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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Easter Sermon 2008
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)
March 23, 2008

If you watched the news at all last week, you saw clips of Barack Obama's pastor, saying some rather embarrassing things. You may have also seen clips of Obama's response: “Come on. It's the sermon. Who listens to that?” (He didn't really say that. But I'll bet you no one in that church listened as closely the first time as they did during the replays last week. If any of you ever run for president, I want to apologize to you in advance.) And I'll also bet that if the Rev. Wright knew how wrong he would sound and how negatively he would impact his parishioner's campaign, he might ask for a do-over.

You remember when you were a kid, you messed up a game and you'd ask, “Can I get a do-over?” It's a second chance to get it right the next time around. Grown-up life would be so much better if we kept hold of the do-over.

Like, about 20 minutes after a really intense confrontation, the perfect comeback pops into your head, and you think, “Oh, man. If only I had said this.” You deserve a do-over.

Or, you've written a really angry email and with ultimate satisfaction you hit, “Send.” And immediately after, you realize it's really being sent. You grab your computer and shout, “Stop! Come back!” You deserve a do-over.

Or, you're at your high school reunion, talking with a former boyfriend, who owns a chain of health clubs and with 0.0002 percent body fat defines the word, “buff.” Biff the Buff asks about you and you look over to buffet, where your husband of 98 years is making his third appearance. And you wonder, what if I had a do-over?

The right words to say, the right things to do always seem to come to us after we've messed up, don't they? We do so many things, we say so many words that at the time were the best we could come up with, and we wonder how things might have turned out if... if only... We wonder if somehow some special exception to the laws of the universe might allow us to turn back just a little bit of time for a do-over.

We might laugh at the embarrassing situations in hindsight, but the human craving for the do-over starts when we're kids and continues our whole lives through. It's a very, very blessed person who can look back at his or her life and say, “I wouldn't change a thing.” Because unless you've never made a mistake, there are things you'd change. If you're smart, you'll learn from your mistakes and avoid doing them over in the future. But life's lessons leave scars.

Hateful words spoken in anger. Missed opportunities to tell the people you love how important they are to you. Applying yourself just a little harder at a task or at school. Embarrassments you brought on yourself. They all cry out for the healing power, the restoration, the redemption of a do-over.

The Bible says, in Romans 5:12, “...sin entered the world through one person (Adam), and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all [have] sinned.”

But, the Bible also says, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless [to change our sin], Christ died for [us]. God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:6, 8)

In First Corinthians 15 the Bible says, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead.... For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”

Do you see what the Bible is saying to us? Do you hear its testimony of a dead-serious do-over? At the right time, it says, God sent Jesus. God sent Jesus to be born, but that's not all. God sent Jesus to live, but that's not all. God sent Jesus to teach, to heal, to be good news, but that's not all. God sent Jesus to die, but that's not all. That's not all, because at the point when the world would have thought “that was all” about Jesus, God did something so astounding, we still celebrate it today, and we'll keep celebrating it until there are no more days left to celebrate. God gave us all a lifetime do-over. God gave us the restoration and redemption of Easter. At the right time, after three days in the grave, God lifted Jesus up to rise from the tomb. God sent Jesus to rise from the tomb to be the beginning of new life, a second life, a second Adam, a brand-new chance for us all. With the resurrection of Christ from the grave, God gave birth to a whole new creation in which death and sin have no power. “For as in Adam all die,” says the Bible, “so in Christ all will be made alive.”

Romans 5 says, “...just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all people, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one person the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.... Where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

You say, but wait a minute. If Easter changed everything, why hasn't anything changed. There are still preachers saying stupid things. There's still death. There's still disease. There's still war. If Easter is the birth of new life, where is it? What's changed? It's a fair question.

