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Sermon:  What Shall We Do?

Scripture:  Acts 2: 36-39  

Date:   April 8, 2018

Have you ever thought about what you would have done on the day after the first Easter Sunday.   After all the excitement of hearing and even seeing that Jesus was really alive again, what would you have done.   I think this is the question that is posed by the way the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) approach the Easter Story because none of them really deal with the day after Easter.   So they leave us with only questions about what the Disciples, and the women and the Priests and even Pilate did in the days after Easter. Matthew and Luke jump from Easter Day to 40 days and the story of the Ascension of Jesus.   Mark doesn’t even do that much. His Gospel leaves us on Easter Day. He writes: Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.  Hardly what you would expect of ones who had been the first eye witnesses to the empty tomb.   The last we see of them they are shaking in their boots, afraid of the prospect of resurrection.   But then perhaps that’ where the whole church is on the day after Easter. I talked last week about how many don’t really believe in resurrection.  Perhaps that’s because we fear what resurrection, what new life, means for us personally. So, like the women, we flee from the empty tomb. Apparently the early church didn’t want  to talk about the days after Easter. Leaving us to imagine that all of the principle players returned to wherever it was they had been gathering and in a sense cowered in fear as they contemplated what the resurrection of Christ was going to mean for them personally.   On the day after, the euphoria of Easter turned into a day of personal introspection.

For the Jewish priests and leaders, I imagine it was a day of considering the real possibility that they had been wrong.  That Jesus had been the Messiah, the Savior, the Son of God. And now that they had been implicit in His death what did the future hold for them.   For Pilate, the resurrection had been a confirmation of his worst fear – that Jesus was who the Jews claimed He said He was. What would his future hold.  I wonder what Pilate did on the day after. At the very least I’m sure he endured a lot of “I told you sos” from his wife. And then there were the disciples.   I wonder what Peter did on the day after Easter. Because as wonderful as the news of resurrection was on that first Easter Day, on the day after what did it mean for one who had betrayed him and deserted him when they were putting Jesus to death.   Based on what we know about Peter, I’m sure on the day after he wrestled with questions of whether he personally was even worthy of the resurrection. And I believe that it is a question that every one of us needs to wrestle with in the days after Easter.   How wonderful that Jesus overcame death and rose from the dead. It was in many respects the defining moment of all of human history. But on the day after I wrestle with the question of whether it was the defining moment of my life. What does resurrection mean in the way I live my life from this point forward?   Am I worthy?  And then ultimately – What shall I do now?   How should we react after the all excitement,  to resurrection of Jesus? In truth the church has never been able to come to terms with the day after.

 

You know there are essentially four days in the course of the Christian year that are defining moments in the Christian Faith.   Christmas, the birth of Jesus. Good Friday, the crucifixion. Easter, resurrection. And Pentecost. The rest of the year is basically spent building up to one of those four events.   For days we anticipate each one. Our worship. Our study. The scriptures, all point to one of those four days. But on the day after – there’s silence. I think the question that the people ask on the day of Pentecost following the spectacular manifestations of the Spirit and Peter’s emergence from the shadows that he had dwelled in really since Jesus’ arrest in the Garden to become the leader of the church with his sermon outlining the basics of the Christian faith, is the one that people of faith wrestle with on the day after – the 26th of December, the Saturday after Good Friday, the Monday after Easter and even Pentecost – What shall we do now?   What shall we do personally about the Baby Jesus?  What shall we do personally about the Cross? What shall we do personally about the coming of the Spirit?  And on the day after Easter – what shall we do about the resurrection? The tomb is empty, Jesus is alive, what shall I do now?   What difference does it make in my life? And my faith? When the euphoria of Easter passes? After the worship services that swell to twice their size?  After the last note of the Hallelujah chorus has faded away? After the Easter Lilies and other flowers have been taken, and the flowers on the floral cross have dried out and wilted? What shall we do?  Three thousand people heard and responded to Peter’s sermon but then in the aftermath they ask, What shall we do? I hope it’s the question that each one of us have been struggling with in these days after Easter.  And so we come to this place this morning with the Easter anthems, and the glorious news of scripture, still echoing around this sanctuary, wondering in light of Jesus’s resurrection, not what shall we do, but what shall I do?  And Peter’s reply comes, I think, from his own struggles and questionings in the days after. Here’s what I have learned in my personal struggles, Peter replies: On the day after – first we must repent.   We confess our unworthiness, so that in the light of the Empty Tomb we can be made worthy.   Before we can participate in the new life that resurrection offers, we must die to our old life.   And for most of us that death is not as dramatic and instantaneous as death on the cross was for Jesus.   Most of us die a little bit at a time. Sin by sin. Let me see if I can explain what I mean. The last few times that we have vacationed in Colorado, I have been saddened by what is happening to many of the evergreen trees in the mountains.   They are systematically dying. Some of these trees are very old and have grown to be of tremendous size. I read about one that was a seedling when Columbus discovered America in 1492. It was a huge tree that had seen many hardships through the years.   Harsh winters with days of snow measured by the yard. High winds threatening to topple them – giant roots and all. The post mortem – the autopsy – revealed that the tree had been struck by lightning at least 14 times. And yet none of these things had killed this giant tree.   No what killed it were tiny beetles, not visible with the naked eye, eating away on the inside. And as a result there are great expanses of once living and thriving trees that are dead and dying throughout the mountains of Colorado. That’s the way sin works in us. It’s not the sin that we bring into the light of day that kills us, it’s the little sins that eat away from the inside that threaten to destroy us.   But here’s the thing, as the old trees die, new ones are springing to life in their place. But before that can happen, the beetles must be dealt with. And so in some areas I read, they are spraying to kill the beetles but not in the areas where they are continuing to destroy the healthy trees. The expanse is too great to cover. So instead they are spraying in the areas where the beetles have already done their destructive work in order to protect the new life as it emerges.  On the day after, we embrace new life through our repentance of those sins that led Jesus to be placed on that dead tree in the first place. He died so that new life could replace our old dead lives. Paul wrote to the Colossians these words for the day after: When you were dead in your sin, God made you alive in Christ.   That’s the miracle of resurrection that we celebrate on Easter Sunday, but spend our whole lives embracing for ourselves.   On the day after, what shall we do? Experience resurrection for ourselves. Repent and let the old self die, in order to make room for the new life that comes through resurrection to each one of us.   And so in anticipation of the struggles that we would have on the day after embracing the new life that emerged through the empty tomb, Jesus offered the the bread and cup of new life. Life beyond the cross and the empty tomb.   Life that becomes real for you and me on the days after. And He says, do this on all the days after in remembrance of what I have done for you – the new life I have won for you with my victory over sin and death.

