Pastor Rich Knight
Central Congregational Church
April 28, 2019
I Peter 1:1-9
During the week after Easter and on the Sunday after Easter I like to reflect upon these type of questions:
– What difference does it make?
-What difference does the Resurrection of Christ make for our lives?
-Has Easter made a difference for us?
– How should the Resurrection of Christ impact and shape our lives?
-How has the Resurrection of Christ impacted and shaped my life?
The Apostles Peter & Paul seems to feel that the Resurrection should remake us. It should give us new lives.
Romans 6:4 – We have been buried with Christ by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
Christ was raised from the dead and we’re to be raised with him to new lives in the power and glory of his resurrection!
Romans 6:11 – So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
We’re to live our lives “alive to God.”
What does that mean? What does that look like?
I Peter 1:3 – By God’s great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
Peter says the resurrection of Christ gives us “a new birth into a new life.”
–What does this new life look like?
–How will we know if we’ve found it?
Neither Peter nor Paul spell it out for us. They do give us clues, but like a lot things in our faith, we have to each figure it out for ourselves. But we work on this together, as a community of faith.
What are the characteristics of this new life for us that is found in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ?
Here’s what I came up with this week. I’m going to call us Easter People, meaning people who believe in the Resurrection of Christ and strive to have their lives influenced, changed and shaped by the Resurrection of Christ.
What are the characteristics of Easter People?
- Easter People believe in, seek out and experience Christ’s Living Presence in their lives.
We’re to be “alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
We live our lives “In Christ,” as Christ lives in us.
Jesus Christ is not just an historical figure from the past. Because of the Resurrection he’s a spiritual presence & companion in our lives and in our world.
One of the last things he said to his disciples was, “I am with you always; even to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:20)
Easter People have a Living Savior, not a dead one.
Easter People have a Victorious Savior, not a defeated one. And because of this, my second point is,
- Easter People continue to believe in Resurrection.
We believe that God has the power to breathe new life into our old bones and new wine into old wineskins, as Jesus once said. Easter People believe that Resurrection is an ongoing act, as God continues to give us the gift of new life, new births, new hope. We’re “raised up with Christ to live new lives.”
I’m reading Emily Heath’s second book, Courageous Faith. Emily is a UCC pastor, serving in Exeter NH. She writes about resurrection happening in our lives when we have been stuck or placed in tombs ourselves.
Heath writes: “The tombs of this life are not the places where we are literally dead, but instead the areas where we are stuck while we are waiting to fully live. They are the places we are relegated to before we are able to fully claim the resurrection given to us all.” (p. xiv)
She says, “some of these tombs we live in are of our own making. Others are imposed on us by the world.” Then she lists of some of the tombs: greed, addiction, racism, homophobia, hatred of others, hatred of self, prejudice, xenophobia, deceit and many more. We could maybe add depression, deep grief, the effects of an assault or abuse, and on & on.
Again, some of these tombs come from our own actions. Others are placed upon us from the world around us. Resurrection happens when we begin to roll away the stone and seek or receive new life.
Emily Heath writes of her own struggles with alcohol.
Her relationship with alcohol had entombed her, cutting her off from joy and from fully living, cutting her off from others, from dealing with her own hurts, and ultimately from God. But once she started working the 12-step program of AA she began to come alive. Resurrection happened.
Easter People believe in resurrection – not just long ago, but as the continued work of God in our lives. And that leads to the next characteristic of Easter People . . .
- Easter People are Stubborn in their Hopefulness.
We are stubbornly, persistently hopeful people – because of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Peter wrote: We’re been given a new birth into a living hope through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (I Peter 1:3)
We cling to hope, to the God of Hope, because Easter teaches us there’s no telling what God is going to do next! I mean, what could be darker than Good Friday – God’s Only Son beaten and crucified? What could be worse than that? The skies grew dark that afternoon for a reason.
But Hatred didn’t have the last word, Love did.
Death didn’t have the last word, Life did.
Despair didn’t have the last word, Hope did.
Easter people are stubbornly, hopeful people.
Illustration. You’ve probably heard the story of the Little Boy whose parents felt he was too optimistic, too idealistic. And they kept trying to give him small doses of disappointment to help him become more of a realist, because life is not always sunshine & roses. But nothing worked. He was unreasonably optimistic every moment of every day.
So Christmas came and they decided to do something drastic. There was a farm next door with horses. This is a bit gross, but it’s part of the story. The parents went over to the farm and got some horse manure. They put it in a container and then in a box and wrapped it up beautifully for Christmas.
