My God... and Your God! - Charlotte Villa

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May only God’s truth and Grace be spoken and only God’s Truth and Grace be heard – in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – Amen

Martin Marty, an editor and publisher of many things had a newsletter called "Context," and tells this true story:

"His classmates noted that eight-year-old Stephen's mental impairment was becoming even more manifest.

In April, the Sunday School teacher asked all eight children in his class to hide within an empty Leggs pantyhose container one small object that represented the new life in spring.

I don’t know if they still have Leggs pantyhose and if they are still in those ostrich egg shaped plastic containers

But I certainly remember them from my childhood – I think that my Grandma might have bought that brand just for us kids to have the eggs to play with

Back to the story…Fearing that Stephen might not have caught on, the teacher had the children place all unlabeled containers on the table so that he could open them.

The first had a tiny flower. 'What a lovely sign of new life!'

The donor could not help but erupt, 'I brought that one.'

A butterfly flew from the second container, and another child bragged that her choice was the best sign of all.

The third Leggs container was empty.

'It has to be Stephen's,' thought the teacher, reaching quickly for the forth.

But, 'Please, don't skip mine,' Stephen interjected.

'But it's empty.'

'That's right,' said Stephen, 'the tomb was empty, and that's new life for everyone.'

"That summer Stephen's condition worsened and he died.

At his funeral on his casket mourners found eight Leggs containers… now all empty! [1]

23Jesus told them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12:23-24)  

When I have an empty stomach, it’s an inconvenience to my day

I need to grab a bite and it is either a can of soup or out I go to fast food restaurant – if I don’t I will have my stomach continually reminding me that it feels empty

When my car’s gas tank becomes empty,

It always seems that fuel prices have just taken another jump

And like any preacher, I don’t enjoy looking out from the pulpit and seeing empty pews

Oddly enough, however, the best news in history is: … “It’s empty!”

On Easter morning the tomb where Jesus was laid was found empty.

The stone had been rolled away, the body of Jesus Christ was gone, and the news of his resurrection began to spread from that moment on.

The women who were the first witnesses of this miracle ran to share the story.

The Church of Jesus Christ has been “running on empty” ever since.[2]

We are not glass half full or glass half empty people

– We are ones that celebrate that it is completely empty!

Charles Dickens' celebrated Christmas Carol is a Christmas story only in its setting;

In theme it is actually an Easter Carol, because it describes the resurrection of a dead soul.

Scrooge was as mean and selfish an old miser as it is possible to imagine;

His heart was cold to every generous impulse and kindly emotion.

He was living in the night — the time when ghosts, like the ghost of Christmas past, come to one.

But in the course of the story he is led to see how hateful a being he has become,

And in the end his old soul dies and a new soul rises within him.

Scrooge is led from night to day and the difference is as different as night and day.

Scrooge inhabits the same body, but he is no longer the same person.

Instead of being a withered old miser – he is a kind-hearted, charitable gentleman.

And this is clearly a story which illustrates the truth of Easter.[3]

Another big break-through at the break of dawn occurred to a newspaper reporter a few years ago.

They hold Easter sunrise service each year on the rim of the Grand Canyon and this particular reporter was assigned to cover the event.

He was not especially noted for his religious fervor.

It was below freezing and he stood there is the pre-dawn darkness shivering dolefully, wishing himself back in bed.

"But," he later wrote, "as the sun rose and light poured into that stupendous chasm, I forgot all about being cold.

One moment everything was gray and formless. Then came a flood of radiance, torrents of light plunging down the canyon walls, making them blaze with color, dissolving the blackness.

Watching the shadows vanish, I had the conviction that the darkness that had filled the great gorge was an illusion, that only the light was real, and that we silent watchers on the canyon rim were somehow a part of the light. …

He continues “I have listened to sermons and read about religion, but for the first time in my life I felt I had made contact with the spirit called God."[4]

This afternoon’s sermon is a collection of stories – and there are a few more still to come

            I tell you this because all of us come to Easter morning with a different story

                        All of us meet the dawn of new light – the risen Son – feel and meet God in a different way

And God, in turn, responds differently to each one of us

The gospel of John, which we have for Easter each year, reveals people coming to Jesus in very personal and unique ways

Some people will see and just believe like the beloved disciple – but no two are the same, see how others in John’s Gospel choose to believe … God is always dealing out options

1.      Peter ran to the tomb and yet even seeing it empty did not understanding that morning – and previously failing with the cock crowing three times and then later received grace on the beach

2.      Nicodemus who wants to believe, yet is confused and questions in the secret of the night but ultimately assists in the burial of Jesus with the highest respect – with the tomb that he purchased and was never used before

3.      Pilate who doesn’t want to make a decision

4.      The man born blind who becomes a follower

5.      The religious leaders who, because their establishment is threatened, refuse to see the signs

6.      Thomas who finally makes the great confession

Consider for yourself – how you came to Easter?

            Is it exactly like anyone else?

Would all the circumstances that bring you - match anyone exactly?

I suspect if we look at enough details we will see that God has met each and every one of us in a special way… just for us

Look at how John tells the story of Mary – How Mary has come that Easter morning 2000 years ago bringing with her, her own expectations – her own understanding of God

            And she is asked a major question – “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?”

Mary is of course looking for the wrong Jesus, the dead body Jesus

Mary has brought with her the cultural expectations of how to properly deal with a dead body - Mary has come to that morning with a sense that “all is lost”

Mary came with deep mourning in her heart

The empty tomb in that moment was for Mary an even more painful sting heaped upon a tragic situation

But, it is transformed in a word… her name

Imagine the moment when Mary Magdalene recognizes her song when Jesus calls out her Name

            It is the wonderful moment of Mary’s first Easter –when she first believed

Jesus sings different songs to different people that come to believe throughout the Gospel of John

The song that will turn their head, which will bring them to believe

Personal songs deep in relationship

Jesus calls us to a relationship of intimacy that provides everything that we could need

                                                And we come to God with vastly different wants and desires

This Easter season as Jesus rose from the grave and won the victory over death

            We too share in that victory as Jesus declared to Mary

'I am ascending to my Father and YOUR Father… and to my God and YOUR God.' (John 20:17)

So whether you met God in the sun rising and filling the Grand canyon – or in the calling of your name – or saw and believed – or had grace meet you on the beach – or by the visitation of the ghosts of your life – or by understanding the victory of an empty container

            By whatever means – grand – or simple – Hallelujah The Lord has Risen – He has risen indeed

                        Thanks be to my God and YOUR God – Amen & Hallelujah!


[1] Illustration Sourcebank – Series II # 2141, NEW LIFE, EASTER

[2] Upper Room Devotional – Sunday March 25th

[3] Illustration Sourcebank – Series II # 2164, EASTER, RESURRECTION

[4] Illustration Sourcebank – Series II # 1587, EASTER, ENLIGHTENMENT— from sermon "The Sound of Silence" by G. Harris

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