Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | March 31, 2013

2013.03.31 “The Way – Our Defining Story” – Luke 24: 1 – 12 Easter 2013

Central United Methodist Church

“The Way, Walking in the Footsteps – Our Defining Story”

Luke 24: 1 – 12

Pastor David L. Haley


March 31st, 2013

          “At the crack of dawn on Sunday, the women came to the tomb carrying the burial spices they had prepared. They found the entrance stone rolled back from the tomb, so they walked in. But once inside, they couldn’t find the body of the Master Jesus.

They were puzzled, wondering what to make of this. Then, out of nowhere it seemed, two men, light cascading over them, stood there. The women were awestruck and bowed down in worship. The men said, “Why are you looking for the Living One in a cemetery? He is not here, but raised up. Remember how he told you when you were still back in Galilee that he had to be handed over to sinners, be killed on a cross, and in three days rise up?” Then they remembered Jesus’ words.

They left the tomb and broke the news of all this to the Eleven and the rest. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them kept telling these things to the apostles, but the apostles didn’t believe a word of it, thought they were making it all up.

But Peter jumped to his feet and ran to the tomb. He stooped to look in and saw a few grave clothes, that’s all. He walked away puzzled, shaking his head.” – Luke 24: 1 – 12, The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson

Some years ago when I was a fireman, I was sitting in a firehouse, watching TV with two other guys. For some reason, whatever we were watching mentioned Easter.  After a few minutes, the youngest guy in the room asked, “What is Easter anyway?”

The other guy in the room looked at me and I looked at him, as if to say, “Did he just ask what I think he asked?”  Then, grinning, the other guy said, “Padre, I have to defer to you on this one.”

So, to the young man who asked the question, I said: “Easter is when Jesus emerged from the tomb . . . saw his shadow, and now we have six more weeks of winter.” (Yeah, I know I shouldn’t have, but I couldn’t resist.) Of course I then gave him the real explanation.  And Jesus probably would have done a better job forecasting the weather than the groundhog did this winter.

My question to you this Easter morning is not “What is Easter?” (since obviously, I don’t know; and obviously, you do, since you have come here this morning); it is this, “What is your defining story?”  What is the narrative that shapes how you view the world and your place in it, the story that shapes your values and vision, even how you face hardship, adversity, and finally death?

For some of us, the defining story of our life may be a given. It may have been determined by the circumstances of our birth, like who our parents were, where we were born and what happened early on. Did our parents die young, or get divorced? Did we grow up in an alcoholic or abusive home? Were we able to get an education, or not? What life has thrown at us, such as disease, disaster, or hardship? Some of those things scar our lives so severely, we never get past them, and they become our defining story.

Others of us, if we are fortunate, get to choose our defining story.  What will it be?

Will it be from popular culture, like stories about celebrities or superheroes like Batman, Harry Potter or Frodo Baggins in Lord of the Rings? Those are powerful stories, and even though fantasy, provide us with values and visions we may want to emulate. I confess I spend most of my childhood wanting to be Superman, thinking that if I could just get that cape right, I really would be able to fly.  It didn’t work out.

Traditionally, over the course of the human race, our defining stories have come from religion, whether the stories of Genesis or the Vedas or Valhalla or the Quest for the Holy Grail. Just down the street, our Jewish friends are celebrating their defining story, Passover: how God delivered the Children of Israel from bondage in Egypt. Though ancient, it is a living and powerful story.

This morning, for those of us who desire to follow Jesus and be Christian, I submit that our defining story is Jesus’ story, the story of his life, death, and resurrection, which we remember and celebrate today. By choice, this is our defining story. It is the story that defines who we are, it becomes the lens through which we see others, the guidebook by which we journey through life, the playbook by which we deal with disease, defeat, and defeat; the hymnbook that gives us hope beyond death.

This story of Jesus – our defining story – is so important to us this is why we come to church Sunday by Sunday, year by year, to hear it. I have never been one of those preachers who chide those who only come on Christmas and Easter; I’m glad you come whenever you do. But if you only come then, you only hear part of the story. Like the guy who said, “Pastor, why is it every time I come to church you preach the same sermon.” And I say, “When do you come?” And he says, “I’m there every Easter.”

This year, over the six weeks of Lent leading up to Easter, we at Central have especially done this as we have participated in the series, The Way: Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus, with Adam Hamilton, Pastor of United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City. Each Sunday, we have gone with Adam Hamilton to the Holy Land, to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. The point was not to do a travelogue, but to see where Jesus walked, and in seeing, to ask, “Who is Jesus?” “What was he like?” And most importantly, “What does this tell us about being his followers today?”

We went out to the Jordan River, where Jesus was baptized, and learned what a defining experience his baptism was, as it continues to be in the lives of Christians to this day.

We saw the Judean wilderness, where Jesus was tested and tempted, and grew in understanding of those times in our own lives where we are tested and tempted, hopefully also gaining insight and strength and in how to remain faithful during difficult times, as Jesus did.

After his rejection in his hometown of Nazareth, we saw how Jesus chose a new base for his ministry, the town of Capernaum, on the Sea of Galilee. We learned of Jesus’ fame due to his power casting demons out of those possessed, and of his compassion in healing the sick, which reminded us of our ongoing responsibility as his followers for those who are sick and suffer in any way.

