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Based on the Scripture readings:
Acts 10
Luke 24

Easter Sunday, 2004 April 11
Kenneth F. Baily, Senior Pastor


I'd like to tell an irreverent Easter joke. I've only told it once in church before, so I wanted to warn you. It's not off color, but it is not orthodox in its depiction of the afterlife. May I tell it?

Well, it begins with three people standing before St. Peter at the gates of heaven, where they have to answer one question. If they fail, they go to the other place for eternity. And the first question to the first person is basic: St. Peter asks, "What happens at Christmas?" And the one who answers says that Christmas is a holiday where a man in a red suit gives presents to children and flies on a sled from the North Pole. And Peter looked upon him and said, "I'm sorry, you have left out the birth of Jesus," and he pulled on a great lever, and the cloud opened with a chute to neverafter, and heat rose from the chute as this person dropped away and was gone. The second person was asked, "What happens on Maundy Thursday," and this person said, "On Maundy Thursday folks gather for a great supper -- of turkey and sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie and they watch football and shop for Christmas." The Saint reached for the lever and said, "You've got your Thursdays confused, and you've forgotten Jesus," and he pulled, and number two was gone.

The third person stepped forward and was asked, "Can you tell me about Easter?" And she replied, "Easter is the holiday that remembers a righteous man." And St. Peter said yes. "This man traveled far and wide and taught and healed amidst a group of supporters and friends." And the Saint smiled and nodded. "But this man was scorned and executed and thrown in a cave, yet on the third day the cave was opened." And Peter said, yes, yes. And the woman continued: "And the man came out into the light, and if he sees his shadow there are six more weeks of winter."

The truth is that Easter can be hard to explain and delightful to encounter. It is beyond simple description but the core of sincere devotion. And among its thousands of truths are these three: it is always and everywhere about something God did through Jesus; it is always and everywhere both understandable in love and beyond intellectual logic; and at its core it is what Harvey Cox calls "God's last laugh."

Back to topWhat did God do through Jesus? Among other things, God said, "you're in."

Have you seen those ads for Verizon cell phones? The guy with the glasses is getting on my nerves, but I like their pitch. If you buy their phone, you can talk to anyone else with one of their phones because you're "in." Verizon says this. But Horizon did it first: God's Easter horizon. That's what the Book of Acts and the Apostle Paul say today. Acts says that people in every nation, every nation can be part of this. If they meet two requirements: fear God and do what is right. Can you memorize those? Fear God and do what is right. One is an attitude and one is an action. And they're not simple, but we can remember them, all of us from any nation. Paul says something similar. We all know death. In Christ, he says, we shall all be made alive. He doesn't say just the Caucasians or just the upper middle class or just the straight ones. He uses that famous phrase elsewhere that says, Jesus did this "once for all." We could argue about how Paul and Acts didn't mean this or how it does come with requirements or how they said other things other places. We could spend hours or months or volumes putting limits on this message of love in Jesus that comes at Easter. Or we could go simple and direct. God says we're in. Fear God, and do what is right.

The reason we could discuss this forever is that this message is both understandable and beyond logic. And it has been so since the beginning. 

That first Easter, women went to the tomb with stuff that they had purchased on Friday to finalize the burial of the very dead. But they ran into messengers who said, Jesus is risen. And Luke reports that the women told all this to the men, who called it "an idle tale." An idle tale, told by some women, full of boundless absurdity and signifying nothing. But thank God the women didn't agree with the men. Because God was doing something with them, too. God was making outsiders into insiders. The first witnesses, culturally powerless, became the prime insiders, and let those of us who hear that story to this day take heed. Could this be a message for us yet? Are there any outsiders that God still graces with insights regarding love beyond logic? Judges and opinion fixators beware. We can understand the message of Easter in part. New life. Resurrection. The power of God next to the powerlessness of any nation. The wonder of love next to the whimper of hate. We can understand this on one level. But it comes to our hearts and souls better than our intellects. It touches our needs deeper than our agendas. Back to top It graces our broken places quicker than our working systems. Which is pretty good news, good beyond logic.

You know for millions of families this is a pretty tough Easter. There is war and the injuries of war in more than one country. There is hunger, joblessness, and lack of medical insurance or care in more than one land. There is anxiety in an era of terror, with captives beyond a single culture; there is discrimination, and even in the place where Jesus once walked, peace and assurance are most often figments of the imagination. We need a powerful message, a cosmic message, to counteract what could be seen as the strengths of argument or logic or godlessness that affect our day. We need a reminder that long ago God saw a culture of destruction and gave it a message of creation. That those ensnared in a culture of death were graced with a cross of new life. We need the strength and hope begun on a hill where once a sealed tomb became the stairway to heaven. We need all that, and all that is what God entreats, what Jesus hopes, and what we yearn to share in every parish of His Church. It's what we do here, too, every week.

We do something else at Easter, too. We take all the sorrow of life, all the sorrow of Holy Week just past, and we open our ears to the interpretation of Harvey Cox who calls this wonderful day "God's last laugh."

Consider this. At the end of the trial and crucifixion, Pilate thought he had won. But God laughed. At the end of Peter's denial, the devil thought he had won. But God laughed. At the end of any of our conclusions of pessimistic satisfaction -- the final truth of death and taxes, the Hindu cycle of Samsara, the myth of Sisyphus rolling a rock up a hill just to see it roll down again -- after all of our formulations of fear, negativity, and nihilism wishing the last word, God laughs. Not at us but to get us loosened up. To get us free. To get us living. God laughs at the idea that death could get the last word, the idea that divine creation called good in the beginning could be made bad by some pretender power in the end. God laughs and looks at the creative wonder of our diversity and says, this makes me smile. And God's smile draws spring's flowers from the frozen grounds of winter and melts ice into waters that sculpt the shores of summer. God's smile draws children to stare at each other unashamedly and point in joy while wearing colors adults would never dare, and it draws music from wood and wire and brass and flesh, and it draws us here, now, today because Easter, in the end, is a great joy to God, and God loves to share the laugh.

Doesn't it make you smile? The promise that you're in? The simplicity and splendor of fearing God and doing what is right? The absurdity of resurrection? Doesn't it make you smile that whether or not Jesus sees his shadow, those of us who live in it are free from any more weeks of separating cold? There may be storms ahead, there may be violence and sorrow, but we can face all of it knowing that no frozen conclusion gets the last word. Along with God we get the last laugh. Along with Jesus. What a riot. Amen.Back to top

Copyright 2004 Kenneth F. Baily.  Used by permission.

For pictures of this Easter worship service, click here.

Parent page ] Sermon "Waking Devotion" ] Sermon "Sitting at the Welcome Table" ] Sermon "Table Manners" ] Sermon "Speaking of God" ] Sermon "Singing New Songs" ] Sermon "Prepare the Way" ] Sermon "Here-ing God" ] Sermon "The Possibility of Possibility" ] Sermon "Sweet Creations" ] Sermon "Not at All Dead" ] Sermon "March for Life" ] Sermon "Planning, Praising and Pondering Palms" ] Sermon "Imagination, Dreams, and Vision" ] Sermon "Following the Magi" ] Sermon "Pushing Christmas" ] Sermon "Forecasts" ] Sermon "Ready for Christmas" ] Sermon "God in the Middle" ] Sermon "The Days to Come, the One to Come" ] Sermon "Earthly Healing" ] Sermon "Digesting Communion" ] Sermon "The Change of Prayer" ] Sermon "Unbreakable Body" ] Sermon "Seeing Clearly" ] Sermon "God's Streets, not Wall Street" ] Sermon "Right for Present" ] Sermon "A Change Agent" ] Sermon "What is Sabbath" ] Sermon "In Memory of Hope" ] Sermon "These Baptisms are Killing Us" ] Sermon "Wanting Prayer" ] Sermon "Last Minute Gifts" ] Sermon "Praying Well = Praying Much" ] Sermon "Peace Repent, Peace Remember" ] Sermon "Choosing Church" ] Sermon "A Model Church" ] Sermon "The Empire Struck Back" ] Sermon "Love is Patient and Primary" ] Sermon "Manifestations" ] Sermon "The Green Grace of God" ] Sermon "Signs of Sacred Things" ] Sermon "A Deal with the Future" ] Sermon "Free from Fear" ] Sermon "To Carry Each Other" ] Sermon "With God in Death; with Each Other in Dying" ] Sermon "Healing Prayers" ] Sermon "Facing God's Miracle" ] Sermon "Finding All Three" ] Sermon "God as a Baby" ] Sermon "What Does It Mean" ] Sermon "Controlling Christmas" ] Sermon "Finding Jesus" ] Sermon "Katrina's New Covenant Call" ] Sermon "On Open Doors and Lilies" ] Sermon "Neighbor Talk" ] Sermon "Elevate your Expectations" ] Sermon "See: the Healing" ] Sermon "Lifeless Chaos and Living Creation" ] Sermon "Rapt Gifts" ] Sermon "Welcome to Reality" ] Sermon "Offering Up Thanks" ] Sermon "Blue State Blues" ] Sermon "Are we not entitled to thanks?" ] Sermon "Ancient Pieces of Peace" ] Sermon "Noticing Neighbors" ] Sermon "A Summer Day of Renewal" ] Sermon "The Road to Emmaus" ] Sermon "A New Thing" ] Sermon "Breath of New Life" ] [ Sermon "Easter" ] Sermon "Sin: Currently Tense" ] Sermon "Why Are You Angry?" ] Sermon "Anxiety over Sin" ] Sermon "Isn't Marriage Gay?" ] Sermon "A Marriage Grade in Heaven?" ] Sermon "Expanding the Body of Christ" ] Sermon "Miracles:  Seeing More in our Midst" ] Sermon "Turning to God" ] Sermon "Why are You in Churchl" ] Sermon "Remember your Baptism" ] Sermon "Every Day Spirituality" ] Sermon "The Cross and Joy of Love" ] Sermon "Welcome Back" ] Sermon "Living Together" ] Sermon "Transforming Destruction" ] Sermon "The Work of Healing" ] Sermon "Peace" ] Worship details ]