What's Tony Thinking

And Then There’s God’s Story


Here’s my sermon of April 14, 2024. Text is below. Link to a video at the church’s You Tube Channel is here.

And Then There’s God’s Story

Luke 24: 36 – 48

For those who pay attention to this sort of thing, this is the first and the only Sunday during my nine Sundays with you when the Gospel lesson does not come from the Gospel of John. For this one week, the Common Lectionary detours into the Gospel of Luke. 

That said, you may be forgiven if on hearing today’s lesson read you say to yourself, “Gee, that sounds a lot like last week and . . . really, like the week before that.” Another appearance of the Risen Lord to his disciples. More wounded hands and feet. More “Peace be with you.” 

There is one new wrinkle in this week’s passage, which I love. Jesus says to the disciples, “Have you got anything to eat?” No pronouncement about the age to come or the meaning of the resurrection. No . . . “Have you got something to eat?” The Risen Lord sounds like my teenage grandson. 

A risen Jesus shows up, comes to startled disciples. Notice: never do they react with immediate or confident recognition of him. Never do they immediately burst into joyful welcome, high-fives or general celebration.

There is . . . a good deal of uncertainty, often a complete failure to recognize him at all. They are frightened. Why? Maybe because someone, anyone, coming back from the dead has to be a little scary. Maybe they were frightened because they knew how they had failed him and wonder if it’s pay-back time?

We tend to have our Easter Sunday. Declare victory. Sing joyful songs and move on. Put the Easter decorations back in the box. That’s done for another year. The problem of death solved. With him, we have life eternal. 

But the church, in its wisdom, keeps giving us stories — Easter stories — that aren’t so tidy. Both in Scripture and in the liturgical calendar, resurrection is not one and done. It’s not the great grand finale after which the curtain falls. 

Why? Maybe because Easter isn’t just about checking a box or even making a creedal statement. It is about more, about changing the world, about changing us.  

It was a week or two before Easter. George, a regular at the early service — a feature of which was a time after the sermon, for a “sermon talk back.” George almost always had a question or comment. But now, two weeks before Easter, George said to me, “You won’t be seeing me for a couple weeks.” 

“Really,” I said, “why’s that?” 

“I never come to church at Easter,” said George. “I just can’t buy it. Bodies flying out of tombs, all that stuff. No, I’m a modern, scientific person. The teachings and the values of Jesus. Those make sense to me. You’ll see me again, after Easter.”

I thought, but did not say, “Well, you’re an attorney. And a pretty well-off one at that. You get paid to be suspicious.” 

Putting my ungracious thoughts aside, I think there are a fair number of people like George. Maybe they come on Easter, but with fingers crossed behind their back. Or maybe, with George, they take an Easter break. In a way, George’s categorical dismissal of the resurrection was a mirror image of those who, at the other extreme, treat it as a doctrine of the faith not to be questioned, never to be wrestled with.

Whatever else we make of this third in a row of stories of the encounter of the first disciples with the Risen Christ, with resurrection, we can see faith in the resurrection didn’t come easily, automatically, without fear or risk for the first followers of Jesus. If resurrection wasn’t a slam dunk for them, maybe it shouldn’t be a one and done for us either? Maybe wrestling with it — or letting resurrection wrestle with us — is okay, even important.  

Sometimes the resurrection and Easter faith get summed up as “Jesus didn’t die and if we believe in him, we won’t die either.” While I believe that death has been defeated by Jesus, and while I join the apostle Paul in his defiant shout, “Death where is thy victory? Death where is thy sting?” I’m not sure it is as simple as “if we accept Jesus we won’t die.” 

And that focus, as I mentioned in a sermon last month, can become a self-preoccupied, even selfish, version of Christianity — all about me and my eternal welfare. John Calvin, a leader of the Protestant Reformation, warned his followers against a pre-occupation with their own fate after death. Calvin feared that such a focus made people both anxious and selfish. Too much about them not enough about God. Christian faith that is worth its salt won’t lead to us being self-absorbed. It will lead to the opposite — to a certain self-forgetfulness, losing ourselves, in love of God, of Jesus and our neighbors. 

Here’s a different starting point — the resurrection of Jesus Christ is God’s vindication of Jesus. God’s vindication of Jesus in the face of a world, and worldly powers, who rejected God’s love, and sought to eliminate Jesus in order to protect their own power, privilege and self-interest. On Friday it looked as if those powers had won. Resurrection said otherwise. “But God, God raised Jesus from the dead.” The victory is the Lord’s. Resurrection is God’s vindication of the way of Jesus. 

A friend put it this way . . . picturing, to make the point, an attorney in front of a courthouse . . .

“At the ending of the trial, she stood before the cameras,

and she said, ‘this is a great day for us. For by this verdict, the truth is out,

and we feel we have been vindicated.’

“The resurrection is God’s verdict on Good Friday. God’s vindication of Jesus.

“What we have here is not just another miracle like the resuscitation of Lazarus, or the turning of water into wine. What we have here is a statement, the statement of who God is and what God is about.

What God is up to in the world.

“God is the one who raised a crucified messiah.

“Easter, Easter is not first of all a statement about the final destiny of our souls, the raising of our dead. It’s not about heaven. It is first about the vindication of dead Jesus.

“It’s not that God raised Jesus from the dead.

“It is that God raised Jesus from the dead.

“Jesus. The one whose love evoked such violence and rejection. Jesus the one who stood up to the principalities and powers.

Jesus, who badgered the rich and blessed the poor.

“That Jesus was raised, enthroned, thereby validated.

“His way is vindicated.”

In our other Scripture lesson for today, this note is sounded clearly, forcefully, defiantly. That reading from the Book of Acts, features a three-fold denier of Jesus, Peter, now transformed by his Lord’s forgiveness, preaching to the people of Jerusalem, to his own people, and particularly to the religious authorities who, allied with the political powers, had killed Jesus. 

Peter proclaimed, “The God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the Author of Life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.” 

Peter too is saying that in the resurrection, the raising of Jesus from the dead, God has vindicated this one, this Jesus. His message in not “accept Jesus and live on forever in heaven,” so much as “Hey, you who thought you were in charge and in control, well, surprise, think again. The one who you put to death in the most humiliating and degrading and de-humanizing way — he’s back. He’s on the loose. Vindicated by God.

“You thought you had everything under control. You thought your power was safe. You thought — you even convinced yourselves — that murdering him was the right thing to do. Perhaps regrettable, but necessary for peace, at least as you define ‘peace.’ 

“But, no. God raised this Jesus, whom you killed, from the dead. 

Resurrection as vindication. God’s vindication of the way, the life, the work, the death of the crucified messiah. There’s the world’s story, the world’s ways. But that’s not the whole story. There’s another story, God story, God’s plan and God’s purposes working their way through the chaos and failure, God using even human sin and evil to bring about salvation.

Some time ago I came upon something, a piece about Jesus, really about resurrection. It spoke to me, moved me. It’s a reading or maybe you’d call it a poem. It presents resurrection, the news of what God has done, as far more than flowers blooming in the spring or a pleasant seasonal rite of renewal. It’s resurrection as earth-shaking, as God’s revelation. It tells us something crucial — God gets the last word. 

It was written by an African-American pastor, S. M. Lockridge. It arises out of the spiritual world of the Black Church, out of its suffering and witness. 

I thought about including it in our Palm Sunday service. But the timing didn’t seem right. Then I thought, maybe on Easter, but again, somehow it didn’t seem the right time. 

Today, I’m going to share it with you. Honestly, I don’t know if I can pull it off the way it is meant to be, as it would be in a predominantly African-American congregation. But I will do my best. 

It’s called, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s Coming.”  

It’s Friday
Jesus is praying
Peter’s a sleeping
Judas is betraying
But Sunday’s comin’!

It’s Friday
Pilate’s struggling
The council is conspiring
The crowd is vilifying
They don’t even know
That Sunday’s comin’!

It’s Friday
The disciples are running
Like sheep without a shepherd
Mary’s crying
Peter is denying
But they don’t know
That Sunday’s a comin’!

It’s Friday
The Romans beat my Jesus
They robe him in scarlet
They crown him with thorns
But they don’t know
That Sunday’s comin’!

It’s Friday
See Jesus walking to Calvary
His blood dripping
His body stumbling
And his spirit’s burdened
But you see, it’s only Friday
Sunday’s comin’!

It’s Friday
The world’s winning
People are sinning
And evil’s grinning.

It’s Friday
The soldiers nail my Savior’s hands
To the cross
They nail my Savior’s feet
To the cross
And then they raise him up
Next to criminals.

It’s Friday
But let me tell you something
Sunday’s comin’!

It’s Friday
The disciples are questioning
What has happened to their King
And the Pharisees are celebrating
That their scheming
Has been achieved
But they don’t know
It’s only Friday
Sunday’s comin’!

It’s Friday
He’s hanging on the cross
Feeling forsaken by his Father
Left alone and dying
Can nobody save him?
It’s Friday
But Sunday’s comin’!

It’s Friday
The earth trembles
The sky grows dark
My King yields his spirit.

It’s Friday
Hope is lost
Death has won
Sin has conquered
and Satan’s just a laughin’.

It’s Friday
Jesus is buried
A soldier stands guard
And a rock is rolled into place.

But it’s Friday
It is only Friday
Sunday is a comin’!







Categories: Uncategorized