>The following was preached at Veedersburg and Hillsboro UMC on Sunday, April 12, 2009.  The text for this week’s message is 1 Corinthians 15:1-11.

Today marks both an end and a beginning.  It marks the end of Holy Week, during which we have relived the story of Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, the Last Supper with his disciples and his crucifixion.  This morning, we remember the resurrection.  Without the resurrection, we wouldn’t be sitting here today.  It is without a doubt the single most important event in Christian history.    It could also be argued that the resurrection is the single most significant event in all of human history.  
First off let’s not get too caught up in all the fanfare of Easter, and forget about it’s significance.  So many of us here this morning probably have all kinds of family lunches or dinners planned today.  We’re wondering where to hide the Easter eggs; hoping that we don’t come across some of last year’s eggs that weren’t found.  We’re thinking about those Easter baskets with all the jelly beans that are sitting on the table at home right now.  Maybe you’re wondering what kind of chocolate you’re going to eat after six weeks without it. Quite possibly, the furthest thing from our minds right now is the amazing fact that Jesus Christ rose from the dead.
Easter is about so much more than the things with which we worry ourselves.  Easter is about believing in the unbelievable.  In fact, the Easter story is so unbelievable that some would say Jesus only lives on in his teachings.  It’s totally against everything we have learned from science and our own personal experience that a person could come back to life after dying.  However, Easter is much more than a fanciful story devised by people who didn’t know any better and just spiritualized the senseless death of their friend and teacher.  But the disciples didn’t declare that Jesus lived on in his teachings.  They said that he rose from the dead.  That is a pretty significant difference.
While there may be some things in Scripture that could have a scientific explanation, to argue that the people in the first century were ignorant about the scientific world and just made up myths and legends about Jesus rising from the dead is just plain ridiculous.  People across all ages and cultures have generally known the difference between someone who is dead and someone who is alive.  It’s a little like knowing the difference between the desert and an ocean – you don’t have to be a scientist in the modern era to figure that one out.  So what is it about the events of that morning so long ago that had so profound an impact on the direction of human history?
Christians, in spite of facing intense persecution at times in the first century, continued to spread the message of a risen Savior throughout the entire Roman Empire.  For better or worse, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire.  It spread throughout the known world.  Eventually, in the face of religious persecution, the Puritans came across the Atlantic Ocean and settled in a wilderness that would come to be known as America.  And now, there are churches in every small town across the map.  All because of one simple little message that was proclaimed in Jerusalem on that first Easter morning: He has risen.  With those words, an incredible story began.
When we look back at the stories in Genesis, we find out that in the very beginning, God walked alongside humanity.  Adam and Eve had a relationship with God in which they walked and spoke with Him on a daily basis.  Now, whether you see this as a literal story or not, the key point is not that the first person on Earth’s name was Adam.  The point is that at one time in our history, there were no barriers between God and humanity.  The creation walked alongside the Creator.
  
But that relationship was not the priority, and eventually, humanity gave in to its own self-interest.  This shouldn’t surprise us.  We do it every single day.  We show it in our own lives when we put our personal, self-interests ahead of everything else.  It’s a learned behavior.  It has been passed down from generation to generation since the beginning of time.  I’m sure if we all took an honest evaluation of our last seven days, there will be more than one instance when we’ve done it.  It’s called sin.  Sin is when we make anything other than God the priority in our lives.  When we do this, we create a gap between ourselves and God.  This is a gap that cannot be overcome by any of our efforts to do good things.
If you think that all you need to do to get into heaven is lead a “good” life and do a few “good” things, then you’ve been sold some magic beans.  There aren’t enough good things in this life that we can do on our own that will help us fill in the gap that has been created by our sin.  Being a Christian is not just about doing enough of the right things at the right time.  What happened on that first Easter morning was the beginning of something big; something so big that the gap between God and humanity could be bridged.  But there is only one way across.  
Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  It’s not the good things we do; it’s not the people we know; and it’s not how we were raised.  The only way to gain access to the Father is by what Jesus did on the cross.  He gave himself for all humanity.  When I say that Easter is a beginning, I mean that Easter was the beginning of a new way of life.  No longer did humanity and God have to be separated.  Through Jesus, the two can be reunited.
There is a story of two boys who grew up together.  They were great friends and did everything together; however, as they got older, they began to grow apart.  One of the boys worked very hard in school to become a lawyer.  As the years passed, he eventually became a judge.  The other boy didn’t work so hard.  He always looked for the easy way out of things, and turned to a life of crime.  One day, the two old friends were reunited – in the judge’s court.  The crime that his friend committed was too great to be let go without some sort of punishment, and so the judge gave him the full measure of the law by hitting him with an incredibly large fine.  Then he stood up, took off his robe, and handed his friend a check for the full amount of the fine.  Justice was served in the giving of the fine.  Mercy was displayed in the paying of the fine.  That is what Jesus has done for us.  Full justice demands atonement for our sins.  God’s mercy is shown when Jesus takes on the full penalty for those sins.
The resurrection is the vindication for Jesus’ life as one who lived without sin and showed that it was possible to live a life in full relationship with God.  It was the beginning of a new era in human history in which people were no longer enslaved by the sin in their lives, but were set free so that they could live a life in full relationship with God.  When I say these things, don’t think that these are just some nice words that are intended for other people.  This is a truth that is relevant to the life of every single person in this room this morning, and even for those who aren’t.  This is a message of the utmost importance.  This is a message so big that it can, and has, changed the direction of human history.  But it is also a message so simple that it applies to your life.  It’s a message of a new beginning that is possible for those who would only lay down their pride and self-importance and turn to Jesus.  So what are we to do now?
If you’re hoping for a four-step process to a better life, then you’re not going to find it here.  If you’re looking for ways to improve your life so that you’ll be happy all the time, then you’re out of luck this morning.  But, if you’re looking for a way to begin or renew your relationship with God, then you’re in the right place.  Have you ever heard the saying, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing”?  Well, that’s a good place to start.  Realize that apart from Jesus, you cannot have a relationship with God.  Again, it’s not about what you do or who you know, at least, not who you know around here anyway.  It’s about whether or not you know Jesus.  That’s where it all starts.  
If you can’t honestly say that you have accepted the message of the gospel, that Jesus Christ gave himself as an atonement for your sins and you have placed your trust in him, then that’s where you need to start.  Give up the selfish desires of your heart because they aren’t going to get you anywhere worth going in the first place.  Turn your eyes to Jesus.  Let him guide you.  Trust in him, even though it will be difficult.  When life is caving in all around you, listen for his voice.  You probably won’t hear an audible voice, but if you don’t listen, you won’t hear anything anyway.
I know that I am not even close to being the oldest person in the room this morning, but I imagine that I’ve heard nearly every excuse possible for why some people don’t believe.  I want to take a few minutes this morning and talk about some reasons why people don’t go to church, and really look at those reasons.  Maybe you’re here this morning, and you’ve said these very things.  Maybe you know somebody who thinks this way.  Among other things, people say that churches are full of hypocrites; that they had a bad experience with a previous pastor; that they don’t believe in fairy tales.  And what do you say? 
 
