A week ago at this time a group of us gathered at Ganthers Place Park for an Easter sunrise service. It was really a great thing to watch. The park is nestled among homes and you could literally see people emerge from their homes and create a worshiping community. A community who came together and proclaimed, He is Risen, He is Risen indeed.
The park was decorated, people wore their Easter best, we sang Christ the Lord is Risen today, it was a great thing.
But I went to the park this morning and guess what, no one was there. The decorations are still hanging, but there were no eggs, baskets, or singing.
It is as if life has gone on as if nothing ever happened.
So what was it all about? What is the meaning of Jesus’ resurrection? Last week we claimed that we are Easter people, but how does that make us different from anyone else? Over the next several weeks our sermons will focus around the meaning of the resurrection in our lives and in our world today.
Sometimes our world seems like a very different place from the one we read about in the Bible. Think of the events that happened on Holy Week 2015. 148 people killed in Kenya. The anniversary of the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. A tragic shooting, just across the street from our church.
How do we sing, “Because He Lives” in church when we see death all around us? How do we hear a promise of hope, when the chorus of the world speaks of so much pain? What difference does the resurrection make?
First, throughout scripture, we are told that God knows our pain.
In the scripture from Exodus, God calls Moses. God says to Moses I have seen the misery of my people, I have heard their cry, I know their sufferings.
The word “know” is Hebrew word, yada. It isn’t just know, as in I know what the weather will be today, it is knowledge in a deep and personal way. The first time this word yada is used in the Bible is when Adam and Eve know one another when they have a son.
For God to know the sufferings of the people of Israel is to deeply and intimately know.
Likewise, Jesus says to his doubting and confused disciples, I am with you to the end of the age.
Jesus knows, intimately knows, what it is like to live and walk the earth.
What happened on the cross of Good Friday is that God and humanity were united through suffering. In Jesus, God suffered physical pain, abandonment, betrayal, and death.
God the Father experienced the death of his son.
From this point on, humanity and divinity were no longer separate, but united in this common experience of suffering.
God knows. God knows our pain, our fears, our isolation, our frustration, because God experienced it.
Second, God doesn’t simply know our pain, but is at work to bring justice. God says to Moses not only that he has heard the cry of his people but, I have come down to deliver them.
When Jesus preached his first sermon in Nazareth he said he came to “bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.”
But God doesn’t only work for justice, but calls people to bring justice about. God calls Moses to go to Pharaoh to bring God’s people out of Egypt. Jesus calls his disciples to go and teach.
This isn’t only the call of the disciples, but God calls us, the Easter people, to be about God’s work of justice.
Up until this point, you could say that this sermon is making some a bit of an abstract, theological argument that God knows human suffering and calls people to bring about Jesus’ vision of the kingdom of God.
But if we step back from the drama of the 24-hour cable news cycle, we can see that the saying Martin Luther King often used, that the long arc of history bends toward justice, is true. It is true that the arc of history bends towards justice. But that doesn’t happen because things are just naturally inclined to get better, but because of the resurrection power of the Risen Christ.
I would argue that no event has changed the history of the world more than the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
If we step back from the daily news and take a long look at history we can see how the resurrection power has changed the world in real and practical ways.
Two hundred years ago, the literacy rate around the world was about 10 percent. Only 10 percent of people could read and write. Today it is about 85 percent. This didn’t change simply because of a desire to teach people to read, but happened because of resurrection power. The movement toward literacy began a couple of hundred years ago in churches and communities and families who wanted to teach people to read the Bible. The protestant movement emphasized the authority of scripture and created a need for literacy. People are literate today because of resurrection power.
At the start of the 20th century life expectancy was 46 years, today it is almost 80. This change didn’t happen because of isolated advances in medicine, but because churches sought to bring health into peoples lives. Look around our community today. Walk out those doors and turn left and you are in Mt Carmel Health Station. The very reason that is there is because a people of faith sought to bring healthcare to our neighborhood. Ohio Health, one of the largest health systems in Columbus is a United Methodist institution. Today, we drive by a billion dollar Nationwide Children’s Hospital building, but the dream of that hospital began in 1890 when a group of four young women from St Paul’s Episcopal Church got together with nothing more than a vision of bringing a children’s hospital to Columbus. The gifts of medicine and health we have today are because of resurrection power.
This resurrection power has not only resulted in literacy and health, but has changed nations and changed the world. Think about apartheid in South Africa. Thirty years ago people lived in a brutally-enforced segregated system in South Africa. That entire political system came undone, not because of political will, but because of resurrection power.
The Bishop Desmond Tutu was a significant force in the anti-apartheid movement and the restoration afterward. Tutu said “if these white people had intended keeping us under they shouldn’t have given us the Bible”. He described the Bible as being like dynamite.
When the people subject to Apartheid read the first pages of the Bible they discovered “that apartheid sought to mislead people into believing that what gave value to human beings was a biological irrelevance, really, skin color or ethnicity, and you saw how the scriptures say it is because we are created in the image of God, that each one of us is a God-carrier. No matter what our physical circumstances may be, no matter how awful, no matter how deprived you could be, it doesn’t take away from you this intrinsic worth.”
This realization that everyone is created in the image of God has changed nations, has changed our world, has resulted in the growth of democracies and civil rights, and all of this is the resurrection power of Jesus Christ.
If we look, we don’t only see this in literacy and hospitals and in places like South Africa, we see it here. We see it in the once abandoned, blighted homes of this neighborhood that have been restored.
I saw it on Tuesday. Do you remember the weather on Tuesday morning, like the weather almost every morning this last week? It was pouring rain, I mean really pouring. But guess what, when the 10,000 pounds of produce showed up for the market, there was a team of people there to haul it in the building. People gave up their comfort to do what Jesus said, “you feed them” and the resurrection work of justice took place.
I saw it this week in the frantic work of Michael Reed. Last week Michael shared with you that we won a federal court case to restore people’s Medicaid benefits. All week, Michael has been running around coordinating that restoration and because of his work about 30 families now have their benefits back and the resurrection work of justice took place.
A couple of weeks ago I heard it in the voice of Anna, our receptionist. Anna was once a victim of human-trafficking who, like Moses, heard God call her to go and bring freedom to people. She stood in the state house and advocated for ways the state can help people break the cycle of poverty, instead of people being continually trapped in it. The resurrection work of justice took place.
So we can point to places throughout history and here in our community where we can see that “Because he Lives”, justice is at work. But the danger in that is that we might miss out on God’s calling in our lives, because we think someone else is doing it.
It feels good to think that you are on the side of justice.
It feels good to be a part of a Christian faith that is based around Jesus who placed himself amongst the marginalized.
It feels good to be part of a United Methodist denomination who in our mission statement we say that we are making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
It feels good to say I am a card carrying member of the Church for All People that is changing the South Side of Columbus. That is all fine and good, but among those statements I would challenge you by asking, what are you doing?
Jesus told his disciples to go, teach, and remember. Go and make disciples. Teach people how to live lives of sacred justice, and remember God is with you always.
It is easy for us to turn on the news, to shake our heads at the daily tragedies, and to wonder where is God in the midst of it all? But the next time you read of the injustices in the world, don’t ask where God is, ask yourself, where you are.
What are you doing that aligns you with the resurrection power of Jesus Christ? How are you a part of the work of bringing about God’s kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven? “Because He Lives”, how are you living resurrection justice?