April 21, 2019
Rev. Fritz Nelson
If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see everything has become new!
Everything old has passed away. Gone. Vamoose. Declared null and void. Nailed to the cross with Jesus so God could remake us, remake our world, in the divine image.
Hatred was nailed to the cross. Violence was nailed to the cross. Injustice was nailed to the cross. Fear was nailed to the cross. Death was nailed to the cross.
Death was nailed to the cross. Death put Jesus on the cross. To be more specific, fear of death put Jesus on the cross.
Elisabeth and I once went camping at the Red River Gorge in Kentucky. Over the centuries, wind and water have carved an amazing system of canyons, caves and cliffs all covered with Kentucky’s verdant undergrowth. Its beautiful, mysterious, haunting, dangerous. One wrong step and poof – you’re gone. A pile of broken bones fifty feet below where you were standing. I’m so glad we never visited the Gorge when Eric was a toddler. I think we would have been so focused on Eric not dying we would have missed the grandeur, the presence of God.
We’re afraid to die. That’s why, if you’re at the Red River Gorge, you yell at your kid to keep away from the edge of the cliff. You don’t want your kid to die. That’s why you don’t walk to the edge of the cliff and lean forward, feet together, arms outstretched, to test whether your balance and strength can defy gravity. You don’t want to die. That’s good. Self preservation is a good thing. Until it means you can’t get out of the car, until it means you can’t look at the view, until it means you can no longer experience God or the life God wishes for you, for his world.
We’re afraid to die. We’re afraid to die physically. We’re afraid to die socially, or economically, or politically. We want to have control and be able to exercise it. We want to have power and be able to exercise it. We want to feel safe, to be comfortable, to keep what is ours.
The religious leaders met Jesus and felt everything but safe. The political authorities met Jesus and knew he was beyond their control. Jesus scared them, so they responded as we always respond. Fear leads to injustice. Injustice leads to violence. Violence leads to hatred. An innocent man winds up on a cross, the political and religious authorities breathe a sigh of relief. They’ve exerted their authority. They’ve reestablished institutional safety. Life returns to normal, and then, three days later, God says “NO!”
God says “NO!” to the religious authorities and the political leaders.
God says “NO!” to the political and spiritual structures built upon fear and hatred and violence and injustice and economic imbalance and the myth of social stability.
God says “NO!” to the parts of each of us so afraid to change, so afraid to experience the radicalness of God’s new creation, we’re willing to put God on a cross to achieve a little peace of mind.
God says “NO!” to the death our fear brings.
The women come to the tomb expecting death but find life. Why, the angel says, why do you look for the living among the dead?
Death – our greatest fear – has been swallowed up in victory.
Where, O Death, is your victory?
Where, O Death, is your sting?
God says “NO!” and we no longer need to be afraid. We no longer need to be afraid.
On the cross, the perfect love of Jesus Christ meet all the fear, all the injustice, all the violence, all the hatred the world has ever known and ever will know, And casts them out. Casts them out. They have no hold over Jesus. They have no hold over those of us who are in him, who have been freed by him, who have been made new creations. The old is gone. Null. Void. The new is possible.
Yet we’re still afraid. We don’t need to be. We don’t have to be.
Jesus died for us, rose for us,
He is our light and our salvation
Whom shall we fear?
He is the refuge of our lives
Of whom shall we be afraid
When trouble comes,
The Lord will protect us
When trouble comes
The Lord will lift us high, high on the rock where we can see his face.
Even if our parents forsake us
Even if family leaves us behind
Even if we get caught up in the injustices and hatreds of our world
The Lord will take us up
In the land of the living we will see the goodness of the Lord
Fear put Jesus on the cross
and God said “NO!”
Injustice put Jesus on the cross
and God said “NO!”
Violence put Jesus on the cross
and God said “NO!”
Hatred put Jesus on the cross
and God said “NO!”
“NO!” to that which binds us and blinds us and shrinks us and shrivels us and separates us from God’s love, from our neighbor’s blessing.
“NO!” to that which traps us in our old selves, preventing us from experiencing the fullness of God’s new creation.
Yet we’re still afraid. So we fall on our knees in front of the empty cross, in the light of the empty tomb, and ask for God’s giant “NO!” in our own lives. We pray for God’s perfect love to cast out our fear. To bring resurrection where we only experience death.
Among all the papers in your bulletin is a square saying “Praying our Fears.” During the silence ask God to help you see where you are afraid. As the silence lingers and the choir sings, write your fear or fears on the paper. Feel free to draw if you’d rather. As the choir sings, Patty and I will collect the papers, shuffle them well and together ask God to cast out that which is old and make us anew. Together we’ll seek resurrection in the land of the living, to experience the goodness of our God.