A MESSAGE ON THE FIRST SUNDAY FOLLOWING EASTER
APRIL 23, 2017
FRANCIS ASBURY UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
REVEREND DAVID MELVILLE
I don’t know if you saw this year’s full page Easter ad in the Advocate by Hobby Lobby. I say “this year’s” because Hobby Lobby has a tradition of paying for such ads at Christmas and Easter and I commend them for it.
This year’s ad has a hollow, as opposed to solid, chocolate Easter Bunny, with the words “Feeling Hollow?
Discover the true meaning of Easter” followed by part of today’s scripture reading from 1 Peter. Let me go ahead and read the entire passage, 1 Peter 1: 3-9:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perished even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
I mentioned at the outset that full page ads by Hobby Lobby mentioning Jesus Christ instead of the company’s most recent product sales are not unusual. What also is not unusual is our feeling a little hollow mentally, emotionally, and spiritually even just after the highest, Holiest Sunday of the Christian year … Easter.
We know that we can feel hollow – feel disappointed, depressed, or let down after a big occasion. We know we can feel hollow in the midst of what appears to be good times and good things. Doctors know and warn us that after a serious operation – even though successful – depression can seep in for the patient. I remember growing up and hearing about two of my uncles undergoing heart by-pass surgery (back then, pioneering rather than routine), and how they experienced some depression. Mothers can experience post partem blues, can’t they? Athletes who have achieved the ultimate in their sport (say, the Super Bowl) have reported a let-down after a victory. Even some lottery winners – as they suddenly learn to live with fame and fortune – realize they still have to live with themselves, and that self is still the same as it was before the fame and fortune. And that may cause a little let down!
A half century before the Hobby Lobby ad, Peggy Lee was singing the same spirit of the ad when she sang those haunting and resonating lyrics about various experiences in life. For example, she sang:
“When I was twelve years old
My daddy took me to a circus:
The ‘Greatest Show on Earth.’
There were clowns and elephants and dancing bears,
And a beautiful lady in pink tights flew high above our heads.
And as I sat there watching
I had the feeling that something was missing –
I don’t know what;
But when it was all over, I said to myself,
‘Is that all there is to a circus?’
Is that all there is?
Is that all there is?
If that’s all there is, my friends
Then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is.”
For the life of us we couldn’t figure out what went wrong – tragically wrong — with Aaron Hernandez, the NFL player who allegedly ended his life this past week — first by taking another life, and thereby exchanging a stadium full of adoring fans for a prison full of other murderers, and who may have ended his life, or had his life ended by someone else, hanging in that prison cell. An investigation has begun.
We simply cannot fathom why someone with good looks, a good looking lady, a daughter, and a $40 million contract would twist off the way he did. Apparently in the area, that matter most, Aaron was hollow rather than solid. Something was missing in his life. He had no moral core. He lacked a moral center.
Hernandez died at age 27 – the same age Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Brian Jones, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse all left life as well. Perhaps they were hollow too … a shell of the person they could have been … and a shell of the person we assume we would be if we had their money and adulation. What more could you need, right?
The people in Peter’s day had a right to feel hollow, and many did. But following Jesus’ resurrection, Peter spent the remainder of his life – until he was crucified – offering a grace and peace that could separate the new Christians from those in the first century who were feeling, “Is that all there is?” Peter even called the new Christ followers … the new “Easter People” … “aliens and strangers in the world.” [1 Peter 2:11] They would be odd and peculiar. They should stand out; they were more solid.
Before we leave this morning I’d like to echo what Peter wrote to the Gentiles outside of Judea, in case you’re feeling a little hollow this morning – even after last Sunday’s high spirits of Easter. To be honest, pastors can have a little let down after all the effort and excitement of Palm Sunday and Easter. That’s why the Sundays following Christmas and Easter are called “Associate Sunday!”
Now, the words of Peter: First, Peter told the otherwise hapless and hopeless citizens of the Roman Empire that Jesus’ resurrection gave them new birth and living hope. [verse 3] Before Jesus ascended into heaven he had a seaside chat with Peter and told him three times to “Feed my sheep.” [John 21:15-17] And Peter promised he would. Unlike some of his broken promises to Jesus, while He was still on earth, Peter kept this one. He began feeding Jesus’ sheep … giving them new birth and living hope. In the process, he kept alive his new birth and living hope and purpose in life.
That new birth and living hope can fill in the hollow areas of our lives, and leave us determined rather than disappointed. Whoa … I sound just like Joel Osteen! And that’s a good thing. I urge you to accept that new birth and living hope and rely upon it the Sunday after Easter just as much as you did on Easter Sunday.
Secondly, Peter promised his listeners “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade” … “an inheritance kept in heaven for you.” [verse 4] In other words, Peter promised eternal life. Peggy Lee sang for a lot of us when she reasoned that death, too, would be a hollow, empty disappointment. Just as she was disappointed in the circus, she figured death would disappoint her too.
“I’m in no hurry for that final disappointment,
Cause I know just as well as I’m standing here talking to you
That when that final moment comes and I’m breathing my last breath,
I’ll be saying to myself:
‘Is that all there is?
Is that all there is?’
If that’s all there is, my friends,
Then let’s keep dancing;
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball …
If that’s all there is.”
You may agree with Peggy that if this life — its triumphs its tragedies – represent all there is … if it ends here … then we may as well dance, booze and have a ball …or whatever your equivalent of dancing, boozing and having a ball might be. In scripture it was phrased, “Eat, drink and be merry!” But Peter is telling us and the world that death doesn’t have to end that way. There is an inheritance waiting for us. Peter believed it because he and others had visited with the resurrected Christ. You and I believe it because we have felt the presence of the resurrected Christ in our lives. We have chosen to fill the hollow places in our lives with the Holy Spirit rather than with the depressing spirit the world has to offer.
Finally, Peter promised a shield of God’s power to sustain believers through the tough times. And tough times certainly lay ahead and persist until this day. But praise be to God that because of the Resurrection, the risen Christ also lives and persists until this day. That’s why we worshiped as we did last Sunday – what we said and what we sang — and that’s why there should be no let-down today or for any remaining days in 2017. It has been said that sorrow, disappointments, and troubles never take a holiday. But that’s O.K. … we are no longer hollow; we are filled! Thanks, Hobby Lobby for reminding us, and thank you, Peter and Jesus and all the martyrs, for dying for us so we can live life abundantly, rather than continually asking, “Is that all there is?”
Our closing hymn says it all, and explains it all: we can feel spiritually solid “Because He Lives.” And when you’re spiritually solid, you are more likely to be solid in your marriage, your work, your parenting, and in all your relationships. Stay solid! Hum and sing to yourself this week, “Because He Lives,” # 364.