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What Are You Afraid Of?

April 8th 2012

Early in the morning on the first day of the week, three days after Jesus died and was buried, find the followers of Jesus with mixed emotions, not the least of which is fear. They had learned so much about God's Word but now fear gripped them and they had no idea what to do with it. At times we are gripped by fear when we tink about speaking God's Word to others. But Jesus comes and calms those fear so that we can speak boldly about His resurrection and our forgiveness. Read or listen to find out more...

Easter Sunrise B - "What Are You Afraid Of?" - John 20:1-18 - April 8, 2012

We come together so early this morning because the joy of what we celebrate today is too exciting to wait any longer. He is risen! … We worship together this glorious morning knowing that our Lord Jesus Christ has fulfilled all righteousness, and having died, has risen again so that we too might know eternal life. We celebrate this morning because today we are reminded that God always keeps his promises. Our gospel text this morning tells us about Jesus’ disciples finding the empty tomb. We look at these verses of scripture almost like parents watching children open their presents. How amazing it must have been to be among the first people to witness the resurrection. I think sometimes knowing how the story ends can make us forget what it really must have been like for Mary, Peter, John, and all those who followed Jesus. You see Jesus predicted to the disciples: “You will all fall away…for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’”(Mark 14:27) And this prophecy, too, came true. Peter himself denied Jesus 3 times, because he was afraid of what would happen to him if people found out that he knew Jesus. The disciples hid themselves behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jews and Romans. They were absolutely paralyzed with fear. All they had learned, all the miracles they had performed, everything they had been doing for the past 3 years had come to an abrupt end when the man they had put their faith into died on that cross. They were lost. They had no idea what they were supposed to do, and so they hid. Joseph of Arimathea asked pilot for the body of Jesus, “but secretly for fear of the Jews”(19:38). He and Nicodemus brought the body to an empty grave and quickly prepared it as best they can before the end of the day, when they had to stop working for the Sabbath. A stone was put over the grave so that no one could disturb the body. (Mark 15:36) And so our Gospel starts: On the first day of the week Mary Magdalene comes with the intention of finishing that burial process. She approaches the tomb and sees that it is open. Her heart freezes. “They took Him.” Imagine all that would run through your head if you came home from work to find your front door had been broken from its hinges. She doesn’t even go in to check to see if Jesus is still in the tomb. She runs to tell the disciples what has happened. Finding Peter and John she tells them what she saw, and they take off running. John is faster and gets there first. He gets right up to the entrance… and then stops. Every time I read this story I just about scream “Go in! Its Easter, don’t you know what that means? Didn’t Jesus tell you 3 times already He was going to die and on this very day rise from the dead? Just go in and see the miracle!” But he can’t. I can only imagine the terrible things that were running through his head as he waited outside that tomb. “What if I go in and He’s still there, just a dead body. What was the point of everything if He is dead?” Or perhaps even more terrifying “What if He isn’t there? What does that mean? I saw Him die, what am I supposed to do with my life if everything He said really was true?” He can’t bring himself to just go in and look; he is paralyzed with fear. Have you ever been paralyzed with fear? I want to share a story with you from when I first arrived here in Kansas. It was my second week at work, and Pastor Schultz mentions to me that we have a member in the hospital and that it will be an excellent opportunity to observe a hospital visit. It is the end of the day, so we are going to both take separate cars so we don’t have to drive back to the office after. Just as I am getting into my car Pastor turns to me and says, “You know, why don’t you handle the devotion, pick an appropriate Bible verse to talk a little about and be ready to say a prayer.” Then he gets into his car and starts to drive away. I didn’t know exactly where the hospital was so I quickly got into my car and began to follow. I can’t imagine what Pastor must have thought of my driving, because it was very difficult for me to keep my eyes on the road while I frantically tried to page through my gigantic study Bible, looking for a verse, any verse, that might work. I was texting people on my cell phone, praying for divine intervention, I even considered rolling down my window and asking strangers when we got to a red light. When we got to the hospital, I saw Pastor get out of the car and start to look around for me. For a few seconds, I considered my options. He still hadn’t seen me. I could just leave. I could