Sunday, April 15, 2012

Christ Is Risen

Christ Is Risen
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
April 15, 2012
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
Jonah 2:1-6
Colossians 2:20-3:4

Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives
For your eyes show the way
            Your mind knows the truth
            Your being is the life.

20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations, 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”? 22 All these regulations refer to things that perish with use; they are simply human commands and teachings. 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence. 

3 So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, 3 for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory. 

Let us close our eyes and return in our thoughts back to last week, a short trip back to last Sunday, Easter Sunday. How beautiful is Easter Sunday? The church is a little more full, everyone is dressed just a little nicer. The lilies filled the sanctuary with beauty and pollen. Connie sang then too. We sang Because He Lives. We had extra people here, and extra kids. The energy of the Easter Egg Hunt. Easter is just that special. Now open your eyes, for this Sunday too is Easter. . . as is every Sunday. . . if only. . .
A couple of years ago, before I started seminary, I was riding in a car with a friend of mine. We passed a small church on the side of the road, that had a sign out front. We had passed the church many times together and always looked forward to reading the weekly slogan that the church had on its sign. They never were a disappointment. This time though it was not the typical trite cutesy pun-filled word play, but instead simply stated Christ is Risen. My friend was quick to point out the grammatical error on the sign. He said shouldn’t the sign say Christ has risen, Christ was raised, or Christ rose. Looking back on it, I realized I missed my big chance to minister to the ignorance so called “un-churched.” At that moment I could have explained simply the difference between has and is, but up to that point I had never thought about or even noticed the distinction, the error, or the reason. Being “churched” didn’t challenge me to think about such distinctions.  Perhaps, I had been dulled to the point where I didn’t have to think about why things were, anymore, but simply accepted them as they were because they were. I simply replied to my friend in the immortal words of the church, “It’s always written like that.”
Many people probably agree with my friend that Christ has risen would be a more accurate statement. There was a moment in time where morning came on the third day, the stone was moved and Christ was raised from the dead. Let trumpets proclaim the event, the victory over death and sin. God so loved the world that he sent his son to die, to rise, and conquer death for all. The event marks our salvation from death, cleansing us from our sin and iniquity, for all who have been given faith. Is that not what Christians believe to be the case? In this victory our freedom is achieved. Freedom from sin, freedom from death, freedom from our past, freedom from the law, freedom from circumcision, freedom from sacrifices, freedom from temples, freedom from priestly duties, freedom from dietary laws, and freedom from past distinctions between people.
Today’s reading from Colossians 3 is contextually preceded by words that proclaim this freedom. The second chapter of Colossians is filled with references to the things that Christ has set us free from. But where does that leave us in the world? What is the first thing that we do when we are given freedom? We prefer our old chains.
The Colossians that Paul was writing to began looking to things other than Christ to bring them closer to God. They looked to angels, they looked to practices, they looked to rituals, they looked to traditions, they looked to worldly wisdom, and they looked back to the old laws. Because they affirmed and proclaimed through their actions that Christ only has risen.
We do the same today. We are afraid of the freedom from the law that Christ has made for us, so we fill our churches with strict traditions, which are the new laws. We return to distinctions between people based on faith, gender, race, and whether people are churched or unchurched. We become afraid of where this freedom will lead. We are free! Now what? We look ahead at the void of our new freedom and are deathly afraid of falling into the pit, again: the very same pit that we were freed from.  We again are paralyzed by our fear. And then we cling to what we have always done, our chains, the familiar, what we know. As we stand still the walls form around us leaving us again in a pit. We do not cling to Christ because for us Christ only has risen. These are the fruits of faith in a Christ that only has risen, a return to slavery. A Christ that has risen falls short of true salvation.
The Gospel, however, proclaims a Christ that is Risen. This is the Christ that Paul is proclaiming in our reading for today. “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is.” Christ is risen means that Christ doesn’t rise and leave us, instead Christ is risen means that Christ rose and is, an ongoing state where Christ is with us. Christ rose to save us, to set us free, but not to leave us alone, instead to be present in our lives.
The risen Christ is and works in our lives, the risen Christ is and works in the lives of others, the risen Christ is and works in the world. Christ is with us until the end of the age. Therefore as written in the Gospel of Mark, “do not fear only believe.” When standing on the edge of the pit looking out into the void of freedom, we are not standing there on the edge alone. The Christ that is Risen is there with us. When challenged by the ever changing world, that many times seems like it is spiraling out of control, we can believe that Christ is Risen and is working in that world. When worrying about how others are acting, we can believe that Christ is Risen and can work in their lives as Christ is working in our own.
Allowing the risen Christ to work in our lives, means that the freedom of our lives is filled with love.  The love that Christ has for us, we then can freely give to others. Instead of holding on, trying to control our lives, and control others, we can let go, letting the master, the risen Christ, work through us. The song, written by David Downes, entitled “Send Me a Song” includes the line “Love must never hold, never hold tight but let go.” To be a part of Christ’s redeeming love we must let go of the things we used in the past to control the madness and fear that our lives can bring, and allow Christ to be sufficient, to let Christ be enough, to let Christ be all in all.
True freedom then has occurred. So here we are again. True freedom achieved, now what? Does this mean we can do anything we please? That there is no law, no absolute truth, lawless anarchy? Remember that the risen Christ is working within us, is that lawless anarchy? Does this mean we can be inactive, sit and pray and watch as the world burns around us? Remember that the risen Christ is working within us, did Christ in his life sit back and let the world burn? I’m sure we have all heard the phrase/slogan “What Would Jesus Do?” I even think I saw it on that church sign all those years ago. Too many times we ask ourselves this question, when the question should be “What Will, What can, What is Jesus Doing in Me?” This therefore is not a call to inaction, but instead a call to allow the risen Christ to work within our lives. Presbyterianism is based on the idea the Christ is the head of the church. Think about what that means. Officers in the church, from the bottom to the top, at the church level all the way to the General Assembly are not representatives of the will of their churches, they are not representatives of their own will; they are instead called to discern the will of Christ in all things, in all decisions. What an amazingly awesome idea that is, but do we live up to it?
At the beginning of this sermon I had us look back at Easter, taking a look at our service, remembering the celebration, the flowers, the hymns. My question today is, were we proclaiming Christ has Risen or Christ is Risen? Do we believe in our hearts that Christ has Risen or that Christ is Risen? As we look around us a week later, are our lives, our church, our world a testimony to the Christ who has risen or to the Christ that is risen? Are we challenging our members and the world through our words and actions to see the distinction /between the Christ who has risen and that Christ who is risen?
May we all strive to see Christ, to trust Christ, to know Christ, not just Easter Sunday, the day Christ was Risen, but now, today, and everyday, where we believe that Christ is Risen. May we when questions arise, when we are challenged as a church with decisions to be made, when we must choose the direction to head, when we struggle with disagreement, seek the counsel of the risen Christ instead of our own preconceived ideas. May we cling to Christ who is above, and not the lesser things to which we have clung to for comfort because they are familiar, or because they have always been done? If we are clinging to the risen Christ we cannot go astray, for Christ is Risen, Christ is sufficient, Christ is all in all. Amen.