A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Monday, March 25, 2013

Sermon (March 31) - "Livn' My Dream"

     Several years ago, I attended a week long church conference with some church members.  And before the sessions each morning we would eat at a greasy spoon diner for a home cooked breakfast.
     The breakfast food was wonderful.  And we would often be served by a waitress who had been an employee there for some time.  She seemed to know her customers quite well, calling them by name, anticipating what they might need, and sharing some jokes back and forth.  Even though we were from out of town, she had a way of making us feel like we were her regular customers. 
     During one of those mornings, we came in for breakfast and she came over to take our orders, and someone in our group complemented her on how she had made us all feel so welcomed throughout the week.  And this person in our group asked her if she could see herself doing anything else with her life besides waitressing.
     Her answer was priceless.  As she turned to walk away from our table, she rolled her eyes, and with a touch of sarcasm in her voice and a lot of attitude, she said loud enough for all to hear,
     “I’m livin’ my dream, babe.”  I’m livin’ my dream.” 
     Those of us who were around that table still talk about that great line.  “I’m livin’ my dream, babe.” 
     Obviously, being a waitress or waiter isn’t easy work.  You’re on your feet all day.  You don’t make that much money.  People complain.  And the truth is, there are probably very few of us who will ever have that perfect dream job or that perfect dream life or that perfect dream family or that perfect dream church.
     The question for each of us is, can I honestly say that “I’m livin’ my dream?”  
     The good news of the Christian faith is that each one of us is invited to live out God’s dream.  And it’s because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, that God’s dream has become a reality.
     Are you livin’ God’s dream?
     It’s early on a Sunday morning.  Several women quietly make their way through a spacious garden.  A couple of days have passed and they can still remember the sound of nails being hammered into the hard wood.  What started with so much promise had ended in unbelievable tragedy. 
     With spices in hand, they are nearing Jesus’ tomb.  They will pay their last respects.  The dream is over.  They will never get back what they lost.
     Or so they thought.
     The Gospel writer Luke, tells us that Easter came as a complete shock to those women who were visiting the tomb.  Because of an empty tomb and some words from God’s messengers, “He is not here.  But has risen,” these women were able to dream again.  Jesus’ resurrection changed everything for them.
     This morning, the Gospel writer Luke is inviting us to live God’s dream.   What does it mean to live God’s dream in the light of the resurrection?
     First of all, Luke wants us to know that the resurrection of Jesus means that Jesus is who he said he was.  Jesus was the long awaited Messiah who would free the people from their bondage.
     They thought that this would mean political freedom from the Roman Empire.  They thought that the long awaited Messiah would take up the sword and lead them to victory.  But Jesus had something far greater in mind.  Jesus came to free us from our bondage to sin and death.  Jesus came to free us from all that what could keep us from living out our dream of who God created us to be.
     When Jesus died on a cross, it looked like the powers of this world had won.  It looked like Jesus had failed in his mission.  But it was through his death on the cross that he was able to usher in new life and freedom.
     Because of Easter and the empty tomb, we can look back on Good Friday when Jesus died on a cross as a victory and not as a defeat.  Jesus said that he would die and in three days, rise again.  Jesus kept his word.  Jesus was who he said he was.
     The second thing Luke points out is that the resurrection changes us.
     Our Gospel reading begins with grieving women walking quietly to the tomb and it ends with them going to tell the disciples of what they had experienced.  I guess that’s what an empty tomb and a few messengers from God will do to you.  It will turn your life upside down.  But it will also transform you from the inside out.
     Some time ago, a friend of mine who is nearing retirement shared with me about his story of faith.  He said that he would attend church once in a while with his wife but it didn’t really mean a whole lot to him until one day everything changed for him.
     While he was washing the dishes one night, he was watching TV, and the Catholic channel was on.  And a Priest was giving a short devotional message, talking about how we all have a God shaped hole in our lives and how that hole can only be filled by accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. 
     And my friend said, “I was really interested in what he was saying because I knew that I was missing something in my life.  I had a nice house.  Great job.  Loving family.  But something was still missing.  And then, this Priest on the television program invited anyone who was watching to pray a simple prayer and invite Jesus Christ to come into their lives.”
