When Everything Changed (Easter Reflection)

We have all experienced incredible change recently, to our routines, our plans, our lives. Our hearts go out to those who have experienced change in the worst ways.

I am reminded of a time I was the instigator of change. My first pastorate was a two-point charge, each of which had regular Bible studies. In the one church we met over lunch and tea was served in some very fancy teacups. Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t do fancy. And while my fingers are not large, they are still larger than the pathetic little handles in your average fancy teacup. By the time we left that church five years later, I had them drinking tea out of mugs!

That was pretty much the only change I made in that church. People resist change, especially people who are devout, people who are committed. Very often in smaller churches, people are both devout and committed. Thankfully so!

In New Testament times we see many devout, committed people making very big changes in a very short space of time. They made changes in their expression of faith. For example, they moved away from a focus on the temple, away from the practice of animal sacrifice, and away from a focus on Saturday, the Sabbath, as the highlight of the week, focussing on Sunday instead. They also moved away from an insistence on keeping a distance from anyone who was not Jewish.

How did these big changes come about among people like Paul, who were very devout and very committed to an old and enduring way of expressing faith in God? What made them want to change in matters of great importance? Paul tells us in his first letter to the Corinthians:

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 (NRSV)

Paul met the risen Jesus, and that changed everything.

Since Jesus had risen from the dead, people began to change their religious practices. For example, people began meeting on Sunday to worship in order to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus, which happened on a Sunday. Every Sunday is Easter Sunday! They stopped the sacrifice of animals, realizing that Jesus is the best, and truly only, sacrifice for sin. They stopped having a strong focus on the temple, realizing that God was not to be found there, but rather indwells all His people.

Since Jesus had risen from the dead, people realized that how they related to God had changed. We relate to God through a new covenant, not by our being good enough to “make the cut,” but in Jesus being good to us, taking the consequence of our sin on himself. Our relationship with God is based on his love and grace, his offer of reconciliation.

Since Jesus had risen from the dead, people changed how they related to one another. They related, not so much by law and custom, religious or national, but by a new way of love which touched all relationships. There was a new way of valuing one another, breaking down class divisions, another big change.

Jesus was raised from the dead and that changed everything. Jesus is alive, and that changes everything. It can change everything, for you and for me.

The resurrection of Jesus can change our future. Many are living in fear that COVID-19 will control our future, and rightfully so, it certainly has had, and will continue to have, an impact. However, some day it shall be a matter of history. It will be in the past. Jesus is the one who is, who was, and who is to come. The day will come when COVID-19 will be part of our history. Jesus is our future.

The day will come when COVID-19 will be part of our history. Jesus is our future.

Jesus was raised from the dead in the past. He lives with us now in our present. He will be there for us in our future. Resurrection to eternal life will be a life-changing, life-giving part of our future.

The resurrection of Jesus can change our lives now. We can walk with Jesus now, in faith, hope, and love. Walking with the risen Jesus changes everything. It changes our relationships, as we walk with others in the way of love. It changes our outlook on life and society. It changes us. The word “repentance” literally means “a change of mind.” We change our minds about ourselves, and about God. Among other things, in repentance we change from thinking that God does not matter, to realizing that God does matter, because we matter to God. Easter is the evidence that we matter to God, a lot!

Jesus is risen, and that changes everything. Are you ready for change?

The Shrunk Sermon “video version”

(This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced our regular church service due to COVID-19 precautions. You can watch the full worship expression, or the reflection alone. For a limited time, this reflection can also be heard here)

God’s Got This? When There is a Pandemic and Jesus Says “Do Not Worry.”

Is anyone worried yet? If you are not, are you living under a rock? The COVID-19 virus is a big deal, and while cases were once reported in someone else’s backyard, they are now being reported in ours.

So along comes Jesus and says “do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear” (Matthew 6:25). We might want to ask;
“Jesus, are you living under a rock?”

