April 24, 2011
Easter Sunrise Service
The Power of Faith
So much of our world is based on winning or losing. March Madness is not long concluded and on one level it really is madness. That so much time, energy, and resources are poured into a game is amazing.
But it’s not just sports. Almost everything in life is divided by winning or losing, and people are then viewed as winners or losers. Politics, at times, is as much about winning or losing as it is about governing. Business deals can be about winning or losing. Social status determines whether one is viewed as a winner or loser. And no one wants the tag of loser hung upon them.
But what is victory? Is victory just a matter of winning a game, a political race, or a business deal? Or is it something much deeper?
Today, obviously, is Easter Sunday. This morning we are here to acknowledge and celebrate a real victory – a victory that deals with ultimate matters of life and death, a real victory that is about changed and changing lives. Easter is a celebration of the ultimate in victories – the victory of love and the victory of life over death.
The entire life of Jesus, but especially his final days, is a challenge to walk like him and to forsake the normal categories of life, such as winner or loser. The Triumphal Entry challenges us to remember that to walk like Jesus means we forsake pride and embrace humility. The Last Supper challenges us to embrace the great command of love and a life of service. The Garden of Gethsemane challenges us to walk in the paths of Jesus even when the walk is difficult and challenging and to seek the will of God rather than our own will. The crucifixion challenges us to embrace forgiveness, as Jesus did as he hung dying on the cross.
And then there is the resurrection, which challenges us to never forget that life has conquered death.
Mark begins the resurrection story by telling us that Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome came to the tomb with spices to anoint the body of Jesus. There was absolutely no expectation of a resurrection. They fully expected to find the dead, lifeless body of Jesus.
One does not go to a cemetery expecting to find life. We live in a world where so many expect to find life where life will never be found.
But the women continued their journey with Jesus by going to the cemetery. Sometimes faith means you continue even though you cannot see or understand the purposes of God.
The women were greeted with the good news that He has risen! Even then it was too difficult to believe; the news was beyond the scope of their understanding. They were so overwhelmed that their first reaction was to tell no one of what they experienced. Mary Magdalene did eventually make her way to the disciples but they could not believe he had risen.
The fact that Mary Magdalene pronounced the news of the resurrection continues God’s fascinating way of using people as his messengers. As a woman in a patriarchal society Mary’s testimony would not be considered reliable. As one who had been healed of demon possession many saw her as an unstable personality, despite her healing. Bill Hull writes of her, the most momentous news in the spiritual history of mankind was first entrusted to one who by human standards was least qualified to proclaim it (The Broadman Bible Commentary: Luke/John, p. 363).
We are so often judged by our pasts. There were many who would hang Mary’s past upon her, but Jesus freed her from her past. We are freed from our pasts as well. The failures, the regrets, the guilt – Jesus removes it all from us.
It’s important that we emphasize what convinced Mary and the others of the reality of the resurrection – it was a personal experience with Jesus. Jesus came to Mary, he came to the disciples, he came to others, and the reality of their experience brought to them the truth of his resurrection.
The essence of faith remains a personal experience with the risen Christ. The Christian faith is not a belief system, it is not a theology, it is not an organization or an institution – it is a relationship founded upon an experience with the risen Christ.
We can seek to use theology and philosophy and reason in an attempt to convince people of the truth and reality of Jesus, but they are not enough. Theology and philosophy and reason may open a person’s mind to faith, but it takes more – it takes a personal experience.
This is what happened to Peter. Peter, who had denied Jesus but was released from that failure by his experience with the risen Christ. It was an experience, on the road to Damascus, that transformed Paul, the great persecutor of the Church, into the great missionary pastor.
That is a true victory.
The victory is the resurrection that says Jesus is alive and he abides with us and he transforms us. There are those who would be content if Jesus remained simply a character of history and nothing more, but without the resurrection we would know nothing of Jesus. There are those who would be content to say Jesus was a moral teacher of some renown, but it is the resurrection that moves him far beyond just a teacher of morality and into a living presence.
There are countless people throughout history whose lives have been transformed by Jesus. Some of them are notable – Peter, Paul, Francis of Assisi, Dietrich Bonhoeffer – but many more who remain nameless. But notable or nameless matters not; what matters is the transformation that occurred in their lives.
It is victory, true victory that comes through the resurrection, and not some manufactured sort of winners and losers as measured by the standards of the world, that we celebrate today. That is the true power of faith.