Worship Message Texts

I concluded my final interim pastorate in March 2016, so I am no longer preaching on a regular basis. I am available for pulpit supply and these sermon scripts and videos give a picture of my approach. For pulpit supply, I am happy to write new sermons targeted at specific concerns or needs of congregations, otherwise I will rework previous sermons based on the texts of the Revised Common Lectionary for that Sunday.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Looking for Jesus?

John 20:1-18
April 8, 2012
© 2012

Last Sunday we talked about how carefully Jesus orchestrated every detail of his grand entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. By the next day he was in trouble with the authorities and by Friday had provoked them into executing him. But on Easter morning no news reported his resurrection. No orchestra or choir for a Hallelujah Chorus! No strutting “I told you so!” before the Sanhedrin. Jesus obviously did not enlist a public relations firm for the climax of his ministry.
No one was an eye witness of the moment of resurrection. Through the centuries artists have tried to imagine what it would have been like. The images tend to be spectacular! Mega-churches stage grand pageants, and we all sing stirring hymns. Like the proverbial question, does a tree falling in the forest make a sound if no one is there to hear it? Jesus’ resurrection is a conundrum.
One by one, out of the dark of dawn a few of Jesus’ disciples made their way to the empty tomb. Jesus appeared to some of them in fleeting, mysterious moments. The Gospel accounts emphasize a variety of details we have trouble assembling into a single story, but they all agree that a few women were the first to see the risen Jesus. John 20:11-18 focuses on Mary Magdalene’s highly personal, emotional encounter with Jesus.
As we read already from John 20:1-10, when she found the tomb empty, she assumed Jesus’ body had been stolen and ran to report to Peter. Peter and John ran to see for themselves. John apparently believed Jesus had risen, but Peter remained perplexed. Peter and John, and perhaps the other women, left the tomb.

[Tell John 20:11-18.]
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet.13They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”14When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”16Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
Whom are you looking for this Easter morning?
That every pastor, every congregation, is looking for good worship attendance on Easter is no surprise. If enough of the right people are there, we’re gratified, if not, we’re disappointed. Instead of Jesus we look for full pews.
I know some skeptics come to Easter worship, and plenty of Easter sermons are devoted to weighing the evidence to convince them that Jesus’ resurrection was real.
We all enjoy the festivities: the music, the colors, the flowers, the pageantry, the exhilaration, even if we’re not necessarily looking for Jesus.
Even when Mary Magdalene looked at and spoke with Jesus, she did not see or hear him. She had been looking for a dead Jesus. She was so anxious about what had happened to his body, she didn’t realize angels had spoken to her. She didn’t find him, but Jesus found her, and she was transformed.
Jesus repeated the angels’ question, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She was not just grieving Jesus’ death; she wept for the presumed insult of stealing his body. Mary did not realize that she no longer needed to grieve. Not only had Jesus been found, he was alive and found her.
So Jesus added to the angels’ question, “Whom are you looking for?” Of course, he knew the answer. Jesus was telling Mary she didn’t need to look any further. He had found her.
Mary did not recognize Jesus by visual cues but when he called her by name. “Mary!” The whole relationship came rushing back. Jesus had liberated her from the tyranny of seven demons. She had traveled with Jesus as he proclaimed the good news of the Kingdom of God. She had contributed generously to support Jesus’ ministry. (Luke 8:1-3) She had watched him die on the cross. (Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40; John 19:25) She had been there when his broken body was wrapped and placed in this tomb. (Mark 15:47)
Mary simply responded “my teacher.” She not only recognized Jesus, she affirmed her intense love for Jesus. Not a romantic or erotic love between a man and a woman but a renewal of her discipleship. The risen Jesus had found her and transformed her.
Despite a lot of silly speculation about Mary Magdalene through the centuries and in our own time, she is indeed an important figure in the Gospel drama. By finding Mary and encountering her at the tomb, Jesus chose her as the first apostle. The apostles were those who proclaimed the good news that they were eye witnesses of the risen Jesus. She was the first one to see him and to announce to the other disciples she had seen him. She didn’t just tell, she delivered an official message. (v. 18)
The KJV says that Jesus told Mary not to touch him. As I kid I wondered if the just resurrected Jesus was like a butterfly just coming out of its cocoon, and he wasn’t dry yet. Modern translations with Jesus saying, “Don’t hold onto me” give a much better picture of the transformations that come to those who are encountered by the risen Jesus.
After his resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples in elusive encounters. Just about the time they were sure he was really there, he vanished. They did not go back to comfortable teaching tours in Galilee. In a few short weeks he ascended to the Father and the Holy Spirit came. They did not go back to normal, but Jesus opened a whole new future for them and for us.
Jesus called Mary by name, and everything changed forever. The risen Jesus is calling your name. Reply and everything changes forever.
A good friend of mine, who I’ll call Ron, manages commercial real estate investments. A friend and business associate of his, who I’ll call Mike, had been a very successful investment broker. Mike was confident and independent. Ron had often told Mike how Jesus had changed his life for the better, but Mike brushed him off with, “That’s OK for you, but I don’t need it.” Then Mike was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and Ron let Mike know he was praying for him. Mike responded with gratitude but said, “I don’t know why God should do anything for me now since I shut God out all my life.” Ron told Mike he thought I could explain it better than he could, so Mike invited Ron to bring me over for a chat. I didn’t explain much of anything. I just listened and encouraged Mike to read Mark’s Gospel and see if Jesus would meet him. We got together several more times, and I listened to what Mike was hearing from Jesus. Mike and his wife began attending worship. When his strength had diminished to the point he could barely walk, Mike asked if it was OK for him to come up to confess his faith in Jesus and join the church. The next Sunday, leaning on his wife for support, Mike hobbled to the front, and he confessed his faith. He told the congregation this was completely out of character for him, but he needed to do it to confirm that it was real. Jesus had changed everything for him. When I visited him during his final hospitalization, Mike said he wanted Ron to speak at his funeral to tell everyone how Jesus could find and transform even someone like him.
A risen savior is on the loose and knows your name!

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