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Coming awake to the resurrection means we live on—in this life and the life to come. Mary Magdalene and Peter both proved that. Mary was a peasant girl suffering from Mental Illness who grew up in a fishing village called Magdala. The village doesn’t exist today, but Mary’s story lives on. Peter was a simple fisherman who grew up in the village of Capernaum. Jesus chose this emotional and tempestuous man to be the rock on which he built his church. Here it is almost 2,000 years later, and we’re still talking about his story. They came awake. For us coming awake means we celebrate with confidence our eternal fate. And it means we celebrate when heaven breaks out on earth. So whether we live or whether we die—we are awake. What a marvelous way to live. We’ve already heard two stories of people who came awake to the resurrection. In this sermon I’m going to share a few more stories of coming awake. God wants all of us—as individuals and as a community to come awake. If you’d like to learn more about heaven I encourage you to use the devotion in the brochure that is in the bulletin. Every week I share a devotion that ties into the worship theme. Heaven is a topic that is explored throughout the Bible. In six readings I’ve given you a variety of readings on heaven. I encourage you to use this devotion each day. I think you will be blessed if you do. In the middle of this brochure is a place to take notes. I believe that God will say something to you in this sermon that you’ll want to write down. On the back is a place for our congregation’s prayer requests. During worship last Sunday Mary Ann Archer stood up during Friendship Time to share a story. She had seen a television piece on the Piers Morgan show. The show shared the story of how Robbie & Alissa Parker reached out to Peter Lanza, father of Adam Lanza. Robbie and Alissa Parker are the parents of Emilie who was killed by Adam Lanza in the Newtown
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shootings last December 14th. Mary Ann was deeply touched by this story and she shared that with us during worship. I spent some time this week becoming familiar with Robbie and Alissa Parker’s story. SLIDE They have three daughters. They lived in Ogden, Utah, just north of Salt Lake City before recently moving to Newtown Connecticut. Robbie works as a physician’s assistant in a hospital. Robbie was one of the first parents of the Newtown victims who spoke publicly. You might remember what he said. He fought back tears and struggled to catch his breath as he spoke of his daughter. SLIDE be her dad.” Then he said something that changed the trajectory of the story. SLIDE “We want everybody to know that our hearts and our prayers go out to them [everyone who was suffering]. This includes the family of the shooter. It’s not often that a victim will publically reach out and pray for their perpetrator’s family. A meeting was set up between the Parkers and Peter Lanza. That meeting took place in January. A couple weeks ago the Parkers went public with their story. In addition to the Piers Morgan show they gave an interview on CBS television. You can find it easily if you do a Google search. The interview is powerful. I watched it a number of times this week. We don’t have Internet access here, or I’d show you parts of the interview. Let me share some excerpts. As you read and listen to these words, think about coming awake to the resurrection. “She was beautiful. She was blond. She was always smiling. I’m so blessed to
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The Parkers were asked: SLIDE Reporter: How could you meet with them and talk to them. Didn’t you want to pound him [Peter Lanza] on the chest, didn’t you want to scream at him? Didn’t you want to say ‘How could you let your son do this to my daughter?’ SLIDE Robbie Parker: From those first moments we quickly came to the realization of what happened. To a degree we came to peace with some of it. We knew we couldn’t undo anything. The idea of wasting any energy on anger for somebody or someone or point blame on somebody seemed like a waste of energy when we could be better parents to our girls. Alissa was asked to share her thoughts about the Lanza family. She said this: SLIDE Alissa Parker: I’m never going to understand what they did. It’s not my burden to carry. I feel the father made mistakes, but he doesn’t get a pass, but he’s not ultimately responsible. Were their missteps? Possibly. Alissa Parker made a choice of not carrying the burden of the Lanza family’s mistakes. Shortly after Emilee was killed Robbie said this: SLIDE Robbie Parker: “We hope this is something that doesn’t define us but instead helps inspires us to be better, more humble, more compassionate people. I don’t know of their faith background, but in listening to the language they used in this interview I’m sure that they have a very deep faith. Living with humility and compassion are words that followers of Jesus Christ frequently use. Let’s be honest. It would have been so much easier and convenient for the Parkers to make the Lanza family into monsters. We could understand that. When people are hurt deeply they want to lash out at something. The Parkers could have made the Lanza family into something horrible upon which they projected their anger. We could understand if they had given in to bitterness, or resentment, or even plotted revenge.
