“The Meaning Of This Day”

Today is April 4th. It is that day between Good Friday and Easter. Some call it “Black Saturday”, others don’t call it anything at all. I have never understood why, from at least a liturgical standpoint, we don’t do anything on this day. I wrote a piece entitled “The Missing Day” a few years ago that tried to put into words what I thought took place that day (I have since tried to turn it into a play and if you are interested, let me know).

But the significance of this day is not just in its place on the liturgical calendar. Next year, because of the uniqueness of the Easter calendar, this missing day will March 26. It will still be the day between Good Friday and Easter but it will not have the same significance as today, April 4th, might have to some, myself included.

On this day in 1969 I would have been either on my way from Kirksville, Missouri, to Memphis, Tennessee, or already in Memphis for Easter/spring break. I would have in my possession two books, Letters of a C. O. from Prison (Timothy W. L. Zimmer, The Judson Press, Valley Forge, 1969) and Faith In A Secular Age (Colin Williams, First Harper ChapelBook, Harper & Row, 1966).

These books were given to me by Reverend Marvin Fortel, my pastor at the 1st United Methodist Church of Kirksville, after our meeting and communion the day before I left for Memphis. I have read and used the Faith book so much that is has fallen apart and is held together by a strong paper clip. Reverend Fortel gave these books to me to help me understand some questions I had about the role of faith in society and what path I might take. ((I first published my account of this conversation and what happened on that spring break trip home in That First Baptism”; the details of the conversation itself were first published in <Our Father’s House”.)

But the meaning of this day goes back one more year, to April 4, 1968, when I was a senior at Bartlett High School in Memphis, Tennessee. It was on this day that Martin Luther King, Jr., was shot, shot for speaking out for the sanitation workers on strike in Memphis and for speaking out for equality, both racial and economic. As I have written elsewhere, I have no doubt that Dr. King would have also spoken out for gender equality as well. (My thoughts on this day are posted on “Where Were You On April 4, 1968?” and “On This Day”).

The meaning of this day in 2015 is perhaps an understanding that we haven’t moved towards the goals that were so clearly envisioned that spring in 1968, both in what took place in Memphis, and on the political trails with Robert Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy. Sadly, the political vision that Robert Kennedy offered this country that spring will also be cut down by an assassin’s bullet some two months after Dr. King was assassinated.

We live in a society where the rich demand favors and politicians are so quick to give. We live in a society where many people think that the rich will share the wealth with them so that they too can be rich. We have accepted as economic truth that the wealth of the view will somehow trickle down to the masses but we fail to see the flow of money only goes one way and that is to the rich and not the poor.

We live in a society where you are not allowed to be who you are and often times assumed to be less than others because of the color of your skin or the nature of your relationships with others. We are quickly finding out that bigotry, racism, and inequality are the norms of society and not the outliers.

We live in a society where many people see religion and faith as either superstitious or antiquated thinking and others do everything in their power to ensure that view remains. I am not sure where we are going when faith and what one believes does more to harm than it does for good.

In 1968, we were just beginning to understand the role humans played in the care and upkeep of the environment. In 1969, the Cuyahoga River would once again catch fire and while as damaging as an earlier fire in 1952 (it turns out that the Cuyahoga River has had a history of catching on fire, dating back to 1868), would help us to understand, what it was that we were doing to the environment.

And yet today, there are those who would refute the evidence that shows what mankind is doing to its home planet, for to accept the evidence would mean a change in how we live.

As 1968 ended and 1969 began, we were on the verge of walking on the moon. There were those who envisioned the possibilities of moving beyond the moon and to the planets and perhaps the stars. But we stopped going to the moon and the vision of traveling to the stars is often only seen on television and in the movies.

We seem unwilling to create schools that produce thinkers and visionaries because such processes open the eyes of the youth to the truths of society. Education was once the means by which we could move forward; I am not sure what it has become today.

How long can we continue to live in a world where ignorance and greed dominate our thinking and, in the end, destroy not only mankind but the world on which we live?

What is the meaning of this day in 2015? For some, this day is the beginning of Passover and marks the beginning of the path to freedom. For some, myself included, this day is the day before Christ’s Resurrection and the triumph over sin and death. It too is the beginning of the path to freedom.

I hope that you will pause this day and begin to think about how it is that you can work for freedom and justice. This is not a day to keep the past as the present but to work so that the future can be reached.

“Meditations on an Easter Sunrise”

Here is the message I gave for the Easter Sunrise service on April 20, 2003, at the Tompkins Corners (NY) UMC. I used Mark 16: 1 – 8 as the Scripture reading.

————————————- ——————————-

There is something about a sunrise that amazes me. Each sunrise of a given year will be different, perhaps because of the particular calendar date, perhaps because of the weather that day, and no doubt because of the location. A sunrise on the plains of Kansas will have characteristics and a beauty not found in a sunrise in Eastern Kentucky on the same day. And the sunrise of one day will have no indication of what the one tomorrow will be like.

