Tuesday, April 3, 2018

After the Earthquake

This is a sermon that I preached on Easter Sunday, April 1, 2018 at United Presbyterian Church, Sterling, KS.  Read Matthew 28:1-10 here.

“What jumped out at you in what we just read?”

So…let me call on someone…April Fools!  Some of you were panicking just now.  It’s ok.  You don’t have to answer.

I know there are lots of amazing bits of information in what we just read.  You know how our brains sometimes get stuck on the things that aren’t as important and miss the main point?  Mine does this all the time.  Notice that it’s not MY fault, it’s my brain’s fault. . . which is a clue for you to what it is in this scripture that jumps out at me EVERY SINGLE TIME . . .

Can you guess?  EARTHQUAKE!

As I have said before, I grew up in California.  I have lots of experience with earthquakes.  We might think, since Matthew is the only one of the gospels that mentions the earthquake, that it was too small for anybody to really notice.  But it might just be that they’re used to them.

There’s a scene in the movie L.A. Story in which Steve Martin and his friends are eating lunch at a restaurant and there’s an earthquake.[1]  A BIG earthquake.  Things are rattling and shaking.  Stuff is falling off the table, and they’re catching the stuff and carrying on their conversations, barely even noticing.  One of the other tables even rolls by and the people sitting at that table are continuing their meal and their conversation as if nothing is happening.  No buildings are falling over, but it’s still a very noticeable earthquake.  The point is that in places where earthquakes are common, like Southern California or Israel, you do learn not to notice them. 

Every so often there are big earthquakes, earthquakes that bring life to a screeching halt.  These quakes become part of our life stories, connected with memories of where we were when those shake-ups happened.  My husband Rob remembers one in which the earthquake woke us up and he ran into the hallway just in time to see a TV flying across the room.  When an earthquake happens, it changes things.  It wakes us up. It breaks things loose. It rewrites our story.

It gets our attention – After the earthquake . . . we are awake!
We are sometimes hard to wake up.  This is the story we see over and over in the Old Testament, that the people would forget about God, and their behavior would get worse and worse, they would get more and more into worshipping idols, and if they continued their worship of God at all, they did it in a routine, unthinking way.  God would send prophets to try to get their attention, and sometimes they would be successful for a time, but sometimes instead of listening, the people would kill the prophet because they didn’t like what he was saying.

Jeremiah was one of those faithful prophets.  His writings and prophecies are the longest book in the Bible.  You can hear how exasperated he is in this passage:
“For the past twenty-three years . . . the Lord has been giving me his messages. I have faithfully passed them on to you, but you have not listened. Again and again the Lord has sent you his servants, the prophets, but you have not listened or even paid attention.” (Jeremiah 25:3-4)
We are no different.  We don’t listen.  Or we listen only some of the time.  What is God trying to say to us now?  Are we listening?  Are we awake or do we need some shaking?

Some of us need more help waking up than others.  Teenagers tend to be really good sleepers.  My husband’s brother came to visit us one summer when he was 17.  It seemed like he would sleep forever.  Rob and I liked to tease him about it, and we decided to see what it would take to wake him up.  We did all kinds of silly things.  One day we even filled squirt guns with ice water.  That DID wake him up….but only a little.  And then he turned over and went back to sleep.
So one day we invited our drummer friend to come help us and to bring his cymbals.  We tiptoed into his room…which is kind of funny, when you think about it…and we banged on those cymbals as hard as we could.  Did he wake up?  Yes, he did!

We remember the earth-shaking events in our lives, those moments when everything changes.  Though we are talking about earthquakes today, we should note that the word Matthew uses, seismos, is most of the time used to refer to an earthquake, but it also has a broader meaning.

  1. a shaking, a commotion            
  2. a tempest, a violent storm
  3. an earthquake

Matthew uses this same word in a story about a storm that comes up suddenly when Jesus and the disciples are on a boat out in the Sea of Galilee (8:24), a scene captured here by Rembrandt. This is the only time that Matthew uses the word seismos to refer to a storm, so maybe that tells us something about the severity of this storm.
When the storm came up, the disciples were afraid, but Jesus kept on sleeping.  When they woke him up, he was a little crabby. . . and said, “You of little faith! Why are you so afraid?” (8:26)  And then he rebuked the storm and it died out.  Matthew doesn’t tell us what he said, but maybe it was this: “Be still and know that I am God!” (Psalm 46:10)

Did you notice that word “afraid” shows up twice in Matthew’s account of the women at the tomb that we read this morning.  Both the angel and Jesus say, “Don’t be afraid.”  There will be earthquakes and storms and other kinds of things that shake us up and wake us up.  Don’t be afraid.  God is still God.  God is still here. Be awake, be watchful and trust God.