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They took a different path. In traveling that path they got in touch with something far deeper and greater than themselves. When Mary Ann Archer shared this story last week she asked us some important questions. I’m paraphrasing her questions, but she was essentially asking this: SLIDE What would give someone the strength to forgive the killer of their child? If we were in this situation could we do this? What causes people to do something so extraordinary? It’s hard for me to imagine people taking the high road—the road that the Parkers took— unless we come awake to something far greater than ourselves. I believe from the core of my being that the resurrection of Jesus Christ compels us to take this high road. It moves us to do the unexpected, it inspires us to reach out to people who have hurt us. When we come awake we become the people that God desires for us to be. This coming awake is not just an individual thing. Communities do this too. When we come awake to the resurrection as a community we are connected to a force that is greater than ourselves. The community takes on a DNA of encouragement and love. We cheer each other on to take the high road; we don’t blink an eye when people do extraordinary things; we discourage others to give in to bitterness and resentment. The community is much greater than the sum of its individual parts. That’s the church. That’s what’s happening here in our community called Chain of Lakes. It’s not unique to us, but it’s so exciting to see. When I see us grab a hold of the resurrection and live more deeply into it the best word that naturally comes out of my mouth is Wow.
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This past week we completed our small groups for Lent. Who here participated in a small group? I helped lead two. They both went well. Our group on Wednesday evening that met in Ruthann Coburn’s residence came together in a beautiful way. This week we talked about how the resurrection is our defining story. A defining story is the root narrative that shapes the way we look at the world. It forms our response to the situations of our life—how we handle success and failure. It shapes how we handle adversity and how we reach out to people who are suffering. The question I’d like all of us to reflect upon this week is this. Do we want our defning story to be Good Friday or Easter? Good Friday is the day, of course, that we remember Jesus’ death on the cross. It is a special and reverent day. It’s amazing that Jesus chose to die. He didn’t have to go to the cross, but he did it as a sacrifice in order to lift the weight of our own sins from us. To think that Jesus —fully God and fully human—would die for us goes far beyond what we can imagine. Good Friday is a very special day for me. This past Friday morning I got up with my wife Amy and we went to pray at 7:00 a.m. at a prayer vigil at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church where she works. Next year I want to have a prayer vigil at Chain of Lakes Church. This past Friday I was singing the spiritual, “Were you there.” You know it. “Were you there when they crucified my Lord. Were you there when they crucified my Lord Oh Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble. Were you there when they crucified, my Lord. It’s a special song for a special day. Let’s be clear. Good Friday is not our defining story. For if the story of Jesus had ended on the cross, you and I wouldn’t be here today in worship.
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Jesus’ sacrifice was one of the greatest sacrifices in the history of the world, but it’s not a unique sacrifice. Many leaders throughout history have given their lives for a cause. If the story ended there we would remember Jesus, but we wouldn’t come awake to all that is possible. If Good Friday was our defining story, we would accept the world as it is. . If Good Friday was our defining story Robbie and Alissa Parker wouldn’t have met with Peter Lanza. If Good Friday was our defining story you and I wouldn’t work so hard to build a new faith community. We would be content with strangers remaining strangers. We know that ministries don’t work a hundred percent of the time. When something doesn’t work a Good Friday person would say, that’s how it’s going to be. I just accept that. Yesterday we had an Easter egg hunt, and it was a big success. We started something yesterday that can continue. You know what the forecast was for yesterday morning. Rain. I was awakened at 4:00 in the morning to the loud clap of thunder. Who wants to take their child into the rain to find Easter eggs? I had my doubts for a while. A Good Friday person gives in to doubts. We aren’t Good Friday people. SLIDE We went ahead. People came. A lot of people came. The Easter bunny came.
Let me tell you that Easter bunny was really cool. The Steering Committee organized the event. When the Easter egg hunt was over we all gathered in a circle to pray and we couldn’t help but say, “Yay God.” If Good Friday was our defining story we would give in. We would give in to cancer, Mental Illness, even evil, and death. We would say that this is how life is meant to be and we can’t do anything about it. To accept Good Friday as our final story is to accept fatalism.
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If Good Friday was our defining story we wouldn’t be hearing Mary or Peter’s story today. But we are—hearing their story. We’re hearing their story because of 17 words. They are the 17 words that the angels said to Mary and the other women who understandably thought that Jesus’ death was the end of the story. If you ever wanted to know the basics of the resurrection, learn these 17 words SLIDE “why do you look for the living among the dead. He is not here. He is risen.” Say these words with me. Say them as if you mean them. Stand up
These words are our defining story. Through them we come awake. Coming awake means we aren’t afraid of our own death. Death doesn’t frighten or really concern us because we know that death is not the end. Through our death we have an entire eternity to enjoy with God. Coming awake means when the doctor tells us we have cancer or another disease we aren’t ultimately overwhelmed. We certainly have difficult moments. But we will do everything we can to live and if we don’t live, we know our disease won’t have the final word. Coming awake means that when our difficult family relationships inevitably erupt we don’t accept that this is how it has to be. Instead we will do everything we can to repair relationships, reaching out in love even when we don’t have a clue how it will turn out. Coming awake means we never give in to the skeptics who say that people in 2013 aren’t interested in God or the church. Or even to Presbyterian skeptics. Instead we believe that God
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wants and is calling vital churches to exist who at their core believe in the resurrection and whose defining story is shaped by these 17 words. Which leads me back to the Parkers. They could have given in—but their story lives on Which leads me back to Peter. He could have given in—but his story lives on Which leads me back to Mary. She could have given in—but her story lives on.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?