And surely it must have been that way that first Easter some two thousand years ago. The women of Jesus’ ministry came to the tomb that morning in sorrow, for Christ had died on the cross some thirty six hours before and it was their task to complete the preparation of the body for burial. You must remember that Jesus had died at the end of Friday and there was not enough time that day for the proper preparations. So Mary and Martha came to that tomb to finish the task of preparing the body for burial.

They knew that there would be guard over the tomb, for the Pharisees and chief priests feared that someone would try to steal the body. They knew that there would be a stone in front of the opening to the burial chamber and they had no way of moving it. Coupled with the sadness they felt, it must have been a very emotional time for them on the occasion of sunrise.

But grief and sadness quickly changed to amazement and dismay when they came to the tomb and found the stone had rolled away and there was no guard. And there was greater dismay and perhaps even greater grief when they discovered that the body of Jesus was no longer there. For now, the task of completing the burial was impossible and the grieving could not be finished.

But the women are met by an angel who tells them not to fear or worry, for Jesus has risen, as He said He would. Now, their task is not to complete the burial but rather to tell the disciples what has happened. As John reported in his Gospel, Jesus then comes to Mary so that she will know that He is alive.

In the quickest of moments, the grief that began that day has changed to joy. Each of the disciples and all of the people in the ministry that Sunday must have felt the same way. The grief that they felt when their best friend died on Friday changes to joy and celebration. For some the change comes quickly, for others it was slow to occur. But through that day and through the coming days of the week, Jesus appears to each disciple, individually or in groups, to show that, yes, the resurrection is true.

No matter which of the Gospel readings you choose, there is that sense that this day will never be like any other. For the sorrow that began on Good Friday with the death of Jesus has now changed to joy with His Resurrection.

We gather here this morning in fellowship and celebration, with friends and family. We gather as a community united in our belief that the resurrection is the triumph of righteousness and a victory for life over sin and death. As we go out into the world this week, we take with us the joy that comes with the sunrise of this day, the celebration once again of Easter and Christ’s resurrection.

I Was There

I am at Lake Mahopac United Methodist Church this Easter Sunday; the service starts at 10 and you are welcome to attend.  The Scriptures for this morning were Acts 10: 34 – 43, 1 Corinthians 15: 1 – 11, and John 20: 1 – 18.


These are the memories of one of the twelve, Nathaniel Bartholomew, of that day long ago.

There is a spiritual sung throughout the south that asks if you were there when they crucified my Lord. (“Were You There?”). Sad to say, I wasn’t there that day. I, with nine of my friends was hiding; hiding because I knew that the authorities, having arrested our teacher and friend, would pretty soon be coming after each one of us.

And as the political and religious authorities arrested and tried him, we ran away and hid. We had failed our Lord, our teacher, our friend. At the time that He most needed us, we weren’t there. One of us had betrayed him; another had denied Him.

But I was there that Sunday morning when I heard the good news of His Resurrection and it is that good news that I wish to share with you this morning.

My name is Nathaniel Bartholomew and I was one of the twelve disciples. I was there from almost the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, of his walk through the Galilee offering a new message, a message of hope and promise to a people forgot by the rich and powerful, the authorities, and even the church. Granted, I should have not been there for I almost dismissed Jesus as another one of those charlatans who wandered the countryside, promising much but delivering little, taking from the people and never returning anything.

When my friend Philip first told me that they (meaning his friends James, John, and Peter) had found the Messiah and that he was from Nazareth, I jokingly remarked that “what good can come from Nazareth?”

You have to understand that we Galileans were considered the lower part of society. The rich and powerful lived in Jerusalem and felt that anyone who did not live there was worthless. And among the Galileans, those from Nazareth were treated the worse. Only the Samaritans were treated worse than those of us from the Galilee. So it was that I first dismissed my friend’s bold claim.

But then I met Jesus and I knew that I was wrong. He told me how he had seen me studying under the fig tree and I knew that the promise of the Scripture was fulfilled in this man from Nazareth (I said then and there that Jesus was the Son of God and the true king of Israel). So I gathered up my books and I began to follow, just as James, John, Andrew, Peter, and Philip followed. Andrew and John had been followers of the Baptizer, the one who spoke of another one who was to come; one who would bring God’s grace to the world.

So with Thomas, James the Less, Matthew, Jude, Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot we followed. Such an interesting group we were; with the exception of Judas Iscariot, we were all Galileans. We were young and life for us was like steam in an un-popped kernel of popcorn just before it exploded. We understood that we had a responsibility to our God and to our country and, in following Jesus we had the opportunity to meet that responsibility. We had a chance to make our lives count.

It was a troubling time; beneath the surface of joy that we had were many anxieties. You could not always see the troubles but you could feel the greed and hatred, the selfishness and anger, the lust and the hate that existed between areas of the country, between those from the southern lands and those from the northern lands, between the Israelites and the Samaritans, between all the Jews and the Roman authority.

