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Experiencing the Resurrection 2016 Easter Sermon

Experiencing the Resurrection

 

Whilst I was at college one of the Ugandan students told a story of a local pastor who on returning home from his Easter morning services ran into an ambush of 5 armed men.  I forgot about this until I came across the incident written about in a book I was reading.   The men wanted the Pastor’s money – of which he had none – but also because they were of a different tribe they made it clear they intended to kill him.  “If you have anything to say, say it now before you die.”  The pastor, whose name was Kefa Sempangi, began to shake like a leaf and his mind went blank but then as he recalled: “From far away I heard a voice; and to my amazement it was my own, ‘I don’t need to plead my cause’ he heard himself say, ‘I am a dead man already.  My life is dead and hidden in Christ.  It is your lives that are in danger: you are dead in your sins.  I will pray to God for you, that after you have killed me, he will spare you from eternal destruction.’”  The leader stepped forward; his face changed.  “Will you pray for us now” he asked.  And so pastor Kefa did.  It was a turning point – all five members are now members of Kefa’s church.

 

A remarkable story, and it is stories such as these that highlight the fact that the resurrection of Christ is not just an historical fact, not just a tenet of faith, but a living reality. 

 

The reason I believe in the resurrection is because I have experienced it. The reason I stand before you this morning is because my life has been transformed by Christ, and the power of his resurrection.  The reason I am no longer plying the oceans on a dirty great oil tanker is because God intervened and let me know he had other plans for my life.  And I thank God that he did.  Linda and I met and married whilst I was at theological college and I can remember in the early days of our marriage Linda would sometimes say to my parents how she wished she had known me in my navy days, my father would always reply in a definite way, ‘I don’t think you would’.  And I don’t think she would either. 

That was a past life, a previous life where I was dead in my sins, now I am a new person, because of the new life given in Christ, authenticated by his resurrection.  But I am nothing special and it is not just because of my own experience that I believe the resurrection; it is also the experience of other people. Jesus continues to change lives sometimes in dramatic ways, sometimes gently day by day.  The resurrection changes lives just it has changed the world in which we live.

 

When we look back to the first century disciples, they did not believe in the resurrection because they could explain it, they couldn’t.  It was just as incomprehensible then as it is today.  But those early disciples believed in the resurrection because they had experienced it. One whom they had known in the flesh and had seen die was now alive and with them. However, the best proof of the resurrection is not what the witnesses said that they saw, but how they responded to what they saw. A frightened band of disciples huddled together in a house with the door barred. That is the scene before resurrection. A powerful band of mighty witnesses thrust out into the world. That is the scene post-resurrection. It has been estimated that by the end of the first century over a half million people had come under the Christian banner. That is the power of resurrection.

 

It is never easy to disregard    the testimony of witnesses who are ready to die for their words (unless it is to be self-inflicted).  Eventually nearly every one of the disciples met a violent death. People may lie to perpetuate a myth, I will grant you that. But people are not going to die to perpetuate what they know to be a myth.  Maybe one might.  Maybe two or three possibly.  But not all twelve.  They were not men who had a death wish.  They knew what they had seen.  They believed in it so passionately that they were willing to put their lives on the line in their efforts to tell the Good news to others. You see, they were resurrection people.

 

The Apostle Paul wrote: ‘I have died to sin and have been raised with him.’ (Romans 6:5)  This is what I am talking about. The resurrection is an historical event, but it must become more than that to us.

At our baptisms the prayer over the water says ‘Bless this water that your servant who is washed in it may be made one with Christ in his death and resurrection, to be cleansed and delivered from all sin.  Send your Holy Spirit upon him/her to bring him/her to new birth in the family of your church, and raise him /her with Christ to full and eternal life.’ 

Is it your experience that you have been made one with Christ in his death and resurrection?  If not, what exactly does your baptism mean? 

 

The resurrection is an on-going event that should influence the life of every baptised Christian.  It is an event that is, and has been shared by every generation. It is an event we are invited to participate in. We are to become resurrection people.  Our daily prayer should be that of St Paul, who when writing to the Philippians said,  ‘I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so some how, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.’ (Philippians 3:10-12) Deep mysterious words, but words that express perfectly the draw that baptism should have on our lives – The draw to discover the greater and deeper meaning of Christ’s resurrection, and thereby inherit the Kingdom of heaven.

 

In the western world the Church in many areas seems to be in decline.  There have been many surveys recently that identify liberal theology, trendy worship, and a failure to stand up for moral values and treasured beliefs as the main reason why people are leaving the Church.  And it has to be said, many in the recent past have tried to explain away the miracles; the greatest of which is the resurrection – shame on them.  They have reaped what they have sown. I quote from the report: Researchers found that the thousands of people who still do go to church do so out of a sense of duty and not because it brings them any fulfilment.  

 

One Shropshire churchgoer said: “I’ve seen balloons rising from the pulpit, fake moustaches and all manner of audience appeal…but with no real message behind it.  Instead, churchgoers want to be told how to live a Christian life, and to understand how to evangelise in a society distracted by materialism.”’

 

You want to know how to live a Christian life and spread the good news in today’s world?  I’ll tell you live resurrection lives.  Let people know that Jesus makes a difference, let people know that the riches of the Kingdom of heaven are far, far greater than anything that this world has to offer. 

 

Oh there’ll be the mockers and the cynics, there always have been, but there are many people out there who are desperate to make sense of life, and give it meaning and purpose.  Maybe it is you who can help them.

 

As we gather today we can sing the great hymns of Easter, we can hear again the familiar stories of scripture, we can enjoy the lilies, and we can join in on the Halleluiah choruses.  Easter can be superficially experienced in these ways, but the real power of Easter is the way that people's lives are moved from death to life, from sealed tomb to open doorway, from despair to hope, from the old ways to new opportunities. That is Easter. That is resurrection and that is what we celebrate today. 

 

Alleluia, Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed.  Alleluia!

 


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