Sermon: Mary, DIDN’T You Know?
Scripture: I Corinthians 15:50-57
Date: April 5, 2015
Well, I know many of us are a little bummed today but we have certainly been treated to a lot of great college basketball this season and in the last few weeks. And the state of Kentucky has been out in the forefront. Murray State had a great run in the NIT tourney. Eastern went deep into whatever that tourney was that they were in. I never knew whether it was the CIT or the CBT, or really what those initials stood for, but it was fun to have their year extended by a few games. And then there was Louisville and Kentucky in the NCAA tourney. Now I love to watch sports on T.V. I know you can’t duplicate the excitement of the arena but there is nothing like propping my feet up in the recliner with a coke and a bag a pistachios and watching the Big event because as exciting as it might be to be there, if you really want to see the game, the best place to be is in your own living room watching on T.V. Now if only they would end their coverage when the game ended. Now here’s what I mean. There are those obligatory news conferences right after the game. Now as bad as it is for the winning team, it is so much worse for the losing team. The Cats did well last night but did you happen to see the Post Game conferences after the UK-West Virginia game? The losing team goes first and I felt so sorry for those West Virginia players. They obviously did not want to be there, and when a reporter asked a question, their responses indicated their displeasure with the situation and the questions. The reporters were operating under the premise that if you stick a microphone in the face of a 19 or 20 year kid after a loss, they might just say something newsworthy about the other team, or the referees or even their own team. Or at least make some excuses about why they had lost. So for about 15 minutes they kept asking these kids how it felt to lose, what went wrong, etc. I mean what could they really say about a 39 point loss. And then we have the winning team’s players. In this case, there was only a couple of questions for the UK players. They were there for less than 5 minutes. And then the coach took over. Now I understand that Coach Cal is in trouble for what he said in the news conference after the Notre Dame game. The reporters asked him why the game was so close, and he implied that it was closer than it should have been because his team didn’t play as well as they were capable of playing. Almost immediately people started criticizing him for disrespecting Notre Dame, and not giving them credit for playing a great game, even though he did say those things, but those weren’t his lead comments. There was even some speculation that he might be punished by the NCAA for his remarks. How ridiculous. You know he has said over and over again this season that the bottom line for him is not whether they win or lose, but that they play to the best of their abilities. He said it again last night. Now that’s a great thing for a coach to say but I don’t believe it entirely because I perceive Coach Cal to be a very competitive guy who hates to lose, so what I think he is really saying with that statement is that he didn’t believe that there’s anyone that could beat them, if they played their best. And I suspect that if he looks at the tape from las night, he’ll still believe that. You see, I think in sporting events there is a fine line between being a good winner and a bad loser and that most great coaches are at some level bad losers. They hate to lose. And if their team loses, it’s not so much that the other team is better than them, it’s just that their team did not play the way they are capable of playing. My particular favorites are those coaches whose teams get beaten by a lot, and they boil things down to a play or two. They say if the ball would have bounced their way on this particular play, then the outcome might have been different. Or if the refs would have made some calls, any calls, the outcome would have been different. But coach you lost by thirty points. Makes no difference. If that break would have gone our way, the outcome would have been different. They just can’t bring themselves to the conclusion that their team actually got outplayed and they lost. That kind of supreme confidence is often a characteristic of a great coach. Vince Lombardi, universally acclaimed as one of the greatest football coaches ever, believed that his Green Bay Packer teams of the sixties never lost a game, that if they did end up on the wrong side of the score, they just ran out of time. If the teams played long enough, his team would eventually prevail. And he didn’t believe in being a good loser. He said: “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” and “Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a real loser.” He just never expected his team to lose.