Our country was an occupied country, governed by a tyrannical military government that imposed its own taxes on top of our own. There were only rich people and poor people and each day more and more people sold themselves into slavery to pay their bills.

Yet in this darkness was this promise of hope, this offer of a better life if we would but choose to follow Him. So for three years, we followed and listened; for three years we heard the words that brought joy and comfort to a people burdened by an uncaring society, increasing taxes, and domination by Roman. For three years, we watched Jesus bring life to the limbs of the lame, sound to the ears of the deaf, and light to the eyes of the blind. For three years we watched one man bring hope and promise to a people cast aside by society and their religious leaders.

In this unfriendly world, the only way many people thought that they could survive was through corruption and abuse of power. You would have thought that the priests and rabbis who ran the Temple in Jerusalem would have cared for the people of Israel; that is what our rabbis at home had taught us. The Torah was very specific about the need to care for people, to show concern for the sick and infirm, the poor and destitute, those without possessions. But when we would go to the Temple, we had to pay the tax and our own coins, carefully saved for that once a year trip to Jerusalem, were judged worthless by the Temple authorities.

“Go to the money changers and get the right kind of money,” they would tell us. And Matthew, wise to the ways of the tax collector and the money changer would catch them every time charging more than was fair or equitable. And we wondered how many men, women, and children came to the temple to bring a sacrifice but were turned away because their lamb was imperfect or their dove had a spot on its wing and no one would sell them the “right” animal without trying to take advantage of the situation. Even with the tricks that Matthew showed us, it was still impossible to help all the pilgrims, even more so when it was clear that the High Priest, his priests, and the rabbis, all benefited from the graft and corruption. We could see Jesus getting angry but we never knew how angry it was going to make Him.

And one day, Jesus sent us out into the world, telling us to preach the Gospel and heal the people. And much to our surprise, we could and did heal the sick, bring voice to those who could not speak, sight to the blind, and hearing to the deaf.

But then, one day, things began to change. Mary and Martha received word that their brother Lazarus was dying. We hurried back to Bethany but it was too late; Lazarus’ body was sealed in the tomb. Yet Jesus stood before the tomb entrance and commanded that Lazarus walk out of the tomb. And then Jesus began speaking of His own death. We had never heard those words before and they were confusing. Peter told us about the day that James, John, and he went with Jesus to the mountaintop and there saw Jesus with Moses and Elijah and how Jesus had commanded them not to say anything.

Peter, being Peter, proclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah but then when it became clear that Jesus was speaking of his own death tried to shut Jesus up. It was a very confusing time.

And then came last Sunday. Jesus told us to go to a house in Bethany and get a small colt in preparation for a triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Finally, after three years of traveling across the countryside of the Galilee, we were going to get some recognition.

And the people cheered, shouting Hosanna and waving palms. Three years of frustration, three years of wandering the back roads of Galilee vanished in the shouts of the people. But the joy of the people quickly disappeared. They wanted an earthly king, one who would lead an army and drive out the Romans. Like us, they did not understand the message of the kingdom that Jesus taught.

On Tuesday we went to the Temple and three years of frustration and anger came to a head. We have never seen Jesus angry but here He was, a man who preached peace, throwing out the money-changers and the sellers who overcharged the people. It was clear that what mankind had done in and to the Temple was never what God had intended and Jesus made it clear that things would be different in the coming Kingdom.

We then began to make preparations for the Passover meal. This was to be the best Passover meal we had ever celebrated as a group. Together with our families and our friends, we were celebrating the proclamation of Jesus as our Savior. But this meal, of celebration and promise, quickly became a meal with the pall of death hovering over it.

First Jesus announced that one of us, one of those who had walked with Him for three years, would betray Him that very night. Who among us would betray the trust and friendship that three years had developed? We did not know? Jesus told us of the sign of betrayal but we did not understand what He meant.

And then He told Peter that he, Peter, would deny Him not once but three times before the rooster crowed the next morning. Peter, being Peter, of course denied that and said that he would never do such a thing. Those very words, we would find out, would come back to haunt Peter for many days later.

And then Jesus spoke of His death. He offered the bread and called it His Body, broken for our sins. He offered the wine and called it His Blood, shed for our sins. The Passover is a celebration meal and yet He was talking of death. It was not the first time He had spoken of His death and yet we still did not understand.

As was our custom, we went into the garden to pray that night. Unfortunately, the hours, the days, the week had taken their toll and we fell asleep. Twice Jesus woke us up and encouraged us to keep watch and pray with him but we could not. So, at the hour of His betrayal, none of us saw the authorities coming with the soldiers to arrest Him. And we ran away and hid.

Why shouldn’t we have run away and hid? We feared for our lives. We felt that after the authorities dealt with Jesus, they would come after us and we did not want to suffer the same fate that Jesus was going through.

