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Apr 01, 2018

It's About Now

Passage: Mark 16:1-8

Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Kurt Gerhard

Series: Easter 2018

Category: Easter


The Easter Day sermon offered on April 1, 2018.


When I was a teenager, I was asked who I wanted to be like when I grew up. I could have chosen a movie star or an athlete. Many of my peers aspired to be someone rich and powerful. I chose my father who was not rich or powerful but, for some reason, was everything I wanted to be in life. 


See, he was smart. Most everyone who met him agreed that he was one of the smartest people they had ever met. He had recall of nearly everything that he had ever read (and he read extensively). He could answer every clue on Jeopardy (unless it was something about popular culture). He didn’t have degrees; he taught himself. He was the authority on most everything or at least he made you think so. I am convinced that if he didn’t know something about a topic under discussion (which was unusual) he would make something up that would sound completely credible.


There is no doubt I wanted to be as smart as my dad, but that wasn’t what made him who I wanted to be.


See, he was also an amazing storyteller. He could take a mundane experience and turn it into a tale that captured the human essence often with a laugh. He could do this through the spoken word or a carefully crafted essay. There were very few gatherings in which he was not sharing his tales.


There is no doubt that I wanted to be a storyteller like him, but that wasn’t what made him who I wanted to be.


See, he was also an accomplished musician. He could sit down at the piano and play a tune. Oh, I wish I had that gift. He substituted for the organist at church and he was good. And he could sing, the tenor in the community choir and the soloist at church. And reading the music all came to him naturally.


There is no doubt that I wanted to be a musician like him, but that wasn’t what made him who I wanted to be.


See, my dad was treasured by everyone. When we went out to dinner or at the store, it wasn’t unusual for people to stop and talk to him. They wanted his wisdom on most every endeavor and he was passionate about so many things. And he loved his wife with every bone in his body and she was my mother. And he loved me too.


There is no doubt that I wanted to be respected and loved and loving like he was, but that wasn’t what made him who I wanted to be.


When my dad died Friday evening, all of those attributes that everyone noticed about him, that I noticed and had become used to, swirled in my memory, but none were why I wanted to be like my dad.


The reason I wanted to be like my dad is deeper than those qualities, talents, gifts. It was about the way he lived his faith which I have come to know as the Easter prerogative. Let me explain. First of all, we Christians are taught that a Christian life is about getting a good enough report card to get into heaven. We are led to believe that this life, the life before death, is less important than what happens next. We call this salvation and the words we use to describe it are that Jesus overcame death and therefore we can do the same if we believe. If we live our life well, then we will be rewarded with an eternal life in heaven with God (which is someplace up there). What this thinking forces us to do is to make judgments about who is right with God and it allows us to celebrate how wonderful we are (at least from our own perspective).


If I could ask you to do one thing on this Easter Day it would be to let go of that way of thinking because that thinking distracts us from what Easter and the resurrection, what we are celebrating on this day, is all about. Christians do live in expectation of eternal life, but Easter and Christianity are about so much more.


You know the Lord’s Prayer, we pray it all the time. Many of us memorized it in our childhood. In it, we pray “on earth as it is in heaven.” On earth as it is in heaven means that we hope, we pray, that God’s kingdom will come to earth like it is in heaven. That is what is at the heart of Easter, Jesus’ resurrection united heaven (the place of God) with earth (the place of creation). In theological terms, we had been exiled from that heavenly place and Jesus’ resurrection broke down the barrier. (see N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope).


So, the one thing I ask this Easter is that we forget thinking about attaining some future reward, an ultimate life insurance policy that provides a select few (who are as good as us) a special place in God’s Kingdom (which is someplace else). We have that through Jesus. Instead think about a new way of living right now that will advance God’s kingdom right here on earth.


We are living right now in the Kingdom of God and that means that the rules created by humans which originate from money and power are meaningless in light of God’s primary principles of love and forgiveness.


That kind of Easter life is why today’s gospel account concludes with the emotion of fear. Mary Magdalene, the other Mary and Salome fled the empty tomb in terror and amazement. Easter is about realigning our lives with Jesus and bringing about a world that is not focused selfishly on our achievements (on our own good deeds), but on raising up the world around us. It is about giving oneself for the good of the wider world, for justice and peace in building for God’s kingdom right now. That takes a courageous step forward for disciples of Christ and it elicits fear because the cost is losing our privilege.  


So, to summarize, Easter requires us to focus less on personal morality and much more on how we are working together to bring about God’s reign on earth as it is in heaven.


What I realized on Friday was that my dad, whether he understood it or not, lived his life in this way. He didn’t worry about himself, he didn’t brag about his many talents, he didn’t think of himself too highly, he knew who he was and he served the world in which he found himself. He was at his heart a Christian living out the new covenant. He made a difference in the lives of those he encountered along his path. He was doing everything that he could, with God’s help, to bring about God’s kingdom in a world of great need.


He understood something deep in his very being and lived it throughout his life. He understood that he had many missional responsibilities, but they weren’t the ticket to heaven; they were expectations of living in heaven. And that is why I wanted to be like him.


 “Alleluia, Christ is Risen!” is very important because resurrection provides us great hope for the future but it also requires something greater from us right now. A sacrifice of our very being to spread God’s love into the wider world. To seek justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God.


How are you living Easter?


The Rev. Dr. Kurt Gerhard

Easter 2018

April 1, 2018

St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church