The Transformational Power of the Resurrection
(John 20:1-18, Luke 24:1-12)
- Easter This is the day the Lord has made! This is the day of Resurrection. This is the day it comes down to. For the past six weeks we’ve been looking at Holy Week one day at a time. Six Sundays ago, Palm Sunday, then the next Sunday, Holy Monday, and on through the week. Last week, we experienced the despair of Good Friday. But today is Easter, the focus of our series. In fact, the focus of Christianity, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. For it is the Power of the Resurrection that has transformed the world. And it is the Power of the Resurrection that transforms us too.
- Last week, Good Friday, despair. I didn’t tell you about Peter.
- On Thursday night, Jesus tells his disciple, that they will all become deserters this night. Peter says, “Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.” And Jesus says, “Peter, before the cock crows you will deny me three times.” And many of us recall the story. Jesus and the disciples go to the garden of Gethsemane where Judas leads a crowd and the Temple guards and betrays Jesus with a kiss. He is led off in chains to the house of the High Priest to be tried. Peter follows, even though fearing for his life. He stands in the courtyard of the High Priest trying to see what is happening to Jesus. Through this mixture of both fear and courage he is identified by the servants. “You were with Jesus.” “You are one of his followers.” “You are a Galilean; your accent betrays you.” Each time Peter denies knowing Jesus. Even cursing. Three times. After the third time, the cock crowed. Realizing what he had done, the Bible tells us, Peter wept bitterly. You might say, Peter was having a Good Friday moment. Dispair. Bitter remorse. It was to get worse. Jesus was to be crucified and die.
- Peter wasn’t the only disciple in despair. All had lost sight of the words Jesus had told them in Galilee, that he was to go to Jerusalem, be handed over to sinners to be crucified, and on the third day rise again! Nobody understood. Nobody was expecting the resurrection. Nobody.
- The women too had forgotten. Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, Salome, the other Mary, other women who had followed Jesus from Galilee, all of them were in despair. They, like Peter, were all having their Good Friday moment. Then Saturday. It was a dark, dark Saturday. We sometimes call it Black Saturday.
- But then comes Easter morning. Early on the first day of the week, the women came to do their last loving act for Jesus, to anoint the body with perfume and spices. But they did not find Jesus. Luke tells us they saw the empty tomb and two radiant angels and were terrified. We don’t often put Easter and terrified in the same sentence. I think the women were still having their Good Friday moment. The Gospel of John said they had gone to the tomb while it was still dark. That’s John’s way of saying they were still in spiritual darkness. They were still having a Good Friday moment.
- Mary Magdalene is the only of the women mentioned in all four gospels. In fact, she’s featured in John’s Gospel. She has center stage in the garden. So much so that in the Eastern Orthodox faith, she is considered an Apostle. She is an eye witness to the resurrection, she is called by Jesus to tell the story, and she goes and declares, “I have seen the Lord.” And she tells them all that he had said to her.
- Mary, maybe more than any other had been transformed by Jesus. She had been possessed by demons, her life in shambles.
- But the transforming love of Christ had changed her life. And he was about to change it again.Peter and John had left. The writer of John says they went home. Mary was left in the garden, the Bible says weeping. Just as Peter had been, Mary was still caught in a Good Friday moment, spiritual darkness still surrounding her.
- Jesus, the man she had thought to be the gardner, says, “Mary.” What it must have meant to have Jesus, Jesus, say your name. And Mary says in Hebrew, “Rabouni,” which means teacher, but more than teacher. We lose something in the translation. It means, “My teacher.” Love is a personal thing. My teacher. My Lord and my God. And Mary goes and tells the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.” And then she tells them all the things he had said to her. Mary, transformed by Jesus and then transformed again by the Power of the Resurrection, Mary, transformed Mary, becomes an Apostle of the Church.
- Mary was transformed by love.
- Love is not a feeling. Lest we get caught up in the Dan Brown, Davinci Code scenario of Jesus and Mary Magdalene having a family together. Let me repeat, love is not a feeling. Love is transformational.
- To paraphrase Scott Peck from The Road Less Traveled, “Love is the will to extend oneself in order to positively transform oneself or another spiritually.” Love is the will, it is intentional. Love extends oneself. It takes effort, hard work. Love changes us, transforms us, love will not let us stay where it finds us.We are all spiritual beings. We have a physical body, yes, but we are spiritual beings. Love transforms us spiritually. We grow into the being God intends to be when we are positively transformed by love.