As we gathered in hiding, we discovered that Peter and Judas were missing. Some of our friends told us it was Judas who had betrayed Jesus. Why would he do this? Did he get angry because the woman bought that oil and had washed Jesus’ feet the week before? Or did he think that Jesus was going to lead an armed revolution against the Romans and the establishment?

Whatever the reason, it was clear that he no longer believed in Jesus as we did. But he didn’t expect the authorities to try Jesus and condemn Him to death. We know that he tried to give back the monies that the authorities had given him in exchange for his betrayal. And now he was missing.

And where was Peter? Peter had tried to stop the authorities from arresting Jesus, taking a sword and striking one of the soldiers and cutting off his ear. But Jesus stopped Peter from further action and then healed the soldier’s wounds. How interesting was it that on the night of his arrest and trial, Jesus took care of an injured soldier who took part in the arrest.

Peter didn’t go with us and we figured that he was going to try and find a way to help Jesus escape. But each time that he was spotted he denied knowing Jesus. And when the rooster crowed on Friday morning, Peter had denied Jesus not just once but three times, just as Jesus said he would. And now Peter was not with us.

Everyone knew that the trial that night was a sham and the people who were cheering His entry five days before were now turning against him. I suppose we shouldn’t have been surprised. When we started three years ago, the crowds were huge but they soon dwindled as people realized that they were being called to take on responsibilities in the new kingdom that Jesus spoke of. How many times did we see some rich man or some Pharisee come to us in secret and profess his belief in what Jesus was saying but leave disappointed because he couldn’t keep his money, his power or the glory of his position.

I still remember that Friday but only as the worst day of my life. The town of Jerusalem, once full of joy and celebration, was now strangely quiet. It was a dark and cold day with thunderstorms in the distance. And each rumble of thunder almost sounded like the hammer hitting the nails that were driven into Jesus’ hands and feet as the Roman soldiers nailed Him to the Cross.

And we could hear the weeping of His mother, Mary, and the other women in our band of followers over the cackling of the soldiers as they gambled for His clothing. How sad it must have been for Mary to watch her son, promised at His birth to be the Salvation of Mankind, die on the cross. And in the pain and agony of His own death, Jesus again thought only of others as he commanded the care of his mother to John Zebedee. But they could do nothing as He cried out in thirst and pain.

And as the sky turned black, He died, crying out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

Because it was the Sabbath, they took His body down. How ironic that we had friends who would find a place to bury our teacher but would not speak out in His time of need.

All through that Sabbath, we hid and wondered when the authorities would come for us. All through the Sabbath, we wondered what we would do. Peter, Andrew, James, and John spoke of going back to the Galilee and begin fishing again. I thought that maybe I could find a school where I could finish my studies but I wondered who would teach me as much as I had learned from Jesus. We all knew that we couldn’t really go back to the lives we had left some three years before but what could we do?

And then this morning, the word came. Mary and Martha had gone to the tomb, hoping somehow to find the body and do what was the only decent and proper thing to do. We knew that the authorities had posted guards around the tomb because they thought they we would seek to steal Jesus’ body. They had even gone so far as to place a bigger stone than usual in front of the tomb to keep us out.

How were we ever going to steal His body? What power did we have? They had shown us what they thought of us and it was clear that they were not going to tolerate what we had to say any more than they had tolerated our Teacher.

But then Mary came running in to tell us the tomb was empty. We did not believe her. It wasn’t that her words were false but how could a man rise from the dead and live again? Even though we had seen it happen with Mary and Martha’s brother, Lazarus, we still could not believe that it was true. Even though Jesus Himself had told us that this would happen, we did not believe it.

Peter and John ran to the tomb to confirm this. And Mary then told us that she had seen Jesus and that He was alive. She told us that she was not to touch Him but that she should tell us to return to Galilee and He would meet us there.

Then, it became clear. Everything that Jesus had said over three years, every illusion or mention of resurrection and everlasting life, every mention of what was to come began to make sense. Jesus did escape from the tomb and the movement that He began three years before was not finished but just beginning.

I was there that first Sunday morning. Despite the efforts of many powerful politicians and religious leaders, I saw that the Gospel message that I had heard and seen take place for three years was to continue. And that is why I come to you today. Because Easter Sunday is not simply the proclamation of Jesus Christ’s Resurrection and triumph of sin and death; it is the proclamation that the Gospel message continues.

Over the next few days, many and more of our friends, our neighbors and the disciples will become aware of this celebration. We will gather together on the shores of the Sea of Galilee and be with our friend, our teacher, and our Lord. We will meet Him on the road to Emmaus and He will join us in our groups, wherever we are. And we will prepare to take the Good News that Jesus Christ is our Savior and that there is hope in a world where there may not seem to be hope. We will begin to take this message beyond the Galilee and out into the world..

My friend Thomas and I will begin a journey to worlds we never even knew existed before we became disciples. Like John and Charles Wesley later, I will go to Georgia. It will not be an easy life, but we were told that early on. And though we may suffer, we understand what we will gain.