Well, logically, if people don’t go to church because churches are full of hypocrites, then it’s probably best that they avoid all public places because, unfortunately, hypocrisy is a part of the fallen state of humanity.  Christians are simply trying to move past it, or at least they should be.  Mahatma Gandhi once said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians.  Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”  For those who do claim the name of Christian, not living out your faith is a major problem, but this shouldn’t be an excuse for others to avoid the Christian faith.  If you claim to be a Christian, live out your faith, and don’t give anyone an opportunity to use this excuse.
Had a bad experience with a previous pastor?  As harsh as this may sound, I’m going to say it anyway.  So what?  I’m not trying to trivialize this, so hear me out.  I’m not being heartless here.  Unfortunately, there are some bad pastors out there, but that’s no reason to give up on one’s faith.  First of all, that’s why there are multiple pastors in this world.  Secondly, a bad experience with a teacher doesn’t cause one to give up on the educational system; so why should your faith be ruined because of a bad pastor?  One’s faith cannot be built around the personality of one pastor; nor should one’s lack of faith be built around a bad experience with a pastor.  Ultimately, we are all in this together.  People don’t need to be here because they want to be a follower of Pastor Matt.  People need to be here because they are a follower of Jesus Christ.  The Christian faith is bigger than any single pastor.
Finally, some people will say that they don’t believe in fairy tales.  Good.  I don’t either.  I believe in the story that’s found in Scripture, but that’s no fairy tale.  Does it sound crazy?  Yes, given what we have experienced in this life, it does seem a little crazy.  Is it outrageous and does it go against everything our sixth grade science teacher taught us?  Yes, it does.  But when you look deeper, you begin to realize that there is something to all of this.  We wouldn’t be here today if the story wasn’t true.  Once the disciples started preaching about the resurrection, all their opponents had to do was produce Jesus’ body.  They never did.  They couldn’t.  It wasn’t there.
Realistically, in all these cases it boils down to a simple case of selfishness.  Because the reality is, if what is being proclaimed this morning is true, then it has to significantly alter our approach to life.  If the message of Jesus’ resurrection is true, then life is no longer about us, and too many people don’t want to accept that reality.  So the question facing each one of us this morning is not, “How long does the ham need to be in the oven when we get home?”  That doesn’t matter.  Well, it does if you want to eat lunch this afternoon.  But the real question we have to ask ourselves this morning is this: if this story is true, how does my life need to be different?
Take an honest evaluation of where your life is right now.  Can you honestly say that Jesus is the focus of your life?  Can you honestly say that your life is different because of what Jesus has done?  Falling back on excuses doesn’t do anything for you.  The simple truth is that the Jesus who is discussed in the New Testament lived on this earth.  All that’s left is to decide whether or not you will follow him.  Will you set aside your own selfishness, the same selfishness that has kept all of humanity from experiencing life as it should be?  Will you set it aside and embrace the truth that there was one who came to this earth to give us an opportunity for a new beginning?  Let today be your new beginning.
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