But I have discovered that one of the undeniable facts of life on this earth is that there are going to be times when we lose. Some of us more than others. In fact, as I look back on my illustrious athletic career, I realize that out of all the little league baseball, school basketball and football teams, softball teams, volleyball teams and on and on, that I have been a part of in my years of life on this earth, I can only remember one or two that were winning teams. When I was in middle school I set the school record for throwing both the shot put and the discus, but we never won a meet. Of, course the only reason I set the record was because it was a brand new school and I was the only shot putter and discus thrower there had been at the school. I played on a lot of teams that ran out of time game after game. And I know that I’m not alone. All of us have known the experience of losing, whether it be something as trivial as a game, or as major as a bad report from the doctor, or a business that has gone bad, or a love that has gone wrong. I suppose that is one of the reasons that the Peanuts comic strip was so popular for so many years. Because in essence, it was a celebration of losers. Poor Charlie Brown never won a baseball game and he never kicked that football. And in other things he lost too. Soon after his death a few years back I read an article about Charles Schulz, of course the creator of Peanuts, and all those loveable losers, and the writer made this comment:
With that team of loving losers — (came an overall theme and that was) – losing at love. Every major character has an unrequited love — Charlie Brown and the little red haired girl, Lucy and Schroeder, Linus and Miss Othmar. Even Snoopy got dumped at the altar. Happiness may be a warm puppy, but as Schulz once said, “Happiness is not very funny.” Schulz infused those comic strips with his own lifelong feelings of depression and insecurity — he had his heart broken by a real life red haired girl — and they showed how one could feel lonely even in a crowd. Many of his comic strips end with two characters outside (usually Charlie Brown and Linus), at night, peering over the fence, staring at a field of stars, (reflecting on the state of their life). “Let’s go inside and watch television,” Charlie Brown says in one of the later strips. “I’m beginning to feel insignificant.” Losing makes us feel insignificant.
So with that as our back drop, I’m sure you’re wondering by now where I’m going with this, let’s think for a few minutes about the Easter story. Because, imagine how insignificant the Disciples must have felt in the hours following the crucifixion of Jesus. In essence they had placed everything into Jesus’s team, and they had lost. They had joined with Jesus to try and overturn the established religious order, but instead, the established religious order had succeeded in having Jesus put to death. They had won. Now imagine what the two news conferences would have been like, if you will. One has the members of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish leaders on the podium. Oh there is not the childish euphoria of a winning locker room. But there must have been a sense of, if not joy, than at least accomplishment. They thought it had been a good day for the Jewish people. They had managed to get one of the disciples to betray Jesus. They had succeeded in turning the crowd that had welcomed Him as a King at the first of the week, into the same crowd that demanded His crucifixion by the end of the week, they had convinced Pilate that Jesus should be crucified for the common good, and then they watched Him die. It was the perfect game plan, executed to perfection. They were victorious. Evil had triumphed. And then contrast that to the Upper Room where the disciples gathered. They hung their heads in shame and defeat and they huddled in fear. They didn’t want a rematch with the Jewish Authorities. In fact, they just hoped that they would be left alone. God had lost with Jesus’ death on the cross.
But, you see, I think the lesson of Scripture is that God is a bad loser. He refuses to accept defeat. Consider history for a moment. In the Garden of Eden, the serpent thought it had won. Evil had triumphed. This experiment in creation of human beings would surely be deemed a failure and be forgotten, abandoned by God. And there were the losers excuses. “It was the woman’s fault.”“We weren’t ready for the serpent’s trick play.” “If we would have done this, we would have won.” And Adam and Eve felt so insignificant and hid because they believed that God would be so angry at their loss, that He would destroy them. But God would not accept their defeat. Instead, He came up with a new game plan and humanity went on and eventually populated the earth as God intended for it to be from the very beginning.
Or consider the story of Moses. His epic struggle against the Pharaoh. Time and again they went head to head and the Pharaoh seemingly won. “Who am I to go up against the Pharaoh?” Moses lamented. And in the midst of the struggle, when hope was waning, Moses cried, “O Lord, why have you mistreated this people? Why did you send me? Since I first came to Pharaoh to speak your name, he has mistreated your people, and you have done nothing at all to deliver them.” And when the people themselves turn against Moses, preferring to remain as slaves rather than follow Moses, it appears as though God has lost. And so the Pharaoh boasts, “Who is this Lord, that I should heed him and let Israel go?” But once again, God is a bad loser. He will not accept defeat. And so He says to Moses, go back once more. And the Angel of death comes to the Egyptian children, but the children of Israel were passed over, and the Pharaoh relents and God is victorious.
And then again in the wilderness, the people rebel against Moses. While he’s up on the mountain getting the Ten Commandments, the game plan if you will, the people construct an idol and return to the pagan worship they had adopted in Egypt. “Let’s go back to Egypt” they say. And the forces of evil start their victory dance. But once again, God does not abandon them and they move on towards the promised land.
And Hebrew history moves on through the corruption of the judges, but every time it appears as though God is at the end of His rope, He sends a judge like Deborah. Until finally God raises up King David, His chosen one. The one who would unite the Kingdom, restore the faith, lead them to ultimate victory. But then along comes the beautiful Bathsheba, and adultery and murder. Surely evil has triumphed this time. Humanity is laid waste. It’s brightest star, extinguished in a moment of lust and sin. God is defeated. But once again God is a bad loser.
In his book And The Angels Were Silent, Max Lucado describes the moment this way.
I think the command which puts an end to the pains of earth and initiates the joy of heaven will be two words: “No more!” The King of kings will raise his pierced hand and proclaim, “No more.” The angels will stand and the Father will speak, “No more!” Every person who lives and who ever lived will turn toward the sky and hear God announce, “No more!”
No more loneliness. No more tears. No more death. No more sadness. No more crying. No more pain.
And so while evil celebrated victory on the cross , God said “no more” and there was a great flash of light from the tomb, and the great stone that covered the entrance groaned as it began to move on its own. And while Pilate reflected on his brilliant strategy, the women came and found the tomb was empty. And while Satan danced His victory dance, Peter and John ran to the tomb and then back to the Upper Room to say that the fight was not lost. That God, that bad loser, had turned the defeat of the cross and death, into the once and for all victory of resurrection and life. God is such a bad loser, He refused to accept defeat even when they beat His Son and placed Him on a Cross to die. Christian pastor, writer, psychologist, Tony Campolo writes about the death of his father-in-law, who was a pastor himself. He writes that he had been ill for many years, his mind and body deteriorating. But in spite of his obvious decline Campolo said he seemed to be at complete peace. And then in the middle of the night on what turned ut to be his last night, his wife heard him reciting in a clear strong voice, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Three times he repeated those words and then he closed his eyes and died. Victorious.
Because of Easter, we can be victorious in all the situations of our life. Even when it looks as though we are defeated, God will triumph. He refuses to lose. Desmond Tutu was the Archbishop in South Africa during the darkest days of Apartheid. If ever it looked as though evil was going to triumph, it had to be in the face of apartheid in those days. A reporter once asked Tutu if he remained hopeful in spite of all the terrible, hate motivated things, going on around him and Bishop Tutu responded:
I am always hopeful. A Christian is a prisoner of hope. What could have looked more hopeless than Good Friday? But then at Easter, God says, ‘From this moment on, no situation is untransfigurable.’ There is no situation from which God cannot extract good.
As Mary watched Jesus die on that cross on Good Friday, she must have felt that the hope of a new nation under The Messiah, of new life, was dead – defeated – as the Jews had been defeated so many times before in their history. But not so fast Mary, because in God’s time this Cross was not defeat but victory. In the Cross not death, but new life. And it had always been the game plan. Jesus, Himself, had told her “I am the resurrection and the life.” I wonder if at the foot of the cross Mary began to truly realize what He had meant when He had said that. “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory”
Norman Vincent Peale once wrote that Christians should live with an irrepressible sense of victory. He said:
Now that does not mean that there will not be times in our lives that seem like defeat. Times when Satan still dances in delight. When marriages fall apart, when illness invades a body, when children are lost, when jobs are gone, when tragedies strike, it often appears as though Satan has triumphed. But the Cross and the empty tomb say no more. That for God’s people defeat will not last.
