April 5, 2015 Easter “Something New”

Scripture Reading                Revelation 21:1-5

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals.  He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”  And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”

 

Easter Sunday Message      “Something New”   Rev. James Renfrew

Let me tell you the truth.  Easter is a tough day for preachers.  Is it due to the pressure of pleasing a larger congregation than usual?  Is it because with two other services this week, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, that we’re tapped out of good ideas?  Is it that we feel personally responsible for creating a mighty bulwark against the encroachment of candy, eggs and bunnies into a sacred day?  No, it is none of these things.

Let me tell you the truth.  It’s because we feel the need to say something new, something that’s never been said before, something that stands out from the things we think we already know, something that will knock our socks off because it is new, brand new, brand brand new.  It’s a tough, challenging day for preachers.  But I think it’s a tough, challenging day for all of us, preachers and non-preachers alike.  Can we discover something new in this old story that we may have heard dozens of times?  What is the Spirit revealing to us in this old story, something new?

So what could be new about today’s story?  I think most of you have heard it before.  If this is the first time, well, God bless you all the days of the rest of your life.  This is a story to be remembered!  Jesus murdered on the Cross, the frightened, scattered disciples, the courageous grieving women, the stone rolled away, the empty tomb, the angel’s message, and the news of resurrection beginning to spread like wildfire.  Is there something new here that we haven’t considered before, something new that we’ve overlooked, something new that changes our way of thinking, seeing and living in the world?

So I looked back at thirty years of Easter sermons.  1986 was when I got my first computer.  That’s when I started saving my Sunday sermons, so that’s thirty years of Easter sermons.  Here are some of the topics I’ve addressed:

[1]  Life stronger than death.  God has the last word.

[2]  Hope for the hopeless.  In a dead-end, here’s the way out.

[3]  Rolling away the stone, long ago and in your life today.

[4]  Attentiveness to angels.  How do angels get your attention?

[5]  Mark’s brief story – no resurrection appearances means we have to find him for ourselves.

[6]  Early morning – don’t put off what’s important (my wife’s favorite advice to me)

[7]  From fear to faith – alliterative messages like terror to truth, loss to love, forgotten to found

[8]  He is not here, he’s going ahead of you … to Galilee.  What’s in Galilee?  Maybe you live in a place like Galilee?

[9]  Tell others! – the evangelical response, good news.

[10]  Amazement – how has God amazed you?

[11]  How did God do it?

[12]  Why did God do it?

[13]  What did Jesus experience?  What must it have been like to awaken from death?

[14]  The women, so often marginal to the story, but here at the forefront.

[15]  Is it just remembrance, looking backward in time;  how shall we look forward?

[16]  He’s alive, you’re alive.

[17]  Betrayal and forgiveness.  Peter’s denial, and the grace of Christ

[18]  From impossibility to possibility.

[19]  What does Easter have to say about modern war, poverty and injustice

[20]  Take a walk in the garden, see how God will surprise you.

So on Monday morning of this past week I was asking myself, what haven’t I said before in an Easter message, what new thing could I say today, on Easter morning?

Maybe nothing new needs to be said.  You could say that the simplicity of the story is all that matters.  We see the wonder and joy of children who accept the story at face value.  Jesus was dead, but then God raised him to life.  What more needs to be added, what theology and doctrine could add any more to it?  To which I would say if it’s that simple, why has it taken the world two thousand years to figure it out and to live in accord with it?  Something is still lacking, more about the story needs to be told.  It’s not God’s fault.  God has put the story out for all to see.  There’s something about us, who have misunderstood it, misinterpreted it, and misapplied it.

So what new thing can be said?  I look at all of those previous thirty sermons.  There’s one story that keeps Easter fresh in my mind.  One Easter Sunrise service the area churches had was held at Maplewood Park in Rochester.  Maplewood Park is set alongside the west bank of the Genesee River Gorge, just past the Lower Falls of the Genesee, the last water falls on the way to Lake Ontario.  Maplewood Park is famed for its rose garden.  I don’t remember much about the service itself, but as I walked to the garden I saw two things.  I hope that they offer something new, something refreshing, something renewed.

One was the tennis court at the corner of Driving Park and Lake Avenue.  I saw it as I entered Maplewood Park.  It was overgrown with weeds and the asphalt was crumbling.  It looks like a disaster, but I saw it as a wonderful sign of life for our church:  You can lay asphalt over any piece of ground for a road or a parking lot or a play ground, but soon the grass begins to grow through the cracks.    Are we fully aware of the spiritual power that God has turned over to us because of the resurrection?  What is that power in us as small congregation that can push aside asphalt and concrete like tiny blades of grass growing in the cracks.  This is the kind of church we can be, small, with limited resources, but the with spiritual power to roll away the largest of stones.  Here’s an Easter message you can take home:  Be that blade of grass that can push the obstacles aside.

The second thing I saw was one of those blue and yellow New York State historical markers.  There’s one in front of the Byron Town office.  The one in Maplewood Park identified that exact spot along the Genesee River gorge as the last stop on the Underground Railroad.  When escaping slaves climbed down into the river gorge they got on boats that took them to freedom in Canada.  No more hiding, no more powerlessness, and no more fear.  How can our celebration of Easter become like that final stop on a journey to freedom from enslavement and fear?  Here’s another Easter message you can take home:  what can you do to help people find that last stop on the way to freedom?

Something new.  My Maplewood Park story is thirty years old, so maybe it doesn’t qualify as something new.  But as I think of those two experiences on that early Easter morning I feel renewed, seeing myself and all of you as blades of grass pushing past the obstructions;  thinking of a church that becomes the final stop on the way to glory.  Get on board, and when we get to our destination …  just imagine!  Something new.  Something new from God.  Something new for you.  Something new for the world.

He is not here!  He’s alive!  See, I am making all things new!

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