After the earthquake . . . we are changed
Earthquakes cause change but they are also a result of something that needs to change.  In our gospel reading, the stone gets moved away from the opening of the cave, which needed to happen for the women to see that Jesus was no longer dead.  Generally when earthquakes happen, it’s because tension is released.  Where there are tectonic plates sliding against each other, they break apart.  We can see from this graphic that there is a plate edge in Israel.  It goes right along the Jordan River, so it’s not surprising that Israel has earthquakes.

Around here there are no tectonic plate edges, but there are earthquakes, although they tend to be smaller than the ones that happen along these lines.  Here in Kansas earthquakes are more likely to be the result of mining.[2] Something has changed and the earth needs to adjust.
Regardless of the cause, earthquakes happen when something needs to change.  When an earthquake or a storm wakes us up, then we can see how things are and what’s happening.  Things fall into perspective.

Man-made things will pass away, the things that matter will remain – faith, hope, love.  Jesus’ death and resurrection demonstrates for us that nothing, not even death, can separate us from the love of God that we have through faith in Jesus.

After the earthquake . . . we are changed, and we are thankful
Today, in an amazing quirk of the math behind calendars and astronomy, is not just Easter, it’s also April Fools Day.  How many of you like to play jokes on people for April Fools?  How many of you have already had a joke played on you today?

One of the best April Fools jokes anyone ever played on me happened years ago before my husband Rob and I had kids.  We both worked at an office supply store that was about 30 minutes away from where we lived. We were a little transportation challenged back then.  We took the bus a lot, or carpooled.  So when my grandfather died, we got his car.  We were very excited about this, and anxious to start driving it, but first we had to get car insurance. 

We finally got everything arranged so we could drive it to work, and since we now had a car, we owed some people rides so we had a carpooler with us, too.  So we drove to work.  About halfway through the morning, I got a phone call from our insurance agent.  She says, “I hope you haven’t started driving the car yet.  We had a problem and you are not insured yet.”  This is before the internet, long before 15 minutes would get you Geico.  If the insurance agent calls and says you’re not insured, you’ve got a problem.  We had a big problem, and it wasn’t going to be resolved that day.  We not only drove ourselves to work and now had no way home, we also were the ride home for other people.  What are we going to do?  I was flipping out.

So I called Rob.  We both worked for the same company, but we were in different buildings that were about two blocks away from each other.  He wasn’t in the other building.  He was out in the company van making a delivery.  I asked them to have him call me when he got back.  I tried to be cool and just keep working, but I wasn’t doing very well.  And he wasn’t calling me back.  I tried calling the insurance agent back.  No answer.  I tried Rob again.  Still out.  Agh!  What are we going to do?!?
Well, Rob finally called me back.  He was laughing.  And laughing.  And he said, “April fools!”  What?!? 

No problem with the insurance.  Everything was totally fine.  He’d arranged the whole thing.  It was hilarious.  A very good joke.  I wasn’t laughing at the time, but it was good.

Once I got over my panic and fear, and maybe a little bit of anger, I was thankful…thankful that though I’d thought there was a big mess, we were actually ok.  And I was able to laugh, too.
An April Fools joke works because we are deceived into thinking something is different from how it really is.  In Genesis, in the Garden of Eden the serpent deceives Eve into thinking that God is playing a joke on them about the fruit on that tree.  “Did God really say you must not eat fruit from the tree or you will die? You will not die.” Adam and Eve believe the serpent instead of God, and then find out that God was NOT joking and they were cast out of the Garden of Eden forever (Gen. 3).

I like to tell jokes and make puns, as you already know if you’ve heard me preach much or follow me on Facebook, but I want to be clear that our relationship with God in Jesus Christ is no laughing matter.  It is, in fact, a matter of life and death. 

Jesus went through the agony of death on a cross because God loves us too much to let us keep on being deceived by our sin or to let us be separated from him by death.  Jesus’ death and resurrection is earth-shaking because it changes everything. It changes our status with God through our faith in him.  Our sins are forgiven, and we can look forward to eternal life with God that starts right now as we let Jesus be Lord of our lives.
If Christ is King, everything, quite literally, every thing and every one, has to be re-imagined, re-configured, re-oriented to a way of life that consists in an obedient following of Jesus. —EUGENE H. PETERSON[3]
Jesus’ resurrection changes everything.  So let’s welcome that change.  Let’s be awake and changed and thankful, and live out that thankfulness by staying ready. We cannot go back to how we were before.  We are changed for a purpose – to live as God’s people, helping spread God’s redeeming work.

I will never be the same again. I can never return, I’ve closed the door.
I will walk the path, I’ll run the race. And I will never be the same again.[4]

[3] As quoted by Harnish, James A.. in Easter Earthquake: How Resurrection Shakes Our World (Kindle Locations 1282-1286). Upper Room. Kindle Edition.
[4] Geoff Bullock, “I Will Never Be” ©1995 Geoff Bullock Music, CCLI Song Number 1874911

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