Seven Things Easter Teaches Us
When I was a kid, our extended family gathered at Aunt Halene’s house on Easter afternoon in Sunfield, Illinois. While we children were dispensed whicker baskets filled with bright green, plastic grass; dad and my uncles hid a cosmos of dyed, hard boiled eggs at my Aunt Floss’ place just down the road toward the DuQuoin Lake. When the signal was given, we walked about a hundred yards to Aunt Floss’ and began our frantic search. In addition to the real eggs, were several plastic eggs with the name of each child written upon them. You could only pick up the plastic egg with your name and inside it was a USAmerican dollar; quite a prize in 1972. Most years I failed to locate my special egg and after quizzing my fellow cousins, I would turn in desperation to the adults for hints. “Can you tell me if I am warm or cold?” With wide eyes, I would move in a direction and an uncle in the know would guide me until I zeroed in. “Ice cold, cold, warm, warmer, hot, hotter, you are on fire!” Got it! Church, do we get it? Church, are we on fire?
A few years back I went to Google Images and typed in Easter. It was clear that when it comes to getting Easter, the wired portion of USAmerica is ice cold. This year I tried it again and I categorized the first 100 images on a Strict Safe Search. Here are the results: 15% of the images were unconnected, 2% were of Easter Island, 8% were religious in nature and 74 were of Easter eggs or Easter bunnies. Like my search several years ago, one of the images was of a dog dressed like a bunny, so I counted it as a bunny raising the Egg/Bunny total to 75%. When I was a kid I wondered why the resurrected Christ shared time with bunnies and eggs. I also wondered why, if we were going with eggs, we didn’t have an Easter chicken rather than an Easter bunny. In reality, both eggs and bunnies are pre-Christian spring fertility symbols that have been handed down to us, given a G rating and somewhat baptized. I can feel you scowling as I have just meddled with Norman Rockwell’s Ameri-scape…”Pastor are you saying there is something wrong with bunnies and eggs?” That is not what I am saying at all; I am saying if that is what 75% of our Easter is about, there is something wrong with us.
Caesarea was a Mediterranean port city and served as the capital of Roman Palestine for 600 years. There was a military base there and one of the officers was a God fearing Gentile named Cornelius. An angel visited him one day and instructed him to send for Peter. Down the coast in Joppa, Peter had three identical visions in which God instructed him to eat food forbidden to Jews. While Peter was trying to figure this all out, Cornelius’ delegation arrived with an invitation and Peter went with them to Caesarea. Upon his arrival all became clear; God was calling Peter to preach to the Gentiles. Our text today recounts the day Easter came to non-Jews and in it rings the words of the hymn writer, “Jesus included me, yes he included me, when the Lord said, ‘Whosoever’ he included me!” In our text this morning are seven clues to help us find Easter in all the plastic grass, dyed eggs and dogs dressed like bunnies that count as bunnies!
Acts 10: 34-43
V. 34 God doesn’t show partiality Peter was reared in a tradition where every man thanked God he was not born a Gentile. Gentiles were the Jewish name for all non-Jews. Cornelius was a “God fearer” which meant he was a financial supporter of the synagogue and a believer but he was uncircumcised and did not follow the dietary laws. Peter would have never considered entering the home of a Gentile. God told him to do just that!
#1 We are not judged by our racial heritage. Our ancestry neither gives us an advantage in the Kingdom of God nor does it limit us as people of faith. When I first arrived here in 1997, we had an elderly custodian named Andy Leahy. Andy worked hard but never noticed one stain on a carpet, wall or fabric in his whole life. I pondered this and I asked him, “Andy, are you colorblind?” He smiled and said, “Always have been, really hurt me in the Sea Bees.” Here is the bottom line; Easter is colorblind.
V. 35 He accepts those who fear him and do what is right When Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed of a world where people were not identified by the color of their skin but by the integrity of their hearts he dreamed of Easter. When Peter declared that God shows no partiality, he both removed the barriers that kept people separated and their excuses for being anything less than everything God created them to be.
#2 We are judged by our actions. Isn’t it time we got honest about our spiritual lives? The reason we don’t attend church, pray and read the Bible more often is that we value other things more highly than our relationship with God. The reason we don’t share our faith is because we care more about what others think of us than what God thinks of us. The reason we don’t invest more financially in God’s work is that we value a materialistic lifestyle more than we value changing the world. The reason we don’t bring our children to youth group is because their spiritual development is not really a priority to us. You will never have any idea if you are hot or cold in the hunt for Easter until you get honest with yourself.