I leave you today with these thoughts. When I first met Christ, it was clear that my most hidden thoughts of my mind and my soul were open to the One who would send His Son to seek us out. And just as God used Philip to bring me to Jesus, so does He use each one of us to reveal Christ to the world. He will find ways to use us in ways that we cannot understand at this moment; He will give us the words and the confidence that we need at those times when our words and confidence disappear.

And as He Himself said on that first encounter, we will see things that will bring the Glory of God to life in this world. We celebrate today because today we know that Christ has indeed risen. Alleluia and Amen!

So Where Is He?

Here is my message for Easter Sunday, 20 April 2003, at Tompkins Corners UMC.  The Scriptures for this morning were Acts 10: 34 – 43, 1 Corinthians 15: 1 – 11, and John 20: 1 – 18.


There is no question that I appreciate the technology of the modern age. Among other things, it makes it easier to communicate with people. With e-mail, I am able to write a number of people on a regular basis. With the new cellular technology, my long-distance telephone bill has dropped. Each new technology brings an improvement in the way things can be done. Utilizing the new forms of telecommunication, there are even church services on the World Wide Web.

But there are disadvantages to each improvement. Each way of contacting someone, be it by e-mail or fax or cell phone calls, still does not bring the person next to you. Short of a transporter beam, there is no technology that will enable people to instantaneously be in physical contact with each other. And despite the ability for instant communication, not being next to someone is just not the same. And I am not sure that holding church services on the Internet is the same as having three or more gather in His name.

Another disadvantage to this wondrous world of instant communication is that you get information that you do not want or need a lot quicker and in greater quantities. And there are those who try to be helpful, sending you stuff that they are sure that you need to know. One thing that you quickly learn in the information technology business is that a letter from a friend describing a virus is probably worthless.

The bane of computers is the virus, a nasty piece of programming that takes advantage of some obscure weakness in a computer system and is designed, intentionally or otherwise, to wreck havoc on the recipient’s computer. I have often said, with my tongue clearly planted in my check, that if I wanted to wreck a network, I would send a warning about a virus. Because the recipients of the warning would quickly send out messages to their friends, who would send out messages to their friends, and they would do likewise, until the message networks were filled with messages about a hoax.

For the benefit of those who have received such warnings, and for the enlightenment of those who may in the future feel compelled to send out such warnings, consider the following points:

  1. A virus hoax is a warning message about a virus (or occasionally a Trojan horse spreading on the Internet). Some messages even describe a “Trojan Horse Virus” but there is no such thing.
  2. It’s usually from an individual, occasionally from a company, but never from the cited source. The source has been “spoofed.”
  3. It warns you not to read or download the supposed virus, and preaches salvation by deletion.
  4. It describes the virus as having horrific destructive powers and often the ability to send itself by e-mail.
  5. It usually has a lot of words in capital letters and loads of exclamation marks.
  6. It urges you to alert everyone you know, and usually tells you this more than once in the warning.
  7. It seeks credibility by citing some authoritative voice as issuing the warning. Usually the source of the warning says the virus is “bad” or has them “worried.”
  8. It seeks credibility by describing the virus is spacious jargon.

Any time you receive such a warning, you should be skeptical and verify them before you forward them. There are a number of places on the Web where you can find out what is happening. And, when I get such a warning from someone, I mail the address of one of those sites to the people who have forwarded the e-mail to me; it’s tends to cure the virus spreading.

Now, this is not to say that you cannot get a virus through the e-mail but generally speaking, the virus will be an attachment to the message, not the message itself as many warning imply. When in doubt, never open an e-mail with an attachment from an address you do not know and be wary of attachments whose file name ends in “.vbs” or “.exe”. And always make sure that your anti-virus software is current.

I mention this because it fits within our need to have a convenient conspiracy theory. For some reason that no one has been able to explain, the world loves a good conspiracy and the Internet has given to a rise in various conspiracies theories. Every incident that gathers worldwide attention today will quickly be followed by rumors on the Internet as to its real cause or how it really is something else. You may have even received e-mail warning you of some conspiracy about to happen and how we must respond immediately.

It is our responsibility to determine when something we are told is true or when it is a hoax. The rules that apply to determine the validity of an e-mail warning about a virus apply just as well to determining the validity of a conspiracy theory.

Now the idea of a conspiracy or a cover-up is really nothing new. After Jesus was taken from the cross on Friday evening, the chief priests and Pharisees came to Pilate fearful that Jesus’ disciples would steal His body in order to fulfill the prophesy that He would rise again after three days. Convinced, as they were that He was not the Messiah, they felt the theft of his body would only add to what they felt was a deception. Pilate, ever the politician, agreed to post a guard and seal the tomb.

And after the women had come to the tomb on Sunday morning but finding it empty, the guards reported back to the priests that the body was missing. To keep the guards out of trouble, for failing to have protected the body, the priests paid them off and had the story told that the disciples had stolen the body. Now, in fairness, I should note that this story about the guards only appears in the Gospel of Matthew.

