Some pictures from the morning service.
The Rector’s sermon as audio (19 minutes):
Listen to this Easter sermon
The transcript of the sermon:
Easter sermon at St. John’s, Tulare, 2012
O Lord, let your word always be spoken, and your word always be heard. Amen
Lots of good things have taken place around the grounds of our church, under the watchful eyes of our Junior Wardens, in the ongoing development of the Children’s Learning Center – you may have seen that big colorful play set provided that was provided through the estate of Dave Zorn’s father, in our preparation and devotions during Holy Week, in people’s lives as they have been challenged with the life and death of Jesus this Holy Week, big answered prayers in jobs, safety, reconcilitation, and in gracious giving, both with financial gifts, and with personal energy.
It’s been a good Holy Week. It’s been a good Lent, if you can call Lent good, it’s been good! (Muffled assent from congregation).
The culmination of so much has been today, this Easter day. The centerpiece of our Christian faith is this day. We have acted in such ways as to show our faith in God..
I suppose there are some things we do that we think is a pain as we do our preparations for Easter. I know sometimes the Altar Guild does not say things they otherwise would. (Laughter) But when they see wax on the floor from the Great Vigil service, and they know SOMEbody’s got to get it up, I don’t hear anything….but I know some things are being said. (laughter).
It was that time during the Easter morning service for the Flowering of the Cross and “the Children’s Lesson”. As they will be in a short while, all the children were invited on this particular Easter to come forward, and one little girl was wearing a particularly pretty dress. As she sat down I leaned over and said to her, “That is a very pretty dress. Is that your Easter dress?”
The little girl replied, directly into my little clip-on microphone right here, “Yes, and my Mom says it’s a real pain to iron.” (Laughter) Christ is risen! (Laughter)
One of my new favorite stories I want to get to in a minute.
I guess we all have our little sacrifices that we make, our own little crosses to bear as we come.
And that’s what makes Easter so important to us especially just in our lives as we live it out.
It is true, too, that so much is done for the sake of the Good News of Jesus Christ by so relatively few. And most pastors, recognizing lots of faces in the congregation that just haven’t been seen since last Christmas, or even last Easter, will probably try to insert into their announcements or sermons today something about the need for the real effort to join in the fellowship and worship of Jesus EVERY Sunday with the Body of Christ.
My new favorite story in that regard is from a man in his forties who shared that
A friend of his was in front of him coming out of church one day, and the Pastor was standing at the door as was always his practice to shake hands. He grabbed his friend by the hand and pulled him aside.
The Pastor said to him, “You need to join the Army of the Lord!”
His friend replied, “I’m already in the Army of the Lord, Pastor.”
Pastor questioned, “How come I don’t see you except at Christmas and Easter?”
He whispered back, “I’m in the secret service.” (Laughter)
I’m not buying that one.
[****note: after the service was over several people were heard to say to Fr Eaton as he was shaking THEIR hands that they guessed they were part of the “secret service”. That will probably be the thing they remember most from the sermon!]
But now that you’re all here……
I am especially interested in making a further reference to our 40 days of reading through John DeVries’ book, “Why Pray?” Right from the start of that book the author made it clear that there is prayer, and there is the consequence of prayer. Prayer is the core of a Relationship with God; in fact it is a Conversation with God, talking and listening. And if God is talking and we are listening we should presume that we will be moved and directed to consider something beyond ourself. Prayer, and Work go hand in hand. And Prayer goes first. Two feet. One goes first always. And the work follows
So how does this translate into a point of preaching for Easter?
Seems clear to me that this is what the life and passion and death and resurrection of Jesus show, as well. Is this not the celebration of God’s work of love for us? The outcropping of that Love? Is this not the perfect sign and miracle showing that God’s LOVE for US goes somewhere? Does something?
Jesus did not come to us just to be born of the virgin Mary. Jesus did not get baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River just to get wet. Jesus did not get crucified just because he got tired of living in this world. And Jesus did not rise from the dead just to prove himself. Nor did he send the Holy Spirit as a tip from heaven for earthly hospitality.
No, there was purpose; and we, as ambassadors of Jesus will also be asked to show in our lives the consequences, the actions, the behaviors, the risks of those who have the power and the grace and hope and love of the risen Jesus Christ in us — that is just living to get out and make a difference in this dark world. Right through you.
So here’s how it looks.
Just like Prayer and Work are the two feet of our lives in relationship with God,
So our faith in Jesus Christ who has died and risen again is in tandem with our sharing of that faith and belief in good works, and proclamation of the Good News, all in order for bringing others into the Faith.
The core of it all – the center of it all – is belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus. It really is as simple as that. Nothing else we do matters if Jesus did not die, and if Jesus was not risen.
First, it is all about Him.
And THEN come the testimonies of changed lives, and then the feel good stories illustrating that new life.
Are you with me? Oh, a “Yeah, verily” would be good right now. (From the congregation, “yeah, verily!”)
And this, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, is the central faith and testimony of the Apostles, and the Early Church Fathers, the Apostolic Fathers and teachers, and every proclaimer of the faith up to our present time.
One of the great theologians on the Passion of Jesus Christ in the 20th century, a man by the name of Hans Urs von Balthasar, wrote “A Short Primer For Unsettled Laymen.” His conclusion was this:
“Without a doubt, at the center of the New Testament here stands the Cross, which receives its interpretation from the Resurrection.
“The Passion narratives are the first pieces of the Gospels that were composed as a unity. In his preaching at Corinth, Paul initially wants to know nothing but the Cross, which “destroys the wisdom of the wise and wrecks the understanding of those who understand”(I Cor 1:19, 23, 25)………
“Whoever removes the Cross and its interpretation by the New Testament from the center, in order to replace it, for example, with the social commitment of Jesus to the oppressed as a new center, no longer stands in continuity with the apostolic faith.”