- Greg Mortenson has popped up three times in fairly rapid succession in recent weeks. At Christmas, Rosemary gave me a paper back copy of a book, Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson, I have to say the title didn’t appeal that much to me. Three Cups of Tea. Then, as you know, I went to Connecticut in January and stayed a couple days at our former pastor’s house. He had a present for me, a hardback copy of a book, Stones into Schools, by you guessed it, Greg Mortenson. Stones into Schools. That’s sounding more substantial. And then this week, “The Rotarian” magazine shows up. On the cover, you guessed it, is Greg Mortenson. You get the picture?
- The long and the short of it is this: What Keith Jaspers and Rainbow Network are to Nicaragua, Greg Mortenson is to the northern reaches of Pakistan and Afghanistan. They are doing the hard work of love to change lives. They have both been giving transforming love to their regions. In the case of Greg Mortenson, to the people living above 11,000 feet, at the highest altitudes that can sustain life, and in some of the most remote and rugged regions of the world.
- Here’s the story. Greg Mortenson was a mountain climber who as separated from his guide coming down the mountain from K2, the second highest peak in the world. He stumbled onto the small village of Korphe, where the people nursed him back to health and cared for him over the winter. Once winter sets in you are there. Period.
Here are the children of Korphe.
While there, he promised a young girl, who was trying to learn, unsupervised under a tree, that he would build her a school. He said, “I promise.” He owed these people his life.
- He returned to California, he lived for a year in his car, while he tried to raise the funds to build the school, an estimated $12,000. He sent out 580 individually typed letters, every senator, every contact he could think of. From those letters, he received one check and a note. One check for $12,000 and a note that said, “Don’t screw up.”
- He then sold everything he had, including the car he’d been living in, for airfare and equipment to return to Pakistan and build the school. The will to extend oneself for the positive transformation of oneself or others spiritually.
Here’s a picture of one of the early schools, and with some of the kids.
That’s love. That’s Greg Mortenson.
- Today, 16 years later, there are 131 schools across the highest, the very northern reaches of Pakistan and Afghanistan, 131 schools teaching 58,000 students, more than half of them girls. Does it matter? The saying goes, educate a boy and transform a life. Educate a girl and transform a village. Girls come home. In the case of one girl, completing her grade school education, then tohigh school on a Greg Mortenson scholarship and finally, a on a Mortenson scholarship, a two year maternal healthcare course. Hen she returned home. In the past, nearly every year in her area, 20 women had lost their lives in childbirth. Since her return in 2000, ten years ago, not a woman has died. Extending oneself for the transformation of another. That’s love. That is the transformational power of love, that is the transformational power of the resurrection.
- Yet we so often live in a Good Friday world, don’t we? We live in a world where girls in countries like Afghanistan have acid thrown on them by evil people to deter them from going to school. Yet they have so much Easter hope, that they go to school anyway.
- We have farmers in Nicaragua whose crops and livestock are destroyed by consecutive hurricanes. But with Rainbow Network there, they have so much Easter hope that they perservere.
- We have the poorest of the poor in Haiti who have lost their loved ones and every token they might have had, yet with organizations like the United Methodist Committee on Relief and Catholic Charities there at their side as the heart and hands of Christ, they have Easter Hope and they move on. That is love. That is the Transformational Power of the Resurrection. From Good Friday moments to hope.
- But we have Good Friday moments on a personal basis don’t we? Everyone who has lost a spouse, or a child, or has suffered from injury or disease has Good Friday moments. Those are personal moments. But we have a personal Savior in Jesus Christ, one who calls us by name. The same one that though the Transforming Power his Resurrected voice, said, “Mary.” The same personal Savior who with the same Resurrected voice would say to Peter, “Peter, do you love me? Feed my sheep.” Mary and Peter lifted out of despair, out of their Good Friday moments by the Transforming Power of the Resurrection. Then as witnesses to the resurrection they were called, sent, and transformed the known world in their lifetime. The Transforming Personal Power of the Resurrection. Proof positive of eternal life, and therefore, we have hope.
- On the personal level, it is the power of hope that propels us.
- To know that we will be reunited with our loved ones again. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me even though they die, yet shall they live; and whoever lives and believes in me, will never die.” And that gives us hope. The transforming Power of the Resurrection.
- To know that it is not a past thing, 2000 years ago, or a future thing, someday, but a present thing. As the song goes, “I serve a living Savior, he’s in the world today, I know that he is living, whatever foes may say. I see his hand of mercy, I hear his voice of cheer, and just the time I need him, he’s always here. He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today. He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way. He lives, he lives, salvation to impart. You ask me how I know he lives, he lives within my heart.”
