and hope helps them to keep taking steps toward those places. We gather to celebrate that.

But, we also gather at Easter to remember that we do this resurrection mission together as brothers and sisters in Christ. Whether it’s the two women who go to the tomb together or the group of disciples who meet with Jesus on the mountain in Galilee or in the gospel of Luke, the two men who unexpectedly see the resurrected savior on their walk to Emmaus, an Easter people are a together people. We hope in community. As N.T. Wright says, “A mission shaped church (which is what we desire to be) must have its mission shaped by hope; that the genuine Christian hope, rooted in Jesus’ resurrection, is the hope for God’s renewal of all things…” We gather together because we need to remember that this mission of hope that Jesus has set us upon is done in community. We celebrate together, because we serve together.

I was intrigued this week by something N.T. Wright said about Lent and Easter. He said that in Lent we oftentimes give something up that may be inhibiting our growth in Jesus and that that is a bit like going out into your yard and weeding, tearing out those things that inhibit growth. Likewise then, during Eastertide which is more than just today, we should be doing things that cultivate our growth in the resurrected savior. That this is the time when we plant and fertilize and water and watch the buds of our faith begin to blossom.

As I thought about how we are an Easter people together, called to help bring life and grace and the light of Christ into our world I couldn’t help but think about the last two weeks in my life. As has been well attested from behind this pulpit I am not keen on doing yard work and quite honestly, if I had read this business about weeding and blossoming two weeks ago I would have yawned and shut the book and probably not opened it back up again. But two weeks ago today I spent 7 hours cutting down a large evergreen and hauling it away because it had become overgrown and was in our neighbor’s yard and the sidewalk and the grass all around it was dying. Then last weekend I mowed and planted a tree and bought another tree to replace the one I just cut down and put in new plants and trimmed overgrown bushes and put down some weed and feed. I kid you not when I say I think I spent more time doing yard work in the last two weekends then I have in the last two decades.

Actually, it’s not completely accurate for me to just say that I did those things. Because actually while I was trying to bring something surely seemed dead to life, I was not doing it alone. I want you to listen to this for a brief moment. I had the help of my wife, a ZPCer, an Easter person. Another ZPCer (or Easter person) helped me cut down the tree. Another ZPCer gave me a ladder that we used to help cut down that tree. Another ZPCer lent me his trailer and together we hauled off that tree. Two ZPCers gave me two different recommendations for someone who could come grind down the stump of that tree. Another ZPCer gave me a Lowe’s gift card that I used to buy tools to help work in that lawn. Another ZPCer lent me his spreader so I could weed and feed. A couple of ZPCers stopped as they were driving by to give me shocked expressions and offer words of encouragement. My point is that it took all of these Easter people in our community to bring life to that which I can assure you was basically dead.

And you should have seen the outside world that was watching as we were doing this. People were slowing down and staring in disbelief just in the fact that we were in our yard, nonetheless working on it. (I was actually afraid we might cause an accident with all the attention we were getting.) A neighbor who, quite honestly I don’t really think likes me, came over unsolicited just to have a conversation with us. People were watching something come to life as a result of what this Easter people, this community of hope was doing and it was drawing them in.

My point, brothers and sisters, is not that Jesus was resurrected so that Jerry and Megan could have a yard that is at least somewhat alive. My point is that when we as an Easter people go out together on mission and work together that we can and we will help to bring resurrected life to places where surely people thought only death would prevail. That though we will certainly face pain and struggle and death (in fact we’re called to find those places), when we are living by the hope of the resurrection we will have the courage and the energy to move into those places because we know that it is for this that Jesus was raised again. And when we do this together as a resurrection people, as a community of hope, then brothers and sisters, we will certainly be the people that Jesus has called us to be. Bringing his hope and light to all of the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and celebrating how the one who was dead has been raised again. Yes, let us celebrate! He is risen. He is risen indeed. Let’s act like it. Let’s celebrate it. Hallelujah. Amen!