1 Corinthians 15: 1-11
15Now I should remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, 2through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain.
3 For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures,4and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died.7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8Last of all, as to someone untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace towards me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.11Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.
Randy Bush is the Pastor at ELPC and wrote an op-ed piece today that starts out this way:
Easter sermons are harder to write than Christmas sermons. Whatever else might be said on Dec. 25, there is something universal about the birth of a child to which everyone can relate. But Easter involves an event without precedent. Its narrative is about a tomb discovered to be empty and a resurrection from the dead proclaimed by a group of religious believers.
This is not a new problem.
Easter has always been a challenge for people.
Wolfhart Pannenberg, was a 20th Century German theologian who made this observation:
“The evidence for Jesus’ resurrection is so strong that nobody would question it except for two things: First, it is a very unusual event. And second, if you believe it happened, you have to change the way you live.”
I want to take a look at that statement today.
Let’s begin with this.
Easter is on April 1 this year.
As we all know, if we hear something outrageous on April first, and believe it, we are at risk for being called April Fools.
But there is less and less risk of such things in 2018.
No one is ready to believe anything, it seems.
We live in a world where the most common response to any bit of information we don’t like is “fake news”!
But there are also folks who are ready to believe even the strangest things.
Listen to this.
On August 25, 1835, the New York Sun, a “penny paper” catering to working class New Yorkers, published the first of six articles about Sir John Herschel, a famous astronomer of the day.
It was reported that Herschel had found evidence of life forms on the moon.
Unicorns, two-legged beavers and furry, winged humanoids the Sun called “moon-bats”.
The articles were a sensation!
People bought up every edition of the Sun just to hear about the moon-bats.
Of course, the entire series was a hoax – literally “fake news”.
Despite this, the Sun’s circulation increased to such an extent it became the most popular newspaper in New York.
And now here is another story about extra-terrestrial news.
Seth Shostak is an American astronomer and currently Senior Astronomer for the SETI Institute.
You know, SETI – Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence.
Made famous by Carl Sagan’s book “Contact” and the movie of the same name starring Jodie Foster.
Read the book, watch the movie.
They are both excellent and raise interesting questions about faith and belief.
Shostak has spent a good portion of his life trying to find intelligent life – out there!
And he had one experience in 1997 when he thought they did.
There was a signal from “out there” that was not random.
Meaning it was likely caused by some form of intelligence.
The SETI team ultimately found out that the signal was interference from a satellite signal that was bouncing around the SETI antennae.
The folks at SETI were profoundly disappointed, needless to say, but they are still listening, 20 years later.
Shostak was recently interviewed and made an interesting comment.
He said this:
Suppose sometime in the next few dozen years we pick up a faint line that tells us we have some cosmic company. What is the effect? What’s the consequence?
And the answer absolutely is we don’t know the answer. We don’t know what that’s going to do, not in the long term, and not even very much in the short term.
Who knows how such a discovery will impact us?
What I find funny about this event is Shostak’s initial response when he thought that “ET”, as he put it, had been found.
What I did feel was very nervous because I thought, you know, this is going to wreck up my whole week. I’ve got dinners planned and, you know, meetings and so forth, and now suddenly we found E.T.
Finding out that intelligent alien life exists was going to ruin his plans for the week.
Maybe for the rest of his life?
Because this is what I think.
Finding ET will change the way we look at the universe.
It might change the way we live.
What does any of this have to do with Easter?
Well, we’ve heard about moon-bats and messages from supposed extra-terrestrials.
Now let’s hear the Easter story:
There was a man named Jesus who lived about 2000 years ago.
He was an itinerant preacher of something called the Good News.
That Good News was that God’s Kingdom was near.
And that people could be part of it if they lived the way Jesus told them to live.
Love God and love each other and care for those who could not take care of themselves.
And once in the Kingdom, they would live there eternally.
While this might seem like a very good message, the Romans and Jewish religious leaders were threatened by it.
They had Jesus killed.
They crucified him.
Jesus knew it was inevitable.
In fact, he predicted it.
But he also predicted he would not stay dead.
After he was crucified, some friends of his took him down from the cross and put him in a tomb and left.
The Romans posted guards at the tomb to make sure no one could steal the body and then claim Jesus was alive.