- The transforming power of his love is a very personal and present thing. He lives.
- During our sermon series on Holy Week, we’ve been asking the questions what kind of king is Jesus? What kind of Kingdom is he ushering in? And what does he expect of his subjects? What kind of kingdom is he ushering in?
- Jesus is ushering in a kingdom where paradise has been restored. The paradise lost in the Garden of Eden is restored in the garden of the empty tomb.
- The kingdom he is ushering in is one where paradise continues to break through by means of Jesus’ followers. First through his disciples, then through his Church, and today through agencies like the United Methodist Committee on Relief and through present day disciples like Keith Jaspers and Greg Mortenson, and you showing love to a neighbor. Glimpses of paradise.
- Even though it is a Good Friday world, the proof of the resurrection comes glimmering through in the Transforming love of the people called Christians. That is the kind of kingdom he is ushering in.
- Transforming love is not always easy. When Greg Mortenson returned to Pakistan to build the first school in Korphe, he bought the materials, had them transported to a town about 20 kilometers away, then made his way to the village to finalize the plans. The way across the river to Korphe, the only way was in a bucket, a cable car over a 100 foot deep gorge. This is the way Mortenson describes it: “It was just a box really, like a big fruit crate held together with a few nails. You pulled yourself along this 350 foot greasy cable and tried not to think about the creaking sounds it made. Tried not to think about the obvious—if it broke, you’d fall. And if you fell, you were dead.” (Three Cups of Tea, p 96)
- So Mortenson arrived in the village and after his tea, the village elder said, “We have decided, as much want the school, right now what we need is a bridge. A bridge, so we can carry the school to Korphe village.”
- Back to the States, a winter of fund raising to build a bridge the following summer so that the school could be built by fall.
- Here are the porters, a year later, carrying the school to Korphe after they had crossed the bridge.
- Transformational love is not always easy. It takes will. It takes intention if you are going to transform the souls of those you serve. Christ showed that. Mortenson found that out. Love can be hard work.
- We are the Easter People. We are the people of the Resurrection. We are the people called to Transformational love. In fact the mission of the United Methodist Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. For the transformation of the world. We are called to love.
- We may not be called to build schools in the Himalayas or even in the rural mountains of Nicaragua; though we can do that by proxy, but we are called to love our neighbor. How transforming would it be if the People called Christians, the Easter People, put a fraction of that kind of effort into our relationships?
- If we all had an understanding that love is not a feeling, it is way beyond a feeling. It is the will to extend oneself, to do the hard, hard work of building up another, of giving others the tools of spiritual transformation, of positive spiritual growth.
- We are called to transform the place where we are. Love is not a feeling. It is the hard work of helping ourselves and others become what God intends us to be.
- And we have the Power of the Resurrection on our side.
- On Saturday night, black Saturday night, the disciples and followers of Jesus were a dejected, defeated band of pathetic nobodies.
- After Easter, they changed the world! They began where they were, as Jesus instructed, first in Jerusalem, then Samaria, and to the ends of the known world. They transformed the world.
- We are the Easter People, we are the ones who possess the Power of the Resurrection. We’ve been given a story, we call it the Greatest Story Every Told. And we know that individual lives, families, communities, even nations have been transformed when they’ve embraced that Story.
- And the greatest means of story-telling is to love, having the will, doing the work, extending oneself for the benefit of others.
- “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.”
- We are the Easter People, equipped with the Transforming Power of the Resurrection. Let’s go build the kingdom. Amen.
D. (After the Table is prepared, Recite “One Solitary Life” by James Allen Francis)
He was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant. He grew up in another village, where he worked in a carpenter shop until he was 30. Then, for three years, he was an itinerant preacher.
He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family or owned a home. He didn't go to college. He never lived in a big city. He never traveled 200 miles from the place where he was born. He did none of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but himself.
He was only 33 when the tide of public opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. One of them denied him, another betrayed him. He was turned over to his enemies and went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. While he was dying, his executioners gambled for his garments, the only property he had on earth. When he was dead, he was laid in a borrowed grave, through the pity of a friend.
Twenty centuries have come and gone, and today he is the central figure of the human race. I am well within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned--put together--have not affected the life of man on this earth as much as that one, solitary life.*
That is the Transformational Power of the Resurrection.