In these first days after Easter, I thought it would be good to reflect on what it means that Jesus is risen and alive in us today, before returning to my series on prayer. I thought a great way to do that is to share a few messages from a series on the new life Jesus’ resurrection makes possible a few years ago. This is the first such message, “Discovering Your New Life Now”, preached at Diversity in Faith in Fayetteville, NC, originally given one week after Easter Sunday.
I hope it blesses you!
And I ain’t just whistling Dixie,
your progressive redneck preacher,
Discovering Your New Life Now
Happy Easter! He is risen!
It sounds weird to hear a week later doesn’t it?
Last week we celebrated Easter – remembering how God willingly offered God’s self to us in Jesus, dying our death, tasting our hell, and then rising victorious over it on Easter Sunday. Last Sunday we saw the wonder of how the first Christians came to the tomb of Jesus expecting to say a final farewell, only to find Jesus had gone on ahead of them. They found Jesus already to be alive in their life, calling them out of their pain, heartache, despair, and loss into a new future.
And then … a week passed for all of us. A week where I bet many of us gave no thought to the Easter story. A week that for some was full of energy and joy. So many exciting things going on … who has time for prayer, or new beginnings? For some it was a week that made the thought of new life hard … so many shadows, heartaches, and pains falling over the horizon of their lives.
Suddenly last week’s celebrations look so far away – and Easter seems just a day on some distant calendar, something that happened there and then, with no pressing meaning for today.
The early Christians knew this and for this reason, before the days of commercialized Easter sales and chocolate bunnies, they chose to celebrate Easter for over a month. For 40 days they would take time out each Sunday to celebrate the resurrection – greeting each other with “Happy Easter!” and “He is risen! He is risen indeed!”
Because of this – and because of how easy it is to forget – we are taking time to help us see what it means that Jesus was not just alive again one day, some 2000 years ago, but continues to be alive today, as a living presence in our life, and as someone who goes ahead of you and me calling us to join him in a new future.
So lets try that again – “Happy Easter!” “He is risen!”
The next several weeks I want to look at just one result in our lives that the fact Jesus is risen brings to us, but before I get into what I have for us – can anyone share what it means to you personally that Jesus is not just some dead historical figure but still risen today, right now is a living presence in your life ?
1 Peter 1.3-4
3 May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ be blessed! On account of his vast mercy, he has given us new birth. You have been born anew into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. 4 You have a pure and enduring inheritance that cannot perish—an inheritance that is presently kept safe in heaven for you.
What does this verse tell us Jesus’ resurrection brings?
Jesus’ resurrection brings a new life for you and me. This is what it says we have been born anew through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
You see somehow through Jesus’ death and resurrection, God not only did something to Jesus but to me and to you.
Turn to somebody and say You no longer have to live the life you’ve always had anymore. In Jesus you’ve got a new start.
(Pass out “birth certificates” and say:)
Write your name on this birth certificate.
Let it remind you — you have a new life. The moment Jesus rose again, it is as if from God’s perspective you and I were born a second time.
What does this rebirth mean? It means the moment Jesus rose from the dead, you were included.
From eternity past, before time was time, Jesus as God the Son had always been embraced by the love, mercy, joy of God the Father; from time before time Jesus had joined the Father moving through life in the arms of the mothering Holy Spirit of God. This embrace, this love, this dance Jesus shared in is the dance at the heart of the universe that makes the atoms dance, the planets spin in their orbits, and life work.
What does this rebirth mean? Before we have a choice in the matter, before we can do right or royally screw up, before we can be hurt by this world or hurt others, God already was looking at you, looking at me, and seeing us as God sees Jesus. Think about for a moment, through Jesus’ resurrection there has never been a time that God did not look and you and say, Tricia, look, this is my child. There will never be a time that God does not look at you, Jowancka, and say “this is the one that I love”. There is never a moment God is not looking at you, Jeremy saying – this one, right here, is the one in whom I am well pleased.
What does this rebirth mean? The moment you took your first breath, God was already loving you.
The moment you took your first step, God already was offering to embrace you. The moment you first forgot God, first lived as if God didn’t matter, God was still loving you, calling out to you, and letting you know there remains a place for you in God’s family.
On Easter morning God the Father, Son, and mothering Spirit extended their arms opened wide and said “welcome home”, freely offering you and me a place in that dance of love. You and I are already included.
But it seems very quickly in life we get a very different message, don’t we? We hear from our parents that we are not well-behaved enough, or athletic enough, or pretty enough. Some of us only hear it – some feel it with the slam of fists against our bodies, being beaten and put down from day one.