For those of us who love mountains, we went to some of Jesus’ favorite mountains, which he used as places of retreat as well as places to teach.  We remembered that it was on such a mountain that Matthew tells us he gave his most famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount, in which he talked about his favorite subject, the Kingdom of God: what life might be as lived under the Kingship of God.

For those of us who love water, we saw what an influence the Sea of Galilee was upon Jesus. Perhaps that was why he chose as his first disciples, not seminary graduates, but fishermen. We learned about those things that happened around and upon the Sea of Galilee – such as when Jesus calmed the storm – a story that still speaks powerfully to us, when our life feels like a boat in a storm, about to go under.  Are we starting to get this defining story thing?

Perhaps most surprisingly, as we hung out with Jesus, we met the people he liked to hang out with; which as we learned was not who we might expect, given who he was. They were the very people that others – especially religious people – scorned: sinners, outcasts, and the poor. Jesus had friends in low places, and he loved them, even more than he loved the righteous. What we learned, most importantly, was that if Jesus loved such people, shouldn’t we, as his followers, seek out and love such people? And shouldn’t Jesus’ community, the church, be inclusive of everyone, not exclusive, as many of our Christian brothers and sisters sometimes to make it?

Finally, last Sunday – Palm/Passion Sunday – through the powerful preaching of our Bishop – Bishop Sally Dyck – we heard the shocking story of Jesus’ final week, as he entered Jerusalem on a donkey and was proclaimed King by his followers. The question we asked was, “What kind of King is he?” A king who enters Jerusalem not on a warhorse, but a donkey. A king who weeps over the city, and its coming destruction. A king who washed his disciples’ feet.  A king who prays, “Father, if possible, let this cup pass from me; but not my will but thine be done.”  A king who wore a crown of thorns. A king unjustly accused and abused, sentenced to death, even death on a cross, while all his followers abandoned him.

To me, this is the most powerful part of the story. What good is a defining story if it can’t get you through the hard times of life? Don’t give me a “they all lived happily ever after” story; don’t give me the Power of Positive Thinking or the Gospel of Prosperity: give me a story that will keep my ship afloat when the storm rages; give me a story that can keep me going when injustice reigns, when friends betray and abandon, when we are scorned and mourned and our body is racked with pain, when we drip with blood, sweat, and tears; when we feel – as Jesus felt on the cross – that even God has abandoned us.  If you have been – and we all someday will be – in any of these circumstances, we know that life is serious business; and the story of Jesus is exactly the kind of story we need, as our defining story.

But without the part of the story we hear and celebrate today, we would not likely know any of the rest of Jesus’ story: compassionate healer, lively teacher, prophetic preacher, unjust victim though he was; all of that would have disappeared into the forgotten pages of history, if it weren’t for his resurrection from the dead.

Just when they thought it was over, just when they thought they had seen the worst, just when injustice and evil and death seemed to have prevailed – as it seems to prevail so often in the world – those women went to that tomb on that first Easter morning.

When they found the stone rolled away and the tomb empty, mysterious strangers – read angels – gave the first Easter message:

“Why are you looking for the Living One in a cemetery? He is not here, but raised up. Remember how he told you when you were still back in Galilee that he had to be handed over to sinners, be killed on a cross, and in three days rise up?” Then they remembered Jesus’ words.”

They remembered Jesus’ words. In other words, they remembered Jesus’ story, which would become their story, just as – in time – it would become our story.

But lest we consider it an easy story, a logical story, a story us or anyone else will easily believe, consider what happened next. When the women shared the story with the rest of Jesus’ disciples, with those closest to Jesus, with those who actually walked in Jesus’ footsteps: what was their reaction? “Leros,” they called it. It’s the only time that word is used in the New Testament, and usually refers to the ranting of someone who suffers from delirium. In other words, “nonsense,” or what we might say today, “bullshit.” (They were fishermen, after all.) And that’s from the very people in the world who had been with Jesus, seen everything, and were most likely to believe. Where did we ever get the idea that believing this or practicing this story – even if it is our defining story – would ever be easy?  And then, as someone said, “First you believe, and then comes the hard part.”  Are we sure we want to choose this story?

But if we have the faith to believe it, if we chose to make Jesus’ story our story, what we find is that it will carry us through our lives to the end of our days, and beyond. Because, as our defining story, it tells us:

-That though sinners, or outcasts, or poor, or whatever else we feel

ourselves to be, God loves us.

-That when we suffer, as all suffer, God is with us.

-That the end is never the end, the worst thing is not the last thing, and

there is always hope.

-That there is grace for our journey, forgiveness for our sin, that love

stronger is than hate, goodness is stronger than evil, and life stronger than


So – it turns out – we spent the last forty days walking in the footprints of Jesus, only to find out, that thanks to his resurrection – he now walks with us, in our footsteps, day by day, through all the days of our lives.

Let’s conclude, finally, with Adam Hamilton.

[Note: In the Easter service, I used the 5-minute Epilogue: “Your Defining Story,” contained on The Way DVD. Since this is not available for posting here, I refer you to Adam Hamilton’s longer version of his Easter Sunday sermon April 8, 2012, as originally delivered to his congregation, which may be viewed here:]


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