On Christmas morning, their son opened his present and started jumping for joy.
“This is incredible! This is awesome! I can’t believe it! This is the Best Christmas Ever!!!!”
His parents were stunned and said, “Why are you reacting that way? You got horse manure for Christmas!”
The child said, “Yeah, but that means there’s a pony around here somewhere!”
Christians, too, are to be hope-filled people, believing that there’s a pony out there somewhere! God has good things in store for us.
Jeremiah 29:11- For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.
People of the Resurrection look to the future with hope.
Here’s a 4th characteristic of Easter People.
- They believe that Suffering can be Redemptive.
Christ’s Suffering on the Cross was a redemptive act. It remade our relationship with God. It provided for our atonement, our reconciliation with God, offering us grace & forgiveness. The Cross shows us just how much we are worth to God and just how much we are loved. Christ’s suffering has redemptive powers to remake us.
Peter talks about this in the passage we read:
“For a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed . . . for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” ( I Peter 1:7-9)
Suffering can “refine” our faith, making it even more precious and genuine.
The Willow Creek Church, just north of Chicago, is one of the largest churches in the country. (20,000 people before a scandal hit in the last 2 years). Several years ago the leadership of the church took a survey of its members. They asked them . . .
What has helped you grow most in your life as a Christian?
- Sermons? Bible Study? Worship Services? Christian books?
The #1 answer: Suffering. Trials, struggles, tribulation and heartache. – all the things we try to avoid!
We’d do better sometimes to simply embrace the suffering and allow it to remake us.
C.S. Lewis called suffering “God’s Megaphone.” He said,
God whispers to us on the Mountaintops.
God speaks to us on the Plains.
But God shouts at us in the Valleys during our times of suffering.
God seems to do God’s best work in the midst of our struggles.
A Personal Story.
In 2004 I went through a very painful divorce. I wouldn’t wish divorce on anyone.
It’s a long painful nightmare, especially for a pastor, and one with a doctorate in marriage & family ministry. I was not only hurting, but I was also embarrassed and ashamed. The church I was serving had seats up front in the chancel for the pastors, but I sat in the front row with my back to the congregation for almost a year. (I do that now to sit with Maddie, since my wife works at another church, but back then I just didn’t want to make eye contact with anyone.)
But I got through it, mostly because of my sons, but also because Church folks were more gracious and forgiving than I could have ever hoped for. Suffering can remake us for the better.
A few years after the divorce, I was talking with some of our staff after a wedding.
One of them asked me if I still enjoyed weddings after having gone through such a painful time. I said, “Yes, I’m still a hopeless romantic. I love being right there for the vows, and the look on their faces when I pronounce them husband & wife.”
Then the organist said, “You know, you’re nicer now since the divorce.”
Then the soloist added, “Yeah, you’re not as driven, you’re more relaxed and just easier to connect with.”
I said, “Thanks . . . I think.”
Suffering can be redemptive. Hardships & trials can remake us for the better. Easter happens again! Resurrection happens.
One final characteristic of Easter People . . .
- They look forward to life after death.
We can face this world with hope, and we can face the world to come with hope and a Blessed Assurance. People of faith can not only embrace suffering, they can also embrace death, because death is a journey to God. As the hymn says, God is “our shelter from the stormy blasts, and our eternal home.”
Easter demonstrates for us that there is life beyond the grave.
The Resurrection of Christ is Exhibit A!
Romans 6:5 – For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
Romans 6:8 – if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.
A Story: Clayton
I may have told you about a friend of mine named Clayton, who passed away a few years ago. Clayton was faithful in his church attendance, but never spoke about his own beliefs or spirituality. That’s true for a lot of people. Hopefully church gatherings help us put words to our faith and give us opportunities to practice talking about our faith.
Well, Clayton’s family didn’t know exactly what he believed, but they did notice that as his cancer took over his body, it didn’t take over his spirit. They did ask me to spend some time alone with him to see if there was anything he wanted to talk about.
At one point in the conversation I asked Clayton if he was afraid, as it’s only natural to be afraid of the dying process. He gently shook his head no, and then he said,
“Where would we be without God?”
That’s an Easter faith.
“Where would we be without God?” Because of Easter, we never have to know.
The Resurrection of Christ tells us that God is with us always and we will be with God forever.
May God make us truly People of the Resurrection!