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The Fat Feast April 1, 2018

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Isaiah 25:6-9

Easter Sunday

April 1, 2018

 

Focus:  God swallows up death forever.

Function:  That the hearers be glad and rejoice in His salvation.

Structure:  Walking through the Text.

 

The Fat Feast

 

The earth mourns and withers; the world languishes and withers; the highest people of the earth languish. The earth lies defiled under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse devours the earth, and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt; therefore the inhabitants of the earth are scorched, and few men are left. The wine mourns, the vine languishes, all the merry-hearted sigh. The mirth of the tambourines is stilled, the noise of the jubilant has ceased, the mirth of the lyre is stilled. No more do they drink wine with singing; strong drink is bitter to those who drink it. 10 The wasted city is broken down; every house is shut up so that none can enter. 11 There is an outcry in the streets for lack of wine; all joy has grown dark; the gladness of the earth is banished. 12 Desolation is left in the city; the gates are battered into ruins.

 

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, these are the words of the Lord, spoken to His creation by His prophet Isaiah, the 24th chapter.  The party is over.  The creation is broken, the fruits of the world downtrodden, and its inhabitants ashamed, standing condemned by their own guilt.

The party’s over.  There’s no more gladness, no more rejoicing, no more instruments.  No longer do the people drink wine and burst out into song.

Chapters 24-27 of Isaiah’s prophecy are apocalyptic.  They’re about the end, about our own self-destruction and self-absorption, but also about God’s response to our despair.  Because in our text today in chapter 25, we learn that the party is far from over.  In fact, the party has really only just begun!  We’ve seen the judgment, now we get to see the restoration!

On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.
Talk about a promise!  A feast, but not just any feast.  This isn’t Golden Corral or Pizza Street.  The words used by Isaiah are the choicest of foods, the best of wines.  Literally, the best money could buy.  Here’s an endless feast of the perfect cut of meat.  An endless feast where the barrels of perfectly aged wine are bottomless.

And it’s for you!  That’s the best part of the promise: it includes you.  The promise is for ALL people.  It’s a gift, given for us.  And it happens right here.  On THIS mountain.  Isaiah is referring to Mt. Zion, to the city of Jerusalem, to the city on a hill.

 

And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations.

 

Notice again, those same words twice more.  ALL peoples, ALL nations, and THIS mountain.  Regardless of your background, regardless of where you come from.  This promise is for you.  It is again, right here, in Jerusalem, the promise going out to God’s people.

That phrase, to swallow up, in Hebrew is the word “Belah” ([lb).  And every time it’s used, every time something is “swallowed up,” it’s always an act of judgment.  And so here, that judgment is not on us.  That judgment is on what afflicts us.

God will swallow up the covering, the veil that is upon us.  Remember those years where your favorite sports team was just plain awful.  You go to the game, with your brown sack in hand.  You’ve cut out the eyes and the mouth, and you sit there in the stands, with this bag over your head.  You’re ashamed; your team is a disgrace.  And yet there you are.

This veil and covering is our shame.  And it goes far beyond a paper bag and a losing record.  You have guilts that cling to you.  You have those times in your life that you can’t undo.  Things you’ve said that you can never take back.  Harm that you’ve done to someone you care about that you can never reverse.  Things you’ve seen and heard, things you’ve done that you’ll never be able to put out of your mind.

Satan accuses.  Our sinful nature accuses.  It takes our sins and turns them into guilt and uses them mocks us.  “You’ll never be good enough.”  “No one could possibly love you.”  “You’re hopeless.”

This promise is for you.  That God Himself will swallow up your guilt, your shame, your despair.  God Himself will swallow up your sin!

 

He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken.

 

The repetition in these verses is like gold.  Yahweh is going to swallow up our enemies, the veil, the shame from upon us.  God Himself is going to swallow up even death itself!

The people of Israel that Isaiah wrote this book for, they lived in the Promised Land of God, a land that He took from the Canaanites and gave to His own people.  These Canaanites worshiped a false god, Baal.  And in their mythology, there is an ongoing battle between Baal and Mot, or death.  When the spring comes, Baal crushes Mot, and life begins again.  But every fall, Mot swallows up Baal, and death falls on the land.  In much of the ancient artwork, Mot is even pictured as a large and grotesque beast with an even larger mouth just waiting to swallow up life.