probably get my old job in Virginia Beach back. Then he saw me and started to walk over. I turned off my car, and sat there, unable to get out, absolutely paralyzed with fear. You see, it wasn’t simply that I couldn’t remember a Bible verse. I knew Pastor would take pity on me and either supply one or offer to do the devotional himself. What was really scaring me was how real things were about to get. I have actually had classes that specifically called for me to memorize Bible verses to use in just this case. But this wasn’t school. In that hospital was a man in real pain, who truly needed comfort. I was going to go in there with nothing but a Bible and try and reassure him of God’s love and the promise of life in Jesus. I had been preparing for that exact moment for 2 years at the seminary and I got right up to the entrance and froze. I think that fear can be one of the toughest obstacles to overcome as a Christian. Many of you have been Christian your whole lives. You come to church every week, you go to 2 or 3 Bible studies a week, you volunteer your time, treasure and talents joyfully. You are here this morning to offer your thanks and praise to the God of all creation for the gift He has given you through His Son Jesus. But now imagine bringing any of that up to the waitress at Denny’s on the way home. Or one of the guys in your March Madness pool. Or your sister-in-law. You worry that they might get angry, or blow you off, or stop talking to you. Or, perhaps even scarier, they might actually listen to you. Do you really know the Bible well enough to convince someone that God is real and He loves them enough to die for them? You can’t even start the conversation, because you have no idea what you’re supposed to say. You just sit there, drinking the last of your coffee, paralyzed with fear. Luckily, the Bible does not end with the disciples cowering in fear, afraid to live as their Lord commanded. Eventually John does go into the tomb and see that it is empty. Although he doesn’t understand exactly what that means, He believes that Jesus is no longer dead in that tomb. Jesus appears to the disciples in the very rooms that they are hiding in. He walks on the road with them, explaining the scriptures to them. Even as they begin to go back to their old jobs, fishing because they don’t know what else to do, Jesus appears to them and takes Peter aside to tell him exactly what He wants him to do, and saying “follow me” (John 21:19) they still sit and wait. But not for long. You see, shortly after we celebrate the Easter season, we will celebrate Pentecost. That is when the disciples finally left their homes and began to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. And it wasn’t because they suddenly got braver, or smarter, or better prepared. It was because the Holy Spirit descended upon them. And we read that the first time they opened their mouths with the Holy Spirit guiding their tongues 3000 people were saved. And as they traveled they spoke more and more about Jesus, and the Kingdom of God grew by incredible leaps and bounds. And it was with this in mind that I was able to finally get out of my car that day. Because I realized that it wasn’t me going into that hospital with just a Bible. It was the Word of God going into that hospital, with just me to carry it. I didn’t have to worry about if I could provide comfort, because it was God who would provide the comfort. For the Lord says “I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.”(Jeremiah 31:13) When I shakily read the scripture I had picked because it had the word comfort in it, I looked up and saw that God’s word was feeding this man, and as we prayed together I couldn’t help but thank God for doing what I finally realized I could not. Each time I have gone to the hospital since, I have still had to deal with a little of that fear, but each time I go in and see the power of God work despite my inadequacies, it gets a little easier. And that is your answer as well. Because you are right to think that there isn’t anything you can say to a stranger, a friend, or your family, that is going to convince them that Jesus Christ has died for their sins. God does that. Through the Holy Spirit, speaking through imperfect, ordinary vessels like us, God changes the hearts and minds of His wayward children. Sharing the love of Christ with others is still a scary thing, but the more you do it, the more you grow in your ability to trust in the power of the Lord, and the easier it gets. You don’t have to be afraid of not being ready to do it. God provides the words for us to say through His own Word, the Bible. And He tells us in Isaiah that “My word shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:11). They Holy Spirit dwells in our hearts, and God does His amazing work of salvation, not just in spite our inadequacies, but because of them. That is why we are here today. Because Jesus Christ, who lived that perfect life, suffered for our failures, died, and was buried, is alive again today. Jesus Christ is alive, and because He lives, we shall live too. Christ our Lord has risen, for you, for me, and for the entire world. Now let’s go out and tell them. Amen

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