Jesus died on a Friday. Jesus was raised from the dead on a Sunday. IMO, one of the most haunting, interesting, fascinating, confusing days in all of history is the Saturday in-between the death and resurrection of Christ. I cannot image the depth of the in-between ultimate tragedy and ultimate victory. Overcome by death, wondering if the incomprehensible promises of being raised from the dead would come to pass. Grief and hope. In-between death and resurrection is burial. Do you know how vitally important burial is?…you know the sun will rise again, but for a full life to come, we need to recognize the past in order to look ahead. Burial of the past, in order to envision a new life is critical.
The Church: Some assembly is Required. God gathers his people to work together, fellowship together, serve together, strengthen each other, be a witness to the world. One of the profound roles of the Church is to help bury people. Jesus died on a Friday. For many people the hurts and the pains of the past are haunting. The abuses, the problems, the shattered dreams, the poor decisions stifle a full life.
Jesus was raised from the dead on a Sunday. Only God can raise the dead. Only God can create new life. Only God can turn fears into fullness, abuse into creativity, death into life.
The role of the church. To bury people who are in-between, a holy Saturday people that are overcome by death, craving a new life to put aside the past, but not sure what that new life looks like. Only God can raise the dead to new life. God alone has resurrection power. But, as the passage from Hebrews tells us…the Lord has commissioned the Church to “encourage one another daily.” “hold firmly to the end” is the goal spelled out in the next verse. As a church our privilege is to allow people to grieve over the past sins and disappointments in their lives, and point the way to the resurrection. Grief and hope. Death and life. The Church is called to be between the two: Death and life. “Encourage one another daily.” Another way to say it: Endurance. (READ 1 Cor. 10:13). The Church has no power to raise the dead, but we can help people learn to endure.
We need endurance so that the past does not consume us, as we wait for the fullness of life promised by the Lord. To last the course so that we do not quit in a world in which there are many temptations to quit, we need endurance. Have you ever had the experience of being tempted to quit, to stop. We meet an obstacle and we want to turn back. Where we've been tempted to turn back and we haven't. We've gone around. We've gone over. We've gone through. And we say, "Thank you Lord. Thank you for that experience, hard as it was. Thank you that I endured with your help, your strength, and I did not quit."
The role of a mother/parents is not so different from that of the church. At every stage of a child growing up is between two worlds…parents are called to help children endure as they give up the past and have patience for the future…
The role of the Church is to help people learn to endure, to put aside the past and trust in the Lord to give them new life….the role of encouraging each other is needed in many life situations…Helping people move from Nowhere to Somewhere, from Nothing to Something. Encouraging one another means nobody has to be alone. Aloneness may be one of the biggest killers of all. People will come to our community of faith who feel as if they have nowhere else to go. They hit bottom. They are desperate. They need encouragement. There are many people I know who, in my human spirit, I know they need the church, but they are not ready because they still think they can make it on their own…they have not yet hit bottom…. But for those who acknowledge their life is out of control, they need endurance because they desire “something” even if they cannot quite put their finger on it. Being alone is the worst. The question becomes how to get from here to there, a dead-end to the promise of new life. The journey looks so impossible, so long…in times like those endurance is critical. May we as a church be ready to help people get to a new place or become something in the name of Christ.
In Moses' day the people were slaves in Egypt; they were released by the power of God to cross the Red Sea. Moses’s role is the same as that of the church. The destination was the promised land, a promise of a bright future, a destination that they might call home. But after they crossed the Red Sea the people realized the long journey ahead of them. I had a friend once that was sure his life would instantly change when he became a Christian, after a month or so he gave it up because he still had the same problems. An intial burst of great energy - what wonderful things lie ahead -- and then there's this moment of realization that it's going to be longer than you ever imagined to get to the end, to get from nowhere to somewhere, from nothing to something. The people cried out to Moses and they wished they were back at the beginning. They needed endurance. With Moses' leadership, he was used by the Lord to enable many of them to endure. People cannot make the journey alone, endurance by yourself is next to impossible to a better future, a resurrection. The Church is here to help people endure, to get somewhere, a healthy life, a positive outlook, a resurrection of new life. It’s easy to start with a burst of energy, a stubbornness, but then when people realize the journey is long, how easy to give up… our little church building, the three churches in this community, are not big enough to hold all those that need the Christian community to come alongside, to encourage, to help endure…
I love this story. William Booth started the Salvation Army with a burst of energy (and he had great energy which sustained him throughout his days), but on one occasion while he was establishing the work, he wrote to his wife, Claire and his wife wrote back to him. She was a strong woman in her own right and wrote to him these words, "Remember, a long life of steady, consistent, holy labor will produce twice as much fruit as one shortened and destroyed by spasmodic and extravagant exertions. Be careful in sparing of your strength when and where exertion is unnecessary." She had avision of endurance that he had a long journey ahead of him. He was to establish something permanent; and he did. But he needed that endurance to get there for the long haul. To get from nowhere to somewhere, from nothing to something.
There are many ways to describe the role of the church as we help those who are inbetween. For some, the journey is established, but they meet obstacles along the way. The Church is called to help people move from Setbacks to Recovery. No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13) From setback to recovery. This marvelous verse is a lifesaver for many, like the heart patient clinging to that heartshaped pillow, to cling to the truth of endurance. Most often the setbacks that really blow us away are the ones that come from left field. The unexpected bills. The surprise results, overwhelming temptations …. Something hits us that we didn't expect and we fall down flat and we're about to give up. People need endurance in such a moment as that. To not give up but to keep going…
There are many ways to describe the role of the church as we help those who are inbetween…for some people it is not that the problems are major, but they need to move from the Ordinary to the Extraordinary, from Good to Excellent. We need endurance to take that next step of maturity, that next step of openness to God’s calling. We need encouragement from others to become more faithful, to hear the voice of God, to have the courage to risk getting involved… I hope it is ok for me to share from our last Elders meeting, Jim Glass said something I have not forgotten. He was talking about prayer, and while he has always prayed, he has felt God calling him to a greater ministry of prayer…from good to excellent, from ordinary to extraordinary, endurance is needed. To come alongside those who are hearing God’s calling to become more…in Jim’s case to pray with greater conviction…
The Apostle Paul knew what it meant to endure: Something within him gave him the willingness to take the message of Christ to places that nobody else would go or had gone. Suffering shipwrecks, suffering robberies, suffering hunger, suffering thirst, suffering imprisonment, suffering beatings, tempted to give up, he endured and so churches were established all over the eastern Mediterranean world. Paul would not quit, - tempted as he was to do so. Ordinary becoming extraordinary. Good becoming excellent. If we are to do that, we need God's help to endure.
One of the great privileges of the church is to take on that role of encouragement so that those who are struggling can learn to endure. We are in this for the long run. The church is called to the inbetween times of people’s lives to help bury the past and point in the direction of the resurrection, new life in Christ. Some need help moving from a place of discouragement and defeat to new life in Christ. Some people suffer from setbacks, on the right path, but need to get back on that narrow path. Others need a life of encouragement to go from good to excellence.
May people in our own community find this place, SACC, to be a place of encouragement in which the past can be buried and new life is found in Jesus Christ. Amen.