But for us, for the people of God, this stands in contrast.  This promise is not dependent on the seasons.  It doesn’t come and go.  No!  God will swallow up death forever!  It’s the main course on His dinner plate! He will wipe away tears from ALL faces.  He will take our shame, our despair, our reproach away from us, away from ALL people.

And He doesn’t simply cast them aside.  They aren’t merely removed from you temporarily only to harm you again later.  The veil of our shame and our guilt, the veil of our sin and our death is taken on by our Savior.  He carries it for us.  And by carrying it to the cross, He has swallowed it up forever!

Isaiah doesn’t mince words.  He’s intentional; he’s deliberate.  And He only uses this phrase “For Yahweh has spoken,” three times in the book.  And each time, it’s a statement of finality.  It is finished.  That is, God’s Word always accomplishes that for which He sent it.

This promise isn’t based on you or what you do.  We don’t trust in this promise because we can see it, or taste it, or find it, or predict it.  We trust in this promise because He said it.  Look back through the text thus far.  Yahweh is the doer of the verbs.  Not you, not me, not Isaiah.  God has done it.  We bring our sin, and God swallows it up.

 

It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

 

Remember from before, we’re living in chapter 24.  We’re living in the midst of our brokenness, our sin, and our shame.  We’re living in a place where there is no singing, nor wine, nor joy.  But in spite of this, God tells us what to say.

On this swallowing day, God gives us the words to speak.  We may live in the midst of despair now, we may not yet be at the feast of God that never ends, but God gives us the glimpse.  These are the words that we’ll be singing at the promised feast.  And we can start practicing right now.

In fact, that’s what you’re doing.  That’s why you’re here.  It’s called Christian worship.  You have come to foretaste the feast.  You have come for a glimpse of the promise that is yet to come.  As Pastor Otto stood before you this morning, you heard the forgiveness of sins!  They were swallowed up by God Himself.  The Absolution is a foretaste of God’s final verdict for you: My beloved child!  As you come up here in just a few moments, you are partaking of a glimpse of the feast that is to come.  You are feasting on the body and blood of God Himself, poured out for you on the cross for the forgiveness of all your sins.   Your guilt is swallowed up in Him.  It’s a foretaste of the final wedding feast of the Lord that has no end!  For Yahweh has spoken.

The Hebrew word in this verse for “waiting” isn’t what we typically think of.  The word Cavah (hwq) means to wait for something you know is going to happen.  It’s not an anxious worrying, it’s not chewing on your nails waiting to hear from your doctor the results of the recent tests.  This is much more like waiting for the sun to rise in the morning, or waiting for the spring and for warm weather again.  You KNOW these things will happen.  We wait for our Savior because we KNOW that He will save us.  We wait for Yahweh, because this promise is for you.

The last word of our text this morning should never be forgotten.  Salvation.  Every time this word is used in the Old Testament it is announcing the power God has over His enemies.  The Hebrew word here is Yeshua ([wvy). Salvation. We wait in gladness, we wait and rejoice in His Salvation.  In His Yeshua.  It’s the Hebrew name Joshua in English.  And in Greek, it’s the name Jesus.  Let us be glad and rejoice in His Jesus.  Our Lord and our Salvation.

It is on THIS mountain that Jesus has swallowed up all enemies.  It is on THIS mountain, that Jesus Christ swallowed up your sins and your despair and your grief by bleeding and dying upon the cross.  It is upon THIS mountain that Jesus Christ swallowed up even death itself by bursting forth from the tomb on Easter morning.

CHRIST IS RISEN!  (He is Risen Indeed!) ALLELUIA!

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus has feasted on our enemies by swallowing up the veil of shame, the cover of sin, the reproach of guilt, and the tears of death.  And so we gather in His house this day to celebrate this very thing: God has swallowed up death forever.  We gather in His house this day to celebrate an empty tomb, that Jesus is alive, risen from the dead, giving us life that never ends. Jesus feasted so that we would feast forevermore.

This promise is for you because Yahweh has spoken.  Let us be glad and rejoice in His Jesus.  Amen.

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The Resurrection of Our Lord April 16, 2017

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1 Corinthians 15:1-10

Easter

April 16, 2017

 

Focus: The resurrection of Jesus Christ is an indispensable component of the gospel and an essential basis of our salvation.

Function: The hearer values the impact of Christ’s resurrection upon his/her salvation.

