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  • Writer's pictureRev. Joel L. Tolbert

What's the Point?

Life after Easter, a sermon series on living the new life after Easter, preached May 14, 2023 at the 9:30am Worship service


Prayer for Illumination


Scripture John 21:20-25

20 Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; he was the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” 21 When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about him?” 22 Jesus said to Peter, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!”


23 So a rumor spread among the brothers and sisters that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus never said to Peter that he would not die, only, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”


24 This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, so we know that his testimony is true. 25 But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.


This is the word of the Lord. (Thanks be to God.)


Sermon What's the Point?

This Easter season, the Sundays after Easter, Brobbey, Caitlan and I have been preaching from the end of John, the stories after Jesus’ resurrection. Up until that first Easter, people had assumptions about life and death. But that first Easter changed how people thought about life, and death, and life after death.


Remember, on Easter morning, the tomb was empty, and Mary was sure someone had stolen his body? Peter and the other disciple run to see for themselves, and they believe… not that Jesus was alive, but what Mary had assumed, that someone had stolen his body. The disciples go home.


Then, Jesus appears to Mary, but she doesn’t recognize him. She assumes he might be the gardener, that he might know who took Jesus’ body and where they laid him. When Jesus says her name, her assumptions begin to melt, and she thinks she recognizes him… Rabbouni? Teacher? She tries to touch him, to hold onto him. He chuckles and tells her to go, go tell the others what has happened, what you have seen, and she goes.


Just a minute ago, it felt like her life depended on finding his dead body. Now, she isn’t trying to find something dead, or even hold onto a life after death. In Jesus, she is given life after Easter. She is sent and excited to run and tell and share.


Life after death is true but isn’t the point. If it was, we could hold onto it and wait. For Jesus, Life after Easter is the point, a new life now. So Jesus surprises us, interrupts our desperate searching for what used to be, or our hungry desire to keep for ourselves what we’ve, and sends us out to share.


Then, the disciples are huddled together behind closed and locked doors, remember? Of course they were. They were afraid. It felt like the reasonable and responsible thing to do, to close and lock the doors and keep themselves safe. Two of them had shared Jesus’ tomb was empty, but that didn’t change how afraid they were of going to a tomb themselves. If death could happen to Jesus, it could happen to them. The safe solution was to huddle together, close and lock the doors.


Jesus comes through their locks. He offers them peace, but they aren’t at peace. Someone had breached their security. Only after he made it obvious it was Jesus… he shows them his hands and his side… they are relieved, though still not at peace. Jesus gives them peace again. If they are joyful, why does Jesus give them peace again? Because the joy they feel is only in life after death. They are amazed and grateful and rejoice in life after death, that Jesus is alive and inside with them where they feel safe, but they are still afraid.


Jesus breathes Holy Spirit on them, and sends them out into the dangerous violent world, to live, now, a new life after Easter. A follower of Jesus can’t wait for life after death. We are called and sent to live a new life now, after Easter, to live in a dangerous and scary world with less fear and more courage, with no weapons or shields, only the great power to forgive.


Life after death is true, but isn’t the point. If it was, we could huddle up, close the doors, and wait. But for Jesus, Life after Easter is the point, a new life now, a life that feels the fear, inhales courage and calm, and steps out into the world vulnerable, with no weapons, to share love and forgiveness.


Sweet Thomas wasn’t there, remember? The other disciples tell Thomas what happened to them, but he cannot believe it. We call him doubting Thomas, but that’s not fair. ALL of them doubted. Thomas just wanted the same privilege they had been given, to see Jesus and put his fingers on the hands and side of Jesus.


They were huddled up again, behind closed doors with Thomas. At least this time, the door weren’t locked, and Jesus appears again. He offers peace on them, again. He lets Thomas touch his hands and side, and dares Thomas not to doubt, but believe. Thomas cries, “My Lord and My God.” Thomas, like the others, had the chance to believe because they have seen. Jesus says “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet still come to believe.” And then we read how Jesus went and did many other signs in the presence of the disciples that weren’t written.