In about a month we will celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Allied victory over the Nazis in Europe. For the 60th anniversary, Time magazine published an article commemorating VE Day. And the article told of how when the allied soldiers liberated the concentration camps they found thousands of sick and starving civilians and soldiers. If ever it seemed as though evil had triumphed it was in those death camps. And one soldier interviewed told in the article of finding an American soldier who had been held prisoner and who was too far gone to survive. It was obvious that he was not going to make it. But before he died, the soldier made a final request. He said: Would you find my wife when you get back to the States and tell her that I had the joy of knowing the war is won?
Easter gives us the joy of knowing that the war is won! We don’t have to live in death and defeat anymore because Christ is alive and God is working in human history and no situation is beyond the redemption of our victorious God. That not only is Mary’s boy the ruler of nations but more importantly He is the ruler of our lives.
But there is a catch. And that is that we must choose to be on the winning team. God wants to take us to victory, but He will not do that unless we choose to follow Him. Unless we say, “Lord, I believe that you are alive today.. Come now and live in me.” All you have to do is ask, and He will come to you right now.
Joe King, who prior to his death in 1996, lived in Winston Salem, North Carolina, was by most accounts one of the greatest American artists ever. But even most students of art have not heard of him. When he was 11 years old an accident resulted in the amputation of his left arm but that did not prevent him in later life from pursuing his passion. But it did not come easily for Joe King. Though his paintings were great works of art, for the longest time many of the great art galleries of the 1930’s and 40’s would not offer him a chance to display his works. The sentiment was that he could not go anywhere in the art world with a name like Joe King. And so he began painting under the name of Vinciata and his artistic career took off. In fact, at one time the only painting by an American that was hanging in the Louvre in Paris was a painting by Joe King, aka Vinciata’s. But he never forgot his roots in Winston Salem, North Carolina. And so one year Joe King decided to give something back to the city of Winston Salem. And so in the weeks leading up to Easter, Vinciata painted a large mural in a window of an abandoned downtown store front. It was his interpretation of the crucifixion of Christ. It was said to have been a very dark and graphic, but beautiful and powerful, depiction of Christ dying on the cross and when it was completed it became a center piece of downtown Winston Salem. And many thousands made the journey into the city to see Vinciata’s masterpiece. One morning after the painting was done a newspaper reporter happened to be standing on the street corner near the window. He was preparing to write an article about the painting and the reaction that people had as they came to see it for the first time. It was such a powerful depiction that many walked away in tears, some even wailing in sorrow and despair. And as the reporter stood and watched, a local businessman who had an office nearby, got off of the bus and walked over to the window to look at the painting. At the same time a little boy, maybe 10 years old the reporter estimated, walked over and stood next to the businessman. They were a strange looking pair. But for several minutes the odd couple stood and stared at Joe King’s painting of the Passion of Christ. Finally the businessman glanced at his watch and reached down and picked up his brief case and started up the street for his office. As he was walking the reporter heard the man say, softly but loud enough to be heard: “What a pity. What a shame.” And then he made his way on up the street. Well the little boy had been silently taking all of this in, and as the business man made his way towards the office, the reporter noticed that the little boy kept glancing back and forth between the wonderfully horrible scene of the crucifixion and the rapidly retreating man. And finally the little boy cupped his hand to the side of his mouth and he hollered after the man in as loud of a voice as he could muster: “Hey mister. Wait. That’s not the end of it. He’s alive again. Didn’t you know?”
You see from the empty tomb, Jesus shouts into the sometimes dark and defeated moments of our life. Wait, that’s not the end of it. I’m alive again. Didn’t you know? Because our God is such a bad loser, this world and its evils can never truly defeat us. One day He will rule the nations but today He can rule our hearts. Mary did you know, the Cross is not the end of it. He’s alive again. Mary didn’t you know? HALLELUJAH!