Structure:  An Outline from the Rev. Dr. David Peter.

 

The Resurrection of Our Lord

 

Christ is Risen!  He is risen indeed! Alleluia!  That’s an exciting proclamation.  It’s a fun way to greet one another, it’s a fun way to celebrate Easter together.  But does it matter?  Does it truly matter if Christ has been raised from the dead?  Does it matter if the tomb where Joseph laid His body is empty?

This is the very question the Corinthian Christians were wrestling with.  They had come to a point where they were doubting the resurrection.  That’s not normal.  People who die, well, they stay dead.  And so, they couldn’t understand how Christ rose from the dead, and so they had started to believe that maybe He didn’t.

And through history, they aren’t alone in that belief.  Although Muslims won’t bother claiming to be Christian or to worship the same god as us, they believe Jesus was a man.  But not God, and certainly not resurrected from the grave.  Many people who count solely on their mind and reasoning, like the Corinthians had fallen into, many of these people deny the resurrection.  If science can’t explain it, it must not exist.

And then there are yet others today who deny the resurrection while still trying to claim to be Christians.  Some of the churches that are more liberal in their theology have begun teaching that it doesn’t matter if Christ rose from the dead.  Even more than that, many say He didn’t rise physically, but only spiritually.  Whatever that’s supposed to mean…  We’ll see shortly what the Apostle Paul says about those ideas.

There are also any number of more subtle ways that we ourselves deny the resurrection.  Sometimes we talk about a heavenly life for our spirit or our soul, but without a physical body.  Sometimes we deny the resurrection by our practice, by how we treat someone’s body after they’ve died, or by how we treat people in their bodily needs here in our own community right now.

But Paul rejects all of this.  He goes so far as to say, “16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”  Those are strong words, but Paul backs them up.  He proceeds to tell the people of Corinth precisely why the resurrection matters, and more than just mattering, why it is essential to our faith.

Those are his words.  Paul calls the resurrection of Christ “of first importance.”  To him, it’s indispensable.  When Paul starts this response by talking about the gospel, to him, the resurrection is part of the gospel.  The gospel of Jesus Christ is that He died for our sins, was buried, and rose again to give us life.  And each of these things, then, is essential to our faith.

And he’s not making them up.  “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures…He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”  David spoke of these things.  Isaiah prophesied it.  Jesus Himself talked about it numerous times.  The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ are the way that God the Father purposed salvation for His people from before He even created this world.

God knew it.  He knew that we would have weaknesses.  He knew we would choose to reject Him.  He knew that we would love our sin instead of loving Him.  And so He orchestrated a plan, a plan He announced to Adam and Eve even in the Garden of Eden.  A plan by which God would redeem sinful men and restore all of creation to Himself.  And that plan was the death and resurrection of the Messiah, or, the Christ.

We learn from elsewhere in Paul’s writings, and indeed from all of Scripture, that the punishment of sin is death.  We die because we sin.  And yet, in His great love for us, a love we can never fully understand this side of Paradise, in His great love for us, God gave us His only Son.

The death of Jesus Christ on Good Friday is the once and for all time sacrifice.  It covers, it forgives every sin.  Original sin, actual sin, sins of omission.  The sinner you are, the sins you do, the sins you commit by failing to act when you should.  Yours, mine, your neighbors, the random person on the other side of the world you’ve never met.  The centurion at the foot of the cross, the child yet unknown to their parents.  Every sin ever.  All of them forgiven in the blood of Jesus Christ, the blood He so willingly gave to save us.  You’re forgiven!

But this isn’t everything.  Because it is the resurrection of Christ that proclaims that victory yours.  We like to say that Christ conquered sin, death, and the devil.  And it’s true, it is so gloriously true.  In His resurrection, rising from the dead, Jesus announces victory over death itself.  The sin, the guilt, the shame, the punishment, all of it, forgiven and defeated by Christ our Savior.

This is the beauty of the gospel that Paul is proclaiming to the Corinthians.  He even takes the time and plays along, he plays their game.  What if Christ wasn’t raised from the dead?  And the answers are devastating.  Our preaching is in vain.  Our faith is in vain. We misrepresent God Himself.  We make Him to be a liar. Our faith is futile.  We’re still in our sins.  Those who have already died before us have truly and fully perished.  Indeed, “if in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (v. 19)

But it’s not true.  This is truth, that Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed! Alleluia!  And if you don’t believe, here’s proof.  The risen Christ appeared.  Not a ghost, not a hallucination.  The real, physical body of Christ, scars and all.  You can ask Peter or the others of the Twelve.  You can ask the more than 500 guys Jesus appeared to after His resurrection.  You can ask James or any of the Apostles.  You can even ask Paul.