Life after death is true, and Thomas gets to see and touch it, but that isn’t the point. If it was, Jesus would have stopped when life after death was revealed. Life after Easter is the point. So Jesus kept going, kept doing many other signs and wonders in their presence, kept offering peace and changing lives and the world for the better, and encouraging those who follow him to do the same.


Caitlan told us how later, the disciples went fishing. Good for them. They weren’t huddled away anymore. In the boat, they weren’t having much luck, when someone called to them from the shore and gave them silly advice, just drop the nets on the other side of the boat. For whatever reason, they tried it and caught so many they couldn’t haul in the net. Then they realized, it might be Jesus. They swam and rowed to shore with a net full of fish, and had breakfast with this stranger on the beach. But the scripture told us, they weren’t sure it was Jesus. No one dared to ask if it was Jesus, to show them his hands and side again. They just felt it was, because of the way he told them to fish differently, the way the catch was so plentiful when they tried it, and the way he broke bread and invited them to share a meal together.


Life after death is true, but isn’t the point. If it was, Jesus wouldn’t have appeared again, advised them how to fish differently, or bothered to cook and share breakfast with them. Life after Easter is the point, so it matters how these disciples fish for people. It matters how they try to recognize Jesus in anyone. It matters how they break bread and share meals with strangers.


Then Brobbey told us how this stranger they believe is Jesus pulls Peter aside and asks Peter three times, do you love me? Peter had denied even knowing Jesus three times just a few days ago. Today, when this life after death Jesus asks Peter three times, “do you love me?” Peter replies every time “Lord, you know I love you.” If life after death was the point, Jesus would stop with Peter’s response. But Jesus wants more for Peter, and wants more from Peter. So Jesus follows up every time with life after Easter instructions, “feed my sheep,” and “follow me.”


Life after death is true, but isn’t the point. Jesus sitting there is evidence of life after death. If life after death was all that matters, Jesus would ask the big question, “do you love me?” We would answer, “YES!” Our yes would give us access to life after death eventually, and that would be the end of the story. But for Jesus, Life after Easter is the point, a life that answers yes to loving him, then follows him and feeds his sheep each and every day until death comes.


Then, finally, the little bit of scripture we read today. Peter wonders where he stands with Jesus compared to the other disciple. Jesus says, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!” Jesus’ cryptic reply somehow gets interpreted to mean Peter will die and have to wait in Sheol I guess for Jesus to return someday. But this other disciple will not die before Jesus comes again.


That’s not what Jesus said, but if life and death and life after death are the point, that’s what Pater and others thought they heard. With life after Easter the point, Peter would have heard, “Don’t worry about him, or anyone, what happens to them some day after their death. Instead, follow me today. Worry about loving and feeding and serving all my sheep today, and every day, until death comes, for them or you, whenever that may be.”


We called this series Life after Easter because, for many Christians, the message of Easter is all about life after death. And okay, yes, that message is clearly there in the empty tomb, and the appearance of Jesus to the disciples numerous times. In Jesus, we can see and believe there is life after death.


But following Christ, Christianity, is about so much more than life after death. If life after death was all that mattered, Jesus would have risen and appeared, then ascended off into the heavens. The end. These last two chapters of John wouldn’t exist. But these chapters DO exist. Easter isn’t just about believing in life after death. Jesus comforts and challenges us not to wait for some life someday on the other side, but to live new and different lives NOW.


That’s the Easter message, not that we can wait for our new life to begin after death, but that faith in Jesus means following him, living a new life here, now, today.


To God be all glory and honor, now and forever, amen? Amen.


Charge


Benediction

Now blessing, laughter, and loving be yours, and may the love of a great God, who names you and holds you as the earth turns and the flowers grow, be with you, this day, this night, this moment and forever more.

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