Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Even When the World Tells Us Not To

Brad Sullivan
Easter Sunday
April 1, 2018
Emmanuel, Houston
John 20:1-18

Even When the World Tells Us Not To

Happy Easter y’all, as we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, his victory over death, and the fullness of his great love for us.  I love that God joined with us even in death, and then in Jesus’ resurrection, God has shown us the full measure of his grace towards us.  We get to share in his eternal life and love, forgiveness and reconciliation. 

That’s the nuts and bolts of our faith, we get to share in God’s eternal life and love, forgiveness and reconciliation.  I absolutely love our faith, our faith in Jesus and in his resurrection, and I also keep hearing more and more folks who nowadays think we’re kinda nuts for believing in Jesus, or even for believing in a God at all, and that’s fine.  To be fair, I don’t know if our faith is true; I can’t prove it, but I love it, and I choose to believe.  We choose to believe that there is a God who made us and loves us, frees us and redeems us.  We choose to believe that despite our brokenness, God will never quit on us.  That is what Jesus’ resurrection means.

God will never quit on us, and yet believing that, we still tend to quit on each other with a fair amount of regularity.  I know Lent is over y’all, but such is our condition, our lot in life, that we tend to quit on each other, which is why we need Jesus’ grace and resurrection life in the first place.  We start off liking one another and then, we often end up stopping our relationships or letting them slip away.  Sometimes it feels like we’re supposed to quit each other for various reasons, such as the insurmountable problems and irreconcilable differences that we face like how we voted in any one single election, our beliefs about those whom we think God may or may not be pleased, how we choose to spend our money, raise our kids, or even how we dress.  These are some of the insurmountable barriers that we raise and differences that we face for which we end up quitting each other.

Some in the world may say that division over these differences is ok, but Jesus not so much.  We’ve always had differences, reasons why we choose to erect barriers between ourselves and others, but God shows in Jesus’ resurrection that he loves us for who we are, and he wants us to love each other for who we are.  Republican.  Democrat.  Lesbian.  Gay.  Bisexual. Transgender.  Queer.  Atheist.  Muslim.  Jew.  Christian.  Fundamentalist.  Conservative.  Liberal.  Radical.  Black.  White.  Latino.  Asian.  Legal.  Illegal.  Tree hugging, gun loving, gluten free, home-school, hippie.    

We have so many labels now, we have a hard time even coming up with enough words to accurately label everyone we see.  Maybe that’s a good thing.  Maybe that will force us to love each other based on grace and Jesus’ love and resurrection, rather than just by seeming similar enough with some folks to kinda like each other ok.  Jesus was raised from the dead to reconcile us to God and each other.   His final commandment to his disciples was to love one another, regardless of our stripes, our skin, our labels, our ethnicity, sexuality, beliefs, or legal status.  Middle class, high class, low class, no class?  “Love one another,” Jesus said. 

People are starving for love, even for an ounce of love.  People are going to go where they are loved and accepted.  Jesus’ resurrection says, “you are loved and accepted,” and yet people often don’t feel loved and accepted in the church, and so they go elsewhere for love and acceptance.  We’ve seen this happening as people are leaving the church in droves.  Ideologies?  Beliefs?  Various social activities?  Folks can adapt pretty well to many different beliefs, so long as they are loved, and people will stay where they are loved.  I’ve often heard adults say they are no longer sure about the faith, but they love the people and community of their church and so they stay.  I think Jesus is ok with that. 

Lack of faith?  Unsure about Jesus and his resurrection?  No problem.  A loving community can hold a person through doubts and lack of faith.  Hopelessness?  We can hold a hopeless person in love, and their hope can be restored.  That’s why above all else, Jesus commanded us to love each other. That is why Paul wrote that love is greater even than faith and hope, why John wrote that we cannot claim to love God if we do not love each other. 

Jesus commanded that we love one another as he loved us, as he loved his disciples. He loved them so much that the first thing he did once he was raised from the dead was to talk to Mary, assure her that he was alive, and to have her spread the good news to the rest of his disciples.  Jesus loved his disciples and loves us to the end, and that is the gospel news for us - however messed up we are, Jesus keeps on loving us, and it’s really not because we’re perfect or even good enough.  Think about how often Jesus could have and maybe even should have chosen to quit his disciples, get rid of them, and start over with some better ones.

Jesus was transfigured before them, and Peter pipes up, “Hey Jesus - let’s make some booths!”  “Seriously Pete, that’s your response?  Yeah, ok, we’re done, just um, you stay here, build a transfiguration theme park, something like that.  I’m outta here.”

Then there was the time James and John said, “Um, Jesus, we know you’re busy with this whole upcoming death thing, whatever that is, but we want to sit at your right and left hand when you’re all powerful and glorious in majesty.  We kinda think we deserve it.”
“Oh, so you’ve been listening intently to all that I’ve been saying and teaching over the years.  You’ve really taken none of it in at all.  Great.  Tell you what, go to the next town over, about 4 miles away. Get a couple of chairs so you can sit on either side of me, and we’ll wait right here.  No, don’t dawdle, just go and do not look back.”

What about everyone else, the sex workers and thieves, the refuse of society with whom Jesus so often hung out?  “Yeah, you guys are really disgusting and foul, I think I’m just going to leave.”

Jesus didn’t do that.  He stuck with them.  Just like God keeps staying with us and choosing to love us.  Despite our continued brokenness, God sticks with us.  That’s the resurrection life, which Jesus invites us to share.  Do the hard work of continuing to choose to stay together, and do the hard work of continuing to die daily to self so that you can share in his resurrection, not because people are perfect or even good enough, but just because people are, and just because you can choose to love one another.  In Jesus’ resurrection, he shows us that we can love and forgive each other; it’s ok.  We’re allowed to, and we need to.   

We need love.  That’s what Jesus resurrection is ultimately all about, God’s unwavering love for us.  God is love, and love how Jesus wants us to be with each other.  That’s the resurrection life.  We are Jesus’ beloved, the one’s for whom he sent Mary to say, “Jesus is raised from the dead,” and so we get to keep loving each other as he loves us.  Even the weirdoes and the uber conservatives.  Even the crazy hippie liberals and straight laced conformists.  Even the sex workers and thieves.  It is ok for us to love those whom others may feel are unlovable.  It is ok for us to love each other despite how messed up we all are.  It is ok for us to believe in Jesus and find hope in his resurrection.  We get to do that despite what others may say.  Who cares if people think we’re nuts?  Our faith tells us to love each other.  Jesus sticks with us and wants us to stick with each other, to share in the joy and the love of his resurrection.  We have his permission to do so, even if the world tells us not to.  

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