Sermon 10 0404 Easter Sunday
First Christian Church
Sermon Texts: Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
“God’s Big BUT…”
Statement of the Gospel: God brings life from death.
I have to be honest and tell you that the title of the sermon is not original. I do wish I
were the one who came up with it, but alas, someone beat me to it. It is, however, an important
theological statement, because “But” on Easter Sunday is the most important word (at least in the
gospel of Luke), but we’ll get to that shortly. Will you pray with me?
Easter Sunday always begins in the graveyard. It always begins among the tombstones
and cemeteries of our world. Despite the question raised by the two men who meet the women
outside Jesus’ tomb – Why do you seek among the dead the One who lives? – if we don’t go to
Jesus’ grave along with the women, we miss out on the announcement!
To know the power of the resurrection requires a trip to the graveyard. It requires a trip
to the places in our world of death and fear and emptiness. And how hard it is to visit those
places – where hopelessness reigns, where people are trapped, where people are in pain, where
violence threatens to undo life. Who in their right mind would walk into such places? Places
like that have a way of overwhelming us, sucking us in, depressing us…quite literally sucking
the life out of us.
In the early seventies there was a young United Methodist minister named Cecil Williams
was sent by the bishop to a church in the tenderloin of San Francisco (describe the tenderloin).
Like everything else in the tenderloin, the church was about dead. The bishop told the young
minister, we will support a decision to move the congregation out to the suburbs. And why
wouldn’t this young minister take the bishop up on the offer. In his own words he described,
“the stench of death was everywhere around the church:” Drug addicts, prostitutes, gangs,
poverty, dealers, disheveled and hopeless children pulled around by mothers strung out and
desperate. Who in their right mind would go there to be a minister? Who in their right mind
would ever go to church there?
Who wants to go to the graveyard? Who wants to live in the midst of fear? I mean, if we
can avoid it right? If we can protect ourselves and our children from it, if we can keep the
graveyard at bay, we should shouldn’t we? Ah, but that is where Jesus is – that is where we left
him last week, when we left in darkness and silence.
But sometimes the journey to the graveyard is close at hand. It is closer than going to a
new place or a new neighborhood. Sometimes the graveyard travels with us. Sometimes it is the
pain deep inside of us, pain that we do not want to face, pain from our past, pain from our
present, pain that encumbers us, pain that seems to guide us unaware. We fear to face that pain –
we fear what others have done to us; we fear what we have done to ourselves; we don’t want to
open ourselves up to it because we just might be overwhelmed by it. Sometimes we are
overwhelmed by it! Why would we want to face those things about ourselves? Why would we
want to open ourselves to our own places of death? Why go there when we can just as easily
walk around that graveyard? Ah, but that is where Jesus is – that is where we left him last week
when we left in darkness and silence.
The women went to the graveyard. They had seen how and where his body was laid.
And because they knew, just as we know dead bodies don’t get up and walk around, that is
where they went to take care of Jesus’ body. They go to the graveyard for the very simple reason
they know Jesus is there. They know Jesus is dead. It is over. All that is left to do is prepare
the body, reseal the tomb and move on with our lives. (Grand Pause) Are you guys ready?
But early on the first day of the week… Our gospel text begins with the conjunction
“but”. Interesting thing about the word but, it doesn’t necessarily negate what came before it, it
simply changes the conditions of everything that went before it: I am leaving now, but I will be
But, on the first day of the week at early dawn…
But, they went in and did not find the body…
But he has risen…
Six times the word “But” appears in our resurrection story (with another 3 possible). The
resurrection is God’s big “But” to the world! It changes the conditions of everything that went
before it and everything that comes after it. It is not magical, nor is it easy, it is hard work, this
“but” that changes everything. God’s joining us in life to do the work of salvation, receiving our
outright rejection and taking that rejection into the divine life through the cross that we put him
on and rendering the consequences of that rejection null and void in the resurrection.
However, God’s ‘but’ is not limited to one graveyard at one particular moment in time to
a few select and lucky people, but to all graveyards, all places of death in all times. Easter is
when we celebrate the mystery that Jesus died but is still present, still active, still alive. The
church as the body of Christ is empowered to be that life-changing, life-giving community,
wielding the resurrection’s power.
Cecil Williams stayed with his church in the tenderloin of San Francisco. He stayed in
the cemetery and began a ministry of resurrection. He began by setting up tables outside of the
church one Saturday night and began offering free food to the community. He called them to the
tables with a bull horn, and people came. Today, Glide Memorial UMC holds 5 worship
services a week to which you must be an hour early to get a seat. They house recovery
programs, work programs, counseling programs, youth programs, education programs, shelter
for the homeless, dinner 7 days a week and people come. People drive in from all parts of San
Francisco to be a part of a resurrection community. They come into the graveyard, still
surrounded by the stench of death to have the experience of new life.
Christ is risen! He lives! He lives powerfully in the life of the church, in the community
of believers that is his body – that community of believers who bears witness to his resurrection.
We can go faithfully and confidently into the graveyards and cemeteries of our world knowing
that! We can go to our neighbors and be the resurrection people because of that. We can
confront the pain in our own lives because of that.
Whatever else we do, we must also look around here in Stillwater, church, and find those
places here that people avoid, those places surrounded by the stench of death, those places that
threaten to overwhelm us. Where is it, my friends, that hopelessness abounds, where have
people been used and abused, where are they used up, poor, frustrated, dying at their own hand,
or having their lives sucked away from them moment by moment. That is where we need to go,
because that is where Jesus is, not made impotent by the powers of death, but powerfully alive
and always ready to do the work of redemption. That is where we need to go because that is
where we will know the resurrection and become witnesses!
Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen!