Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | March 23, 2008

2008.03.23 “No Fear” Easter Sunday

Central United Methodist Church

Sermons from Rev. David Haley

March 23, 2008

Easter Sunday – Matthew 28: 1 – 10

“No Fear”

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” (Matthew 28: 1 – 10, NRSV)

Welcome to all of you who have come here for this Easter service! Those of you who have been dreaming of a white Easter for years, you got it. The next time Easter will be this early, which is the year 2228, I suggest we boycott it. Which, in fact, we are all going to do. But what can I say: it’s Chicago, it’s Easter, and “Hey, this year the Cubs are going all the way!”

Here at the beginning of my Easter sermon, I also feel obliged to point out to you that over the past week, the relationship between preachers and parishioners has shifted, if you’ve followed the media controversy about Senator Barack Obama’s relationship with his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. So I feel obliged to point out to you, now that you are seated in the pew, that you are liable and will therefore be held accountable for anything I say, for the rest of your lives. So listen up! If you have any aspirations for public office, forget-about-it. Is the tape rolling?

There is another possibility, of course, about which Senator Obama speculated — rather wildly, I think — which is that “parishioners sometimes hear remarks from pastors, priests, or rabbis with which they strongly disagree.” Say what?

I look forward to an extended discussion about Senator Obama’s substantial speech on race, but not today. For this Easter sermon, I want to talk about fear, or more specifically, it’s opposite, “No Fear.”

Have you ever seen that logo, “No Fear”, on a T-shirt or car window, and been intrigued? Wouldn’t it be great if we could really conquer our fears through the purchase of a T-shirt?

“No Fear” is a lifestyle clothing brand created in 1989 by Marty Moates, Mark Simo, and Brian Simo. Their shirts feature existential slogans or quotes that tout the virtues of extreme sports, so if you’re into MotoCross racing or boxing or skiing or surfing you’ll know what I’m talking about. The themes: fear of death, lack of laziness, contempt for social norms and the law, you know, things we’ve been talking about in church for centuries.

No Fear “slogans” go into more detail, with bumper sticker philosophies such as:

Face your fears, Live Your Dreams
Fear, Just another 4 letter word
Fear has killed more men than time
To live the ultimate dream you must face the ultimate nightmare
Where ever the fear may be… look it in the eyes

Sad, to say, all of us know what fear feels like, and how incapacitating it can be. I experience it every Sunday morning, and especially this morning, on Easter. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I’ll ask you to come up here and say and few words. (I thought not.) Surveys show most people are more afraid of public speaking than they are of dying. I can tell you from experience, sometimes those two go together.

On 9/11/2001, as a society we experienced fear, and unfortunately, we have been motivated and allowed ourselves to be manipulated by it ever since. So I have long been intrigued, not by fear, but by what — especially in our faith — can make us fearless.

What is it that makes it possible for men and women to be fearless, to do things which merit our best honors for bravery, such as the Congressional Medal of Honor, most of which, I note, are awarded posthumously.

What is it that makes people fearless enough to defy their detractors and push for progressive social change, laying their lives on the line, to become, as Martin Luther King called himself, a “drum major for justice.”

What courage does it take that enables people to live in the face of adversity and difficulty, to look their adversities — such as disability and disease and even death — in the eye, daily, and carry on?

Some might think the last place we might find “No Fear” is in Church. But we forget that before Church became the province of little old ladies, quilting circles and cookie walks, it was composed of men and women made fearless by their experience of the Risen Christ, whose story we remember on this Easter Sunday.

If there is a story in the Bible that begins with more fear per square inch than this one, I don’t know what it would be. After Jesus’ arrest and execution, Jesus’ disciples were incapacitated with fear.

The women who headed to the tomb, they were fearful. Afraid they wouldn’t be able to move the stone, afraid of the soldiers guarding Jesus’ grave, perhaps a little afraid of what they might find.

But then there was an earthquake, says Matthew, and even those soldiers guarding Jesus’ tomb shook with fear. Luke does Easter as a Sunday evening meal. John has Mary Magdalene meet Jesus in the garden. But Matthew? For Matthew Easter is an earthquake with doors shaken off tombs and the dead walking the streets, the stone rolled away and an angel sitting on it. And after the earthquake comes a faithquake, through the message the angel delivers:

“DO NOT BE AFRAID; I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay . . . Go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message to you.”