Eyewitness testimony.  When you’re looking for proof, even in our justice system today, eyewitness testimony is about as good as it gets.  If you doubt the resurrection, go, talk to one of these brothers, it was only a couple decades ago, most of them are still alive.

pause

Paul saved himself for last in that list.  And as is his usual style, he had nothing good to say about himself.  “Least of the apostles,” “one untimely born,” “chief of sinners.”  Paul is quite clear that he isn’t worthy.  That phrase, untimely born, is another way of saying he shouldn’t have been born.  That’s how bad he was, that the world would’ve been better off without him.  And he’s right.  He persecuted the church of Christ.  He arrested many, sentenced others to death, maybe even cast the stones himself.

But then he gives us reason to rejoice.  It isn’t about us.  In spite of all his wretchedness, all the evil things he’d done, God gave Him His grace.  God loved him, God forgave him, God saved him.  God even worked through him for the good of His kingdom.  Even Paul!

This, then, is us, too.  We aren’t worthy, despite what you might hear otherwise.  We don’t deserve God’s favor, or His love, or His forgiveness.  We deserve death.  But it is purely by God’s grace that death isn’t our end.  It is purely by His grace that God overlooks our unworthiness.  Indeed, by His grace, He forgives us and gives us new life.

This is the basis on which we stand.  The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are our forgiveness and salvation.  It is precisely these actions of Christ that enable us to stand before a holy God on the Last Day, and to hear Him declare us innocent.  It is precisely these actions of Christ that shout loudly over the earth that Jesus is victorious over sin, death, and the devil.  This is the gospel.  Christ died on the cross to declare your sins forgiven and He rose from the tomb conquering itself death itself to declare you alive forevermore.  Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!  This is most certainly true.

Death and the Second Coming November 9, 2014

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1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Proper 27

November 9, 2014

 

Focus:  God gives us life with Him forever.

Function:  That the hearers live every day as though it were their last.

Structure:  Problem-Solution-Implication.

 

Death and the Second Coming

 

College is a unique time in the lives of our young people today.  They’re actively searching for the kinds of experiences that will give them new thrills, new insights, new wisdom.  But it’s a process of trial and error.  We take risks, we make mistakes, and we learn from them.

When I was in college, we knew these things.  We realized, at some level, what we were doing.  And so my friends and I had a phrase that we often told each other.  In some ways it was a joke, but it was also a warning.  Whenever someone was up to no good, plotting shenanigans, or was about to do something really stupid, we would say to them, “Remember, there’s no cutting in line to see Jesus.”

Today is the opposite of last week.  Last week was a great opportunity to focus on life, to celebrate the gift of life that God gives to us.  And we did that, we had a guest speaker, Rev. Dr. Jim Lamb talk about life from womb to grave.  And we celebrated the lives of the ten men and women who are now with Christ in Paradise.

But today we’re focusing on death.  Death is part of the cycle of life.  We see it in the seasons, that as spring comes, we enjoy new life.  We plant gardens and crops.  We plant flowers that will bloom, and everything around us seems to be green.

And yet, fall comes.  The leaves begin to turn colors.  Grass becomes brown.  Plants wither and die.  And as fall gives way to winter, wildlife virtually disappears.

And for some 6000 years, God has been creating people, granting life.  And yet, in all those years, billions of billions of people have eventually died.  We’ve all lost people we loved and cared about.  Many of us have seen death.  As best as we can, we try to prepare ourselves for it.

My question for you today is simple.  I want you to think for a moment, and honestly answer yourself this question:  Do I believe I will die someday?  If I asked you to raise your hands, I wonder how many of you would.

But I’m not going to.  Because if you did, you might be embarrassed when I say you have the wrong answer.  Because we’ve made death something it’s not.  Death is not part of life.

But our language has done us in.  Much like the phrase “what goes up must come down,” our culture believes, “what lives dies.”  With the way that we see death, with the way that we talk about it, with the way that we view it as inevitable, it’s no wonder why we are where we are today.   Death is now viewed as normal.  More than that, death is now viewed as our friend.

