Remembering Dennis P. Buckley

They tell me 11,000 feet high in the Colorado Rocky Mountains there is a secret monument honoring war veterans. It is called “Soldierstone.” It sets high in the majestic peaks and is made of polished granite. It was the brainchild of Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Allen Beckley, who served in Vietnam for ten years. It was constructed in 1985, the same year Beckley died of cancer. He was in the Special Forces, a Green Beret. His unit would parachute behind enemy lines and train indigenous people to defeat their enemies, saving American lives. That monument stands in memory of those fallen indigenous soldiers. The monument is well hidden for a simple reason. Our government denied their existence for decades. When they died, they were soon forgotten. Beckley saw this as wrong. No one should ever be forgotten. He was right. Everyone who dies deserves to be remembered. That leads us to this morning’s scripture lesson.

We are in the fourth chapter of Joshua. After forty years in the wilderness, the people have just crossed the Jordan and entered the Promised Land. Moses is dead and the people are being led by their new warrior leader, Joshua. It must have been a great day. It was a day they had dreamed of for decades. They could have celebrated in countless ways, but do you remember what they did? No, they did not have a party. There were no fireworks. There were no long-winded addresses made by boring politicians. Instead, they built a memorial. God told Joshua to instruct the people to take twelve stones, one representing each tribe, from the middle of the Jordan (verse 2). The tribes do so, and God stops the water from flowing to make their task easier (verse 7). It is easy to stop a river after you have divided a sea. The stones are taken to dry ground and piled up. That pile of stones was to act as a memorial for future generations (verses 6-7). There was nothing unique about that memorial. It is just a pile of rocks, but it served the purpose. That memorial did three important things all memorials are designed to do.

First, memorials force us to look to the past! As future generations looked at that pile of rocks, they remembered the past. I do not just mean the day they crossed the Jordan. That day was just one page in the long history of the Hebrew people. They remembered everything that happened to their people to that point. How well do you remember your Old Testament? They remembered the four patriarchs. They remembered Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. They remembered how Joseph saved the people from the famine and led them into Egypt. They remembered how their favored status was evoked and slavery became a reality. They remembered how hard their lives were as slaves and their prayers for a liberator. They remembered the day they left Egypt and the parting of the sea. They remembered the day Moses came down from Sinai with the Ten Commandants and their wilderness experience. They remembered Joshua and the generation that seized their land. Memorials force us to look to the past!

Second, memorials force us to discover what is important! Joshua’s stone memorial did more than just remind them of historical events. It reminded them of the general theme of their race. It reminded them that God had always been with them and God always will. They had a special relationship with God. After all, they are God’s Chosen People. That was important to them. What is important to you? Memorials force us to discover what is important!

Third, memorials force us to consider the future! When Joshua looked at that memorial made from twelve rocks, he had to think about the future. He was challenged by the events of the past and his people’s special relationship with God. They were not just going to be like every other nation. They were going to be different. They were going to be better. They had a unique opportunity to be holy. When you look to the future what are your aspirations. Memorials force us to look to the future! Let me state the obvious.

Memorials are important! That is why our world is filled with all different kinds of memorials. I have never been to a country that did not have memorials. Consider this partial list me me. The Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, Lenin’s Tomb is Russia, the Taj Mahal in India, and the Colosseum in Italy, the Eiffel Tower in France and the Great Wall in China, Christ the Redeemer in Brazil, are all memorials. Today, there are countless on-line memorials.

Memorials are important to Americans too. Did you know the National Park Service manages 30 national memorials? This is part of that list. There is Arlington House or The Robert E. Lee Memorial, Flight 93 Memorial, The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, The General Grant Memorial, The Korean War Veterans Memorial, The Vietnam War Memorial, The Lincoln Memorial, The Martin Luther King Memorial, The Jefferson Memorial, The Pearl Harbor Memorial, and Mount Rushmore. There are also memorials to the First and Second World Wars, as well as the Wright Brothers. Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial is the only national memorial in the state of Ohio. There cannot be too many memories because there is so much to remember. It is sad when something important or someone is forgotten. I know that is true because I have experienced that in my own life. This is the story.

It all began with a simple phone call in April of 2016. The voice on the other end of the line was a familiar one. It was a local funeral director asking if I was available to do a service on a certain date at a certain time. I glanced at the calendar on my phone and said, “Yes.” I was warned the deceased did not die recently. He died on June 30, 1951. His name was Dennis P. Buckley. He was only 23 years old. He lived in the Youngstown area as a youth and joined the Navy. When his hitch was up with the Navy he reenlisted in the Army. He was order to Korea to fight the spread of communism. He was sent to a dangerous region and was taken as a prisoner of war. Returning soldiers said he died as a POW in the Susan Camp. His remains had been returned now, because our government had signed a treaty with the North Korean government. His remains were only one of several. He was identified by DNA testing and dental records. I was humbled to be asked and play a small part in the ceremony.

When the day came, I went to the funeral home. There was no shortage of military. Every other person was in uniform. A guard was constantly posted beside his remains, which fit in a hat size box. An American flag and the blouse of an Army uniform were framed. I was introduced to Buckley’s only living relative, a niece, and I was introduced to the officer in charge. It was a strange introduction. There is always a tension between professional military and clergy. The two do not see the world in the same way. When the service began there was a stiffness in the air. I had read those words a million times, but this time it was different. The words seem to hit the floor in front of the lectern. There was no emotion, but a surplus of respect. When the remains were placed in the hearse by the military, I sat in the lead car next to the funeral director. We were heading to the Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery in Rittman. Arlington National Cemetery is filling up, so regional national cemeteries have been established. The closest one to us is in Rittman. If you have never been to a national cemetery, go. They are impressive. We did not travel alone. There was a military escort, along with random motorcycles. Everyone saw us coming and everyone seemed to know the story. Cars pulled to the side so not to impede our progress. Trucks pulled into the rest area and the drivers saluted as Buckley passed. When we arrived at the cemetery more military was waiting for us. There was no waiting. They escorted us to the designated spot, and everyone exited the cars. Everyone stood. The Honor Guards represented every branch of the military, Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard. Buckley’s remains were handled respectfully and I walked behind the cart. I was told where to stand and when to speak. I said the committal clearly, stood to the side and watched the military say their parting words. Their words were genuine. Once the flag was folded, it was presented to Buckley’s niece. Finally, taps were played. She was moved to tears. Then, as fast as it began, it was over.

As I waited to leave, the local news team appeared. The same reporters I had seen on my television. They asked me to say a few words. I said, I was humbled. They asked, the funeral director to say a few words. He said he was honored. They asked Dennis Buckley’s niece to say a few words. She was out of her comfort zone. However, I think about her words every Memorial Day. She looked at the camera and thanked everyone for their kindness. They asked her about what she remembered about Dennis. She said, “To be honest, I think, I only met him once. I had forgotten about him.” The reporter tried not to look disappointed, but there was nothing else to say. How do you forget someone who gave so much?

