Interim Pastor Doug Marshall
Easter is not the celebration of a past event. The alleluia is not for what was; Easter proclaims a beginning which has already decided the remotest future. The Resurrection means that the beginning of glory has already started.
Karl Rahner, Everyday Faith
Are Ya Livin’?
My Grandmother went over to Israel and someplace there is a picture of her, at the age of 88, riding a camel! Grandma lived to be about 92. Unfortunately, her body lived until she was 99. At 90 she was vibrant and alive. She traveled and was lots of fun. Then she started to have a series of small strokes that turned her into a frail and feeble old lady. She lost most of her memory. She slept most of the time, and when she was awake she had a vacant stare. She was alive, but not really living.
There are probably others here who have had similar experiences with loved ones. That is part of the struggle of watching our grandparents and parents get older and die. But the real tragedy is that some people, maybe even some of you, are physically and mentally healthy, yet not truly alive. Are ya’ livin’? Are you really alive?
Paul reminds us that everyone, like Adam, will die. You’ll stop breathing and your heart will stop beating. I heard one sermon describe it like this:
“It’s gonna happen to everyone here. They’re gonna put you in a box and take you to a cemetery. They are gonna drop you in a hole and throw dirt on your face. Then they’re gonna go back to the church and eat potato salad.”
We tend to deny that truth and ignore that reality, but it is going to happen. The challenge for us is to actually live while our bodies are still alive. Paul tells us that those who are in Christ will be made alive. What does it look like to be alive? Christ’s resurrection gives us the hope of eternal life. It is also the promise of an abundant life, here and now. Let me share with you three characteristics of being alive.
First, to be alive means to live with passion. Tony Campolo taught a class at the University of Pennsylvania. He started the class by asking one of the students a question. “How long have you lived?” The student mumbled, “I’m twenty-one.”
That wasn’t what Tony had in mind. “No! No! No! You’ve told me how long your heart has been beating. My question was how long have you lived?” The student looked puzzled, so Tony told a story about the time he was in the 9th grade and his class took a trip to New York City.
We were taken to the top of the Empire State Building and, like most boys my age, I was chasing girls and crawling around the observation area. Then suddenly, I caught myself! I walked to the railing and peered over the edge of the building. The magnificence of the skyscrapers of New York lay before me and I stood there, stunned into reverence. In one mystical moment, I absorbed the city. I gazed at it with such intensity that if I were to live a million years that moment would still be part of my consciousness. I was so fully alive at that moment, that I sensed it had become part of my eternal now.
Tony looked at the student again and asked: “How long have you lived?” The student replied, “Well, Doc, when you put it that way, maybe a couple of minutes. I don’t know. It’s hard to say. Most of my life has been the meaningless passage of time, between all too few moments of genuine aliveness.”
How long have you lived? Are ya livin’, right now? Is there a passion that empowers your life and fills you with energy? Is there a dream that focuses you and drives your life? Is there a cause to which you are willing to devote yourself?
Every child is born with a built-in passion for life but as we grow there is a tendency for that life to shrivel up and die. We bury our passion and live comfortable, safe, but boring lives. We go through the motions of living without truly being alive. We fill our calendars with the activities of life but lose our sense of curiosity. We watch other people live, maybe our children or through TV or the internet, yet we never really live for ourselves.
Are ya livin’, with a passion? Christ lived with us, died for us and was raised to new life, to fill us with passion and give us an eternal and abundant life.
Second, to be alive in Christ is to know that we are forgiven. The truth of our sinfulness is not the ultimate reality of our lives. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our sins are forgiven.
In 1881, at the age of 41 Sarah’s husband died and she inherited $20 million, which was a huge sum back then. She also received a daily stipend of $1000, which in today’s money is more than $23,000 every day. She was powerful, rich, and she was miserable. Not only had her husband died, but she was still grieving the death of her only daughter, 15 years earlier, at the age of five weeks.
Sarah felt cursed. Her married name was Winchester, of Winchester rifle fame. It was the most popular rifle in America and had killed 1000’s of soldiers and Indians. Sarah felt guilty for their deaths.
She moved from New Haven, Connecticut, to San Jose, California. She bought an eight room farmhouse and 160 acres. She hired carpenters and other craftsmen who worked on her house constantly, for 38 years. They created what is today known as the Winchester Mystery House. It has 6 kitchens, 47 fireplaces, and 160 rooms. There are 40 stairways, most of which have 13 steps. Some of the stairways lead to dead-ends. One leads to a doorway that goes outside, and a 50 foot drop. There are 10,000 windows, each with 13 panes of glass. Some of the windows open onto chimneys. Others onto blank walls. Every closet has 13 hooks and each chandelier has 13 globes. The house is weird.
Sarah never left the house for 38 years. She lived in a castle of regret and unresolved guilt. Sarah believed that some sort of spirit had told her that as long as she kept building the house she would live.
I don’t imagine that anyone here is as odd as Sarah Winchester. But I wonder how many of us continue to carry guilt for the sins of our lives. We live in shame and haven’t fully embraced the truth that through Christ’s death and resurrection we are forgiven. We know forgiveness in theory. Yet we have a hard time forgiving ourselves and believing we are forgiven. We find ways to cope with our guilt and shame, yet our guilt cripples us and keeps us from being truly alive.
Whether you are a Christian who struggles with forgiving yourself, on a non-Christian who needs to receive forgiveness for the first time, hear the good news: Through Jesus Christ you are forgiven! Your guilt is gone. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection we are free to live as God’s beloved children.
The third characteristic of being alive in Christ is that we cling to the hope of eternal life. In this section of the letter, Paul is trying to convince the Corinthians that the resurrection actually happened. There were some people who denied the resurrection, for Jesus or anyone. In verse 19 Paul says that if there is no resurrection and our faith only helps us in this life, then we are to be pitied. If there is no hope of eternal life, then our faith is a waste of time.
Paul goes on to proclaim the center of our faith, “In fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died” (1 Corinthians 15:20). Jesus was the first fruits, the first one raised from the dead. And because of his resurrection everyone who believes in Jesus will also be raised from the dead. Through Jesus Christ we have the hope, the promise, of eternal life.
She was a countess in Germany, back in the 19th century. She was known as an avowed atheist. She was convinced that there was no God and no eternal life. Once you were in the tomb you were there forever. Before she died she left very detailed instructions for her burial. Her tomb was to be sealed with blocks of granite. They were to be fitted together perfectly so that nothing could get in, or out. Heavy iron clamps were to fasten the granite slabs to each other. On the granite she had the following message inscribed. “This burial place, purchased to all eternity, must never be opened.”
Everything that could be done to seal the tomb was done. The countess was sure that her tomb would serve as a mockery to the belief in the resurrection. A seed from a birch tree fell on the ground next to the tomb. It sprouted and its roots found a crack in the granite, working their way into the tomb as well as into the ground. Over the years it forced its way in until the iron clamps popped open and the granite lid was pushed off. The lid leaned against the very large birch tree, with the inscription hidden by the tree. The message that the countess wanted to proclaim – there is no eternal life – was silenced by the work of a determined tree, and a very powerful God.
My friends, 2000 years ago another stone was placed over a tomb to keep the body of a dead man inside. Soldiers guarded the tomb to keep his followers from stealing the body. Yet the stone and the soldiers, and death itself, could not keep Jesus in the tomb. He was raised from the dead and is the promise, the first fruits, that you and I will also have an eternal and abundant life. So I invite you to live life to the fullest, here and now; by living with a passion, by knowing that you are forgiven and freed from sin, and by clinging to the hope of eternal life.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.