Give up something bad for lent- embrace something new for Easter
Let me tell you another Easter story.
Her name was Theresa. Theresa was 16 years old and she was having a hard time growing up. One Friday night she ran away from home. Her parents desperately tried to find her. She stayed away for almost two years. In that time, she did things that I can't possibly describe from a polite pulpit. Let's just say she did it all: drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, and crime.
On Good Friday morning, the phone in the pastor's office rang. It was a collect call from Theresa who as in San Francisco. She said, "Pastor I so want to come home, but I have done everything wrong and hurt my parents so much. I wouldn't blame them for not wanting me to come back. Can you help me? I desperately want to come home. "
The pastor told her to go to the airport. He would have a ticket home waiting for her and someone would meet her at the airport when she arrived. When she got off the plane that Good Friday afternoon Theresa looked pretty rough. Her hair was matted, she was un-bathed, and her clothes were rumpled and threadbare. In spite of all that, her parents threw open their arms and eagerly accepted her home. They were all crying tears of joy and relief.
Two days later on Easter morning the family was in church together. Theresa sat between her mom and dad. They kept patting her and hugging her if though they couldn't believe she was really there.
After the service shaking hands the mother leaned over to the pastor and said, "Pastor, I've always believed in the resurrection… but never more than I do right now."
There are at least two important things to see in both Theresa's story and the Easter story.
First, love never gives up. Love never gives up: neither the parent's love for Theresa, nor God's love for us. No matter what… love never gives up.
An old man had to have some stitches taken out of his finger, so he went to the doctor first thing in the morning. He told the nurse that he was in a big hurry because he had an important appointment in an hour. The nurse saw him check his watch nervously several times and knowing that the doctor would not be able to see him within the hour, went to look at the finger. It looked good and healthy. She reported that to the doctor and he instructed her to remove the stitches. As she worked, they started to visit. She said, "So you have an important appointment at 9 this morning."
He replied, "Every morning at 9 I go to the nursing home to have breakfast with my wife"
The nurse affirmed, "Oh that's wonderful I'll bet she appreciates that."
"No." He said. "My wife has Alzheimer's and she hasn't recognized me for the last 5 years."
The nurse was surprised and asked "Then, why do you go"
The man replied, "She doesn't know me, but I still know her."
Easter says, "God never forgets us even when we forget God." Even when we walk away from God and try to live life on our own terms, God doesn't walk away from us. Even when we reject God, God never rejects us. Even when humanity captured, tried, convicted, tortured, and killed God, God wouldn't give up on humanity. In fact, God's answer was to raise Jesus from the grave in spite of us. In that resurrection, once and for all, love won out. No one can ever reasonably deny God's love again. God loves you so much that he gave his only son, and raised his only begotten son that you might have life.
First, the resurrection says no matter what… God's love never gives up.
Second, forgiveness wins. The parent's forgiveness won in Theresa's story, Jesus' forgiveness wins on the cross, and God's forgiveness wins in the empty grave.
Sue Norton lives in, Kansas. She received terrible news during a phone call from her brother in January 1990. Her much beloved father and his wife were found murdered in their home. They were shot to death in their isolated Oklahoma farmhouse. The crime netted the killer $17.00 and an old truck.
Sue says she felt "numb." She couldn't understand why someone would want to hurt people who were old and poor. Her heart was broken.
Sue sat through the trial of Robert Knighton. She was confused about how she should feel. She tells that everyone in the courtroom was consumed with hate. They all expected her to feel the same way. However, she couldn't hate the way they did. She just couldn't
By the end of the trial, she knew there must be another way. She couldn't eat or sleep that night and prayed for God to help her. When morning came, she had this thought. "Sue, you don't have to hate him, you could forgive him."
That day, while the jury was out for deliberation, Sue got permission to visit Mr. Knighton through the bars of his holding cell. Sue relates, "I was really frightened. This was my first experience in a jail. Knighton was big and tall; he was shackled and had cold steely eyes. "At first he refused to look at Sue. She asked him to turn around and he answered, "Why would anyone want to talk to me after what I have done? " Sue replied, "I don't know what to say to you. But I want you to know that I don't hate you. " Sue continued, "My grandmother always taught me not to use the word hate. She taught me that we are here to love one another. If you are guilty, I forgive you. "
"If you are guilty, I forgive you." That's the second thing that happened at the resurrection. God said, "Whatever you have done, wherever you have been, you are forgiven. Run away and do unspeakable things; you can be forgiven. Kill my only son, you can be forgiven. In the resurrection, we not only see God's love, we see God's forgiveness overcoming all the hate and guilt and shame that fills our live.
Look at the habits or sins we have talked about the last 7 weeks. Pettiness, Gossip, Bitterness, Pride, Gluttony, Discouragement, Negative Thinking, Procrastination, Resentment, Self-Pity, Greed, Judgment, Jealousy, Apathy, Blame, Envy, Perhaps yours isn't even up there. Perhaps you think yours was too shameful to include on our list. Perhaps I didn't think of it. Whether you sin is up there or not I'll bet that there is something. Some habit, some sin, some attitude, that keeps you from fully living for God. I'll bet there is something that day by day, breath by breath, broken promise by broken promise keeps you from the fullness of life that God desires for you.
Don't just nod at me? Hold the mirror of the cross up and really take a good look at yourself.
In Romans Paul writes, "We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.
Are you ready to let those sins be crucified?
Are you ready to let that old part of yourself be nailed to the cross like we nailed your envelopes last week?
Are you ready to let that old you with its dirty old habits and sins be buried with Jesus?
Paul continues, "For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.
Are you ready to let God raise you anew from the grave of your guilt and shame leaving all those habits and sins behind you?
Are you ready to walk out of the grave into new life in God? Resurrection life? Easter Life?
You say you have done this before? So have I.
I can't tell you how many times I have vowed to live my life Jesus' way… but I do know how many times I have failed… all of them. That's the nature of who I am … who we are. We have to keep dying to our old selves over and over. Year after year and even day after day.
Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic.
Once a drug addict, always a drug addict.
Once a sinner always a sinner.
Without Easter, we are stuck right there. We are stuck with "Hi I'm Terry and I am a sinner."
Because of Easter, we are free from that trap though.
Because Easter Love never gives up, I can say, "Hi I'm Terry. I am a sinner, but I am a loved. "
Because Easter forgiveness always wins, I can say, "Hi I'm Terry. I am a sinner, but I am forgiven. "
All of our bad habits, all of our sin, all of our guilt, all of our shame, all of our fear and all of our doubt was crucified, killed, destroyed, and broken on the cross and died with Jesus. So that in Easter we can rise with him in a resurrection like his and live free from our habits, our guilt, our shame, our fear and our doubt.
Isn't that beautiful?
That is the message of Easter…
If God can take an ugly old weak-willed fisherman named Peter who denied him 3 times and make him into the beautiful cornerstone on which Jesus said, "I will build my church."
If God can take all the disappointments of the disciples one by one abandoning him, and make them into the beautiful church we see described in acts.
If God can take the dirty, bloody, admittedly guilty thief that hung on the cross next to Jesus, and offer him the beauty of paradise.
If God can take an ugly cross and turn it into a beautiful symbol of victory.
If God can turn all that ugliness into beauty maybe… just maybe, he can take the ugliness of our lives and by the power of Easter love and the power of Easter forgiveness make us into something beautiful for him.
This video says it better than I can.
Embrace something beautiful.
Embrace the beautiful promises of Easter love and forgiveness
Embrace the new and beautiful resurrection life offered to you by God in Jesus Christ.