The women ran from the tomb with — what? — “fear and great joy,” and ran to tell the other disciples. Jesus met them and said to them, just in case they’d missed it before: “DO NOT BE AFRAID; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

As author Frederick Buechner summarizes:
“It began in the dark . . . . There was the sound of people running,of voices . . . fear and great joy . . . . Confusion was everywhere . . . . The Gospel writers seem to be telling it simply the way it was. The narrative is as fragmented, shadowy, and incomplete as life itself. He rose. A few saw him briefly and talked to him. If it is true there is nothing left to say. For believers and unbelievers both, life has never been the same. For some, neither has death.” (Frederick Buechner, Whistling in the Dark)

What is being addressed in us on Easter is that deep place in us where we decide Who we will be, How we will live, and Whom we will trust. What transformed cowards into courageous disciples was the conviction that Christ was alive and therefore there was no reason to be afraid, of anything, anymore. Fear not, fear nothing, not even that ultimate threat that we all fear, death.

What transformed them is the same truth that still raises up brave men and women to live and witness in the face of danger and the threat of death, such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, or Desmond Tutu.

What transformed them is the same truth that still enables ordinary people to live with courage and conviction in the face of adversity. The writer, Anne Lamott, for example, claims she believes in resurrection because she has experienced it personally, when God raised her up from a life of alcoholism, and that’s how she knows it’s the truth.

What is this truth? It is the conviction that Jesus was raised and is risen, demonstrating for once and all, and offering to his followers the life changing, life-risking proposition, that, Love is stronger than Hate, Good is greater than Evil, Life transcends Death. I suggest to you that what can make us fearless, is nothing superficial, like a T-shirt, but our very deepest moral and spiritual convictions.

Meanwhile, as definitive as the Resurrection of Jesus is, the only way you can experience the truth of the Jesus way for yourself is — through faith — to confront your fears head on, and thus conquer them.

In Paul Haggis’ 2007 film, In The Valley of Elah, Tommy Lee Jones plays Hank Deerfield, a retired army sergeant, whose son Mike has returned to America from 18 months combat in Iraq, and has gone missing. Hank heads out in hopes of finding his son, possibly to confront his worse fear, which is that his son is dead.

In a scene in the movie, we not only learn where the title comes from, but what Hank had learned about facing fears. As he prepares to put Detective Emily Sanders’ (played by Charlize Theron) young son David to bed, David asks Hank, a religious man, if he knows any stories.

“I’m not much of a storyteller . . . You know where your name comes from?”

“My mother.”

“Before that. You’re named after King David. Your mother never tell you that? . . . There were two armies assembled, the Israelites and thePhilistines; they were both on hills, with the Valley of Elah between them… Anyway, the Philistines had a champion, a giant named Goliath.

“There’s a robot named Goliath.”

“This wasn’t him. Anyway, every day for 40 days, Goliath strode out into the field and challenged somebody from the other side to fight him, and nobody would. The strongest and bravest warriors that the king had were all too scared.

“Why didn’t they just shoot him?”

“They didn’t have guns. They had arrows, but there are rules to combat. You don’t shoot somebody who is challenging you to fight with a sword. So, this kid, not much older than you, he comes delivering bread. And he says to the king, “I’ll fight Goliath.”

“No way.”

“True story. So, the king dressed David in his own armor, but it was much too big and heavy. So, David takes it off. He looks around and finds five smooth stones, about yay big. He steps into the field, with his slingshot in his hand. And Goliath comes running, yelling, this horrible scream. And David lets fly the stone. And hits him in the forehead. Cracks his skull. And Goliath falls down, dead.

“So, he shot him.”

“With a rock, that’s not the same thing. You know how he was able to beat him?

“First thing David had to fight was his own fear. He beat that, he beat Goliath. Cause when Goliath charged, David just planted his feet, took aim, and waited. You know how much nerve that took? A few more steps and Goliath would have crushed him. And then he threw the rock. That’s how you fight monsters. Lure ’em close to you, look ’em in the eye and smack ’em down.

“You fight a lot of monsters?”

“Sure.”

“… You win?”

“If I didn’t, I would have been crushed, right? Okay then. You go to sleep.”

Hank turns off the light and leaves the room, closing the door behind him, casting the room into darkness. His mother says, “He likes to sleep with that door open.” Hank says, “He’ll be okay.”

If we can grasp the message of Easter, and face our fears with faith, I think we’ll be okay, too. Because at Easter, a Son of David faced another Goliath, and the sum of all our fears has fallen.

“Do not be afraid; I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; he has been raised. Come, see the place where he lay. Go and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and is going ahead of you . . . there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.”

No Fear.

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