How many people have you forgotten who have died serving our country? No one should be forgotten. How are you going to remember those who died in service to our country? George S. Patton (1885-1945) was an American general during the Second World War. He commanded the Seventh Army. He once said, “It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God such men lived.” May they never be forgotten.

Good-bye For Now

When I was young, Americans played a sport called baseball. It was called our national past-time. It was so popular that professional baseball leagues were formed and the truly gifted at baseball were paid handsome sums. Perhaps, the most gifted of all the professional baseball players was a man named Babe Ruth (1895-1948). He played for the hated New York Yankees. He not only changed the game. Many believe he saved the game. In 1927, Babe Ruth became the first player to hit sixty home runs in a single season. He hit 714 home runs in his career and had a career batting average of .342. In 1923, he hit .393. He was one of the first five to be voted into baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Time can be cruel.

By June 1948, the great Babe Ruth was only a shell of his younger self. He had terminal cancer. Everyone accepted the reality. He would never see Labor Day. He was 53 years old. It was the Yankee organization who decided to plan a Babe Ruth Day. It would be June 13, 1948 at “The House That Ruth Built, Yankee Stadium. Babe Ruth Day would give the fans one more opportunity to express their appreciation.  Goodbyes are never easy, especially when you will never see the person again. With that in mind, let us look at the scripture lesson together.

We find ourselves in the first chapter of Acts. The first three verses summarize the entire Gospel of Luke. Remember, Acts is the sequel of Luke. Both were written to Theophilus, one who loves God. Verse four is the beginning of something new. According to the text, Jesus had gathered the disciples around him. He tells them about the coming of the Holy Spirit. Soon, the divine helper will touch each one of them and enable them to be his witnesses throughout the world. The only thing they had to do to was wait in Jerusalem. This is the truth. The disciples do not have a clue. They expose their ignorance when they asked Jesus about the completion of the kingdom of Israel. Jesus redirects the discussion back to the Holy Spirit. Then something happens that no one expects. Verse nine says he was taken up. He levitated off the ground and raised so high that he was covered by a cloud. Not believing their own eyes, they were in awe. With squinting eyes and bent necks, they strain to get their last view of Jesus. It must have been one of those moments in life that they never forgot. Hoping for one more view of Jesus, two men dress in white had to nudge them back to reality.

The disciples must have been overwhelmed as they stood there. It was almost cruel to expect the disciples to accept so much in such a short amount of time. In short, they were in awe. They were awed by their past, present, and future.

First, they were awed by what they had experienced. Think of everything they had experienced with Jesus. Time is not always what is important. They had only been with Jesus for three years. How many relationships do you have that are older than three years? Just think about everything they had experienced during those three years! There is more to a relationship then time. There is significance.

Second, they were in awe of what they were experiencing. It really is an outrageous scene. The words in the scripture lesson are just shadows of what really happened. How do you describe a miracle? How do you describe ascension? When was the last time your words could not capture an experience?

     Third, the disciples were awed by what they would experience. They were pre-Pentecost disciples. They have just been told they are to go into the world and witness for about Jesus. I cannot think of one group less qualified for this task. They knew very little. They understood very little. They were unprepared and unequipped. You would be hard pressed to find a group that was more impotent. They were in awe because of the things they would experience in the future. However, this is equally true.

The disciples did not have the time to process the significance of that experience. Two thousand years later, we see it clearly. The ascension of Jesus was part of God’s plan of salvation for the world. God planned from the very beginning to enter this world. He did not come as a mighty warrior. He came as a tiny baby. We celebrate Christmas with full hearts because we recognize Jesus to be the very incarnation of God. At the age of thirty, Jesus started a three-year ministry. That is even a short appointment within the world of the United Methodist Church. Yet, during that three-year period, Jesus taught about the Kingdom of God in a powerful way. The crowds followed which made the orthodox leaders of his faith insecure. They decide Jesus must be eliminated, so they come up with a sinister plan. You know the plan. One of Jesus’s own, Judas Iscariot, betrays Jesus. While praying, he is arrested in the garden and is tried twice, once by his own people, once by the Roman governor Pilate. He is the one who ordered the execution. Jesus died on a Friday afternoon and the few who loved him grieved. He is placed in a new tomb. A massive stone was placed tightly at the opening of the cave so the smell of Jesus’s decaying body would not escape. Guards were posted in front of the tomb to eliminate any future problems. For Jesus’s enemies the problems were just beginning. After the Sabbath, on Sunday, women show up at the tomb of Jesus. They are the ones who make the great discovery. Miraculously, Jesus had returned to life and for the next forty days Jesus appeared to various believers proving his was a bodily resurrection. Sometimes the resurrected Jesus appeared to small groups and sometimes the resurrected Jesus appeared to large crowds.

That all leads us to today, Ascension Day. That is the day Jesus exited this world and entered heaven. The ascension of Jesus is important because it reminds of two things in the Christian faith. First, it reminds us of the supremacy of Jesus. He is our only hope of salvation. Second, it reminds us of the existence of heaven, itself. On day Jesus did not just say, “Good-bye” to the disciples. That is the day Jesus said, “Good-bye for now,” to the disciples. The Master knew they would be reunited again in heaven in the future. Oswald Chambers (1874-1917) was an early-twentieth-century Scottish Baptist and Holiness Movement evangelist and teacher. He once said, “At His ascension our Lord entered heaven, and he keeps the door open for humanity to enter.” This is a fair question to ask you today?

Do you believe in the existence of heaven? In 2015, the Pew Research Group told us only 72% of all Americans believe heaven exists. That figure does not really surprise me. In a world that turns to science and technology to solve all our problems, heaven is a stretch. To that crowd the ascension is foolishness. Do you believe natural law was suspended enabling Jesus to ascend into heaven? Just think about it.

The understanding of the cosmos has changed. In Biblical times, the masses believed heaven was up there. So when Jesus ascended above the clouds, he was entering heaven, itself. In our time, modern aviation has permitted many to ascend above the clouds. I, myself, have looked down on the clouds and into lower level of the earth’s atmosphere. In 1969, mankind landed on the moon for the first time. From that distance the earth is beautiful but there is no scene of heaven. Voyager 1 reached interstellar space. From that distance the earth is nothing more than a light blue dot, but there is no sign of heaven. So let me ask you the question again. Do you believe heaven exists? Everyone must answer that question for themselves.

