"The Empty Search"
Scripture: Luke 24:1-12
Pastor Tom Millner
SpiritSong Worship Center
I came across a story this week as I was reading. A teacher in a children's Sunday school class asked the meaning of Easter. Little Amy raised her hand in excitement. "OK Amy," said the teacher; "What is the meaning of Easter?" Amy replied; "Easter is when Jesus came forth from the grave –AND IF HE SEES HIS SHADOW, HE WILL HAVE TO GO BACK IN FOR 7 WEEKS!" Little Amy was confused, but so are many others who look for life where there is none!
In today's scripture we read "4While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead?" The significance of this day that we celebrate is that of new life – life that is new from the one gone before – a new life without the confines of keeping score, of living up to a standard unreachable, unattainable on our own. The followers of Jesus thought He was going to deliver them from the tyranny of Rome and establish a Kingdom on earth in which they could serve in positions as the "elect." Not only were they grieving the loss of their friend and teacher – the man Jesus, but they were also grieving the loss of a dream they had maintained. They did not know at that time that the law of sin and death has been superseded by the act of grace and mercy that the resurrection embodies. As human beings, however, we gravitate back to the empty tomb and look for life among the dead. Here are some ways we look for life where there is none.
- "All You Need Is LOVE." Words to the song made popular 43 years ago by the Beattles holds no more truth today than it did when it was first penned. I've heard it said that a partial truth is still a lie. You see, the part that is true is that all we really need is the love of God – but the song never goes to Him, it stays in the temporal, the human, as the world sees it. There are volumes of lyrics about love and the promises it holds for peace, satisfaction, fulfillment, and joy. No wonder when we're feeling ill at ease, dissatisfied, unfulfilled and joyless; we blame it on the lack of love. "I wasn't loved enough as a child; the Church rejects me; my partner left me; if I could just get enough love, I'd be alright." So we seek after that lost love by chasing after anything or anyone that holds the promise (fantasy) of fulfillment. We're often so love starved, we tell ourselves, that instead of seeking out Mr. or Ms. Right, we settle for Mr. or Ms. Will-do for the moment – even for the night – opening the door to even greater loneliness and need for fulfillment in the next moment. That's seeking life among the dead –not that those in whom we come in contact are dead – but that which we seek is ultimately not to be found there. In other terms; "that dog don't hunt." Because we believe the lie that we're unlovable, even by God, we can so easily try to drown our desperation in mind altering substances and experiences. The level of drug, alcohol, and sex use in our community to escape what is perceived to be reality is mind boggling. Again, so many are looking for life among the dead! Empty promises, false hopes, broken dreams among the dead. The Good News is that what we seek is to be found among the living! Jesus is quoted in John 10:10; "…I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." Jesus came; He saved us from our own imperfection, and by virtue of His victory over sin and death, gave us a position of kinship in the family of God that we don't really deserve! For many of us, that just seems too good to be true, so we go back to the place of the dead expecting to find life.
- "I am my own special creation." Many of us remember these words from La Cage and smile at the parody of one man's quest to create his own reality. Comedy is funny because it allows us to approach aspects of our lives that we otherwise gloss over. Each of us believes on some level that we can be our own creation. We seek control over our circumstances, over our finances, over our activities, so that we will be fulfilled; at peace; "actualized." We seek self-help books and gurus who lure us with the promises of the perfectly kept life. We even follow TV preachers who insist that God wants all his people to be wealthy and prosperous. They use scripture out of context to support their assertions. Those who don't readily participate in the bounty of wealth and health, however, ask themselves what they've done wrong to bring about God's disfavor. The message of grace is displaced by the condition of disgrace that is experienced by the less than successful in the world view. Don't get me wrong; God is not against health or wealth. What Jesus railed against was the placing of one's significance or value either in one's own eyes or in the superimposed eyes of God on one's condition of health, wealth, control, position, gender, orientation, political affiliation, place of origin or racial identity as the measure of one's value. Even John 10:10 is misused here; "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." In Matthew when the "rich young ruler" came to Jesus and asked him what he must do to inherit the eternal life, Jesus responded to him by asserting that first he must live the commandments. The man responded that he had lived up to the legal requirements of the Law. Knowing his heart, Jesus said to the man; "…go, sell your possessions and give to the poor…" The young man left sad because he had great wealth. God's not interested in our wallets, but He is interested in the hand that's connected to the heart that controls it! Jesus lauded the widow who gave the mite (the only two nickels she had to rub together) and chastised the giving with fanfare – not because of the sum of the giving but because of the portion that was from the heart! The widow gave her all – the giver with fanfare gave only a dramatic enactment. The new life is born in the heart. As the old heart dies, the new one emerges from that place of the dead – to let it grow is our choice!
Today (as with every new day) we celebrate Jesus' victory over the grave – and thus our victory over sin and death because of Him. Where we've looked for security, love, affirmation, or worth outside of Him is an empty grave. Even if we've done magnificent things for the Church, the community, the world – if we've not done them in the joy of His grace and mercy, the works are among the dead.
The Apostle Paul, in his encouragement to the Church in Corinth (2 Corinthians 5:16-21) said: "So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." We are not to be found among the dead, but rather among the living BECAUSE of Christ and Christ alone! Life among the living is far more rewarding than that among the dead.
In another of Paul's letters to the Church in Philippi (Philippians 4:4-8) he reminds us: "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things."
The empty tomb is God's response to our greatest need! It defines who we are; His; bought with a price, but not possessed against our will; clothed in His righteousness, seen by God as pure and holy – fully measured up before Him. That is the place of the living – how will you continue living there for the joy of your life?