But the other Gospel stories have the women believing that someone else stole the body. As noted in our Gospel reading for today, Mary is weeping at the loss of the Savior when He appeared to her. Her first thoughts were to ask where the body had been taken. Only when Jesus called to her did she realize that it was in fact He and that He had risen from the dead. But her reports of his resurrection were met with skepticism and disbelief. Luke reported that the disciples, upon hearing the report from the women that he had risen, chose not to believe because what the women said bordered on the foolish.

But on their urging, some of the disciples, most notably Peter, went and saw that Jesus had indeed risen. And through the coming days of that week, each disciple came to know personally that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead.

The quickest way to debunk a conspiracy theory is for the truth to be told. And that is what Peter told the crowd in Antioch that day. He told them that each and every one of them knew the story of Jesus, of his message and his ministry. And they might not have believed it then but they should believe it now, for the disciples were witnesses to the resurrection. And that was the key point, for it was not simply the words of someone but the words of a witness, corroborated by others. Throughout the history of civilization, it has been the testimony of witnesses that counted the most.

Paul’s words are an important part of the nature of the resurrection story, for he was not present at the resurrection as were the twelve nor did he personally know many of the early disciples. Rather, his knowledge of the Resurrection story came from other Christians. And if any should doubt the validity of his story, Paul points out that the changes in his life alone should be evidence enough of what the Resurrection is about. And he closes the passage for today by noting that the resurrection is the same whether he writes about it or someone else does.

But it is now Easter Sunday, 2003, and as we hear the retelling of the story, we have to ask if we are not the victim of some cruel multi-generation hoax or some conspiracy put on us over the years. But we know who the people were that came to the tomb that morning and saw that it was empty. We know that they may have not believed that the resurrection was true at first. But later, they did meet Jesus themselves. And we know of those who did not meet Jesus that first day but did so later and came to believe.

We are more likely to be like Paul, whose encounter with Jesus on the road changed his life. We may know of others whose life was changed when Jesus became a part of it. And we know the changes that came into our lives when we personally accepted Jesus as our Savior. We have met Jesus, perhaps dressed as a businessman because we were in our business attire. Or he may have been wearing blue jeans and a tee shirt because we were doing so. He was just as likely to be found, as He said He would, among the homeless, the sick, the needy, and the oppressed.

When the women came to the tomb that first Easter Sunday they asked, “Where was Jesus?” It is a question that has been asked countless times over the years and the answer has and will always be, “Right here in front of you.” Amongst the people we work with and the people we walk by we shall find Jesus.

The Resurrection is not something that happened once many years ago but anytime some one meets Jesus. And the Resurrection will continue because we walk with Jesus as a part of us. For some, there will be a call, as there was to the people of Antioch to whom Peter preached and to the people of Corinth to whom Paul was writing, to see the truth as it was lived in the lives of others.

You might ask this morning “Where is He?” And He will be right there, with you, in your heart and among those whom you live and work with.

A New Start-Up

Here is my message for Easter Sunday, 23 April 2000, at Walker Valley UMC.  The Scriptures for this morning were Acts 10: 34 – 43, 1 Corinthians 15: 1 – 11, and John 20: 1 – 18.


The recent events on the stock market got me to wondering about the value of things. As the events have shown, if you do not know the true value of your product or service, you will quickly find yourself going out of business. Coupled with the fall in stock values was a note from a newsletter that I get, coincidentally by e-mail, that questioned the values of individuals who have been started these companies.

In that note, the author wonder if the purpose behind these companies was to offer a service or simply provide a vehicle for the developers to get in, make a lot of money, and then get out. This author was pointing out that type of approach was doomed to failure because there was a lack of substance to the business.

On that Sunday morning some 2000 years ago, perhaps on a day not unlike today when it was chilly and cold, the disciples must have been thinking about their efforts of the last three years. For the disciples, the turmoil of the last three days, from their dinner with Jesus on Thursday through the trial and crucifixion on Friday, must have been disheartening. Three years of effort and the hopes of an immediate, powerful kingdom on earth were gone and all they could face was the prospect of opposition from all sides. For Peter and the other disciple, presumed to be John, the writer of the Gospel, though they had been taught and heard from Jesus that the prophecies would be fulfilled, to see the empty tomb that morning must have been extremely disheartening. As Mary Magdalene cried out, “someone has taken our Lord and we do not know where they have taken Him.”

How we measure our worth is a matter of much discussion. Unfortunately, for many people today, worth is measured more in terms of what one has and not what one person is. It is astonishing that the Son of God who, more than anyone else, was free to choose what he would, choose not only a mother and a people but also a social position. He chose to be a wage earner and lose himself in an obscure Middle Eastern village. Jesus chose to lose himself in the daily monotony of thirty years’ rough, miserable work and to separate himself from a society that “counts.” And when it was all said and done, He chose to die in the most humiliating of ways possible. But what was gained was beyond measure.