V. 36 There is peace with God through Jesus Christ What God was asking Peter to do would turn his world upside down. Some years ago I was talking to a man about his dying mainline church. I had suggested that healthy things grow and he took offense to that notion. He said, “We don’t mind growing but we are very comfortable where we are. We will die off one day but we all get along and really like each other. If a doctor or a lawyer moved to town and wanted to join, I guess we would be open to it if they fit in but we don’t want to grow this church at the expense of just letting anyone attend here.” This man was ice cold on his hunt for Easter. The power of the Gospel is that the church is open to everybody.
#3 Peace is found only through Jesus Christ. The Gospel was now open to anyone who wanted to receive it! This notion would cause discontinuity within the early church and Peter knew that peace in such a seismic, parademic shift could only come through Christ. In a growing and dynamic church, we will not find peace by trying to make everyone happy, we will find peace when we dedicate our collective hearts to the mission of connecting people to Jesus Christ.
V. 38 God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit and with power Wouldn’t it be cruel to invite children to an Easter egg hunt and then hide all the eggs so well they couldn’t find them?
#4 God gives us the power to live as Christians. It would be equally cruel for God to expect us to live the Christian life and not give us the power to accomplish it. This power is available to us through the Holy Spirit but you can’t buy it or earn it; you must ask God for it, receive it and, as my friend Pat Mace says, abide in it like a fish abides in water.
V. 39-40 They put him to death by crucifying Jesus but God raised him to life in three days Easter is the ultimate victory of life over death, good over evil and blessing over cursing. Were it not for Easter, the church would simply be a good cause among good causes, a charity among charities or an organization among organization. Because of Easter we are a red hot, popping, world changing, Holy Ghost empowered, dynamo chosen by God to bring salvation the world.
#5 Christianity is a living faith, not a dead religion. I define religion as blind adherence to a preconceived set of notions. In this sense I am not very religious at all. I have no intention of defending the bloody history of organized religion but I will tell you this; organized religion is a good thing to the extent that it connects people with God. When it becomes corrupt, selfish or perverted it is of no use what-so-ever. Christianity is a personal relationship with God through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; it is not a religious exercise.
V. 42 He ordered us to preach everywhere and to testify that Jesus is the judge of the living and the dead Jesus talked about evangelism as a farmer sowing seed indiscriminately. You might ask why we take invitations to church to people’s homes, put up yard signs, pop Christ Church decals on our cars and send teams out to evangelize. You might ask why we go to Honduras and the Philippines when people are in need right here. It is simple; Jesus asked us to sow seeds everywhere. It is not an either/or thing, it is a both/and thing. Life does not come through humanistic logic; it comes through obedience to God.
#6 Jesus is the judge. I have heard people say, “You aren’t my judge” and they are right. Where they are wrong is in thinking they will not be judged at all. Church, isn’t it a relief to know we don’t have to judge others because Jesus already has the job? I will proclaim God’s truth to the best of my understanding but Jesus will do the judging. I wonder how many people would have found Easter long ago if churches and church-folk stopped trying to do Jesus’ job of judging for him.
V. 43 Everyone who believes in him will have their sins forgiven through his name Jesus died for your sin and for mine. He took the punishment we deserved. We are not innocent but we do have the opportunity for acquittal. All we must do is get honest about our sin, ask for forgiveness, invite Jesus into our lives and let the blood of Jesus do its work.
#7 Salvation comes through Christ alone. I guess salvation is the egg with our name on it for which we are all looking. You won’t find salvation in a casino, a singles bar, a night club, a race track, a new drug, a bottle, a great concert or a Vegas vacation. You also won’t find salvation in meeting the “right” person, finding worldly success, buying a dream home, getting the next promotion, raising a family, sitting in church, getting a new car or doing volunteer work. Salvation comes only through Jesus Christ. Are you ready to find that thing you have been looking for your whole life? Perhaps empty religion and mean spirited church folk have given you some bad clues in the past but wouldn’t today be a great day to get honest, drop your baggage, move past your issues and find Jesus?
-Rev. Shane L. Bishop, a Distinguished Evangelist in the United Methodist Church, has been the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois since 1997.