One of the biggest news stories over the past few weeks is that of Brittany Maynard, a 29 year old woman with a severe form of brain cancer called glioblastoma.  The doctors told her recently that she only had another six months to live.  So she decided to take her own life on her own time.  And last weekend, she did just that.

She viewed death as inevitable.  To her, there was no alternative, no other option.  It was either die now while I’m happy, or go through pain and die in a few months anyway.  It’s no wonder she took the pills, she saw no other possible outcome for her life.

Too often, even in the church, even as Christians, we have the wrong view of death. We look at it as a solution to a problem, a solution to suffering and pain.  We say things like: “It’s good to die, because we get to go to heaven and be with Jesus.” We tend to make death a friend, instead of seeing it as the enemy it really is, as the penalty for being a sinner.

As CNN followed up on Brittany’s choice, they interviewed another woman who is suffering from the same glioblastoma brain cancer.  Maggie Karner opposed what Brittany did.  As part of the back and forth, the CNN reporter at one point said, “We all have this desire to die while we’re still the same person we’ve always been.”

pause

That struck me…and I hope it struck you.  There’s not an ounce in me that has a desire to die.  Not even in the sense that the reporter meant it.  My body is running full force in the opposite direction of death.  Our God and Creator and Father is not the author and perfector of death.  He’s the author and perfector of life.  There’s nothing natural about death.

As Christians, we need to see death differently.  We need to think differently.  We need to live differently.  And our three Scripture passages for this week tell us why:  Christ is coming back.

Each passage has a different message to tell us about Christ’s Second Coming.  Our Old Testament lesson from the prophet Amos is a warning.  He was doing his job as a prophet, calling the people of God back to repentance.  His hearers had abandoned God.  They weren’t following Him, they weren’t repenting of their lives full of sin.  And so Amos warned them that they should not be seeking the Day of the Lord, for that day holds only darkness for them.

But our Epistle is so much the opposite.  Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica has a different tone.  He’s talking to followers of Christ.  The one problem he did have to deal with was pretty unique.  See when he told them Christ was coming soon, they took it literally, as they should.  But they took it so literally that they stopped working.  If Christ is coming back soon, why should we worry about the harvest?  Paul had to correct that.  He had to tell them that we don’t know when, just that He will.  So we work until then.

But there’s beauty in the part we read today.  Paul proclaims the good news that our Savior will indeed return, and that those who have fallen asleep will be raised to new life, and those of us who have yet to fall asleep will be caught up together with them with Christ.  There will be several generations of men and women who will never taste death…

Our New Testament reading from Matthew gives us another look.  It serves both as a warning, but also as a way of telling us what life looks like when we truly believe that Christ is coming back.  He records Jesus’ parable of the ten virgins.

In their culture, in that time and place, they had a custom that seems quite odd to us.  The groom played a game with his bride.  The groom and his men would wait at couple’s new home for any period of time.  The bride and her bridesmaids were to wait at her father’s home until the groom came.  But they were to be ready at all times.  He could come the first day; he could come at 2am.  He could wait a couple of months if he really wanted.

But eventually, he would come.  And when he was approaching the house, the person on watch would call out to the rest, “The bridegroom is coming!”  They would all grab their things and then accompany the groom and his men back to the couple’s new home, where there tended to be a large party that lasted for about a week.

This parallels so well to our relationship with God.  Christ is the groom.  We’re the bride.  We’re awaiting His coming, for Him to leave His home which He has prepared for us, and to come and get us.

In this parable, five of the bridesmaids were ready at the random time, five weren’t.  The five that were got to go to groom’s home and party.  The others tried to catch up, they tried to get in, but the groom told them, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.”  Christ then concludes the parable by saying “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

The emphasis of the parable is that we, as the bride of Christ, are to always be ready, always prepared for His return.  When I was serving as a vicar, my supervisor, Pastor Eric Allyn always joked about this.  He always ate his dessert before his meal.  When pressed for the reason why, he would say, “It’s an eschatological statement of the Parousia, just in case Christ comes back in the middle of the meal, I want to have eaten the best part!”

We’ll hear others in our culture with good intentions tell us to live every day to the fullest because you just never know if it’ll be your last.  In some respects, there’s truth there, but not because of what they mean.  They mean you don’t know when you’ll die.