This is my answer – YES! I cannot give you scientific proof or a mathematical equation to prove the existence of heaven. I cannot give you a location or a dimension. The only thing I can give you a testimony. We have all heard the stories of people who have visited heaven and have returned home to report. Those stories are important because they give us hope. If you do not believe in heaven, then you are living without hope. If heaven does not exist, then there is no hope of a reunion with loved ones. When they die, we just say, “Good-bye,” because it is over. If heaven does exist, then there is hope of a reunion with loved ones. When they die, we say, “Good-bye for now,” because we believe we will see them again. That is something worth pondering. Let me end with this story.

When I was about ten years old, my family vacationed in the state of Maine. I have fond memories of that trip. The five of us climbed into our tiny family car and saw the sites. We went to Maine for one reason. It was the home state of my father’s stepmother, my Grandma Helen. She was the only grandmother I ever knew on that side. My biological grandmother had died eight years before I was born. One day on that trip, we connected with my grandparents in a place near Boothbay Harbor. It was on the Atlantic coast. We met at the small home owned my Grandma Helen’s cousins Mary and Marge. They hosted everyone for lunch. I do not remember the menu, but I do remember the scenery. Maine’s rocky coastline was impressive, and the air was brisk. I enjoyed the surf crashing against the rocks.

It must have been late in the afternoon when we started saying goodbye. I remember standing near my mother and sisters. My grandfather thanked the ladies for their hospitality and jumped into the car. My Grandma Helen lagged to say good-bye to her elderly cousins. At first, they were just talking. Then, they started hugging. Finally, they started crying. The emotions made an uncomfortable scene. One of my sisters asked our mother, “Why are they crying?” My mother answered, “When you are their age, you don’t know if you are going to see each other again. This may be their final goodbye.”

I hate to say this one week after Mother’s Day, but my mother was wrong! In the Christian faith there is no good-byes between believers. There are only good-byes for now. Someday we will be reunited again with departed loved ones in heaven. Do you remember what Oswald Chambers said? He was not wrong. He said, “At His ascension our Lord entered heaven, and he keeps the door open for humanity to enter.”Do you believe in the existence of heaven?

A Mother’s Influence

We find ourselves today in the second chapter of John. This story is only found in the gospel of John. It cannot be found in Matthew, Mark, or Luke. However, that fact does not diminish the importance of this story. Everyone knows the story of Jesus’ first miracle. The scene is a wedding reception. Couples in Jesus’ day did not go on honeymoons. No one traveled to Mexico, the Caribbean or Hawaii. Instead, they stayed at home and held receptions that lasted approximately a week. That is a lot of partying, I am glad I did not have to pay for that reception.

According to the story, Jesus was invited to one of these week-long receptions. I would like to say his invitation came because Jesus was fun. This is the truth. His invitation came because Jesus was a respected rabbi. It is while Jesus is at this reception that the unthinkable happens. The wine runs out. The hosts of the reception are devastated and look for someone to blame. Mary did not look for the guilty, Mary looked at Jesus. She knew Jesus had the power to save the day. She believed in Jesus when Jesus did not believe in himself. She knew it was time for Jesus to get started. God had a special plan for her son. This was the problem is, Jesus was not ready. In verse four, we find Jesus making an excuse for his inactivity, “My time has not yet come.”  Mary does not listen. Instead, she instructs servants to bring him water. By the end of the scene, the party has resumed, and everyone is happy. Everyone had enough wine. Verse ten tells us, it was good wine. What does that mean? It means the wine Jesus produced had a kick.

Today, I do not want to talk about wine. I want to talk about the important role of motherhood. You know the truth. Motherhood does not end when the child starts school or learns how to drive. Motherhood is a never-ending job. Motherhood always has unfinished business. Look at the story. Jesus was thirty years old and he still needed his mother. Do not fool yourself, regardless of your children’s age or station, your children still need you. I have wrapped my thoughts about motherhood around three thoughts. Mary models each one in our story. However, these words are not just isolated to mothers. They are useful in all relationships. This is my first statement.

Mothers encourage their children! Jesus is thirty years old in the scripture lesson for today, but he still needed to be encouraged. The Master was hesitant, but Mary encouraged him to do it. Encouragement is something mothers do best. Mothers encourage their children to take their first step, and mothers have encouraged their children to start their own business or get that advanced degree. The world is always telling us that we are not good enough. When you encourage someone, you are saying, “I believe in you.” Does anyone here need a word of encouragement? When was the last time you encouraged someone? Mothers encourage their children! This is my second statement.

Mothers prepare their child to survive in this world! Mary had an unfair advantage. She had all the memories of Jesus’ birth tucked away in her heart and mind. She knew Jesus was called to be more than a carpenter. Do not ever look at the child in your life and believe they have arrived. Our children are like us, evolving into something new. I grow weary of people who tell of their children’s past failures and difficulties. I am sure they could have done better in school. I am sure they could have been more respectful during those teenage years. I am sure their divorce brought shame on the whole family. Let me give you some pastoral advance, move forward! Let those past things stay in the past. Look at the people in your life and envision their future. Everyone has the right to tap into their potential and evolve into something new. When you look at your children, do you just look back? When you look at your children, do you look to the future? Mothers prepare their children to survive in this world! This is my third statement.

Mothers prepare their children for eternity! We are constantly reminded we are in the middle of a great pandemic. The numbers are not pretty. Over 258,000 have died around the world from complication caused by the coronavirus. Over 72,000 have died in the United States from complication caused by the coronavirus. Those numbers will grow. Everyone is talking about a cure. No one is talking about the salvation of those who have died. I do not want to sound negative, but that takes the grieving to a new level. Heaven would change if one person were missing. Heaven would change if one loved one was missing. How could you enjoy heaven if one of your children were missing? Mothers prepare their children for eternity!

I hope you do not misunderstand me. I am not talking about bullet points on an agenda. They are not three things that need to be completed. They are three themes that are that are built into the fabric of the relationship between a mother and her children. These three things must be part of the core values in every Christian mother. The great wiseman Solomon (990 BCE–931 BCE) said it best in Proverbs 22:6, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old, they will not turn from it.” I know that is true because that is my story.

My mother’s name was Ruth. She was raised in Brooklyn, New York. The oldest of two daughters to Walter and Nina Milligan. She attended P.S. 92 and graduated from Erasmus Hall High School. At that time, young women were encouraged to stay at home and not continue their education. She did not listen. During the dark days of the Second World War she went to Pratt Institute and studied dietetics. After graduation, it was assumed she would live with her parents, but she did not listen. Instead, she moved to Jersey City, New Jersey and worked in a hospital. After working long days, she went back to school at night to work on her master’s degree. However, she never got that degree.