It is not being Christian, then, from his (Balthasar’s) perspective, to be someone who does SOMEthing. But first it is someone who believes in the death and resurrection and then, through that, is enabled to do something in Jesus’ name.
You see, the point is, a working relationship with God means nothing in terms of eternal salvation without developing a relationship with God in conversation, that is, prayer. And the same is true that our assurance of eternal life comes through what Jesus did for us, and not what we will do for ourselves, or even what we will do for God as if…….
And for the skeptics out there, all you CSI officianados, looking for the proof of the Resurrection, you won’t find it. Eventually you will have to come to believe the eyewitness of those who saw it all, and all recorded for us in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Now, I have lots of proof of the presence and power of the Risen Jesus Christ here in the ministries of this parish. But as for that day, those days, that 3rd day…
Trying to prove the resurrection carries with it an inherent difficulty from the Jewish perpsective. As Bishop N. T. Wright said,
“One of the most striking differences between Christian belief and pre-Christian Jewish belief is that nobody expected the messiah to be raised from the dead — for the obvious reason that nobody expected the Messiah to be killed in the first place.”
How can you build a proof on something if the very first thought wasn’t even on people’s minds.
And so it becomes a scandal, “… a scandal to the Jews and foolishness to the gentiles”. (1 Cor 15)
If you have not, or if you have been unwilling, will you believe now? Believe because you have been told what it was then. And believe because you have witnesses. And believe because you desire hope; and you desire to be a person through whom God lets his love and grace and power flow to a world needing to hear the same good news.
Listen to the news that comes to you from various media forms… is there any doubt that the world needs the life and light that the risen Lord Jesus alone can bring? And in him, through us?
And so now we move on quickly to the other foot, if belief is one, then the actions of Christians is the other. The consequence of the resurrection of Jesus being made real in us – where God living in us should be expected to be seen right now, right here. Right wherever you are! Here is one of those illustrations of what it can gloriously look like for Christians:
You know the movie, perhaps you saw it, “Blind Side”, starring Sandra Bullock
The story of the professional football player, Michael Oher, now with the Baltimore Ravens
A story that has the same characters repeated all too often, but not with the same outcome.
A down and out high school kid from an extremely broken home, and having lived in extremely vile and dark environments, until seen walking along the road one day by the wealthy Tuohy family, especially the compassion of the wife and mother of the family. There’s a U-turn in the car, and that begins a relationship.
About a year later, Michael Oher moved in permanently with the wealthy white family. Before Oher’s senior year in high school, the Tuohys — with daughter Collins at a private school and a younger son, Sean Jr. — they became his legal guardians.
At one point in the movie, Michael, who has decided he has no other place to be except with them, is provided a bedroom by the family mother. He said, as he stepped into the bedroom, “I’ve never had one of these before.” She said, “What? A bedroom of your own?” And he said, “No, a bed.”
At that point something comes crashing into her awareness about a change that is taking place in him, and in her, about what’s happening at how she has become a vehicle for bringing something new and life giving.
In a recent interview during the recent playoffs, Michael says,
“They’ve got big hearts,”….. “To take somebody from my neighborhood into your house? Nobody does that. I don’t think I’d even do that. I’d help you out, but with a daughter and with all the violence and drugs where I come from … they didn’t have to do that. I owe a lot to them.”
I won’t tell the whole story, and it definitely is a feel good story. But what is so evident at critical parts of the story is how Michael was living in literal, physical, emotional, darkness. And then he stepped into the light.
And that was because of this family, and somehow being a Christian family allowing God’s love to work through them. That’s a Resurrection story.
Was it a chance encounter seeing him that first time walking along the road?
Sean, the family father, says the generosity was not the result of any epiphany or even as much as a family meeting.
“We think God sent him to us,” Sean says. “Earthly explanations don’t make sense.”
And neither does the resurrection, and its work in us.
This was not a one-day-it-was-darkness, and-one-day-it-was-light-kind-of-thing.
Referring to Holy Saturday, Alexander Schmemann said,
“Popular piety usually reduces Holy Week to one day — Holy Friday. This day is quickly replaced by another — Easter Sunday. Christ is dead and then suddenly alive. Great sorrow is suddenly replaced by great joy. In such a scheme Holy Saturday is lost.
“In the understanding of the Church, sorrow is not replaced by joy; it is transformed into joy. This distinction indicates that it is precisely within death that Christ continues to effect triumph.”
To conclude, we turn to Paul. For Paul, Christ is risen from the dead, the first fruits of those who sleep; and we who celebrate him as our contemporary are charged to work with him on his kingdom-project in the present time. 1 Corinthians 15 is a spectacular chapter, but one of the most remarkable verses in it is the last verse, where Paul says, “therefore get on with your work ..in the present, because in the Lord your labour is not in vain.” That is at the heart of the meaning of the resurrection. Because God is already making his new creation, all that you do in Christ and by the Spirit is part of that new world.
The things you do, the things you care about, the things you show in love, the laughter, the joy, the things you do to bring light into the darkness, they are not in vain, because Jesus is alive. His resurrection sets the scene and sets the platform for all that we will do.
If you‘ve been holding back because you weren’t sure whether something you were going to do, or thought about doing, or not sure of what you will do yet, is going to be helpful, or is a seed that won’t grow, or it is a hope that won’t be seen ….. Do It.
Because it is not in vain. Because Jesus is alive. And he has provided for us the light of the resurrection. You as his followers are the Risen Jesus in the world: Your hands, your feet, your laughter, your eyes, your minds, your hearts, Your compassion.
So let us watch and hope and pray for the moments that come to us from God,
and the opportunities we see first, that we can work. For the sake of the Risen Jesus.