"On Easter Mountain" - Easter Sermon 2013

John 20:1-18 (NIV)

1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

 3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.

 11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

 13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

   “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

 15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

   Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

   She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

 17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

 18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

 

 

In mythology, there must be some story about climbing a mountain to get wisdom from some great wise man.   I’ve seen the theme often in the newspaper comics section.   Here’s one from Hagar the Horrible. 

I tried researching on the Internet for the origins of these stories, and I got more of the same – just jokes and parodies.   So perhaps that means that most people think that there is no ultimate wisdom or truth.

My wife Karen decided that she wanted to climb a mountain a couple of years ago.  Not to see a wise man but just to have to the experience - vicariously.   So shortly before the Christmas of 2010 Karen hinted that she would like the  Discovery Channel DVD series on climbing Mount Everest.  When I realized that the DVD’s would not arrive in time for Christmas, I went on the Internet and downloaded a 360-degree panorama of the view on top of Mount Everest.  With my computer skills and some scotch tape I made one picture in a loop about a yard across - so that if a person’s head was inside the loop, that person could rotate and get the experience of standing on top of mount Everest and seeing in all directions.  

So on Christmas Eve when it was time for Karen to receive her gift I told her to stand in one place and close her eyes.  I placed the loop in her hands and told her to hold it so she was in the center of the loop with the loop being at eye level.  I didn’t tell her that before this I got some snow from outside.   With Karen's eyes closed I picked up the cup of snow from its hiding place.   I said, “When you open your eyes you are going to experience being on top of Mount Everest.”  As I said “Now open your eyes”, I dropped a little bit of snow down her back.

She wasn’t impressed.

Seeing in all directions and feeling the cold wasn’t enough. 

The DVD’s, when they arrived, provided some important added dimensions of experience.  The dimensions of life – human life – the horizontal and vertical human dimensions of life.   The horizontal dimension is our relationship with one another.  The vertical dimension is our relationship with God.

In the six hours of DVD’s we got to know people by name.  We got to know their stories. We got to know their financial sacrifices  to do this climb.   One climber had lost both legs to frostbite on a previous attempt to climb Everest and was climbing on specially designed prosthetic legs. One climber was in his sixties, one of the oldest climbers ever. Several climbers were on their second attempts, hoping this one would be successful.   We joined in their joy as some reached the top.  We joined some in their sorrow when they were not able to finish.  That’s mostly the horizontal dimension – our relationship with one another as human beings. 

What about the vertical dimension – Our relationship with God?  There were no worship services on the ascent.  I presume that some climbers prayed, but that wasn’t shown on camera.   But what we call “religion” is not the only aspect of the vertical dimension.    Every time we sacrifice some of our life in some way for another person we have to believe that the ultimate source of that is God.   So the vertical dimension was visible, too.

Today we are on top of a mountain – Easter Mountain.  It is the high point of the grand story of the Bible.   The Gospels are four views of Jesus going up to Easter Mountain.  However, Jesus was going up to Easter Mountain 400 years before that when, the last book of the Old Testament was written.  Jesus was going up to Easter Mountain when the Israelites crossed the Red Sea.  Jesus was going up to Easter Mountain when God called Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.   Jesus was going up to Easter Mountain before the creation of the world.

In the last 2000 years since the first Easter the Church has been showing and telling the view up on Easter Mountain – sometime brilliantly – sometimes very darkly.  In all six of the major sermons in Luke’s book of Acts, Jesus the Crucified and Risen Savior is mentioned – including that account where Steven preaches a sermon.   And just before Steven's life is taken from him by stoning, Luke says “But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus [a living Jesus] standing at the right hand of God.”   That’s the real view from Easter Mountain.  That’s the view that we will see some day – whatever seeing means on the other side of the grave.

But today we are in the position that the church has been in for two thousand years.  We are being reminded today of the view on Easter Mountain – not in the dimensions of earth and sky, but in the dimensions of horizontal and vertical relationships.   I can’t give you Stephen’s view – that’s the 3-D full color digital high definition view.   The words that we sing, pray, hear and say today are the fuzzy, black-and-white snowy pictures that we saw our early 1950’s TV sets.  (If your hair is not gray, you won’t remember those!)

What do we see then, in the vertical dimension of life – our relationship with God on Easter Mountain?

John spends a lot of his Gospel – almost half – recounting the events and conversations during Holy Week.  And a lot of it describes Easter Mountain life.  I will only mention a few the things Jesus told his disciples before his Crucifixion.

Jesus says to his disciples.   “Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?” (John 14:10)

Already the words don’t make sense.  My pen is in my pocket – so my pocket cannot be in my pen.  Jesus, you’ve got to give us clearer words!

In verse 16 Jesus starts talking about the Holy Spirit.   He says, “But you know him  [meaning the Holy Spirit] , for he lives with you and will be in you.”

Well, we can probably handle that.  The Holy Spirit is in us.

Verse 19-20  -  “Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.”

And again we have the problem of the “ins”.   How can someone say “You are in me and I am in you?”

Can we put all this into some grand truth?  The theology books that I read is seminary say, “God has put us in union with his Father/Son/Spirit union – with the Trinity.”

But we cry out – “I don’t understand the Trinity and, Pastor John, and I don’t understand what you just said.”  

But we already said today in our call to worship this morning, “We have come not to answer our questions but to see the face of God.”

And that is all we hope for today – to see the union of God with us – to see that God’s face is always turned towards us.  That’s the vision on Easter Mountain - vision not of earth and sky, but a vision of God’s relationship with us and our relationship with one another.

