Christ’s Imperishable Legacy
Christ’s Imperishable Legacy
Easter Sunday, 2018
When I was a young minister, I always felt I had to preach my best sermons on Easter Sunday. You know–big crowds expect a great message.
But a wise old preacher by the name of Ernie Campbell told a group of us young preachers in a preaching class, “Boys (there were no women in the class). Boys, you don’t have to be good on Easter Sunday. It’s the Sunday after Easter when you have to be good.”
I now understand what he meant. There is nothing that any preacher can say on Easter which will enhance the day. It is like a poet trying to find the right words to describe a sunrise in the mountains. No matter how gifted the poet, no matter how suitable the words, nothing can be written to adequately describe how the sunrises kindles our hope and taps into our awe at the sheer gift of a brand new day.
So today I would like to be as simple as possible and describe what Easter means to me. Actually, what I want to do is to describe what Jesus Christ means to me, for Easter is supremely about Jesus Christ–and his resurrection from the dead, which has never been better described than in the words of rock group U2:
“The resurrection was when the universe exploded in one man’s life.”
So let’s think today about what Jesus Christ means. Let’s think about the imperishable legacy which Jesus Christ has bequeathed to us and to all of humankind.
When we consider the legacy of Jesus Christ, we have to remember that Jesus Christ left behind four things. He left us HIS TEACHINGS, HIS LIFE, HIS CHURCH, AND HIS PRESENCE.
First, Jesus gave us his teachings. His teachings become more and more important with the passing of the years.
“Those who live by the sword will perish by the sword,” Jesus said, and we can see that prophecy coming to pass in Syria and Afghanistan this morning. .
Jesus teachings aren’t just a compilation of wise aphorisms which are meant to be pondered. No, his teachings are always like dynamite, thrown at us, exploding in our lives.
I look at our country, in moral free-fall, and see how the teachings of Jesus serve as a moral compass for our land.
Just look at some facts with me. In the last 50 years there has been a 560% increase in violent crime in our country; a 419% increase in illegitimate births; a quadrupling in divorce rates; a tripling of the percentage of children living in single-parent homes; more than a 200% increase in the teenage suicide rate.
Some of our best writers have spoken eloquently on these problems. When the late Walker Percy was asked what concerned him most about America’s future, he replied: “Probably the fear of seeing America, with all it’s great strength and beauty and freedom…gradually subside into decay through default and be defeated, not by the communist movement, demonstrably a bankrupt system, but from within by weariness, boredom, cynicism, greed and in the end helplessness before its great problems.”
And John Updike has written: “The fact that, compared to the inhabitants of Africa and Russia, we still live well cannot ease the pain of feeling we no longer live nobly.”
The legacy of Jesus’ teachings clash with our culture. It’s not that his teachings have been tried and found wanting. It’s just that they have never been tried. And if we in the church are going to make any dent in this secular, demonic culture of ours, we will have to study Jesus’ teachings with a hunger and live them out with a fierceness we have never dreamed of.
Second, Jesus left us the legacy of his life. There was a congruence to Jesus. His words and deeds were one. It’s not only what he taught, but that he lived out what he taught that continues to draw us to his side.
For a moment think with me how influential the life of Jesus Christ has been upon human history.
Consider the lives that he has mastered, the deeds he has inspired. Consider the institutions that owe their founding impetus to him.
Consider the power of his name as it has been sounded in hospitals, at cemetery grave sites, in prison cells, in services of marriage and baptism.
Consider the affects of his presence–on the weak to make them strong, on the proud to make them humble, on the greedy to make them generous, on the evil to make them good, on the upright to make them loving.
Give him the test of absence. Imagine the poverty of a world without Him; without carols to herald His Nativity, without the impact of his life and the impress of his words, a world bereft of His cross and unsupported by the hope that issues from his resurrection.
We see in the life of Jesus Christ the highest and best which anyone can achieve. And in seeing him, we aspire to rise a bit higher.
The third part of the legacy of Jesus is his gift of the church. Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against the church, and by that, he meant that all the powers of evil would conspire to undo the church, and undo those of us who are part of the church.
Let’s face it, for all its weaknesses, the church is all we have. It’s all we have to grow in grace and love for each other. And it is the only hope our society has from its moral free fall. The church on every street corner in America should be the point of incandescence, where regardless of denominationalism or theology, the Christian life of the community bursts into flames.