We hear it from classmates who tell us we will never be good enough. We hear it too just as much when others are told we are the head of the class and always have to live up to perfection. We hear it in the names we grow up with – wimp, dweeb, ditz and clutz, nerd, spazz, cripple or faggot or dyke, …
And on a level we come to believe it – to believe we aren’t worth it. That we can only be accepted if we are thinner, or stronger, or smarter, or get better grades, or are straight or able-bodied. In other words, someone other than who we are.
And so we end up entering a life that goes nowhere in big and little ways.
For some it is by trying to live as if they are someone they are not – acting straight while knowing deep down you aren’t, striving forever to fit that image of the skinny girl you never will be or the tough guy you know you aren’t; trying to fit some white or able-bodied picture of what life is about.
For some it comes through trying to deaden the pains with drugs or alcohol, or thumb the nose at those who have judged by living with a chip on your shoulder or in ways that give up all sense of right or wrong. “If I can’t be accepted by others, especially God, I’ll live for me”.
For some it may even be through living out someone else’s dreams. My family depends on me. I am the first who can make it. Everyone is counting on me … when deep down the path you are taking is another’s dream, another’s hope, another’s future. Where you are living out another’s expectation, trying to be the hero to your family, your hometown. Trying to fit a picture you know deep down isn’t you.
Yet God all along is looking at you, looking at me, saying “You, you, you, you, you are my child, you are the one that I love, and it is in you that I am well-pleased, just as you are”. All along the voice of Jesus is calling out from the cross saying “It is finished … all that is necessary to be included, accepted, loved, just as you are, is done”. All along Jesus stands risen ahead of you, calling out your name in love.
I still remember when I came to know and experience that for myself. I had grown up in a real strict offshoot of the Seventh Day Adventists –one that felt not working or doing sports Friday night and Saturday and not eating pork was too liberal. So I grew up with a real strict view of God, thinking I had to jump through a bunch of hoops to get God to like me. I never felt I could do enough to please God. And it scared the hell into me. They preached a lot about the Second Coming – and gave me a picture of a God out to get me, ready to judge me, … one that could give you nightmares. God was more to be feared than loved.
At school I’d always felt left out. My church background set up some obstacles, but also I’d never been a jock. I was the one called geek, dweeb, nerd. Not fitting in or being accepted.
Then in high school a friend asked me to join the campus Christian club. There I was really accepted by the kids in the club. There I learned of a God who you could come to as a friend, just as you are. I still remember nearly falling out of my chair when my friend Shane Brown prayed a prayer saying “God, you must be smoking crack” when he was thanking God for being crazy good to him that week. I still remember the sense of being embraced by God I felt the first time I joined them in singing out songs of praise to God from my heart. I found out that God could accept and love me for me, even me, and God was someone I could relate to as a friend. I tried it out.
And one day it clicked. I remember I was listening to a Christian song about the blood of Jesus and the thought struck me, clear as day: I did that for you Micah. I came for you. I died for you. If I shed my own blood for you, how much are you worth to me? Would I just give up on you? Just abandon you if you don’t live up to some rules, or fit some image? No nothing can separate you from my love.
At that moment tears in my eyes I know God had accepted me, now and forever, and I was safe in God’s arms.
When we realize that for ourselves we come to know we have a new life – not defined by our past, not defined by society’s labels, but totally bound up in God’s grace, in a God who believes in us more than we believe in ourselves. The next several weeks we will be looking in the resurrection accounts in John 20-21, and at accounts of what a new life in Christ can be like, including how to fully experience that life.
Are any of you willing to share about when and how you first came to know God had accepted you, embraced you, in Jesus?
Can anyone think of ways that any benefits discovering your new life in Christ has brought you?
As a church, we say our mission is to welcome all, without prejudice, to join us in discovering friendship with God. How can we help others come to discover this new life or new start with God?
As we conclude I want to encourage you to take time to reflect on who you are in Christ. As you prepare to come forward to the Lord’s Table, I want to challenge you to embrace who you are in Christ.
I am going to play a song in the background entitled “Child of Mine”. So often we walk around with all kinds of other identities, names we have been called. I want to encourage you as you listen to this song to think of one of those names and write it down on this slip of paper. When you are ready, come down to the front and lay that slip down letting God know you are giving up the old life defined by that lie. Then look yourself in the mirror, telling yourself who you are – the child of God, whom God loves, and in whom God is well pleased. And pick up a slip with the writeup describing who you are to God.
Then feel free to go back to your seat and commune with God, come forward for prayer, or come forward for communion.