How real is this Easter Mountain vision of our union with God?

It’s so real that we already sang, “And He walks with me and He talks with me.  And He tells me I am His own.”   In the hymn “He Lives” we sang, “…and he lives within my heart.”  

How real is this Easter Mountain vision of our union with God?

It’s so real that we already heard Jesus tell Mary today, “Go instead to my brothers…”  Did you hear that?  He called his disciples brothers!  And he calls all of us his brothers and sisters!

How real is this Easter Mountain vision of our union with God?

It’s so real that we already heard Jesus tell Mary “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”   This statement can only make sense if Jesus - after his resurrection - is still, in some way, a human being who identifies with the rest of humanity.

How real is this Easter Mountain vision of our union with God?

It’s so real that God calls himself Father and we are called his children.

How real is this Easter Mountain vision?

It’s so real that God calls his church the temple of God – that’s the place where people could meet God in the Old Testament.  Now WE are the place where people meet God.

How real is this Easter Mountain vision?

It’s so real that, in the book of Revelation, John refers to Jesus as the Husband and his Church.

How real is this Easter Mountain vision?

It so real that scripture talks about us eating the body of Jesus and drinking his blood.

How real is this Easter Mountain vision?

It’s so real that Paul wrote to the Colossians,  “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” (Col 3:1)   Raised with Christ????  Oh, Paul must have had a slip of the brain!

How real is that Easter Mountain vision?

It so real that Paul wrote to the Ephesians.  “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” (Eph 2:6)

Paul said it again!!!   Really though - is that a problem?  Heaven is where God is.  God is not in our boxes – he is everywhere.    [At this point I came down to the congregation and touched one person in each of the three sections with these words:  “God his here and his face is turned toward you.”]

Oh!!!  Light bulb moment!!  Light bulb moment!! Listen to the words again – “…you have been raised with Christ...”  “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.”

Did you catch that?  That says that WE DID NOT CLIMB THIS MOUNTAIN!!!  God put us here!  How did we get here?   Let’s read some more from the same section in the Ephesians letter.   And with this section we can segue into a shorter discussion of vertical relationships.

(Eph 2)  3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

When did God put on Easter Mountain?  Did you catch that?  HE MADE US ALIVE EVEN WHEN WE WERE DEAD!!!    Are there dead people on Easter Mountain?   Then there must be resurrections on Easter Mountain!  People who experience entering a new life.  The evangelicals like to use the biblical term “Born again”.  Maybe we could call these “new births” fuzzy, snowy black and white TV images of the final resurrection where we clearly see the face of God in high definition.

Let’s look at the word “dead”.  In the Prodigal Son story – or the lost son story – the Father says to the wayward son – “For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” (Luke 15:24)   So let’s try that word “lost” instead of “dead”.

Now let’s put this in Easter Mountain language.   The New Testament most often calls people like us here “believers”.  Of course we know we don’t believe good enough.  Our faith is sometimes stronger, sometimes weaker.  Sometimes we KNOW we are on Easter Mountain; sometimes we are not so sure.  (And I do mean WE in all of this – including myself).   But we have some idea where we are.  We have that idea because of our stumbling, bumbling prayers.  We have that idea because we listen to God…pretty often.  We have that idea because we read from scripture…if we’re not too sleepy.  We have that idea because we gather in a weekly worship service…and stay awake for most of the time.  We have that idea because periodically we bring to remembrance that Jesus has put us here by our eating the bread and drinking the wine – and when we leave the table we know we did not remember good enough.   But we have a pretty good idea of where we are because God has gracefully blessed our feeble efforts.

So we who are believers have a pretty good idea of where we are. We are on Easter Mountain.  The lost have no idea of where they are. That’s the definition of lost.   Among the lost are some who were never shown where they are.  Others of the lost just don’t believe yet for whatever reason.   Others of the lost have built their Tower of Babel and have made a name for themselves and don’t care much for the name “child of God”.  

Who does God use to help the lost find out where they are?   It’s those of us who are pretty sure where we are.  So what kind of language do we use?

It’s really pretty easy.  We use baptism language – and it works for both main modes of baptism.  If we baptize an infant, we know that that infant cannot even sit up, much less climb a mountain.  And we proclaim that God has welcomed that child and brought that child up on Easter Mountain.  And we tell the parents and we tell the church to keep telling that child where he or she is.  

What about believers’ baptism where we baptize a person who is old enough to say “I believe…”

There we ask the one baptized to say out loud that he or she believes God has brought them to Easter Mountain.   We ask the one baptized to say out loud he or she believes in God’s unconditional forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ.  We ask the one baptized to say out loud that he or she believes in God’s unconditional love for all.

That’s the KIND of language that we have to speak.  But how do we know WHAT to do and say in each situation, since each situation is different?   How do we know what to do and say when the fellowship is good?   How do we know what to do and say when the fellowship is contentious?  

 We listen for the Holy Spirit.    We recognize his voice from our own selfish voice because he speaks with an Easter Mountain accent!

 Well that’s our view of Easter Mountain.  Gods face is always turned toward us.   That’s the horizontal and vertical of the Easter Mountain.    Imprecise words.  A fuzzy, snowy, 1950’s black and white TV picture of the face of God.     On Easter we remember the promise that that we will see God face to face.   And we will see in that final resurrection something EVEN BETTER than a full color 3D digital high definition view of the face of God!

 I cannot write a better conclusion for this sermon than what I find in John’s third letter.  So I will read it word-for-word.

 1 John 3:  1 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

 

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