God Still Moves the Stone
April 21, 2019
Rev. Elizabeth Aguilar
Community Congregational Church of Chula Vista
Happy Easter, again! It is indeed a great day to praise God and to give God thanks for what God did for you and for me through the person and work of Jesus Christ. Today we celebrate the fact that death did not have the last word. That on Easter morning nothing could keep Jesus in that tomb- not fear, not death, not our sin; nothing! For, Jesus was and is a person of His word. He had announced he would return to His disciples and He certainly did just that.
This event was SO significant that all 4 Gospel writers had to include it in their accounts. All four accounts have different nuances and details to share with us. If you are like me, you cant decide which you like the most but the version that I finally chose to focus on today is Matthews account. But, before we get into that- I want to acknowledge that if you are wondering why there are indeed 4 different versions, you are not alone. Many have wondered why is it necessary. Wouldnt one version had been enough? Evidently, not. You might wonder why, though?
What helps me to understand why we have different versions of the same story is to think about it in this simple way. It is very easy for two people, and much more 4 people to have gone through the same event and yet re-tell it in a different way. Each one has a different focus, a different perspective. Then, you have the different audiences that each Gospel would have been writing for and so their slant on the same event will be different depending on what they want to emphasize.
I think of it like this- I am the youngest of 4 siblings in my family. We may have all been raised in the same household, as we were. We may have all attended the same birthday parties, the same church services, the same Sunday evening dinners (our favorites) but we can each tell a different version of the same event. It doesnt make it any less true or truer, it just makes it different.
Well, the version I finally decided to go with for THIS sermon was Matthews version. Why? Because Matthew focuses on three things that I want to focus on, with you, today.
First, the angel in this version tells Mary Magdalene and the other Mary not to be afraid. The angel says just that, Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus what was crucified. He is not here Later, Jesus repeats these same words to them when He met them (in verse 10). He also said, Do not be afraid.
I want to pause right there. Do you remember when else we hear these same words from an angel? We heard it when the shepherds were out watching their sheep by night and there was a whole company of angels singing praises to God and they said, do not be afraid. We also heard it when the angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and warns him that Herod is looking for baby Jesus and instructs them to go to Egypt, instead of returning to their home town.
These simple three words come up over and over in scripture. It is either said as do not be afraid or do not fear. We also hear the Angel Gabriel tell Mary do not fear when he announces to her that she will give birth to a son, the Messiah.
These words come up SO often that if you were to count them, they would number 365. Isnt that interesting? One time per each day!
Seems to me that today we too can hold on to these words. Who doesnt, in fact NEED to hear these words. We all have SOMETHING to fear- whether it is something that is affecting us directly, or something we are worried will happen or something that is concerning our community, or our country or the planet earth.
In fact, I was just reading two recent studies by the Pew Research Center. In one study, it said that in many countries, the majority of people say that global climate change is a major threat to their nation and that those concerns have risen since 2013.
As Earth Day nears, The Pew Center conducted a study involving 26 countries. Of those countries studied, only 6 countries showed that less than 60% of the people in that country believe that global climate change is a major threat to their country. (This is from: Spring, 2018 global attitude survey; Pew Research Center, Fact Tank News in the Numbers, April 18, 2019)
What are the other top concerns for folks here in the U.S? According to this same article- U.S. folks are most concerned about Cyber attacks, North Koreas nuclear program, and possible terrorist attack by Isis.
So, apparently, people in the U.S. worry a lot. And people in at least 26 countries worry a great deal about climate change.
So, isnt it wonderful that God would indeed remind us through scripture (over and over) not to fear? Notice too that the angel did not rebuke the women for feeling fear. Neither is it heard as a rebuke in all the other scenarios I mentioned earlier, in scripture.
Today, I do not mean to say that our fears are unfounded either. We have real reason to fear- as individuals. But God does not want to let that fear rule our heart or our minds. God wants, instead, for us to keep trusting God in all circumstances.
The other reason why I love Matthews account and why I wanted to focus on it today is because the angel tells the women to tell the disciples that indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee.
Dont you love that? Jesus goes ahead of us. Jesus knows what valleys, high ways, bi-ways, mountain top experiences, low valley experiences we will have. Jesus knows and Jesus GOES before us.
Therefore, indeed we DO not need to fear. Jesus goes before us, journeys with us, makes a way for us. As we said at the beginning of this Lenten season- where the motif of the wilderness was so present, ever since Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the wilderness. Remember? Even then we were reminded that God journeys with us in our own wilderness experiences! God journeys with us as individuals, has families, as a church, and yes as a nation and a world.
We are NOT left alone to deal with our fear on our own. We are not left to travel through life alone; even when we fear we are alone- we are not alone! This takes me to the last point of this sermon (and who doesnt like a 3 point sermon, right?!) ?
My last point to this Easter homily is that not only do we not need to fear, and not only does Jesus go before us, the SAME resurrection power that RAISED Jesus from the dead, to vanquish death once and for all, that frees us from eternal punishment but instead gives us eternal life- THAT resurrection power that rolled that tomb stone away, is the same kind of power that will roll away the stone that is in front of you!
I dont know what it is- it can be something horrible, and so scary that it not only frightens you but it paralyzes you. It can be something so terrifying that it is hard for you to speak of and so you dont. Instead you work too hard, you drink too much, you are angry too often, you sleep too much, you shop too much, you lie too much, you eat too much- you do everything possible to ignore that huge stone that is and has been in your way.
But, the good news- and if there was EVER a day to share the Good news, it is today! the GOOD news, is that God STILL moves stones today!