Easter Sunday 1998
Sermon preached by
The Reverend Charles Royden
What is the symbol of Easter?
A cross and it means so much to us.
By his death on the cross Peter said (1 Pet 2:24)
"Christ Himself bore our sins in his body on the tree,
so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed."
When we realise this we are lost in wonder at God's great love for us. Charles Wesley struggled to understand how great was God's love:
"And can it be that I should gain"
We are used to seeing the cross, the symbol of the death of Jesus Christ, and if we are not careful it can have little affect on us. Since Golgotha millions have been made: wooden ones in churches, gold ones round the necks of women, tawdry mass-produced plastic ones and giant steel ones that mark mass war graves. And what effect does the Cross have upon passers-by? Even on that day of the crucifixion outside the walls of Jerusalem, many people just passed by. The cross had little effect upon the workmen who fashioned it, the soldiers who guarded it, the people who passed it or the priests who caused it to end the life of Jesus. Nor to millions who think of Easter in terms of holidays, chocolate rabbits and a host of other silly things. But to Christians who understand, we are left simply praising God for His grace and love.
"And when I think of God His Son not sparing, Sent Him to
die, I scarce can take it in.
That on the Cross, my burden, gladly bearing, He bled and died, to take away my sin.
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God to Thee, How great Thou art! How great Thou art!"
And so what does the cross mean to us today? What are the issues which it raises 1 Making a new start means leaving the past behind. Each one of us at some time or other has longed to be able to go back and undo something that we did. Sadly that cannot be done. But when it comes to our guilt before God and making a fresh start Easter tells us that there is a the chance for all of us for a fresh start I meet so many people who are paralysed in their present circumstances because they are chained to something in their past, they are unable to accept the fact that they are truly forgiven. No matter how much they are told that God forgives they cannot forgive themselves, holding onto the sins of the past in a manner which is perhaps self indulgent and certainly keeping the sins alive. Easter time says ,bury it. Leave it behind in the tomb with the folded grave clothes and come out into the light. God not only forgives our sins, He also chooses to forget them. The Bible tells us He takes them and buries them in the deepest sea. And then as Corrie ten Boom used to say,
'He puts up a sign that says, 'No fishing allowed.'
Some people ask whether life gives us a second chance. Well sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn't. But God always gives us a chance to change and be forgiven and make a fresh start. Not that this means we do what we want, those who desire forgiveness deeply would never think about going out and doing the same thing again because they know how much trouble the original failure caused. When we experience God's forgiveness each one of us tries to live out our lives so that the minister won't have to lie at our funeral. We try to live the sort of lives which if someone says an unkind word about us nobody will believe it Making a fresh start means moving on and accomplishing new things. I seldom ever spend time at a funeral talking about the things which a person has not done, the emphasis is upon what we have done, what we have achieved. There is a lesson here. Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did. Your belief must be positive, exciting, enthusiastic.
When Robert Moffatt went to South Africa in 1817 to start the first missionary work among Africans, he worked for seven years without one convert. But he believed with enthusiasm. In London, members of the London Missionary Society, believed the work should be closed down and he be recalled. But undaunted, Robert Moffatt sent to London a message: "Send me a communion set." By the time it had reached him there were enough converts to celebrate the Lord's supper. Today 180 years later, in a densely populated area of nearby Tanzania, revival is under way.
Easter is a time to stop looking back but it is also a time to look to the future and seek out the new opportunities which God has in store. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. I think that is a paraphrase of Mark Twain. It may be that we will make mistakes, it may be that there will be wrong decisions but I am confident that God lives with our mistakes more easily than we do. We need to be willing to make some mistakes in order to take risks for God. The person who has made no mistakes has made nothing.
Faith itself is a risk. Corinne and I have been getting very reflective lately about time, it seems that not long ago when we were at college and things each day was a week long. This is how it is when we are little , especially when we look forward to some special event, such as a birthday, Christmas, a visit or any holiday. However, as I am getting older, the days seem shorter and the events come along faster. Now I can't keep up with each day. They pass so quickly. We need to spend our time so carefully because it is such a precious gift. And surely the message of this is that there is a sense of urgency about life. A fresh start should encourage us to be like a greyhound out of the trap, instead of like me trying to get out of bed in the morning. Today above all days we are encouraged to live like
- Jesus died yesterday
- Rose this morning
- is coming back tomorrow
I think its true that the greater a person's sense of guilt, the greater their need to cast blame on others. You have all heard of what psychologists call projection. We project onto others the feelings which are inside of us. Sometimes people are grumbly when they come to church. We all do it we have a bad time over something and so we come to church and take it out on everybody else. I hope that we as ministers don't rise to the bait. But God doesn't project anything onto us other than his love and forgiveness. There is no inadequacy in God that has to be compensated for by blaming others. All that God does is to forgive us and love us and that we must do to others. Why is it in the church, no good deed goes unpunished? And so this Easter have a talk with God and set yourself some new goals. If you have been a Christian for a longish time this will be exciting. Ask God if you have become complacent and smug. If you are a new Christian than ask God to show you just how wide his horizons really are. To leave Easter time without having those goals is more to be feared than not reaching them. I would rather attempt to do something great and fail, then attempt to do nothing and succeed. Jesus had that one great purpose: He said of Himself Lk 19:10
"The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."
Everything in His life hinged round that one great purpose. While you keep your eyes upon your God you will not be defeated by problems along the way, but start looking back at the past failures and you will find that you lose sight of your goals. This is what Paul meant: Phil 3:13-14
"I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.
But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,
I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."
Do you have the right goals, the purposeful aim in your life?