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Sunday, April 24, 2011

April 24 Sermon, Easter 2011

Alleluia! Christ is Risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia! Good morning and welcome to this joyous Feast of Easter!

As I look out on our streets today, I can see as you can, that spring is pretty much with us. The warmer weather is returning, the snow has melted away and I have seen my first robin! New life peeks out everywhere as the greenery returns.

Yet, even while we may get excited about the coming of this new life, we are also faced with peril as flood waters increase to about the 2009 levels. More so, there is even more overland flooding and for the first time in a very long time, the Assiniboine and Red Rivers may crest at the same time.

The news is not good for many in the path of the flood as homes are destroyed and roads are washed away. One man even lost his life while attempting to drive through a washed out road. It’s not as though we are totally unprepared. Forecasters saw this coming and the government has purchased ice breakers and sand bag machines to assist in the fight. We even have a designated helicopter to take people to safety if need be.

It is this kind of scenario that reminds us of how little control we have over the elements and sometimes over the circumstances in our lives. One moment we can be happy and carefree, full of joy and the next – boom, a crisis hits where we feel totally out of control.

In moments like these and specifically at this time of year, we need the reminder of how much our God actually loves us. Without that reassurance, we may simply get discouraged and plunge into despair, a “Why me?” thought or “Not again?” or “I quit!” At times like these we question the very existence of God. Our purpose in life seems lost.

I’d like to share with you a brief story about purpose that I dug up on the ‘net. No author was given, but the story is a good one.

One day a woodcutter took his grandson into the forest for his first experience in selecting and cutting oak trees. These they would later sell to the boat builders. As they walked along, the woodcutter explained that the purpose of each tree is contained in its natural shape: some are straight for planks, some have the proper curves for the ribs of a boat, and some are tall for masts. The woodcutter told his grandson that by paying attention to the details of each tree, and with experience in recognizing these characteristics, someday he too might become the woodcutter of the forest.

A little way into the forest, the grandson saw an old oak tree that had never been cut. The boy asked his grandfather if he could cut it down because it was useless for boat building - there were no straight limbs, the trunk was short and gnarled, and the curves were going the wrong way. "We could cut it down for firewood," the grandson said. "At least then it will be of some use to us." The woodcutter replied that for now they should be about their work cutting the proper trees for the boat builders; maybe later they could return to the old oak tree.

After a few hours of cutting the huge trees, the grandson grew tired and asked if they could stop for a rest in some cool shade. The woodcutter took his grandson over to the old oak tree, where they rested against its trunk in the cool shade beneath its twisted limbs. After they had rested a while, the woodcutter explained to his grandson the necessity of attentive awareness and recognition of everything in the forest and in the world. Some things are readily apparent, like the tall, straight trees; other things are less apparent, requiring closer attention, like recognition of the proper curves in the limbs. And some things might initially appear to have no purpose at all, like the gnarled old oak tree. The woodcutter stated, "You must learn to pay careful attention every day so you can recognize and discover the purpose God has for everything in creation. For it is this old oak tree, which you so quickly deemed useless except for firewood, that now allows us to rest against its trunk amidst the coolness of its shade.

"Remember, grandson, not everything is as it first appears. Be patient, pay attention, recognize, and discover."

Be patient… the crises and moments of despair will come but the Bible assures us God has a plan for each and every one of us. He knows suffering and pain and walks with us on our journey in life. Everyone and everything has purpose. Our purpose as Christians can be found in the catechism of the Book of Common Prayer. Any of you recall? Here is the question: what is the chief purpose of mankind? Answer: The chief purpose of mankind is to glorify God—to glorify the God who created us in His image, who loves us and who has redeemed us through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

As Christians, we are to recognize the dignity in each person, as we are commanded at our baptisms; we are to discover the purposes of the Christian—to share the Good News, that God so loved the world, so loved you and me that He gave His only begotten Son, to the end that all who believe in Him would not perish in sin but have eternal life.

We must be like those earliest followers of Jesus, like Mary Magdalene, the first witness to the resurrection, and like the Beloved disciple who ran past Peter to look in and see the empty tomb. He saw and believed. The Beloved disciple gives us his example. He saw and he believed. Thomas, the doubter, also believed but he needed proof. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe, says Jesus.

It is very hard to believe in a world where so much goes wrong, in a society where we seem to hear constantly of murders and violence. These events can cause us to harden our own hearts and to question the resurrection. We cannot see the risen Lord so it is hard. This was the dilemma even in those first few moments after the resurrection. Mary Magdalene experienced the risen Lord and her reaction? She did not recognize Jesus. She thought He was the gardener. Then there is the post resurrection experience of the disciples… recall the road to Emmaus? The disciples walked with Jesus but scripture says their eyes were kept from recognizing Him.

Today, our eyes are kept from recognizing Jesus when we give in to despair, to desperation, to human nature—pride, envy, jealousy, anger, licentiousness, greed, etcetera. We can fail to lose sight of Jesus in our midst when we give in to the false notion that ‘all I need in this world is me, myself and I. I need no other help. My own abilities, my own education, my own desire have taken me to where I am and ultimately power and respect are all that matter.’ It is these false notions that lead us far away from God.

Thanks be to God that Jesus rose from the dead! Jesus died that you and I might have life, but not just any life. He died that you and I might have abundant life, filled with purpose. That purpose is to glorify God and to share Good News that God loves us unconditionally and has died for our sins. Through His blood we are saved from sin and through the Holy Spirit we are given new life, healing, hope and purpose!

Brothers and sisters in Christ, I take great pride in knowing Jesus is alive and living in me and you. I take great joy in knowing that He is found in our neighbour. I take great comfort in hearing of the many who have chipped in to help in the flood situation and who work tirelessly to prevent loss of life. Take a look at the many who offer themselves for the sand bagging effort. There is where you will see purpose. There is where you see God at work.

Like the great oak that has purpose we cannot necessarily detect, we too have purpose and we too must be attentive to listen for the voice of Jesus as He calls to us. Once Mary heard the good news she had to spread it. We, too have Good News to share. Let us embrace the risen Lord in our midst and share the Good News with all who we come in contact with. May the Lord bless us in the days ahead. The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!