Monday, April 17, 2017

Do not fear!

Sermon for Easter Late Service preached on Sunday, April 16, 2017.

Fifty years ago a survey of children's fears listed the things of which they are most afraid: animal attack, alone in the dark, high places, strangers, and loud noises. Most of them would prompt a parental hug with the words, "There is nothing to fear. Mom or dad is here." Today's children were also surveyed and their greatest fears were: the divorce of their parents, terrorism, cancer, global warming, being mugged, kidnaped or assaulted. No parent can address that list and say "Nothing to be afraid of."

We live in a world of fears and our children have the same adult sized fears the rest of us have. Terrorism, job security, politics, taxes, health care, drugs, violence, family break up — these are giant size enemies to a people who really do have something to fear. But the angel at the tomb and the risen Savior tell us the same thing: "Do not be afraid!" Why not?

The guards around the tomb of Christ trembled. And well they should have. The death of Jesus focused the fears and beliefs of a people who might rise up in revolt over a slain leader. The calm of Jesus in accepting His unjust fate was itself eery and ominous. The sun and sky went dark when He died. Some of the saints walked out of their graves alive. A great earthquake shook the earth and their hearts. An angel sitting in glory on the stone which was rolled away from the grave. We would have trembled, too.

Who is this Jesus? What does this mean? What to make of His innocent suffering and death and the empty tomb and His resurrection? Without faith, there is only fear. The enemies are always real but without faith there are only the enemies and the threats, only our fears and their worries, only uncertainty except for the certainty of death. The guards who watched over Jesus' tomb had a great deal to fear and so do our children and we as adults. Our enemies are real and the threats are not make believe.

But the message of Easter is also real. "Do not be afraid! Do not fear!" From the angel to the women and disciples who first came to the empty tomb to the people who met the surprise of the risen Lord, the same words. "Do not be afraid!" The crucified Lord is now risen and in the greatest of all turnabout surprises, death is held captive by the power of the Risen Savior. The life of Christ cannot be threatened by the grave any longer and neither can the lives of those who believe in Him. Death's back is broken when Jesus' body is planted like a seed in the ground to bring forth the fruit of life and the resurrection of the dead for you, me, and all believers. The invitation that led the fearful women and disciples to enter the grave is what brought you here today: "Come and see what the Lord has done!" Come and see what death was and what it is no longer. Easter rings with the sound of hope and victory to a people who have grown accustomed to being victims, held captive by real enemies and real fears.

Come and see. Come and see for the Lord is the first born of many to follow — including you and me and those who died in Christ. Come and see that the very real enemies have more than a match in the Risen Savior who has vanquished the ultimate enemy of death and who shows the triumph of His life to over 500 witnesses. Come and see is the bidding of the heavenly Father who laid down this plan before sin even had a chance to tarnish His creation and steal us away from Him. Come and see is the promise of the Word that touches our ears with news too good to be true.

Come and see becomes go and meet the Lord where He has promised to be. The empty tomb alone proves nothing but the testimony of the witnesses who saw Him, touched Him, and heard His voice tells us that this is not too good to be true but is the truth which makes life good. Go and meet the Lord where He has promised to be. Not where you think He ought to be or where you think He might be or where it seems logical to find Him. Go and meet Him where He has promised to be. That is why we are gathered here today around the Word and Table of the Lord. The risen Lord is not some dream or feeling but the promise attached to water that washes clean and bread and wine that feeds eternal life. Here is the answer to our fears. We are not alone, the Risen Savior is with us. We know where we are going, He has paved the way for our own joyful resurrection. The old life will no longer suffice. We must have the new life the Risen Lord gives. Yes, we live in a world of fears. Only a fool would tell you we have nothing to fear. But the Risen Lord and the angel at the tomb are not saying your enemies are not real. They are announcing the reality of a power stronger than death, a righteousness that covers the worst of our sins, and the hope which allows us to life a confident life in an uncertain world. Death is the final enemy. If death is done, nothing else can win. The grave has lost and Satan is defeated. Sin has been nailed to the cross and it cannot come back to haunt you — so great is the power of His blood to cleanse us from all sin. The Lord is with you. He is stuck to you. He will not abandon you. He has born your sin and suffered your death and gives you His forgiveness and life. Do not be afraid. You stand now in Christ as His new creation. You have met the crucified and risen Lord where He has promised to be. Here in Church He is. He speaks His living voice through the mouth of the pastor and addresses you with His absolution. His Word is living and active and bestows that which is speaks. The Eucharist is His supper and He feeds us His own flesh for the life of the world and your life and His blood that cleanses us from all sins. He is where He has promised to be and He continues to speak the word of comfort: "Do not be afraid! I am here!" Death lies broken and defeated. And now you get to decide whether the rest of your troubles, the worst of your fears, and the greatest of your anxieties for this mortal life are worth your worries, whether their terror can live up to their claims, and whether these should be your focus or Christ and His resurrection.

Jesus' resurrection IS the earthquake that has changed the playing field of all life. Because He lives, you shall live also. Nothing in heaven and nothing in hell, no power or dominion or principality or enemy can come between you and Christ who died for your sins and rose to give you new life. When our Lord says "Do not be afraid" He is addressing you with the power of His own resurrection. He calls to you in your fears. He invites you to find refuge and hope in His death and resurrection. And He promises you that He will not leave you nor abandon you to any enemy. Living in the light of our Lord's resurrection, we can say today: "I am not afraid. Christ is with me. All things work together for my good because I live in Him by baptism and faith. I shall not die but live, free today, and for eternity.

Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Alleluia!

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