     And my friend said to me, “I knew that I needed to say this prayer.  And with my sleeves rolled up and my arms submerged in the soapy dish water there in our kitchen, I accepted Jesus Christ into my life.  I started sobbing right there by my kitchen sink.  I felt forgiven for my sins and it was like this huge weight was lifted from my shoulders.  From that point on, our lives really changed.  My wife and I attend church, serve in ministries together, and we put Jesus first in all that we do.  My life has never been the same again.”
     When Jesus died on the cross, he took upon himself all of the sin and pain of the world.  And by rising again, he showed that new life is possible for us as well.
     Because of Jesus’ resurrection, I can be freed from my sins.
     Because of Jesus’ resurrection, I can lead a new life.
     Because of Jesus’ resurrection, I can have endless hope.
     Because of Jesus’ resurrection, I become his new creation.
     Because of Jesus’ resurrection, I can let go of past grudges.
     Because of Jesus’ resurrection, I am a new person.
     Because of Jesus’ resurrection, all things are possible and I can live my dream.
     And last but not least, the third thing that Luke points out about the resurrection is that together, we can change the world.  Together we can change the world.
     Actually, Luke’s Gospel is the 1st book of a 2 book volume.  He wrote the Book of Acts which tells the story of how the early church, through the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, was able to bring transformation and hope to the world.  In fact, if anyone has trouble in believing that the resurrection of Jesus is true, all we really need to do is read the Book of Acts.  Something had to have gotten into those disciples to do what they did.
     They took care of widows and orphans.  They healed the sick in the name of the risen Jesus.  And they told others about the good news of the resurrection.  They believed that Jesus would change the world through them.
     A friend of mine called me a while back.  He called me at a really bad time.  It had been a long day with lots of loose ends.  It was just one of those kind of days.  He begins by asking me if I had received the information about his ministry in the mail.  And I half heartedly said, “Yes.  I did.”
     I’m now thinking, “Here he goes.  He’s going to ask me for some money.  And I really don’t feel like badgering different groups in our church to give money to yet another project.  I’ve got enough on my plate as it is.”  Like I said, it had been one of those days.
     And sure enough, he says, “Robert, I’m calling to see if your church can support my ministry.”  I think to myself, “OK.  Here’s where he’s going to ask me if my church can give them a donation?  You know, that kind of request.
     Instead, here’s what he says.  “Robert, it is unbelievable what is going on in the city where I’m serving.  Through our ministry, people are coming to know Jesus Christ and they’re getting connected with other Christians.  We’ve baptized several new Christians. They’re coming to our bible studies.  These are folks who would most likely never come to church on Sunday morning, but they’re responding to this new ministry.  God is just doing an unbelievable thing and we’re just praising God for it.”
     As I was listening to the exciting news about his ministry, suddenly my stressed-filled day mysteriously disappeared.  And before I knew it, I was writing out a $50 check and sending it his way.  And yes, I also ended up badgering several different groups in our church to give money to this ministry the very next day. When we see how the good news of Easter is changing the world, it can turn a bad day into a good day. 
     We can live out our dream because Jesus is who he said he was.  We can live out our dream because the resurrection of Jesus changes us.  And we can live out our dream because Easter can change the world.
     Four or five years ago, I read an article in a magazine about a grown son whose father had recently died.  They had a stormy relationship as father and son.  The mother had died when he was only 14 leaving his father to raise him.
     This article went on to say how the father would often tell his son to give up dreaming because if he kept on dreaming, he would end up being disappointed again and again.  “Quit dreaming,” this father would tell his son.
     There was one problem, though.  The son didn’t stop dreaming.  In fact, his dreams only got bigger to the point where he was named Time Magazine’s Man of the Year back in 2005.  Bono, the leader singer for U2 has been leading a massive campaign to stop the spread of AIDs in Africa. 
     This rock star often visits with politicians, has preached from United Methodist pulpits, and has given commencement addresses at Ivy League schools, shaping each of his talks with a call to embrace Jesus’ vision for a more just world.
     All this from someone who was told again and again to, “Quit dreaming.  You’ll just be disappointed.”
     But dreaming just isn’t for rock stars or celebrities.  It’s for waitresses in greasy spoon diners and it’s for grieving disciples as they walk toward a tomb. 
     It’s for anyone who hears the good news of Easter, “He is not here.  But has risen.” 

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