One night everything changed. On that night, the work and the studies were placed to the side and she attended a social gathering at the Marble Collegiate Church. The Second World War had just ended, and dances were held so returning soldiers could meet single young women. She met a young dark-haired and complexed man from Ohio. He was an art student at the New York City School of Interior Design. At first, she was not interested in him because she thought he was Italian, which meant he was Catholic. She was suddenly interested in him when she found out he was Protestant. In time, they married, and they moved to Ohio. His job sent them to Warren. He always called her his Big City woman. In more time, they had three children, twin girls, and a boy. My mother had a career as a dietitian, but my sisters and I never questioned her priorities. We knew, we were her greatest priority. Nothing else really mattered. My mother was always encouraging. My mother was always preparing us for the future, both in this world and heaven.

When my father died in 1996, my mother did not do well. She stayed in their home, but she never adjusted to being alone. Family would visit from time to time. Occasionally, she would fly out to visit my sister, Janet, in Colorado. My other sister, Susan, and I went out to lunch with her every Wednesday. They were stressful lunches because my mother was on the decline. The same woman who had an independent spirit as a young adult had become paranoid. She felt like everyone was belittling her. In time, she left her home and moved to Copeland Oaks. At first, she had her own apartment. Then for a few days, she was in assisted living. The final step was the nursing home. She hated the Crandall Medical Center. She begged us to get her released. We had no other options, so she stayed.

It was early spring in 2002. She was not just unhappy. She was dying of a broken heart. My sister, Susan, and I did what we could. We were taking turns sitting with her so she would not be alone. One night, it was my turn and I sat in the shadows of her room. I knew I was sitting near her death bed. At first, I thought about my childhood, but then, as the hour grew late, I began to think of everything that had to happen the next day. I stood up and decided to leave. However, before I left, I leaned over and kissed her on her forehead. I said softly, “I love you.” From some unknown power source she suddenly had a moment of clarity. She responded, “I hope so. I am your mother!” I am glad she was because she made me a better person. She would be the first one to admit it; she was not a perfect person. She made mistakes and she knew disappointment. However, I can testify today that she was a good mother, who taught me life’s most valuable lessons. She was always encouraging and always preparing us for the future, both in this world and in heaven. If you have ever experienced any positive from me, it is because of her. Solomon was not wrong. “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old, they will not turn from it.” That is how I remember her. How will you be remembered?

Behind Locked Doors

We find ourselves today in the twentieth chapter of John. So much has already happened. This is all you need to know: Jesus had died, and Jesus had returned from the dead. We have had two thousand years to process the resurrection; the disciples did not have that luxury. They were forced to accept the resurrection in a few hours.  That was a hard thing to do. According to the text, it is Sunday evening, Easter evening. The disciples were together. They must have felt as if it was them against the world. They really had no one else. They feared the Jewish leaders, who had orchestrated the death of Jesus, may be looking for them. The door is locked for their own protection. The disciples are afraid. Do you know of anyone in your life who is afraid this morning?

In my life I know a young woman who carries a great amount of responsibility. Her name is Candance. She is high energy. She is married and has two teenagers in her home. She is highly involved in both her husbands and children’s lives. She has a responsible job, which forces her to be detail oriented. Her plate is always full, but the pandemic was one too many things on her plate. One day at work she started getting chest pains. She was taken to the emergency room. The good news is Candance did not have a heart attack. The bad news is she is a victim of stress. Her doctor made an appointment with a cardiologist. After all the tests we run, she sat with her cardiologist. She reviewed all her heart tests with her. There was nothing abnormal. Then he asked her about her life. She told him about his husband, children, and job. He enquired about recent changes in her life which were upsetting to her. She confessed the coronavirus did not just bother her, it terrified her. She said, “I am trying to get all the information possible about the pandemic, so I can keep myself and my family safe. My tv is always on 24/7 news.” According to Candance, the cardiologist told her to turn her tv off, because it was causing her stress. She is not the only one. There are many who are locked behind closed doors afraid of the coronavirus.

You really cannot blame them because the numbers are not pretty. Did you know, as of Friday, there have been over 3.2 million confirmed cases of coronavirus in the world. (234,765 have died.) There have been over one million confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States. (55,439 have died.) There have been over 18,000 confirmed causes of coronavirus in Ohio. (975 have died.) There have been 828 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Mahoning County. (80 have died.) How many people do you know have had the coronavirus? Do you know anyone who has died of the coronavirus? Do you know of anyone who is afraid of the coronavirus and is living behind locked doors? I will admit, I was afraid how this church would respond to the coronavirus. I am proud to report, you are much braver than I ever knew. With this in mind, let us look at the Gospel lesson again.

This is the good news for today: Someone unlocked the door and the disciples came out. They did not just come out. They came out different people and transformed their world. Three things happened to the disciples behind that locked door which led to their transformation. Let us briefly look at those three things.

First, the disciples experienced the resurrected Jesus. Look at the text with me. It is important that you look at the timeline. It is not Easter morning; it is Easter evening. The disciples have had all day to wrestle with the women’s account of experiencing the resurrected Jesus. Did you hear what I said? They had heard about the resurrected Jesus, but they had not experienced the resurrected Jesus. Once Jesus appears to them, he shows them his hands and his feet to prove he is genuine. When they are finally convinced it is Jesus, they are overjoyed. There is a world of difference between hearing about the resurrected Jesus and experiencing the resurrected Jesus. Everything changes once you experience the resurrected Jesus!

Second, the disciples experienced the Holy Spirit. Look at the text with me again. When the disciples finally experience the resurrected Jesus, they are overjoyed. Verse 22 says, Jesus breathed on them and they received the Holy Spirit. Why is that line important? Receiving the Holy Spirit means you do not have to do the work of the church alone. The Holy Spirit goes before us and helps us. It is like cutting a tree down in your yard. You have a choice. You can cut it down with a hand saw, or you can cut it down with a chain saw. Which one are you going to use? The Holy Spirit made their divine work easier.

Third, the disciples embraced the mission. Look at the text with me one last time. Once the disciples had experienced the resurrected Jesus and accepted the Holy Spirit, Jesus gave them a job. Verse 23 says, “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”  What does that verse mean? It simply means we are to take the Good News into the world and win souls for Jesus. Only one of the disciples in the room at that moment, John, died an old man. The rest died a martyr’s death. You cannot tell me the disciples did not embrace the mission.

It is not just the story of the disciples over two thousand years ago. It is the story of disciples in every generation. Every generation must experience the resurrected Jesus for themselves. Every generation must experience the Holy Spirit for themselves. Every generation must embrace the mission for themselves because every generation of the church has been entrusted with the Good News of Jesus Christ. If one generation of the church fails to pass on the Good News to the next generation, then the faith itself will fail. With so many churches failing, I feared we would be that generation who let Jesus down. Then, the coronavirus entered our world and God reminded us the church exists not in buildings, programs, and budgets. The church exists in the hearts of men and women who believe.

