The Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Right Reverend David Arnott, is currently visiting China and gave the following sermon on Easter Sunday:
Liaoning Easter Day 8 April 2012 (Shenyang)
Readings 2 Kings 5:1-6 and Luke 24:1-12
But on the first day of the week Luke 24:1
I never tire of reading the Easter story and I never fail to find something new in it almost every time I do. That passage from Luke, for example, did you notice how it
But on the first day . .
Chapter 23 had ended in a desolate and despairing sadness. After his death Jesus had been laid in the tomb; the women had observed from a distance and had retired to prepare their spices and ointments to embalm the body after the Sabbath. It was finished. It was over. Jesus had been defeated.
BUT God had other plans. Scripture is full of those kind of stories. Moses in front of the Red Sea unable to move forward but God had other ideas, Isaiah locked away in exile, but God had other plans; the disciples fearful the boat might capsize and they might sink. But God had other ideas. And it is not just in scripture. Life also is full of similar stories.
Part of my ministry in Scotland was to help assess applicants for the ministry. Regularly we would hear a similar story. My life was heading in one particular direction; it was filled with fun and excitement; I was very busy looking after number one and in all honesty I could not care about other people. I thought I was an OK kind of guy. But yet there was something missing, something lacking and I didn’t know what it was.
One day a friend invited me to go to church with him and because I didn’t have anything better to do, I grudgingly agreed. What then follows is the telling of a voyage of discovery as the person moves slowly, hesitantly, even painfully from certainty to faith. From the certainty that the pursuit of wealth and prosperity is all that there is to life, to the faith that there is a God who cares for me and who is calling that person into service. And we listen as the story, which can take several years to enact, is slowly related. I was sure where I was going but God had other ideas. But and that single but changes that life forever.
There are high profile stories of that kind too, the total change that can come to a life. I have a suspicion that that same battle also goes on inside many of us. Naaman the Syrian army commander was a very successful man as the book of Kings relates. But it says he was a leper. His leprosy was holding him back. His leprosy was preventing him from finding that fulfilment and achieving all he could. I think that is where many of us are too in all honesty.
I think if we are completely honest with ourselves we would be able to identify a but that is holding us back. We need to be honest and say there are things, habits, opinions, outlooks, attitudes that are preventing us from finding that fullness of life that Jesus talks about as being his gift to all his people. For many it will be to do with a lack of confidence as to who they are and what their particular gifts and talents are. That lack of confidence seeps into the very soul and robs it of its motivation and impetus.
But God has other ideas for you. But God is able to say to you that you have ability, you have gifts; you have talents. Oh maybe you cannot sing a solo or be a brain surgeon but you have the ability to love and to forgive those with whom you share life. You have the ability to ensure that your own home has a door that is wide open to receive all who come about it so that there they may find have a peace and relaxation. You have the ability to be a listening ear to those who need someone to pour out their troubles to. Don’t ever say you have no talents or gifts. You may not be able to climb Mt Everest again but you are able to bring a smile and a sense of well being to one other individual. You may have plans for your life but God also has plans and they are to do with our service to him and his church. We ignore what God is saying to us and what he is calling us to do, and to be, at our peril.
The second thing to note is that it was ‘on the first day of the week.’ Sunday that was, not the Sabbath, not the day of rest, but on a working day as people went about their business the women discovered Christ was alive. Not everybody – just the women others would be told later and some would never know.
Some people tell me there is nothing harder than finding the risen Christ at work. And yet in our Church of Scotland magazine there is an interview with a Member of the Scottish Parliament. In it he speaks of the regular prayers that go on in the Scottish Parliament. He tells of the importance that he places upon worship to sustain him in his political duties and to inform his decision making. He speaks quite movingly of how his faith underpins all his life and work. A man who clearly is able to find the risen Christ at his work. And we are fortunate to have such people as our elected representatives
Or the vicar in Manchester recently. He had gone to the hospital to anoint the body of a young mother who very sadly was brain dead. Her family had given permission for her heart to be used in a transplant to give life and hope to somebody else. When he entered the department he was in a considerable state of agitation for the lady in question had been going to be the godmother to his third child at the baptism in a few weeks time. He said to me you can imagine how I felt when I saw that one of the team involved in the transplant was a member of my congregation. Suddenly I was made aware that not only was the medical care as efficient as I had expected but I knew it was also being carried out with a sense of compassion and dignity for a life which was understood to be a gift from God. And I found the love and the compassion of Christ where I had not expected to find it.
Genesis tells us that on the first day of week God said let there be light. And God separated light from the darkness. And doesn’t Luke just remind us of the very point? For he goes on to show how light came back to the earth on that first Easter morning. After the darkness of Good Friday, light and love and hope and new life burst forth from the tomb as Jesus was raised again.
It is that light of hope which brings meaning to our lives. It lights up the way God would have us go; never giving in to despair and darkness. Holding fast to our belief that no matter what we think we should do God also has ideas for our lives if only we can hear what he is saying. It is the light which shines light a beacon in the darkness reminding us that when we least expect it, Christ is there, in his love, working through the people who love him.
But on the first day of the week