An abducted body would be the only explanation if Jesus’ body turned up missing, right?
Because dead people don’t come back to life, right?
The order of life did not work that way.
We are born.
We live for a few years.
And we stay dead.
But Jesus did not stay dead.
Remember what Mark reported?
Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went to the tomb.
The stone had been rolled back.
They entered the tomb and saw a young man in a white robe.
He said to them, “Jesus is not here. He has been raised.”
Wait … what?
But he was dead!
He had been crucified, struck with a spear, and sealed in a tomb.
He couldn’t be alive again.
The whole thing was inconceivable.
He was alive!
If the women at the tomb had texted the event back to Peter and the disciples, they might have used – OMG, OMG, OMG!
He is risen!
If true, this is something – world changing!
These stories raise those same two important questions Pannenberg raises.
First, did this unusual event really happen?
Is this about moon-bats or resurrection?
Second, if this unusual event did happen, how does it affect the way we live?
Does it screw up our week or does it change our lives?
Let’s talk about the first question.
To put it in 2018 terms, is this fake news?
Did Jesus really return from the dead?
According to Paul, indeed he did.
Paul’s testimony about the resurrection in today’s text, was written two decades before Mark’s Gospel!
Paul was reporting this and writing it down long before Mark.
And what does Paul say?
That Jesus was crucified, died and was buried.
That Jesus was raised from the dead on the third day.
That Jesus appeared to Peter, the twelve, more than 500 others, most of whom were still alive and so could verify what Paul was saying.
That Jesus appeared to his brother James, who had thought Jesus crazy.
And then to Paul, himself.
The post resurrection appearances reported by Paul were recent historical fact!
They could be confirmed by talking to something like 500 people.
But this is the 21st Century.
This event happened over 2000 years ago.
Is that all we got?
Is there anything else?
Listen to these words from Pinchas Lapide a Jewish scholar of the New Testament.
“I accept the resurrection of Easter Sunday not as an invention of the community of disciples, but as a historical event….”
In his book The Resurrection of Jesus he says:
“…as a faithful Jew, I cannot explain a historical development which … has carried the central message of Israel from Jerusalem into the world of the nations, as the result of blind happenstance, or human error, or a materialistic determinism….. The experience of the resurrection as the foundation act of the church which has carried the whole Western world must belong to God’s plan of salvation.”
Lapide says that we have no other way to “explain the fact that the hillbillies from Galilee who, for the very real reason of the crucifixion of their master, were saddened to death, were changed within a short period of time into a jubilant community of believers.”
Jesus died virtually alone on the cross.
All his disciples deserted him.
Then, within a year, there were thousands of disciples.
The Good News swept over the ancient Middle East during the lives of the disciples.
Within two hundred years after that, it was the Roman religion.
A bunch of frightened Galilean hicks, as the Judeans would call them, changed the world.
And were willing to die for it.
Something happened that empowered them to do that.
Their testimony was that they saw the resurrected Jesus.
This event started the greatest spiritual movement the world has ever known.
Other than a resurrected Jesus, there is nothing else that can account for that.
Those who witnessed the risen Jesus could not go back.
They had to remain in this new reality of a resurrected Jesus.
And so do we.
Which brings us to the next question.
What does it mean for us?
How does it affect the way we live?
That is what Paul tells us in today’s text.
[T]he good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, 2through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you ….
[T]hat Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures,4and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures …
Our sins are forgiven through Jesus’ death on the cross.
On that we can stand.
On that we are saved.
Jesus promised, “because I live, you shall live also” is true.
And we can be certain that the promise has been kept because the promiser, Jesus, had the power and authority to bring himself back to life.
Which means we are reconciled to God.
And are citizens of God’s Kingdom.
This is a life changer.
The resurrection has to become the meaning – the purpose – of our lives.
To carry on what Jesus started.
The reconciliation of the world.
Loving and caring about and for each other.
Feeding the hungry.
Giving water to the thirsty.
Clothing the naked.
Welcoming the stranger.
Caring for the sick.
Visiting the prisoners.
Loving each other.
And like Shostak, we might not know exactly how it changes our lives, but there is no doubt it does.
It changes our lives forever.
We are not April Fools!
This is not “fake news”.
This is the Good News!
Happy Resurrection Day!