I got the news of Friday, March 13. I will admit it. It was a shock. East Ohio Resident Bishop Tracy Malone had suspended worship for the foreseeable future due to the coronavirus. Everything was really to go for Sunday, March 15. The sermon was written, the music was selected, and the bulletins were run. On that Sunday morning, I came out late in the morning. I walked around our empty building and thought about what should have been. I was filled with questions because I did not know how the congregation would respond. However, there was one thing I did know. We had to adapt if we were going to survive. Over the past few weeks, we made some changes to adjust to our new normal. We did four things.

Devotions – Several years ago, we began to write a Lenten devotional. This year my wife, Kathryn wrote it. They are not just theologically accurate. They are well written. Every day, a devotion was emailed to the entire congregation. The mailings were scheduled to end on Easter, but due to the pandemic we decided to continue. Writing a daily devotion is a big job and we owe her a great deal. Those devotion are a reminder our church is functional.

Facebook – Every Saturday morning at 10:00, I come to the church and record my message for Facebook. I meet two friends. The first is Doug Price who acts as my camera man, liturgist, and editor. The second is Mark Halls who is an accomplished pianist. I knew Facebook is a power tool, but I never imagined. I email those YouTube links ever Sunday morning for the non-Facebook members. Many have shared those links. More people listen to me now, than ever have in person.

FM Transmitter – The idea of parking lot worship was not original. I first heard about it on the local news. One of our sister churches was doing it and I thought we could do it. We purchased a FM transmitter on Ebay and had to wait several weeks. It was worth the wait. We will remain in the parking lot until the pandemic passes.

Contact – There is nothing high tech about this idea. I knew it was important to stay in touch with everyone, so I started to contact them. I went through the directory, A to Z. Then I went from Z to A. Then I started in the middle and went forward, then backwards. Some I called. Some I texted. Some I emailed. I cannot tell you how much I learned listening to you.

This is the truth. I knew, I could change. I did not know if you would change. After all, the church is not known for changing rapidly. Some churches will never change. However, that is not the case here. This church did change and seemed to be energized by the challenge. I have always believed churches vote in two ways, by attendance and financial support. If people do not like what is happening, then they will not come. If people do not like what is happening, then they will not give. If people do like what is happening in their church, then they will come and give. I did not know if they would come and give with all the changes. I was afraid people would stay at home tight fisted behind locked doors. I am glad to say, “I was wrong!” I had nothing to fear.

People have been coming! On Palm Sunday, we tried something new. We called it, Palms and Prayers. Respecting our social distancing guidelines, everyone who came got a palm and a prayer. For two hours, I talked and prayed with people. In that 120 minutes, there were very few breaks. On Easter, approximately two hundred came to listen to our parking lot to hear about the resurrection of Jesus. Last Sunday, more than one hundred sat in their cars again on a cold wet day to hear the word proclaimed. For years, I have called this church the ultimate non-prophet. This church has next to no financial reserves. We exist on your generosity. In the economic storm we are living in, I was afraid you might forget us, but we have not been forgotten. I am humbled by your generosity and moved by your Christian love. You are hungry for God and concerned about one another. The number of people who have offered to help others is really something.

The coronavirus has brought out the best out in us. I will admit it. I was wrong! You were not like the frightened disciples behind locked doors. You were like the disciples who left that once locked room to face a changing world. Can I be honest with you? I am proud to stand with you not just as your friend or your pastor. I am proud to stand with you as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Do you remember the quote from T.S. Elliot (1888-1965) is considered one of the great poets of the 20th century. He once said, “The True Church will never fail. For it is based upon a rock.”

How Successful Are You?

We find ourselves today in the twenty-first chapter of John. According to the text, the disciples are on the Sea of Tiberias. The locals called it the Sea of Galilee. Seven of the eleven remaining disciples are present. Judas Iscariot’s vacancy has not yet been filled. According to verse four, it was early in the morning. The workday was over for the disciples. Ancient fishermen normally fished at night. It must have been a long night, because not a single fish had been caught. To rub salt in their wounds, someone calls out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” They respond with a single word answer, “No.” Feeling like failures, they almost missed the significance of the moment. The one who had inquired about their labors was Jesus himself. He stood on the shore, unidentified by the disciples. The Master encourages them to try again. This time on the opposite side of the boat, the right side. Exasperated, yet showing restraint, the disciples cast their net one more time. They were glad they did because they had the catch of their lives. Their net, which moments earlier had been empty, was filled with fish. It is only then that “the disciple whom Jesus loved”, John, identifies Jesus. The story ends by telling us there were 153 fish in the net. Miraculously, the net never tore, and a fortune was made. On that day, at that moment, the disciples must have felt like successes. Money has a way of making us feel successful; money also has a way of making us feel like a failure. This is the question for today: How successful are you?

If you ask the internet highway the question, who are the most successful people in America, it will automatically take you to the richest people in America. According to Money, in a January 16, 2018 article, these are ten richest and, I guess, the most successful people in America. Let me give them to you in reverse order.

          Rob Walton ($47.9 billion)

          Charles and David Koch ($48.6 billion) ((Since that time David has died.)

          Sergey Brin ($53.3 billion)

          Larry Ellison ($54.7 billion)

          Larry Page ($54.9 billion)

          Mark Zuckerberg ($77.5 billion)

          Warren Buffet ($87.2 billion)

          Bill Gates ($93.3 billion)

          Jeff Bezos ($109.9 billion) (Now, he is worth $138.5 billion

By the way, the same article tells us Bezos is the richest person in history, so that makes him the most successful in history. You may want to check with his ex-wife.

If you consider these people to be the most successful people in America, then you must consider the approximately 600,000 Americans who filed for bankruptcy protection last year the biggest failures. Do you know anyone who has filed for bankruptcy protection? Have you ever filed for bankruptcy protection? Many believe that label of failure is unfair, because the number one reason people file for bankruptcy protection in America is due to medical expenses. So, let me ask you the question again, how successful are you? That is a complex question, because there is more to being successful than having money. If you do not believe me, just ask Bill Cosby.

The other day it was announced Bill Cosby (born 1937) would not be released from prison due to the pandemic because he was considered a sexual predator. Everyone agrees, Bill Cosby is not considered successful. However, for many years we did consider him successful. At one point in his life, Bill Cosby had a net worth of approximately $450 million. You know his story. He has lived his life in front of a crowd. He started as a stand-up comedian in San Francisco in the early 1960’s. Then, he landed a starring role on a television show called I Spy. I remember watching Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. He knew success. He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1977. Later, his sitcom, The Cosby Show, was a hit in the 1980’s. At one time, he was the most trusted face in America. He was the spokesman for Jello, then he became the spokesman for the Ford Motor Company. By any worldly definition, Bill Cosby was a success. He even earned his Doctor of Education degree from the University of Massachusetts. Then, the stories started to come out. To date, more than fifty women have accused Cosby of various forms of sexual misconduct. Cosby denied everything, but now is a convicted sexual offender. His story is hard to believe. At one time, Bill Cosby was a success! Do you consider Bill Cosby a success today? There is more to success than money. However, our Bible story is not about financial success. It is a story about spiritual success. How successful are you spiritually?

