As I write this, Easter is less than three weeks away and by the time you read it, it will be closer to two weeks. But as we grow nearer to our grand celebration of resurrection, I have a challenge for you. But first, a few reminders.
Here in the northern hemisphere, Easter arrives in the Spring and so many of the signs and symbols of spring are also associated with Easter and resurrection. Trees that seemed dead all winter, return to life as they bud and flower. Spring flowers that disappeared over the winter, sprout anew and bloom even when they are sometimes covered with late season frost and snow. Our songbirds begin to return from their sojourn in warmer climates to our south, build nests, lay eggs, and new life appears. And after a winter of sheltering indoors and wrapping ourselves in layer after layer of winter clothing, we too feel reborn as we emerge from our cocoons of blankets, parkas, mittens, and gloves.
For these, and many other reasons, spring has been, for us, associated with resurrection and Easter. But Easter is about more than that. Easter is about Jesus conquering sin and death, not just for himself, but for us. Jesus’ return from death to life was only the first resurrection and why Jesus is the “firstborn from among the dead.” Jesus was the first, but his defeat of death, and our celebration of Easter, are symbols and reminders that everyone who has put their faith in him will also find resurrection. We will all rise from the dead into an eternal life.
But, as God’s rescued and resurrected people, our calling isn’t just to say “Thank you” at Easter and go on about our everyday lives. As we have heard several times in recent weeks and months, our calling as rescued people is to busy ourselves rescuing others. We are called to be agents of hope, reconciliation, and resurrection. As such, the people around us should see resurrection in us in the way that we live our lives every day.
If Jesus has rescued us, and raised us from the dead, let us trust that he can also work toward “resurrecting” and bringing new life to our church. We are witnesses to that possibility because in recent months we have brought in several new members. But even though we have returned to our sanctuary, and even though our attendance is improving, we could, and we should, do better. Because we are grateful for what Jesus has done for us, we should be at work sharing that gratitude, and the good news of Jesus Christ with others.
And so, here’s the challenge: Even though there are only two weeks between now and Easter, I want to challenge every member, and every non-member who regularly attends Christ Church, to bring someone to church. And when I say, “bring someone” to church I do not mean “invite someone to church.” I mean that we should invite people, over, and over again, until we get at least one of them to commit to coming with us to Christ Church. We all know that Christ Church is an awesome place to make friends, to worship, and to be in mission to the world but how will others know how great it is if no one invites, and brings them?
To be fair, it might take longer than two weeks, but Easter is a good goal because many people are open to an invitation at Easter and Christmas. But the challenge remains. Start talking to your friends, your neighbors, your coworkers, the cashier at the grocery store, the person who does your hair or your nails, it could be anyone. Invite them to church. Invite them to Easter. And keep inviting them. And don’t stop after Easter. If all of us do this, if all of us become truly invitational, we should have visitors in our congregation every week and not just at Easter. And, if we regularly have visitors, some of them will certainly decide to stay.
And that’s when we will witness resurrection power.
There are certain events in history that become defining moments of whole nations, or even entire eras of history. Some completely unknown, ancient person dared to experiment with the chemistry of molten metal in an attempt to make brass harder. And, without ever realizing it, their success ushered in a new era of technology and warfare that we still refer to as the Bronze Age. The coronation of Queen Victoria effectively named a hundred years of history, style, and culture that is still referred to as the Victorian Era. In 230 BC, Ying Zheng unleashed the final campaigns of the Warring States period, conquered the remaining states nearby in the fall of 221 BC and unified what became known as the empire of Qin, or more commonly in English, China as it has been known for the last two thousand years.
At 5:30 am, on July 16, 1945, 210 miles south of Los Alamos, New Mexico, on the barren plains of the Alamogordo Bombing Range, the United States Department of Defense triggered the explosion of a single device that released 18.6 kilotons of explosive power and marked the beginning, of what has been known ever since, as the Atomic Age. There are many such moments that define history and many smaller moments that define each one of us. We also find these moments in scripture. These are moments that define generations of people, and ages of time. In Isaiah 61:10 – 62:3, the prophet of God looks forward to a day that will become a turning point, and a defining moment, for the nation of Israel, for the entire world, and for all of us thousands of years later. Isaiah said:
10 I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.
62:1 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet, till her vindication shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch. 2 The nations will see your vindication, and all kings your glory; you will be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will bestow. 3 You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
Isaiah sees a day in his future when God changes the destiny of Israel. God will dress the people in new clothing like a bride and groom are prepared for their wedding, and the entire nation of Israel will be lifted up, glorified in the eyes of the world, and vindicated after all her years of suffering and ridicule at the hands of nations like the Philistines, Babylon, Assyria, Persia, Greece, Rome, and others. Isaiah sees a moment when all the nations of the world will bow down to Israel’s’ king and Israel will be so transformed that even its name will be changed to reflect its new destiny.
And then, in Luke 2:22-40, we see a moment that, however small it may first appear, is a defining moment for two senior citizen clergy persons, for one poor family from an unpopular village, and that moment became a light, a beacon, that is seen still today as a transformative moment in history for millions of believers.
22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismissyour servant in peace. 30 For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”
33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.
God had promised Simeon that he would live to see the birth of God’s promised messiah. For reasons that he may not have understood, he was drawn to the temple to serve with his tribe even though he could have been excused for his age. And, at the moment that he saw Mary and Joseph, and took their baby into his arms, he knew that God had kept his promise and marveled at what God was about to do, and how this tiny infant was going to change the world.
And it didn’t only happen once. Anna was a prophet and had lived in the temple since she had been widowed many decades earlier. And she too, for reasons unknown to her, was drawn to the place where Simeon was with Mary, Joseph, and their baby. And upon her arrival, she knew exactly who Jesus was, and who he would become. This was a turning point in history. Anna knew that from that moment on, Israel, and the world, was going to change. God was beginning the process of redefining history just as Isaiah had seen and had prophesied.
But two thousand years later, those moments still matter. It wasn’t just the naming of a new age, or the birth of a new nation, or the discovery of a new powerful technology. It was something much more than that. Something far grander than that. Something more pivotal to the lives of everyday people like us and in Galatians 4:4-7 The apostle Paul writes to explain it to his church this way:
4 But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. 6 Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.
Paul says that the impact of the messiah Jesus on history is much more than the fulfillment of prophecy or keeping God’s promise to two elderly clergy persons. The impact of Jesus’ arrival means the offer of transformation to ordinary people like us. It means an invitation to be dressed as though we are on our way to our own wedding, renamed, adopted as children by the creator of the universe, and loved so intimately that we call our creator “Abba” or in English, “Papa” or “Daddy.” We were transformed in that moment two thousand years ago. Because of that moment, we are no longer slaves but children of God and heirs to the kingdom of the creator of everything.
It is because of that moment that we are who we are.
It is because of that moment that we are invited to become the people of God’s imagination and vision.
It is because of that moment that God is at work transforming us into something greater than we can ever ask or imagine.
It is because of that moment that we can call ourselves, Christ-ians.
And now it’s up to us to live, and to love, as if that destiny matters.
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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org. If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online). These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.