But as Christians, we live every day to the fullest in the firm belief that Christ is coming back.     We live every day to the fullest so that we’re prepared, so we’re ready.  We live every day to the fullest so that the Holy Spirit can work through us to create faith in others, so that there are more people at the party.

Like the Thessalonians, I don’t believe I’ll die.  I live every day, I pray every day, in anticipation of Christ’s return.  But unlike the Thessalonians, I keep working, to share the good news and to take care of my family and my community.  Because who knows, maybe the groom will come tonight, or maybe He’ll keep waiting for a while yet.  Either way, I will be prepared.

Fear Not, for Christ is Risen! April 20, 2014

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Matthew 28:1-10

Easter Sunday

April 20, 2014

 

Focus: God’s glorious earthquake has destroyed death.

Function: That the hearers do not fear the Lord’s appearance.

Structure: Controlling Metaphor.

 

Fear Not, for Christ is Risen!

 

Two years ago, I made a mistake, and I learned my lesson.  Two years ago on Easter morning, I was responsible for helping with Easter breakfast.  As the vicar, the intern of Immanuel Lutheran Church, I had volunteered our young adults to step up and fill a void.  Somebody had to cook Easter breakfast, and I figured it was a good way to get these people involved and connected with the rest of the congregation.

And then the night before, the men’s group showed us the pancake griddle in the basement kitchen.  Maybe you’ve seen one or used one like it yourself.  This thing stood a foot tall, about four feet wide and a couple feet deep.  Made of steel.  I mean, you can make a lot of pancakes on a griddle this size!  And then they brought over the propane tank, two of them, and hooked them up for us.  One large gas griddle with four burners underneath.

Easter morning came, and the young adults looked at that thing that was easily older than any of us and said in unison, “I’m not lighting that.”  So I stepped up and did what had to be done.  I turned on the burners and then started the propane.  And BOOOOOM!  I stood there a little dazed for a moment and when I finally collected myself again, I remember being thankful that I had short hair.  Having lit it incorrectly, I had created my own small explosion that singed off most of my hair.

As I wandered around greeting church members that morning, complete of course with my new hair color, more than one asked me what that loud noise had been.  One poor lady even asked me if I had felt the earthquake, too. Lesson learned: don’t do anything dangerous when you’re the guy preaching the Easter morning.

Have you ever felt an earthquake?  I asked our Wee Care kids that this week, and they all looked at me like I was making it up.  “What’s an earthquake?” they asked.  That’s understandable, as Minnesotans just aren’t used to the earth rumbling beneath their feet.  The most recent was a minor 2.9 magnitude quake in 2013, which doesn’t feel much different than if a semi-truck drove past your home.  And we’d have to go all the way back to 1975 to find an earthquake that actually caused any damage at all.

But that’s not the case worldwide.  In 2010, an earthquake ravaged Haiti, killing 316,000 people.  In 1964, a 9.2 magnitude quake hit Alaska and caused a tsunami in its aftermath.  It claimed the lives of 131 people and destroyed $2.3 billion worth of property.  Earthquakes are violent and they bring destruction.  It’s no surprise that people fear them.

We like our science today.  We like to explain away all the things that nature does.  Earthquakes?  Sure, no problem.  Earthquakes are nothing more than a couple of tectonic plates shifting under the earth’s surface and causing some friction. We like to take God out of it whenever we can.  But that’s not the way of the Scriptures.

In the Scriptures, earthquakes mean something.  Often times, they were a sign that the Lord Yahweh Himself was speaking.  We see this with Moses on Mount Sinai, with a rebellious Israelite named Korah, with David in the Psalms, with the prophet Haggai, and with the Apostle John and the sixth and seventh seals in the book of Revelation.  And earlier in Matthew, Jesus tells us that earthquakes are also one of many signs of the end times, of His return.

Sure, earthquakes can simply be our broken world showing its brokenness.  But often, they can also be God working among us.  This is certainly true of the two earthquakes in Holy Week, as God reveals to us His power and His authority over all of creation.

You see, Holy Week gives us another way to look at earthquakes: do not be afraid.  Those are the words that ring out in our text this morning.  In the wake of an earthquake, in the midst of the appearance of an angel, we hear those words: “Do not be afraid.”