My favorite preaching story comes from a United Presbyterian minister by the name of Tom Tewell. Years ago, he was the Preacher of the Week at Lakeside. He influenced my preaching greatly. I was there when he told this story. I have never forgotten it. You may remember it too. I have told it to you several times. It haunts me because it makes me think. When Tom Tewell was graduating from Princeton Theological Seminary, he was being interviewed for ordination. He sat in an empty church in the middle of the week, being questioned by his superiors. As the day rolled on, he felt good about his answers. He handled all the details of Calvinistic theology. His interviewers seemed satisfied with his answers too, and announced they only had one more question for him. It came from the oldest man on the interview team. (I think he was sixty-two.) It was the first, and only question, he asked the entire day. He looked at Tom Tewell and asked, “Tom, do you think you are making any progress in the Christian faith?” Tom said, he opened his mouth to respond, but not a single word came out. He did not know how to answer the question. How do you answer the question, are you making any progress in the Christian faith? I have asked myself that question, are you making any progress in the Christian faith, countless times. It is a difficult question to answer, but this question is even harder:

How successful are you spiritually? In the Christian faith, success is not a monetary issue. Just think about it for a moment. The scriptures never tell us Jesus owned anything of earthly value, yet we consider him to be the greatest life that ever lived. Through the eyes of God, success is not achieved by money. Success is being like Jesus, who loved and forgave everyone. He had a perfect relationship with God. Through the eyes of God, we become more successful, the more we become like Jesus. We consider the disciples to be spiritually successful because they became more like Jesus. If we want to be spiritually successful, then we must do what the disciples did. So, what did they do? What is it we must do to become spiritually successful? The disciples’ model for us how to become spiritually successful. So, what did the disciples do?

First, the disciples listened to Jesus. Look at the text with me. They fished all night, but they caught absolutely nothing. They must have been discouraged, but, in the end, they were successful because they listened to Jesus. This is the question you must answer:

When was the last time you positioned yourself to listen to Jesus? That is why the spiritual disciplines are so important. There are eight: prayer, meditation, fasting, Bible study, simplicity, submission, solitude, and service. Each one of them, and a combination of them, puts you in the best possible position to listen to God and to listen to Jesus. When was the last time you positioned yourself to listen to Jesus?

Second, the disciples obeyed Jesus. Look at the text with me again. The disciples listened to Jesus, but they also obeyed Jesus. Verse six says, “He (Jesus) said, ‘Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.’ When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.” Here is the key: They did not just listen to Jesus. They obeyed Jesus and reaped the benefits. The disciples obeyed Jesus.

Do you obey Jesus? How many people do you know who listen to Jesus, but they do not obey Jesus? Or, they only obey selectively. Do you know of anyone who knows what the faith teaches, but they do not follow the teachings? Let me give you a few examples. We know we are to love unconditionally, but we love selectively. We know we are not supposed to judge, but we judge regularly. We know we are supposed to give sacrificially, of our time, our talents, and financial resources, but we give sparingly, out of our surplus. There is a world of difference between knowing and doing. Look at it this way. How much influence does Jesus have on your daily life? Do you obey Jesus?

Third, the disciples never gave up. Look at the text with me one more time. Consider this with me: The disciples fished all night. They were tired. It would have been easy to call it a day, but Jesus tells them to try one more time. They do, and they hit the jackpot. The Christian faith is not a one-hundred-yard dash, it is a marathon. The disciples spent the rest of their lives serving Jesus. How many people do you know who have walked away from Jesus, because their life got hard? You must never give up!

Stephen Hawking (1942-2018) had a wonderful life. He was a theoretical physicist. He did his undergraduate work at the University of Oxford and his graduate work at the University of Cambridge. For thirty years, he taught at Cambridge, influencing young minds and advances his field of research. He was a genius, and no one can question his brilliance. In 1963, he was diagnosed with ALS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, but that never seems to slow him down. When Stephen Hawking spoke through his electronic device the world listened. His net worth at his death was $20 million. However, what was more impressive than his net worth is the location of his grave. He was laid to rest in Westminster Abby, along slide the other greats of British history. No one can question the fact that Stephen Hawking was a success. He only failed in one area, his spiritually. With everything Stephen Hawking knew, there was one thing Stephen Hawking did not know, Jesus. I hope my research is wrong. I am told Stephen Hawking died an atheist. I find that to be very sad. Francis Chan (born 1967) is an American author and teacher. He once said, “Our greatest fear should not be of failure, but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter.” Through the eyes of God, how successful are you?

Why Did Thomas Doubt?

We find ourselves in the twentieth chapter of John. Our reading begins when the resurrected Jesus appears to ten of the twelve disciples had experienced the resurrected Jesus. The two who were missing were Judas Iscariot, who had committed suicide, and Thomas, who was absent. We do not know where Thomas was, but we know where he should have been there. He should have been with the other disciples who encountered the resurrected Jesus. The others must have told him about their experience with the resurrected Jesus, but their words were not enough. When the others tell him of their experience, he has his doubts. In verse 25, Thomas says something he must have come to regret. He said, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”  For generations, people have judged Thomas for those words.

Except for Judas Iscariot, who betrayed our Lord, no other disciple has been judged more harshly by history than Thomas. It is truly unfair. His life was filled with more than that single sentence. Just think about it for a moment. He was selected by Jesus himself to be one of the disciples. That means he traveled with Jesus for three years. He heard the lessons. He felt his authority. He saw the miracles. He was excited on Palm Sunday and devastated on Good Friday. Tradition tells us after Pentecost, he went to India to tell them about the greatest life that ever lived, Jesus! Even his death had meaning. Tradition tells us, he died in service to the Lord, martyred with a spear. He had an incredible life, but we remember him for one sentence, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”  Why is it we all remember that one negative? Could it be that we all point to that one moment of doubt because it was the one moment, we are the most like Thomas? You are not the first person to wrestle with doubt, and our generation is not the first to wrestle with doubt.

