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

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Sermon (March 27/Easter Sunday) by Rev. Robert McDowell - "Liv'n My Dream!"

    A few years ago, I attended a church conference leadership meeting with some friends of mine. Every morning, we would stop at a greasy spoon diner for a home cooked breakfast.
     The décor in the place wasn’t that great but the breakfast food was incredible.  And we would often be served by a waitress who had been an employee there for several years.  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. 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 of us 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?”  
     I remember reading about a former local Dayton news anchor who was dating Charles Spencer, the brother of Princess Diana.  Their relationship created a lot of reaction in the greater Dayton area. 
      At the time, people became really jealous of her, knowing that if that relationship continued, she would be able to live a lifestyle that most of us can only dream about.  Others believed that this relationship was doomed to failure.
     Actually, the relationship didn’t work out. It didn’t turn out to be a fairybook ending.
     When I read that story, I remember thinking to myself how sad it was that people were so worked up about whether or not she would become an aristocrat. In a celebrity oriented culture, we sometimes think that the only way to live our dream is to be rich and famous.
     On this Easter Sunday, I want us to think about if we are living the dream that God has in mind for us.
     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 is a reality.
     You don’t need to marry into an aristocratic family. You don’t need to win the lottery. You don’t even need to become a celebrity to be livn’ your 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 hear 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 out God’s dream.   What does it mean to live out 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. 
     In various ways throughout the Gospel, Jesus took upon himself the claim of being the Messiah, the one who would lead God’s people to freedom.  The only problem was, most of the people in Jesus’ day, equated freedom with defeating Roman oppression.  Not only did Jesus refuse to pick up the sword and lead a revolt against Rome, he ended up being put to death by the Roman Empire.
     Jesus’ resurrection shows that he truly is the long awaited Messiah.  But instead of leading a violent overthrow of the Romans, Jesus’ accomplished something far greater than any revolt could have done.  Through his suffering and death, Jesus was able to defeat sin and even death itself.
     The good news of the resurrection is that Jesus is who he said he was.
     Without the resurrection, Jesus would have gone down in history as just another person in a long line of people who claimed to be the true Messiah.  Because of the resurrection, Jesus’ showed that he is who he said he was. 
     I’ve been noticing that a leading newspaper includes religious editorials each week by religious leaders.  One of these religious leaders is a bible scholar who writes about various religious topics such as the resurrection of Jesus and why the story of the Bible makes sense.
     And underneath each of these articles, on this newspaper’s website, readers can respond to this Bible Scholar’s articles and offer their reactions.  As I read through several of the comments made by various readers, I’m always amazed at just how many of these responses are filled with anger and even outrage, not all of them, but quite a few of them.
     In a way, I shouldn’t be surprised at these negative reactions, because the Christian faith does sound too good to be true. Just think about what we believe.
     We believe that a person named Jesus who lived two thousand years ago was crucified on a cross, and three days later, was raised from the dead.  The Gospel writer, Luke, is careful to point out that the women who found the tomb empty were totally shocked at what had happened.  And when they went to tell the other disciples, Luke tells us that they all thought it was an idle tale, that it wasn’t true.
     The first thing about living God’s dream is to accept the truth that the shocking news of the resurrection, shows that Jesus was who he said he was.  And maybe that’s why we go to great lengths to celebrate Easter Sunday each year – just to remind ourselves that what we believe is no idle tale.
     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.
     Several years ago, a friend of mine who was 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.
     A Priest was giving a short devotional message, talking about how we all have a God shaped hole in our lives and how that God shaped hole can only be filled by inviting Jesus Christ into our lives.  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 just knew in that moment 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.  And 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 now, we serve in ministries together, and we seek to 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, we can be freed from our sins.
     Because of Jesus’ resurrection, we can lead new lives.
     Because of Jesus’ resurrection, we have endless hope.
     Because of Jesus’ resurrection, I can be the person God has called me to be.
     Because of Jesus’ resurrection, we become his new creation.
     Because of Jesus’ resurrection, I can let go of past grudges.
     Because of Jesus’ resurrection, I have a joy that fills my heart even when I’m having a really bad day.
     Because of Jesus’ resurrection, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
     Because of Jesus’ resurrection, I know I’ll never be alone, because he is always with me through the presence of the Holy Spirit.
     Because of Jesus’ resurrection, I am a new person.
     Because of Jesus’ resurrection, anything is possible.  Anything is possible! We can live God’s dream!
     All because of Jesus’ resurrection! All because of Jesus’ resurrection! All because of Jesus’ resurrection!
     Friends, I’m just getting started. It’s going to be an above average sermon today.
      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 first book of a two-book volume.  He also 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 is true, all they 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.  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 terrible time.  It had been a long day with lots of loose ends.  One of those days, if you know what I mean.  He begins by asking me if I had received the information about his ministry in the mail.  And I said without a lot of enthusiasm that I did get it in the mail.
     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 a very long day.
     And sure enough, he says, “Robert, I’m calling to see if your church can support my ministry over here in the inner city.”  I think to myself, “OK.  Here’s where he’s going to say how his ministry can’t make ends meet, and would our church be able to help them out?”
     But no.  Here’s what he says.  “Robert, it is unbelievable what is going on in the neighborhood near our church. Jesus is alive in our church! The members of my church are reaching out to the people in our neighborhood through acts of kindness, prayer walks, and personal invitations to attend our church.
     People in the neighborhood are starting to come to our church.  We have celebrated more baptisms in our little church than anyone can ever remember. They’re attending 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.
     Hey, if your church can help us out with an offering, that would be great. We could really use the extra help.”
     Because of that phone conversation, my friend reminded me that Jesus is alive and is making a difference in people’s lives! 
     After I hung up the phone, not only did I write out a personal check and send it to his church, I also spent the rest of that afternoon on the phone, bugging different groups in my congregation to help support my friend’s new ministry that was doing wondering things in the inner city.
     Because of Jesus’ resurrection, my friend turned my bad day into a really, really good day!
     I think it’s no coincidence, that we will begin what we are calling our “Athens First Saturday” local outreach ministry less than a week after today’s Easter Sunday celebration.
     We will be meeting here at the church this Saturday morning, and then we will be put into different teams to go out and serve the needs of our community in the name of the Risen Christ.
     The resurrection of Jesus means that we can live out God’s dream because it means that Jesus is who he said he was. It means that it can change our lives from the inside out when we receive Christ into our lives. And thirdly, we can live out God’s dream because the resurrection of Jesus is what empowers us to change our community and world.
     Several 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 fourteen 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,” he 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 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 on University campuses, 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, because you’ll just be disappointed.”

     But dreaming just isn’t for rock stars or celebrities.  It’s also for waitresses in greasy spoon diners.  And it’s for grieving disciples as they walk toward a tomb.  
     In fact, it’s for anyone who hears the good news, “He is not here. He is risen.”

No comments: