Message of Easter: Forgive, reconcile (with permission from my favourite sportswriter)…

Pastors use distinct sermons to teach a well-known story

Terry Pluto
Beacon Journal

Easter is no more about just going to church than it is about bunnies and colored eggs. That's the message from several area clergy members who will be speaking in churches this weekend.

“It's about a personal experience with God, a life-changing experience'' said Bishop F. Josephus Johnson from Akron's House of the Lord.

Johnson plans to talk about the conversion experience of the disciple Paul in his Easter message.

“He was blinded on the road to Damascus, and he encountered God,'' Johnson said. “You talk to people who have really committed their lives to Christ, and so many of them have had undeniable, personal experiences with God, and they can't go back to how they used to live.

“It isn't just something that happened thousands of years ago; it still happens today,'' Johnson said.

His point was that if there was no Resurrection, then there's no Paul who wrote so much of the New Testament, no John, Mark, Luke or Matthew, who wrote the four Gospels. There's no modern Christian church because Jesus would have been just another wise teacher and a holy man.

But as C.S. Lewis wrote, “He claimed to be God… either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman, or worse.''

As The Chapel's Knute Larson said, “That's the great dividing line.''

Easter is not about buying a new suit, dress or pair of shoes. It's not about bonnets, baskets or bouquets. It's not about looking good in church. Christians say it's about forgiveness and reconciliation — with God, with ourselves and with others.

`Good Friday world'

Virtually every priest and pastor will tell you that church matters, that it's a key to developing a spiritual life. But it's not enough. It's the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus that is the heart of Christianity, what makes it alive today.

“I'm doing a message called `Empty Heart, Empty Tomb,' '' said the Rev. Bob Combs, pastor of Norton Grace Church. “So often life feels like we're trapped in a tomb, like we're gasping for breath. The power of Christ rising from the dead is knowing that in the end, we do win. There is hope, there is heaven, there is a reason to go on.''

Good preaching often starts with suffering and ends with celebration. It deals with the fact that we are “Easter people in a Good Friday world,'' a phrase used in Europe for years for a Lenten program, and recently quoted in a USA Today story.

Jesus died on Good Friday, when the world was dark — the edge of despair seemed to circle the hearts of mankind. He rose on Easter. Suddenly, the tomb was empty, and hearts began to fill.

“Many years ago, I had a new asphalt driveway, and right in the middle of it grew a plant,'' said the Rev. Ronald Fowler, pastor of Arlington Church of God. “That's what Easter is for me — a real breakthrough.''

Fowler talked about the Resurrection being about more than just hope for life, “but it's the provision for life after life, and how we can take possession of that.''

Christians believe people can cut through the pain of regrets, the depths of depression, and find a reason to go on. It's an ache in the heart of so many people, and it's the reason Rick Warren's The Purpose Driven Life has sold more than 25 million copies.

Warren once said in a sermon, “Most people can't forgive themselves for something, or can't forgive someone else. Sometimes, it's both.''

In the times of Jesus and for thousands of years before that, offerings had to be made for sins to be forgiven. Crops were burned, animals were killed, blood was spilled.

The Son of God dying on a cross as an offering for sins would resonate strongly with the people of that era. It still does today, as Mel Gibson's enormously successful film The Passion of the Christ demonstrated.

“People don't need a dead savior, they need a living one,'' said the Rev. Arthur Green, pastor of St. John CME Church.

How to tell the story

The challenge for priests and pastors is how to tell the story many know so well already.

For the Rev. Joseph Kraker of St. Vincent Catholic Church, this will be his 44th Easter sermon.

He believes he has something different, something fresh. He's been reading Journey to Easter by Pope Benedict XVI.

His sermon has the working title of “Show a Little Respect.''

“We are dealing with the God of the universe, the God who raised the dead, the God whose power can't be limited or defined by nature because God created it,'' Kraker said. “As Pope Benedict wrote, God does want us to obey him, to follow him. If we take the real meaning of Easter into our hearts, it demands a response.''

It should walk out the church door with us. It should not be tossed out with the Easter leftovers, or hung in the closet and forgotten like a dress from an Easter long past.

“It's not just about doctrine, although doctrine and what you believe does matter,'' said The House of the Lord's Johnson. “It's personal. It also runs contrary to how many of us think. We are taught that we should handle our own problems, that religion is for the weak. Wasn't it (Karl) Marx who said it was the opium of the people?''

Johnson said that faith is supposedly a crutch, but that's what so many of us need because we are limping, at least spiritually and emotionally.

“Easter is the defeat of (spiritual) death,'' said The Chapel's Larson. “It's what keeps us going each day.''

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3 Comments »

  1. sam Said:

    We miss you!!!!!

  2. Kodiak Said:

    As always, good insight.

  3. Sam Said:

    great discussion last evening too! thank you.


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