American psychologist Carl Rogers (1902-1987) was 22 years old when he entered Union Theological Seminary in New York City in 1924. While there, he participated in a seminar organized to explore religious doubts. Rogers later said of the group, “The majority of members…in thinking their way through questions they had raised, thought themselves right out of religious work. I was one.”  This is the point: Ours is not the first generation to have questions and doubts. And ours will not be the last. Let me ask you these two questions: Do you have a few questions for God? Do you have a few doubts? There is nothing wrong with questions and doubts. These are signs of a growing faith. However, this is the question of the day:

Why did Thomas doubt? Throughout the centuries, many have tried to answer that question. I have my theories. Maybe you have your theories? James W. Moore (1938-2019) was an author and the pastor of the St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas for many years, has his theories. It is his theories I want to look at today. I believe they have some merit. They speak to me; I hope they speak to you too.

Perhaps, Thomas doubted because he had dropped out?  In other words, Thomas had some doubts because Thomas was not present. The scripture says it clearly. Let me say it again. Thomas was missing when the resurrected Jesus appeared to the other ten disciples. If Thomas had been present, then he would have experienced the resurrected Jesus. Then, he would not have doubted. In other words, he doubted because he was absent. That is worth considering. We still see it today. How many people do you know who have dropped out of church? How many people do you know who have doubts because they have poor personal theology? They have doubts because they do not understand God’s ways. How many church dropouts do you know?

When I was young, my best friend was Jimmy Thompson. I have talked about him in the past. He lived about five doors up from my family’s home and we did everything together. I liked being at his house because we were never supervised. He liked coming to my house because it was clean. Every time my parents said, “Russell, you can bring a friend,” I brought Jimmy Thompson. Our friendship came to an end when we were sophomores in high school. His mother was going through an ugly divorce. Jimmy rebelled and was sent to live with his sister, Muriel. She did her best, but she had her own problems. Jimmy decided to drop out of school one day, and he never returned. The last time Jimmy and I talked, I said, “Jimmy, you have to go back to school.” He said, “Russ, anything I need to know I can teach myself.” (Can you imagine? He had a ninth-grade education.) I have not seen Jimmy in years, but others tell me he has a hard life. The best job he has ever had was bagging groceries at the corner market. I think and pray for Jimmy every May 30, his birthday. I believe his life would have been easier if he had not dropped out of school.

How many people do you know who have dropped out of church? I cannot blame them 100% of the time. The church is not a perfect place. The truth be told, there are times church is downright ugly. There are times when we fight amongst ourselves. There are times when we gossip about one another. There are times when small groups like to run the whole show. There have been times when pastors do some horrible things. I know those things, but I also know this. There is no excuse for dropping out of church. Despite all our problems, church is still the best place to learn about God. If you do not go to church, then where do you learn about God? If you are not going to church, then you are self-taught, like Jimmy Thompson. You will be just as successful in your spiritual development as Jimmy Thompson was in life. Thomas doubted because he was not present. For a short time, he had dropped out. Church dropouts are missing the whole Christian experience. No wonder they have doubts and questions. They simply do not know God’s ways.

Perhaps, Thomas doubted because he gave in. In other words, Thomas had some doubts because he let science become his final answer. You cannot really blame him. The resurrection of Jesus is a miracle! It cannot be explained by science. If you do not believe in miracles, then you cannot believe in the resurrection. Do you know anyone who says people who believe in miracles are uninformed or uneducated? Do you know anyone who has given in?

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), the chief writer of the Declaration of Independence and Third President of the United States, gave in to science. He had his Bible re-written. He wanted everything that could not be scientifically explained taken out. Just think about it for a moment. Jefferson dismissed the virgin birth. Jefferson dismissed the healing stories. Jefferson dismissed the resurrection, which, I believe, dismissed him from the Christian faith. I have seen copies of his Bible. Jefferson’s Bible is approximately one-third the size of your Bible and mine. Just think of the things that he missed!

I hope you do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that science is bad. I am not against science. I believe it is one of the paths to truth and knowledge. However, I do not believe it is the only path to truth and knowledge. Some of the most powerful forces in our world today cannot be explained by science. Can anyone here give me the scientific formula for love? Can anyone here give me the scientific formula for honesty or courage? There is no scientific formula for faith, goodness, or humility. There is not a scientific explanation for patience, self-control, or kindness. You cannot put mercy or grace into a test tube. Those things cannot be scientifically explained, but we see examples of those things every day. Perhaps, Thomas doubted because he gave in to science? Science is good, but it is not the final answer. The final answer is always God. Perhaps, Thomas doubted because he dropped out or gave in.

Perhaps, Thomas doubted because he gave up. In other words, Thomas had some doubts because he let death be the final answer. The scripture does not tell us where Thomas was when Jesus appeared to the others. However, I have a good guess. I believe, he was doing what many do when they are upset. They walk to get some fresh air, clear their minds, and think. If you use your sanctified imagination you can see him walking down every back street of Jerusalem. He is trying to answer the question, “How did it go so wrong, so fast?” As he walked, he couldn’t believe it was over. He was devastated. He thought it was over when Jesus died! However, he was wrong. It was not over. It was just the beginning. Why? Because, Jesus was not dead. He had been resurrected; he was alive! Do you know anyone who lets death be the final word? Do you know anyone who has given up?

Twenty-five years ago, today, on April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh attacked a federal building in downtown Oklahoma City. It is hard to believe so much time has passed. The picture that caught my attention from that day was of a firefighter carrying a little girl away from the destruction. We found out later that the little girl was one year old. She celebrated her first and only birthday the day before the bombing. Reporters asked that little girl’s mother, “How can you go on?” She responded, “The only thing that keeps me going is the fact that my little girl is in heaven. Someday, I am going to see her again.” Can anyone here relate to that mother? Your life would come to a grinding halt, if not for the belief that you will see your loved one again? Perhaps Thomas doubted because he was overcome with grief. Never forget! Death is not the final answer. The final answer is Jesus! I do not know why Thomas doubted, but he did. Do not be hard on him. We all have questions and doubts.

Years ago, I received a phone call from a young man by the name of Derrick. He was a student at Youngstown State University, who was enrolled in a religion class. His assignment was to call a minister in the area and ask some questions. I was more than happy to answer his questions. However, before the first question was asked Derrick wanted to make a confession. He said, “Rev. Adams, I don’t want to scare you, but I have some doubts about the faith. I have a few questions.” I said, “Derrick, the fact that you have questions doesn’t scare me. The only ones who frighten me are the people that say they have all the answers.” Voltaire (1694-1778) once said? He said, “Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.”  So, ask all the questions you want. It is the sign of a growing faith.

Why is Easter Important?