Those who first heard Jesus may have asked that also. Many of them would have been living day to day in a society where you were paid daily. Some may have been living meal to meal. Just plain survival was a big deal for many people. Along comes Jesus who says “do not worry . . . ”

We have been looking at the Sermon on the Mount, realizing that Jesus was not giving news rules for us to follow slavishly, but rather was teaching us what kind of people we should become. This line of thinking continues here:

Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6:31-33 (NRSV)

We are to be the kind of people who know that God is a good Father. We are to be the kind of people who seek His goodness in our lives. We are to be the kind of people who know, without doubt, that God loves us. Our Heavenly Father knows what we need. Don’t worry, God’s got it.

Since Jesus told us to not worry, does that mean we should never have a concern in the world? The very first Christ followers who were aware they should not worry about food and clothing did not quit working! The apostle Paul did not live as someone who expected money to miraculously fall from the sky. He continued his work as a tentmaker. He encouraged people to work in 2 Thessalonians 3:6–12. There was never the idea that since God loves us, and since we need not worry, that we need not have concern for the things of life and take initiative. Yes, God loves us, so therefore we should not worry, but we still need to take initiative, to show proper concern.

Since Jesus told us to not worry, does that mean we will never face trouble? Jesus went on to say,

So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today. Matthew 6:34 (NRSV)

Do not worry, but know there will still be trouble! Being a Christian does not make us immune from trouble. God loves us. That is the way things are. But we will face trouble. That is the way things work.

There is a difference between the way things are and the way things work. The way things are: we live in relationship with a Heavenly Father who will take care of us. The way things work: we live in a broken world where we need to take initiative and where bad things happen. We need, therefore, to make wise decisions, to take proper initiative for the sake of our health and the health of society.

Theologians study the way things are. Scientists study how things work. Theologians and scientists can sometimes say too much about matters in each other’s area of expertise. A theologian can study history, especially with regard to Jesus and point to the reality of God’s love. God has spoken into our world, as we learn in the Old Testament, but ultimately has revealed Himself in Jesus, revealing His love at the cross. Theologians can help us understand that. However, if a religious leader says don’t worry about COVID-19, that God will give you immunity if you just trust Him enough, change the channel. That’s not how things work. Listen to the scientist, who learns through observation how things work. However, if a scientist says there is no God, change the channel. That is not the way things are, and the scientist, with all his or her observation, cannot know that. They cannot observe everything.

We walk by faith and with wisdom. It is not an either/or thing. To show wisdom is not to show a lack of faith. To show faith is not to show a lack of wisdom. It would be foolish to say that God will take care of us, so therefore we do not need to concern ourselves with the evidence with regard to COVID-19. It would also be foolish to say we have evidence on how to deal with the virus, so we don’t need to think of God.

I didn’t plan on this being the week we would land on “don’t worry” in our sermon series. I also didn’t realize how appropriate my one-minute Easter message would be on the radio. It begins,

This is a special time of year for many of us. It is time to get our motors running and head out on the highway. Being a Baptist pastor, I have often been asked if I feel close to God while riding my motorcycle. That sometimes depends on who is pulling out in front of me. Sometimes I have felt a little too close to God.

In life there are many reminders of our mortality. Whether it’s an accident, or the threat of a pandemic, there are many reminders that “dust we are, and to dust we will return.”

That is how things work in this broken world. That is the focus of Lent, a time we remember our mortality. Bad things happen; cars cut in front of motorcycles, people get addicted, a plane falls out of the sky, cancer strikes, infections spread, an innocent man is arrested, beaten and crucified. That is Lent, that is the recognition that death is part of the way things work. But after Lent comes Easter Sunday!

Death is a result of our separation from God. God has dealt with that separation through His grace, His love, His mercy. He is a good and heavenly Father who has gone to extreme lengths to be reconciled to His children. That is the way things are.

For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:19 (NLT)

So a pandemic looms ominously. Don’t worry, God’s got this? Actually, our Heavenly Father has us. But we’ve got this. We can see how this virus works, we can take appropriate steps. We do not worry, knowing that come what may, God loves us and someday we will stand before Him in glory. He’s got us. We do not worry. We do take care, however, and we will want to take care of each other through this difficult time.

(For a limited time, the full sermon can be heard at https://podpoint.com/calvary-baptist-church-cobourg-podcast)