Matthew reports for us two different earthquakes during Holy Week.  The first he reported happened on Good Friday, just as Jesus breathed His last on the cross.  He tells us:

 And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.  The tombs also were opened.  And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.  When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with fear and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”

 

Just imagine the scene.  Darkness covered the land for hours.  The earth shook, rocks splitting, the dead rising to life.  These men would have known fear, they were terrified.  And who can blame them? They just realized that the Man they helped kill was the very Son of God, Jesus the Christ.

And then Jesus’ body is taken down from the cross, wrapped in a linen cloth and placed in a tomb.  A large stone is then rolled into the opening, and together with a little wax and Pilate’s own insignia from his ring they sealed the tomb.  And when some reported to him that Jesus had once said that He would rise again on the third day, Pilate ordered soldiers to be placed at the tomb, to make sure no one stole the body and claimed that Jesus had come back from the dead.

And now, here we are on the third day.  The Sabbath is over and the time has come.  And again, Matthew reports an earthquake:

Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.  And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.  His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.  And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men.

 

Just imagine the scene.  It’s early in the morning, the sun has not yet broken the horizon.  You’re standing there with the other guards watching over the tomb.  Today’s the day, you say to yourselves, today’s the day when His disciples will make their move.  Today, they will try to steal the body.

And then suddenly the earth beneath your feet begins to shake violently, causing you to lose your balance and fall to the ground.  And then you see something descending from the sky.  At first, it looks like a lightning bolt coming directly at you, for a moment you fear a painful death.  But quickly you watch as this lightning moves the stone from the opening of the tomb, and then sits on top of it.  You had no idea lightning could do that.  And how on earth are we ever going to explain this to Pilate?!  Fear, those guards were filled with fear.  And who could blame them?  Who could blame them for passing out?

And yet, it’s in the midst of these two quakes that we hear God say: “Do not be afraid!”  A holy angel that looks like lightning, a resurrected Christ?  For those who hate Him, yes, there is reason to fear.  Fear of what a holy God might do to them in revenge.  But for those who believe in Him, there’s nothing to fear.

For the earthquake that is the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is a glorious one.  It’s a glorious earthquake that has been felt around the world for centuries.  The aftershocks have been changing lives, altering the course of human history for the better.  The earthquake that is Christ’s resurrection has caused destruction…it’s destroyed death.

Do not be afraid.  Those are the words spoken on Easter morning.  Those are the words that Mary and Mary heard that day.  That’s where the resurrection of Christ begins, but it hasn’t stopped.  It’s spread, the quake has spread.  From the women at the tomb, it hit the disciples, it impacted Samaria and Galilee, and then shook the Mediterranean and the world beyond.

Even today, the earthquake of Christ’s resurrection still rumbles on.  Have you felt it in your life?  Have you felt it shake the foundations of your life, changing your values and the things that mean something to you?  Because, as Paul loves to tell us, in Christ we are a new creation.  When the Holy Spirit creates faith in you, your life is changed, changed for the better.

The people around us look to us with fear.  Fear of sickness and pain, fear of misery and suffering, fear of death and the grave.  And often, Satan tricks us into falling into that fear, too.  He makes us like the guards at the tomb, “like dead men,” paralyzed with fear in our lives.  Fear of loss, fear of rejection, fear of illness, fear of failure, and the fear of death.  Because to the world around us, death is the end.  Death is nothing but grief without hope.  But for us, because of the earthquake, we know that’s not true.

We have certainly felt the quake here at St. John’s in the last month.  Like the earthquake at the crucifixion, the same quake that opened the tombs and brought the dead back to life, so is the earthquake of Christ’s resurrection.  Death cannot defeat us.  The grave cannot hold us.  That’s why we turn funerals into celebrations, because we know that they will rise again.  We know that in the Last Day, Christ will open their tombs and raise them to new life once again.

Through faith, through your Christian life, through your baptism that has united you with Christ in His death and in His resurrection, and through the life of the church here and around the world, the earthquake of Christ’s resurrection rumbles on.  It continues to spread.

And this is where we join with the angel and with Christ in saying, “Do not be afraid.”  The earthquake will not harm you nor destroy you.  It’s target is death, and it has destroyed it.  That’s the Easter message.  That’s the power of Christ’s resurrection.  Death and the grave have been defeated.  And the earthquake will rumble on, the message of hope and life through the resurrection of Christ will spread, until the trumpet sounds and Christ returns.  But until then, we heed the angel’s words, “do not be afraid.”  CHRIST IS RISEN! He is risen indeed, halleluia!