When we last left Jesus, things looked bad! Everyone knows what happened. Jesus, the son of God, the long-awaited Messiah died. It was a Friday afternoon, and he passed between two criminals. His lifeless body was taken down from that instrument of death and everyone cried. Broken hearted his loved ones placed him in an unused tomb. Those who had the unpleasant job, must have turned to take their last look. In my station in life, I have taken that last look many times. It is amazing, how quickly a body turns into a corpse. Then, they rolled the stone into position. It had to be tight so the smell of decay wouldn’t be released. Covering all the details, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate to have a guard placed in front of the entrance of the tomb so the body couldn’t be stolen. There was nothing more to do. After all, Jesus was dead! However, this is Easter morning, and we know it isn’t over, until God says it is over!

According to our reading for today, it is dawn on the first day of the week. That means, it is early on Sunday. Jesus was executed on a Friday. Two women both by the name of Mary appear at the tomb of Jesus. That were preparing to do what the law prohibited them to do on the Sabbath, treat the body of the dead. They went early for two reasons. First, they couldn’t sleep, Jesus’s death was hard to accept. Second, they went early because they wanted to complete the horrible task. The only question haunting them was how to roll away that massive stone. There was no need to fear. According to the text, there is a great earthquake. God, himself, had rolled away the stone, exposing to the world the truth, Jesus had returned from the dead. I do not know how that happened because I can’t explain a miracle. However, I do know that miracle changed everything.

To those of us of faith, Easter is more than the celebration of spring. It is the very heart of our faith. Historically, Easter is the oldest festival on the Christian calendar. In the Greek Orthodox tradition many tell jokes on Easter because, God, himself, played a joke on Satan. It looked like Satan had won, Jesus was dead! Satan must have celebrated on that Silent Saturday. Then, Easter Sunday came. Jesus returned from the dead. I Corinthians 15:14 says, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” Yet, the resurrection is not just some theological point reserved for some academic classroom. The resurrection is practical. Today, I want to look at the practical side of the resurrection. I am going to do that by answering the question, why is Easter important? That single question has three answers.

First, Easter is important because it defines our faith! Today, we celebrate with Christians around the world the resurrection of Jesus. The church stands alone. The scientific world has dismissed the resurrection as nonsense. The secular world has replaced the resurrection with community service. Other world religions have simply denied it. We are the only ones who know of the significance of the resurrection. It is the cornerstone of our faith and the only thing that really matters. One of my favorite Bible verses is Romans 10:9. It says, “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Many consider that verse to be the first creed in the church. It is a timeless truth. Your belief in the resurrection is not just important, it is indispensable. It is the one thing that separates us from everyone else. The resurrection is the only thing that really matters in the church.

Several years ago, I preached a sermon series called Christianity’s Family Tree. It was originally developed by Adam Hamilton of the Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas. We looked at all the branches of our family tree. We examined all the various traditions and customs found various churches. Human beings have a way of looking at differences, God only sees what we have in common. Just think about it for a moment. Within the body of the church we baptize differently. We experience the Eucharist differently. Some churches have a call system and some churches have an appointment system. Some churches emphasize the Holy Spirit and churches promote missions. Some observe the various liturgical seasons, and some don’t. Some traditions embrace icons, some statutes and some nothing. I will be completely honest with you. None of those differences bother me. The only thing that really matters to me is the resurrection. It is the one thing we must have in common. Your belief in the resurrection is not optional, it is indispensable. It is the one thing that separates us, Christians, from the rest of the world. We worship a risen savor! Other world religions just remember a dead founder. Easter is important because we are embracing the resurrection, the defining moment of our faith. We serve a risen Savior!

Second, Easter is important because it demonstrates God’s power! One of the pivotal lines in the Easter passage is verse two. That verse tells us there was a violent earthquake. It is only found in this account of the resurrection, but it means so much. The earthquake does two things. First, the earthquake rolled away the stone that covered the entrance of the tomb. Second, the earthquake underscores the power of God. There are many who ignore the power of God. We live in incredibly arrogant times. Consider two Bible verses with me. The first is Colossians 1:16. It says, “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers, or rulers or authorities, all things were created by God and for God.” The second is Psalm 115:3. It says, “Our God is in heaven; he does what he pleases.” Think about those words.God created this world for himself, we act like God created this world for us!

We live in incredibly arrogant times. We forget the power of God and try to hold God accountable to our standards. Do you know of anyone who tries to make God accountable to them? They wonder why God doesn’t do something about world hunger. They ask why so many people in our world feel unloved. They wonder why there are so many diseases. They wonder why God didn’t give them a perfect body. They wonder why their families are so messed up. Do you know of anyone who is trying to get God to live up to their standards? The answer to those questions is very simple. The answer to those questions is because God is God. In comparison to God, we are nothing.

This is the real question, why don’t we do something? Why don’t we do something about world hunger? Why don’t we start loving the unlovable? Why don’t we spend more money on medical research and education and less on our hobbies? Why don’t we start living healthier lives? Why don’t we start taking some accountability for our broken relationships? Never forget the truth. We are accountable to God and God is not accountable to us. Easter is important because it demonstrates God’s people.We serve a risen Savior!

Third and finally, Easter is important because it determines our eternity! David Seamand’s (1922-2006) life was dominated by missions. He was raised in a missionary’s home and served sixteen years in the mission fields, himself. I got to know him at Asbury Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He once told of a Muslim who became a Christian in Africa. “Some of his friends of the former Muslim asked him, ‘Why have you become a Christian?’ He answered, ‘Well, it’s like this. Suppose you were going down the road and suddenly it forked. Next to the road were two men, one dead and the other alive. Which one would you ask for directions?’” We serve a risen savior!

Several years ago, someone asked me, “Russ, what do you look forward to when you get to heaven?” The person was disappointed in my answer. They wanted me to say singing in the eternal choir or standing at the throne. The truth is no one wants me in the choir, and I am too hyperactive to stand anywhere too long. This was my answer. What I look forward to when I get to heaven is being reunited with people who have passed. The twelfth chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews tell us there is a great crowd of witnesses surrounding us at this moment. Some of those saints include some of the spiritual giants of the past. Some of the saints include some of the saints in our families. Some of the saints include some of the saints of this church. Some of the saints are personal friends. It is a great cloud of witnesses. Can I ask you a question on this Easter morning? Who are you going to look for when you get to heaven? Easter is important because it determines our eternity. We serve a risen Savior!

Why is Easter important? Easter is important because it is on that day, we remember the resurrection of our Lord and Savior. The resurrection is practical. It does three things. First, the resurrection defines our faith. Without the resurrection, we are like everyone else. Our belief in the resurrection means we stand alone. We serve a risen savor! Second, the resurrection demonstrates the power of God. Never forget, we are accountable to God and not God to us. Third, the resurrection determines our eternity. Someday, we are going to heaven. John Ortberg (born 1957) is the Senior Minister of Menlo Church in Menlo, California. He once said, “At the very heart of the Christian faith is the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection.” I agree.