Christmas in Easter

I had to preach 3 times over Easter Weekend. Easter morning I had a mini sermon at our sunrise service.  I am glad I kept it sort because it was COLD and I don’t think anyone wanted me to go on longer than I did.  Enjoy

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John 20: 1-18

Christmas is the promise, Easter is the proof

It seems like just the other day we were gathered into the church celebrating the birth of Jesus. The promise of a king bore in a manger, born to save the world.

Here we are today, Easter morning, coming to the conclusion of Lent where we reflected on the life of Jesus – who he was and what his message was for the world. We are coming to know the fullness of the Christmas message. We are coming to understand the purpose of the life of Jesus and why he was put here on the earth.

Can there be a little Christmas at Easter?

A chaplain at a Chicago hospital worked with a family who had been struggling with their little boy’s leukemia. Just days before Christmas they brought him to the hospital in tough shape. The form of leukemia he had was aggressive and there was not much the doctors could do. The young family did not have a church connection although the mom had taken five-year-old “Billy” to Sunday school. The dad admitted that he was not really a believer, but was open to the chaplain’s ministry.

Knowing the end was near, the young parents wanted Billy to have a Christmas, so they planned a special early Christmas and asked Billy what he wanted.

He wanted snow. It was one of those warm Christmas seasons and the chances of snow were slim to none. “Billy,” the mother said, “Isn’t there some special toy you would like, something really nice?” “No,” the boy answered excitedly, “I want snow. Santa can’t come without snow, I want snow and Jesus can make it snow! I’m going to ask Jesus to make it snow.”

Not wanting the child to be disappointed, the parents and the chaplain tried explaining that it was too warm for snow and that he could still have something really wonderful for Christmas. All he had to do was ask. “No,” Billy insisted, “I want snow and Jesus can make it snow!” They realized that there was no talking him out of it.

Do you know what happened that night? You guessed it! All weather reports pointed to strange temperature phenomenon that caused a freak snowstorm. The parents walked into Billy’s room as the boy was jumping up and down in his bed looking out the window shouting, “Atta boy Jesus! Atta boy Jesus!”

Sadly, Billy died two days before Christmas. Perhaps the surprise snowstorm was indeed a curious, coincidental weather phenomenon. But let me ask you a question. Is it possible that the loving God, Creator of the universe made it snow for Billy?

Here’s the Easter part of this Christmas story. Billy’s dad came back to talk with the chaplain. He and his wife had become a part of a local church. “My being in a church, ” the dad said, “Is just about as surprising as the snow Billy got. I can’t say I’m a true believer just yet, but Billy’s Jesus is my connection to Billy.”

Do you see? Billy’s Jesus is the Jesus who met Mary by the garden tomb… the Jesus who died and then showed up two days later. Billy’s Jesus is still alive!

We all come to Jesus in our own ways, sometimes we come through personal experiences, and sometimes we come through experiences that other people have.

For example, Mary encountered Jesus in the garden. Billy’s dad encountered Jesus in a freak snowstorm. St. Paul encountered Jesus on the way to arrest Christians and drag them back to Jerusalem in chains. Mother Theresa encountered Jesus in the poorest of the poor. Peter encountered Jesus in an amazing catch of fish.

We don’t have to have big experiences, but something brought us to church, and the more in touch we are with that experience the more we can reach out to others around us.

Jesus Christ rose this day for us- so that we can hear and proclaim his message of grace, love and forgiveness.

Amen

Evanglizing to Simon of Cyrene

This past Sunday we did not use the regular lectionary reading. Instead we read the Passion story from Mark 15. Granted it is not totally different but I was surprised when I first saw what we were doing.

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It all made sense when the Pastor gave his sermon. He focused on Simon of Cyrene. This was interesting because I have not thought too much about him in the past. Granted Simon of Cyrene was only mentioned once in the entire Bible. Many questions surround this Character. Where did he come from? What was he doing there? What happened to him after he carried the cross of Christ?

This got me thinking after the services. How was Simon effected by this event? Did he have faith before he came to Jerusalem that day? This led me to think about those people who come into the church for one reason or another. There are people who are touched by our faith, by our preaching of the Gospel. How do we reach out to those people? Do we reach out to those people?
Simon could of had this unforgettable experience of carrying the cross of the man who saved the sins of the world – and he could of forgotten about it. He could of walked away shook his head and said “what a bunch of freaks” — OR he could of walked away realizing what was happening, he could of stood next to the cross and watch Jesus die and then left and proclaimed the gospel. We don’t know.

What we do know is that we can learn from this experience. We can reach out to those who experience our ministry, weather it is in a church or not. We can follow up with them and ask them what they experienced. We can continue to reach out and preach the Gospel. There are many Simons of Cyrene’s out there and I bet most of them are turned off from the church for one reason or another. Most of them I would think really don’t feel that connection, they don’t have that built in connection that they have in other aspects of their life. I am not saying that it is void — but it might be hidden.

Those of us who do have a connection can create connections for other people. But we need to know what that connection might be and that is where the personal contact is important.

I feel lucky in a way that I have had 9 years working in ministry full time and part time. The biggest thing I have learned about ministry and building up ministry is that it boils down to finding a connection within the church for people through the process of relationship building. It takes time, it is hard work and it does not guarantee success but that’s the best way in my opinion.

This upcoming year when I take on a new church situation, where I will be working with youth I will be spending 10-12 hours a week — almost 150 hours this summer building up relationships with the youth in the church. That’s the only way I can create a program where we will be successful. I am excited about this and I hope to continue to learn about ministry through this. I have not been able to really put this theory to the test (fully). But I don’t see any other way to do it.

I like to think that Simon’s experience carrying the cross really effected him in a positive way and that he really took it to heart and shared that experience with the people who stopped to listen to him.