If Jesus is God’s love personified, so the church is God’s love organized. So the church, at its best, represents not dogma in search of obedience, but love in search of form. Everything we do in church, from the meeting of our committees, from the pastoral prayer in worship, from teaching children, from visiting homebound people, w e do for one reason and one reason alone, to manifest the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
It is so good to see some of you here today I haven’t seen for awhile, which reminds me of the man who told his pastor, “I don’t like to come to church because when I come the church always sings the same old hymns, Silent Night,” and Christ the Lord is Risen Today.”
I want to be serious and speak personally now to those of you who are here this morning without a church home. Maybe you attended pre-school here many years ago…maybe your parents or grand parents attend here but you do not come regularly. I want to say without fear of contradiction that God wants you in church….regularly…every Sunday. God has so much to say to you, so much to teach you, so much to bless you but you will not find that by staying home on Sunday morning. I pray that what I am saying this morning will touch your heart, and you will be back next week, and the week after that.
The fourth part of the legacy of Jesus is the gift of his ongoing presence in the world. He told his disciples, “I am with you always, even to the close of the age.”
The reason I believe in the resurrection is that I have experienced the presence of Christ in my own life and have seen Christ working in many lives. Malcolm Muggeridge once made a statement that I believe all of the early disciples would have subscribed to: “I am sure there was a resurrection but I don’t in the least care whether the stone was moved or not moved, or what anybody saw, or anything like that. I am absolutely indifferent to that. But there must have been a resurrection because Christ is alive now 2,000 years later. There is no question at all about that.”
There are quiet evidences of the presence of Christ in people’s lives. Let me tell you a story where you find it in a place you might least expect it.
A few years ago an Orthodox Priest by the name of Anthony Ugolnik wrote a letter to the New York Times about David Koresh and the Branch Davidian stand-off in Waco, Texas. You recall that there was a battle between law enforcement officers and the followers of David Koresh. Eighty of Koresh’s followers and four A.T.F. agents were killed in a battle during a standoff in April, 1993.
Father Ugolnik criticized the Times and other media for associating Koresh and the Branch Davidians with the Seventh Day Adventist Church, because, in so doing, the public is quick to think that all Seventh Day Adventists are crazy cultists.
Father Ugolnik then went on to testify to his own personal experience. He writes, “As a priest of the Orthodox Church, I am hardly a missionary for the Seventh Day Adventists. In the Vietnam War, however, I served as an Army medic with many S.D.A.’s, as they were called. As conscientious objectors, these young men refused to bear arms but agreed to serve as medical personnel. Most of those I trained and served with were black Southerners.
“Vegetarian, cheerful, stolidly faithful to their tradition, they were harassed mercilessly by drill instructors, who routinely insulted their beliefs. Some were chosen to participate in a “white coat” program, where they served as human subjects for what they thought was humanitarian research. Later, the program was identified as a facet of our germ warfare program. (Cynics point out that Seventh Day Adventist were chosen as guinea pigs because their beliefs forbid them to bring suit in civil court.)
“Most often, Seventh Day Adventists were sent to combat units, where without even a sidearm they crawled directly into enemy fire to patch the wounded and retrieve the dead. Their casualty rates were among the highest of the war. There are names of Seventh Day Adventists etched in the wall of the Vietnam Memorial. Their memory is seared into those hapless cynics who served with them. They were the bravest, most committed, most heroic Americans I have ever known.
“Given that, they openly confessed Jesus as Lord, a habit the mass media find annoying. I guarantee that Hollywood or the secular press ill never tell their story as a counterweight to people like David Koresh. But to honor the memory of those whose faith led them to die, rather than take up arms, we can spare the Seventh Day Adventists in condemnation of cults.”
Whatever theological disagreements we may have with our Seventh Day Adventist friends, here are people for whom the presence of Christ is real. May God raise up a few Christians here in Arizona for whom faith in Christ is as much a reality as it was for this poor black southern boys who died in South East Asia.
The legacy of Jesus–HIS TEACHINGS, HIS LIFE, HIS CHURCH, HIS PRESENCE–that’s what we are commemorating today. That’s what we are celebrating today. Christ our Lord is risen. He is risen, indeed.