When John Wesley began his ministry, there was a belief that being poor was a fate given to you by God and there was very little you could do about it. If you were poor, it was because you lead a sinful life and were to be pitied. To this, Wesley responded

“Has poverty nothing worse in it that this, that it makes men liable to be laughed at?… Is not want of food something worse than this? God pronounced it as a curse upon man, that he should earn it “by the sweat of his brow.” But how many are there in this Christian country, that toil, and labor, and sweat, and have it not at last, but struggle with weariness and hunger together? Is it not worse for one, after a hard day’s labor, to come back to a poor, cold, dirty, uncomfortable lodging, and to find there not even the food which is needful to repair his wasted strength? You that live at ease in the earth, that want nothing but eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to understand how well God hath dealt with you, is it not worse to seek bread day by day, and find none? Perhaps to find the comfort also of five or six children crying for what he has not to give! Were it not that he is restrained by an unseen hand, would he not soon “curse God and die”? O want of bread! Want of bread! Who can tell what this means, unless he hath felt it himself? I am astonished it occasions no more than heaviness even in them that believe.” (From John Wesley’s sermon “Heaviness Through Manifold Temptations”)

Wesley pointed out many times that the Gospel was not limited to a select few chosen by status or financial class but to all.

Perhaps the greatest aspect of Jesus’ ministry was that he saw the true worth in individuals. He did not defined people in terms of labels or job descriptions; he saw them in terms of their true worth. When He looked at Peter, he did not see a fisherman but a leader of tremendous potential.

When He looked at Mary Magdalene, he did not see an adulteress but a human being capable of profound love. Her reputation did not keep Jesus from commissioning her to bring the gospel message to the apostles.

Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, “I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.'”

Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that He had spoken these things to him. (John 20: 17 – 18)

Many times, in his letters, Paul spoke of his own unworthiness. In his first letter to the Corinthians, he wrote,

For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. Therefore, whether it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. (1 Corinthians 15: 9 – 11)

Paul considered himself to be the least of the apostles because he had previously persecuted the church, and as he pointed out in verses 5 – 8, others had see the resurrection of Christ and were better prepared to tell the world. But it was through the grace of God that he was able to go out and preach to the world.

In the first reading for today, Peter spoke of God’s impartiality.

In truth, I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.

Today, as we celebrate Jesus’ triumph over death, we also celebrate the beginning of a new business, one that started that Sunday morning some 2000 years ago. It is a people business built on one concept, that God loves us. The worth of this business is found in two parables that Jesus told his disciples.

In Matthew 13: 44 – 45, Jesus spoke of the value of the kingdom of heaven.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for you over he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Matthew 13: 44 – 45)

The central truth to these parables is the immense value of the heavenly kingdom outweighs any sacrifice or inconvenience one might encounter on earth. Though the first individual found his treasure by accident, the second found his by a diligent search. No matter how a person is led to Christ’s kingdom, its values and delights are beyond estimation.

The good news of the gospel is not for a certain population nor do you have to do anything special to receive the good news. Simply put, in order to receive the remission of sins, all one has to do is believe — nothing more, nothing less.

To every nation, To every person, the invitation to the kingdom of heaven is given.

And He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead. To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.” (Acts 10: 42- 43)

Paul told the Corinthians, “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received; that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried and, that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.” Paul did not originate the proclamation of Jesus that he delivered to the Corinthians; he simply gave the Corinthians what he himself had received. Paul saw himself as a link in the long chain of witnesses to the death and resurrection of Christ. This day, we too become a part of that chain of witnesses, taking the message of the gospel into the world.

Our Father’s House

Here are my thoughts for Easter Sunday.

There are certain times of the year when I will be in certain places. The fourth weekend of May, normally Memorial Day weekend, finds me at the USBC Open Championships. This is a bowling tournament that I have participated in for the past 28 years. This year, my 29th tournament, my four teams and I will be in Corpus Christi, Texas. Plans have been made for my 30th tournament which will be the same weekend next year but in Reno, Nevada. I would like to make 50 tournaments but that is a little bit too far down the road to even consider.

Over the years, there are certain other places that I have wanted to be at certain times of the year. For many years I wanted to be in Memphis for Thanksgiving, to be with my mother, brothers, and sister. Christmas was to be with my own family. Some years, the two were reversed with Christmas being the time to be with my mother and siblings while Thanksgiving was with my family.

And that leads me to Easter Sunday. Easter Sunday was a time that I don’t particularly like to travel for I have always felt the need to be in my church that Sunday. By “my church” I mean the church in which I held my membership. Over the past few years, it has been the church that I was serving. But it was a Sunday that I wanted to be in “my Father’s house” rather than my own.

It started, I think, back in 1969. Then I was a precocious 18-year old college sophomore. In many ways, it had not been a good year. I was not doing well in school and there was the specter of the draft looming over me. I was, like so many individuals, searching for a meaning to what was transpiring in my life. And because of the political currents of that particular time in our country’s history, I was also trying to figure out how we could have a world of war and hatred, of poverty and ignorance. How did the Gospel message of hope and freedom fit into this scheme of things?