 

What shall we do in the days after.   First repent – add our sins to the sins Jesus took to the cross and there by we die to the old life.   And second – be baptized.   On the day after, Peter had been considering what his Baptism meant.  When John Baptized, he baptized as a call to repentance. Through Baptism we are cleansed of our sin.   But the Baptism that Jesus offered, was more of a Baptism into completely new life. So some in the early church came to believe that John’s Baptism was incomplete, which John himself had alluded to when He said: “I Baptize you with Water but the one who comes after me will Baptize you with fire”.  And of course fire became the symbol of the Holy Spirit. When the tongues of the fire of the Holy Spirit came and rested on the Disciples on that Day of Pentecost, they became new. So I think Peter is saying that on the day after, our Baptisms must be made complete through the fire of the Holy Spirit.   So be baptized as a sign of repentance, but in a sense that is only a partial baptism. Now apparently the idea of partial Baptism became a popular one in the early church. Even Paul refers to this when He says this about a Disciple named Apollos whom He says is a faithful man and good teacher even though He only knew the Baptism of John.  And there were those who believed that parts of you could be Baptized but that other parts could be withheld.   The story is told about Emperor Constantine, who in the 300’s AD became the first Roman Emperor converted to Christianity.   And in his zeal he decreed that everyone else in prominent positions be Baptized. And he took his whole army to the river to be Baptized.   But as they entered into the water, he told the soldiers to keep their right arms out of the water so that those parts of their bodies would remain unbaptized in order that they could continue to fight for the Empire.  Now that may seem funny to us now, but the truth is that when we give our lives to Christ, few of us truly give all of ourselves. One Pastor in commenting on Peter’s words here, writes: A great tragedy for many of us who have been baptized and who are pretty good church people, is that we have been only partially baptized.  We have not allowed Christ to rule supreme over all of our lives. That is why we must continually remember. What shall we do?on the day after, we remember Christ in the breaking of the bread and through the waters of Baptism.    And we embrace the new life that Christ brings through His resurrection. Because while at Baptism we certainly die to our old life as we are submerged into the waters, but as we emerge from the water we receive new life through God’s spirit dwelling within us.   Easter is all about God’s promise of new life and so on the day after we need to receive all of that new life for ourselves. We need to be resurrected. Baptism then is our way of witnessing to the the story of Easter being lived out in our own life because on the day after we take on resurrected life for ourselves through Baptism.   We die to self through the cross, and we enter into new life through Christ as we embrace the new life of Baptism in the Spirit. That’s resurrection faith. We become brand new. So what shall we do on the day after. Embrace the new life that comes through resurrection for ourselves by celebrating this sacrament of repentance and forgiveness and redemption and by remembering/reaffirming our Baptism.   You see, until we do that – until we repent and fully receive baptism (new life) then Easter is little more than a wonderful day. On the day after we must embrace the new life of the empty tomb for ourselves. Resurrection faith requires that we give our lives completely. That we too rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to bring us out of our man made tombs.

 

© 2014 St. Luke UMC | Made with love by Mark Walz, Jr..
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