Just because God gives humanity a second chance, doesn't mean we'll take it. Just because the power of sin and of death is broken, doesn't mean we won't find ways to put them back together again. Why? Well, what keeps you from changing? What makes you make the same mistakes over again? Maybe not precisely the same mistakes; you might learn to take the garbage out on the right night, but then you'll forget a birthday. There are an infinite number of variations on the theme of sin. What keeps you from breaking through and being remade in the likeness of Christ?

I'm pretty sure we'd all like to be better people. I doubt that any of us would say, “By Easter next year, I hope I'm much more disappointing. I hope I lose a lot of money, have my car repossessed, and gain twenty pounds.” I think we'd all like to improve ourselves, but the problem is, one – it's easier to stay on the same trajectory - and two – we're afraid of the embarrassment of failure.

We'd like to take God up on that second chance, but it's easier to stay on the same trajectory. If you watch the NCAA Basketball Tournament, you're going to hear the announcers talking about the teams “losing their Moe.” They also refer to the teams' sixth player, “Moe Mentum.” (Announcers get paid to say witty things like that.) Momentum – positive or negative momentum makes the difference between winning and losing in these tight tournament games. The momentum of our life trajectory is an incredibly strong power. It's hard to take a do-over, it's hard to reverse the momentum of decisions we made years ago. You can't change your DNA, you can't change what people or events did to you. And a lot of times we're not even aware of their power; we're just playing along as best we can with the hand life dealt us. How can we improve ourselves if we can't break the momentum of our life's trajectory?

And two, if we do decide to change, the fear of failure, the fear of embarrassing ourselves, the fear of hearing those voices in our head say, “See? You can't win, so why try?” -- that fear is always lurking. We'll always have poor people; so why try to feed them? We'll always have war; so why pray for peace? We'll always have crooks; so why work for justice? I don't know about you, but I'm pretty cynical. Take the governorship of New York, for instance. You get rid of one creep, and the new guy goes on TV to admit his problems. Pretty soon, you're thinking, “Throw them all out.” How can we improve ourselves – how can we improve our world – if we don't know how to break the cycle of failure? How can we accept God's second chance if we either don't dislike our first chance enough to change, or if we're afraid of being worse off than we already are?

And God says, wait a minute. Do you see my Son up there on the cross? Mocked by his tormentors and deserted by his friends? What are you going to do that'll feel worse than that?

God says, Do you see my Son there, buried in a tomb? What do you have to lose that'll be worse than that?

God turned the cross from an instrument of death into the everlasting sign of new life. God gave us the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave. God gave us Easter. God did-over the world's worst, so that we might live alongside the world's best. We don't have to correct our lives. We don't have to re-write our DNA. We don't have to live under the weight of this trajectory and we don't have to be afraid of failure. All we have to do is believe, and believe just enough to follow this Lord who is also our Savior. All we have to do is trade in our yearning for a do-over for the choice today to do well.

The mistakes of our past are a tomb. The best we can do is to learn not to fall into them again. Easter is God's blessing that the past – our past actions, our past upbringing, our past ways of thinking – Easter is God's blessing that the past does not define us. Instead, Easter is God's promise that Christ's future is what makes us who we are. Easter is God's OK to go forward into the future knowing that God has already done us over. We are made new not by our own ingenuity, but by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Bible says, “If we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (Rom 6:5) If we spend our lives trying to undo our past mistakes, we'll still be defined by the power of our past. Any do-over is still going to be a do-wrong, eventually. But if we spend every minute knowing that we're defined by Christ's future, our future, Christ's resurrection, our resurrection... if we choose to live as the people Easter has re-made us to be, we've already got our second chances.

Beginning today, beginning right now, God is giving you Easter. God is giving you a second chance. The only way you can blow it, the only way you can blow this second chance, is not to take it. Turn your back on who you used to be. Turn your back on the sins and mistakes that weigh you down. Open your eyes to that gardener of new life.

Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Don't settle for a do-over when God is giving you a whole different life. Let the power of Easter make you new, beginning today, and lasting forevermore.