Think of the Children!!
24 Very early in the morning on the first day of the week, the women went to the tomb, bringing the fragrant spices they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in, they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 They didn’t know what to make of this. Suddenly, two men were standing beside them in gleaming bright clothing. 5 The women were frightened and bowed their faces toward the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He isn’t here, but has been raised. Remember what he told you while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Human One must be handed over to sinners, be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8 Then they remembered his words. 9 When they returned from the tomb, they reported all these things to the eleven and all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles. 11 Their words struck the apostles as nonsense, and they didn’t believe the women. 12 But Peter ran to the tomb. When he bent over to look inside, he saw only the linen cloth. Then he returned home, wondering what had happened.
If I were to ask you, what is Christianity’s message to the world, what would you say? Would you say it is about the glorious resurrection of Christ on Easter, what theologian N.T. Wright describes as being “surprised by hope?” Would you say that it is God’s grace given for all people?
Or what about the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu: “Goodness is stronger than evil;
Love is stronger than hate; Light is stronger than darkness; Life is stronger than death; Victory is ours through the One who loves us.” Are these words sufficient to describe the faith?
However, if I were to ask you, what would others say is Christianity’s message? Would it look something more like this:
Of course I’m kidding, but Honest Preacher is not far off from some of the less-than-graceful, even sometimes hateful, things Christians say from pulpits, in our homes, in public, and especially when a microphone is present.
In recent weeks and months, I have listened and watched Christians comment on various subjects like the death penalty, the war in Syria, and boycotting Beauty and the Beast. Our message to the world is varied, complicated, and most noticeably, divided. When we present the image of Christ to the world, what is that presentation?
When my friends who grew up in church that have left learn I am a pastor, they tend to say things like this: “I used to go to church, but I just felt judged, so I worship at home.” Or “I don’t like who Christians are.” Obviously, the presentation they got wasn’t Easter; it wasn’t Resurrection.
If we let our children learn about Christianity from commentary on current events and gossip in parking lots, what they’ll learn is God will find a reason to hate them if they don’t act right.
If I were not a lifelong Christian and only knew Christianity from what I see and hear in the public sphere, I would have a very mixed view of Christians’ beliefs. Are they for helping the poor or telling the poor that they are responsible for their own help? If God is supposed to be about love mercy, what’s all this talk about hell? Why do Christians feel a need to identify themselves as Christian on radio and television and not say a word about Christ? You could blame my sensitive ears to being a pastor, but I’ve got skin the game, so I pay attention to what people say about what I believe.
The story of Christ’s Resurrection is the cornerstone of our faith. It should be what we talk about most. It should be our defining trait. If we cannot explain the importance of life after death – and God’s grace in it for all people – then what hope do we offer? And yet, it seems so few know enough about it to say anything of value other than it happened.
So how can we say about Easter that will resonate with future generations? What do we want our kids and grandkids to know about our faith? That’s it’s judgmental and divides people, or that God’s grace is perseverant and never ending?
The last person to speak to Jesus before he died was a thief who Jesus promises will live in paradise. That man’s entire sinful life was erased in a moment. Even he – one condemned to die for his actions – was granted a second chance just because he asked. That is Resurrection. No matter how bad you are, even when everyone else feels you are better off dead, Christ will redeem you. Do our children know that, no matter what, they will be redeemed if they ask? Do they know that if their parents or friends think they are too far gone or too sinful, that God does not?
In our sin, we dig our graves and only Christ can bring us out of them. I watch and listen as people who lie in self-righteousness and bitterness speak on behalf of my faith because they were taught to be angry and judgmental with their faith. I don’t want my children or your children to think that anger and judgment is the future of the Church. It surely isn’t the kingdom of heaven.
I am hopeful that, as we begin to return to the important parts of faith, we will turn the tide on decline in memberships in Christian churches, because people will want to be in places where love is shared. When our kids know Christianity is about offering hope and love and grace we will see Resurrection. When our kids know Christianity is about welcoming in every single sinner, and that no sin merits a person being outcast, then we will see Resurrection.
As easy as it is to yell at the world for being terrible people, I would rather realize that we are all in need of love. We all need a place to belong. We are all sinners. But it is God who will work out our sins. The job of Christians is to tell our story and take care of the poor, the vulnerable, the outcast, the lost, and the broken.
The story of Easter is this: God took on our form in Jesus; he taught perfect love; he was killed because perfect love is a threat to the power of sin; but God would not let that end the mission. Death itself could not hold Jesus in the grave. This proves God will always pursue us, because God loves us.
Now, Church, tell that story to your children, your neighbors, even strangers. Everyone who comes seeking Christ is welcome; no one shall be turned away. The kingdom of heaven is at hand, and God wants everyone in it. Amen.