Against this background was my scheduled trip from Kirksville, MO (where I was in college) back to Memphis, TN, for spring break. While Memphis was my home, my home church was in Kirksville and I could not see missing Easter services or communion at First United Methodist Church in Kirksville. Yes, I knew that there was the possibility of communion at Bartlett United Methodist Church, the church where my parents were members and which I attended while in high school. But it was not my home church and there was a feeling in me at the time that I needed to somehow take communion before I left for the break.

To that end, I approached Marvin Fortel, then the minister at First Church, about taking communion before leaving. He was a little taken back by the request, because most of the students who attended the services were members of churches in their hometown and only attended out of obligation to their parents. But he agreed to my request and we met in the chapel of the church before I was to leave.

It was not a normal communion but rather a chance to talk about the process of communion and what it meant. When I left the chapel that day, I left with a better understanding of what communion meant and what it meant to be both a Methodist and a Christian. More than any other communion that I have taken, this one day changed how I viewed who I was and what Christ meant for me.

What I learned that day in the chapel and have come to understand over the years is that no matter who I am or what I am, Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross opened the door to God’s House for me. No matter what the problems of the world may be or are, there is a place in which I can find shelter and solace. I came away from the church understanding that, having come to Christ, I needed to work for Christ so that others could have the same opportunity.

On this Easter Sunday, we need to stop and think about what Christ means for each one of us. It is not just that Christ died on the Cross so that we could live. It is what our relationship with God became. When Jesus began his ministry, God was a distant part of many people’s lives. God, for them, was something mysterious, forbidden, and distant, only accessible through the observance of myriad laws and regulations. These laws and regulations were so rigorous that many people did not even try to find God.

But Jesus came to them, in the most complete expression of love any father had for his children, and offered the hope and promise of life eternal. Jesus broke down the barriers that the establishment of the day had built that kept God away from people’s lives. Jesus showed the people that God had not forgotten them.

Jesus was persecuted because the establishment, both religious and political, feared the message that he presented and the implications it had for their future. Those in power, who had reached that position by oppression and intimidation, understood that before God they were no better than those they tried to rule. It was in their interests to remove Jesus from the scene.

And for two days at the end of that first Holy Week, they felt that they had accomplished what they wanted, the removal of the most serious threat to their political and religious power. They had used a “show trial” worthy of any dictatorship to justify the crucifixion of Jesus and they had used the most horrible source of punishment every conceived by the human mind to kill Jesus. Jesus was buried in the tomb; the tomb was sealed and guarded. These people believed that the movement that brought Jesus into Jerusalem one week earlier and had proclaimed him king would not survive.

Even those who had followed Jesus over the past three years feared that the movement was crushed and dead. Many saw their futures only in terms of what they had been doing before they left everything to follow Jesus. Many perhaps wondered why they had even thought that the message of feeding the hungry, healing the sick, and freeing the oppressed would be able to succeed. Jesus had been crucified and was buried, no longer a threat to the forces they thought they could defeat.

And so it was on that first Easter morning the women came to the tomb, hoping to complete the task of preparing the body for burial. There had not been time to do so on the Friday before and, even with the hopes of the ministry seemingly crushed, these women still hoped to prepare the body of their friend and teacher, according to the customs of the day.

But we know that they found the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. But the tomb cannot be empty unless someone had stolen the body. And there was no reason to steal the body. The grief of the weekend was compounded and the confusion about the mission was increased. But then Jesus spoke to Mary and the world changed.

The statements prophets had made long ago had come true. Christ had risen from the dead, in triumph over sin and death. The hope and promise of the Gospel message did not fade but rather was made clear and better understood. As Mary told the disciples and the disciples saw for themselves, the pain and grief turned to joy and happiness. And as the pain and grief disappeared, it became clear that the hope and promise of the Gospel message was still there and still alive. In joy and happiness, the disciples told others and the word spread.

Today, there are those who are seeking God, trying to find answers to the questions that the world poses before them. They see violence, death, hatred and ignorance in the world around them. They are questioning the values of this world and wondering how there can be a God. On this day, as we have gathered in our Father’s house, we are challenged to take the message of the Gospel out into the world. In a world which slams doors shut and prevents access to hope and promise, the stone before the tomb has been rolled away and the victory of Christ over sin and death tells us that our Father’s house is open to us all.

Those that sought to kill Jesus and silence the message want the stone to block the entrance to the tomb. For that gives them the control that they desire; that gives them the desire to say who can enter their house. But the stone has been rolled away, because all who follow Christ, no matter who they are, are entitled to enter their Father’s house. The stone has been rolled away because Christ conquered sin and death. The Gospel message is still alive.

It is up to us today to carry that word, just as the first disciples did some two thousand years ago, out into the world, proclaiming that Christ is alive and the Gospel message is indeed the Good News.