Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Look to Jesus!

[These are thoughts shared with residents of the Carlin House assisted living facility in Logan, Ohio, earlier today. I didn't write this message in advance, but this is, basically, what I hoped I said.]

The main reason that the first Christians, who were all Jews, began worshiping together on Sundays rather than on the Jewish Sabbath, was because the first Easter, when Jesus rose from the dead, happened on a Sunday.

And truly, no matter what the season of the Church Year, every Sunday is a little Easter for Christians. Jesus can never be stuffed back into His tomb. He is risen!

But one of the things I particularly love about being a Lutheran--and this is something we share with many other Christian traditions--is that we don't just especially celebrate Easter on one Sunday a year. On our church calendar, Easter Sunday is just the first Sunday of Easter. Yesterday, for example, was the third Sunday of Easter for us. We just keep celebrating Easter for six weeks. It's great!

So, I'm still celebrating Easter and because of that, I want to share two passages of Scripture with you this morning.

The first is Philippians 4:4-9. A preacher named Paul wrote a letter to the first century church in Philippi and these verses are taken from that letter. The thing to keep in mind is that when he composed this letter, Paul was imprisoned. Yet the entire letter is shot through with joy. Here's what Paul wrote:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you. 
Then, I want to share part of the Gospel of John's narrative of what happened the day that Jesus went to Bethany to see his friends, Martha and Mary, after the death of their brother, Lazarus. The scene, by the way, would have been bedlam. Family and friends would have been there crying, of course. But in those days, there were also "professional mourners," people who would led the wailing. It must have been a scene of craziness! John writes:
When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” 
There's a story told of a mother and a father who were deeply concerned about their eight year old twin boys. One was an optimist, the other a pessimist. The parents knew that neither condition was healthy or realistic. So, they asked a psychiatrist to help each boy to move toward greater realism.

The psychiatrist hit on a strategy for each boy. As part of his treatment, he promised a gift for each one of them.

Then, he led the pessimist into a room filled with toys, games, sports equipment, and classic books--things bound to make any eight year old boy happy beyond measure. But this kid didn't do any thing. The psychiatrist asked, "What's the matter? Don't you like all this stuff?" "Yeah," the kid replied evenly. But then, hanging his head in sorrow, he said, "But eventually, they'll all wear out or break."

Shaken, but still intent on seeing his treatment regimen through, the psychiatrist took the optimistic kid to another room, this one piled high with horse manure. The kid's face grew bright with excitement and he flung himself into the middle of the pile. The psychiatrist, once more, was baffled. "How can you be so excited?" he asked. The kid laughed. "Because," he said, "with all this manure, there's bound to be a pony for me somewhere!"

I think that you'd have to say that neither boys' attitudes were realistic. Pessimism and optimism without some real foundations, always spawn despair.

Arthur Miller's play, Death of a Salesman, tells the fictional but true to life story of Willy Loman. Willy was an optimist. He always thought he was going to make that next big sale, experience that next big triumph. But he never did. And that led to his tragic death. Hope, optimism, without a certain object on which to base it will only end in disappointment and death.

But pessimism doesn't work well either. Back in my factory-working days, there was a guy with whom I worked who always spouted this little ray of sunshine: "Live in hope; die in despair." He said it all the time. "Live in hope; die in despair." I don't know if that man ever had hope. But I know that he lived and died in despair. And there is no more reason for living life pessimistically than there is for living it with unfounded optimism!

What we need is a real and certain hope, a hope that defeats pessimism, a hope beyond puny human optimism.

Jesus is that hope!

That day in Bethany, when He called Lazarus back to life, Jesus demonstrated His capacity to shatter the powers of sin and death and futile living.

Jesus showed that we need not, as my old coworker always insisted, live in hope but die in despair.

He showed that we waste our time looking for the next big personal triumph.

Triumph and victory...life and hope...forgiveness and reconciliation with God...purpose, even when we find ourselves needing assistance with the living of our daily lives...eternity which cannot be taken from us...all these blessings and more belong this very moment to all who dare to believe in Jesus Christ.

And when we face challenges and adversities, we would do well to look at the words of that prisoner for Christian faith, Paul. Even when facing the worst that life can bring, we can see something more honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, and excellent than anything that has ever happened in this dying world. We see unsurpassed passionate love and an infinite will to give life to us when we look to Jesus Christ crucified and Jesus Christ risen.

Don't settle for the trophies of this world that wear out and break.

Don't settle for the ponies that might be lurking in the world's piles.

You want a sure and certain hope, a strong foundation.

Look to Jesus! Look to Jesus alone!

Jesus alone is can bear the full weight of all our hopes and dreams. He alone can raise us up to new life.

Look to Jesus!

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