Mary has a remarkable story to tell.
She came to her friends proclaiming that she had seen Jesus, their leader who had just been killed, and he was alive. It was a completely unbelievable story and in the Gospel of Luke the disciples don’t believe her at first.To the other disciples, the words of Mary and her companions seemed “as nonsense.” But there was something about the behavior of these women that Peter found to be compelling. Peter might have doubted Mary’s story, but he probably didn’t doubt that she believed it: her actions were evidence that she had witnessed something profound.
You might doubt Mary’s sanity, but you don’t doubt her sincerity.
Later on we know that Peter has an experience with the risen Christ himself, and he is compelled, just like Mary was, to proclaim it. You may not understand everything that Peter is trying to say in the Book of Acts this morning, but one message comes across clearly: “we are witnesses to all that Jesus did both in Judea and Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear. He appeared to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.”
You may not understand everything that Peter is talking about, but you recognize that something has happened that has changed him: while our Lord was alive Peter was willing to deny him three times; now he is not only publicly claiming him, he is risking his life by doing so to the Gentiles. Peter could deny the Christ that Christ walked the Earth like you and me, but the resurrected Christ he could not deny: he was willing to die for him.
Then there is the Apostle Paul. A group of us got together this lent to read the letters of Paul, including First Corinthians. When you read his letters, you probably don’t agree with everything Paul says. You may not always believe that Paul is as humble as he says he is. Paul can be a difficult character and you may not even like the Apostle Paul; you may doubt his judgment, you may doubt his humility, you may even doubt some of his boasting about the great work that he is doing; but the one thing you do not doubt when reading Paul is that he believed that Jesus Christ died and rose again.
You don’t really know what else Paul knows about Jesus, you don’t really know what else he believed, but you know that he believed in the Resurrection; that one truth comes shining out of all that he wrote and probably all that he did. Paul may not be the most likeable guy, but you can’t help to see beyond all of his issues and see an individual whos life has been profoundly transformed by an event that he didn’t even believe the first time he heard it.
Mary and Peter and Paul were all real people. They had real problems and hang ups just like the rest of us. They all made bad decisions, they all made mistakes. Just because we now call them saints does not mean that they were flawless. What they have in common is that they were all witnesses to something spectacular that profoundly changed their lives.
We live in a time when everyone has an opinion about the church: some say it needs to be more conservative, some say it needs to be more liberal. Sometimes it seems like there is this tug of war going on and there are countless books written on the future of the church and the future of Christianity and faith in general. There have been times when I have tried to wade through many of these arguments and theories about the future of the church, but no more. Because the more of this stuff that I read, the more I question: what does this have to do with the Resurrection?
That really should be the litmus test for everything we do as the Church: does it in some way, point to or proclaim the Lord’s Resurrection? The church was built on this proclamation that Jesus, a Jewish prophet living 2,000 years ago, was put to death, and a few days later was alive again; not a vision or a fantasy, but a real human being, dead and restored to life. The church has not been full of likeable characters throughout its history; we haven’t always done the right thing; we haven’t always been good; we don’t always make sense. From that first Easter Sunday to this one: the one thing that gives the church its power, the one thing that motivates us, that makes people want to join our ranks, the thing that gives us hope and renews us is simply the proclamation that Mary and Peter and Paul all made this morning: that Jesus Christ wasn’t just a good teacher or a nice man, but that he died and came back to life.
He died and came back to life and promised his followers that he was preparing a place for them in the kingdom of heaven, and if that is true then what else matters?
What does it matter if our numbers dwindle?
What does it matter if people criticize us?
What does it matter if people say we are too liberal or conservative?
What does it matter if we are cast down?
What does it matter if we are sick or dying?
What does it matter if we are gay or straight or divorced or married?
What does it matter if we are black or white red or blue?
We as Christians are witnesses to the most unbelieveable thing in the history of the world: the power of the Resurrection is that if it is true, then nothing else really matters. That truth has the power to change our lives and transform us as a people. If it is true then we worship a powerful God that loves us and will not leave us in the pit of death. If it is true then we have a holy hope of immortal life with those we love in the heaven that Christ has gone to. If it is true then Christ has indeed given us the power to heal and forgive and to cast out the demons on this world. If it is true, then there is more power and mystery in this world than we ever imagined.
We come here today to stand in a long line of witnesses. Like Mary, and Peter and Paul we are here to proclaim that Christ has died, Christ has risen and that Christ will come again. Whether this is your first time here or whether you worship here everyday: this is what we are about: Proclaiming the Resurrection of Christ and trying to understand everything that that means in our lives. We are not a perfect people; we are not all good, sometimes we may not all be likeable. We aren’t here to make arguments about why the Resurrection could have or must have happened; and we aren’t likely to yell about it on the street corner. What we will do is try to live our lives as witnesses to the power of God working within us and the hope we have of eternal life in God’s kingdom. This is a nutty bunch, and it’s a quirky religion. There may be times when you will have good reason to doubt our sanity, but it is our hope that you will never doubt our sincerity.