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April 19, 2017
By Pastor Michael Cofer
April 16, 2017
One of my all-time favorite movies is the 1987 classic, “The Princess Bride.” In the movie, Peter Falk plays the grandfather of a boy who has stayed home from school sick (presumably to play videogames). So, grandpa swoops in to make the boy feel better by reading one of his favorite books. At first, the boy is skeptical and critical… but before long, he is fully engrossed in the story. And then this happens… [Video Clip]
How can that boy be so sure that the hero will win in the end? Because that’s how it’s meant to be. That’s what’s right. Maybe life isn’t always like that, but it should be. We just know the hero can’t really lose… not really. But even though you know he can’t lose, you still get the goosebumps and the chill up your spine when he swoops in and to the rescue.
This is the beauty of Jesus’ life… it unfolds the way our hearts know it should, because He is the hero that we long for. Every other hero that has come before and every one that will follow after ultimately loses to something – even if only to their own mortality. But Jesus is victorious over everything – even death can’t stop him.
I want to tell you something – and it’ll offend some people, but I just don’t care because I have to speak truth. The Christian faith is the only one that is vindicated. It is the only faith that has a victorious hero at the end of the story. “Wait a minute!” you think. “What about Islam? Muhammad rides off into heaven! And then there’s the Buddha! He becomes so enlightened that he just… I dunno. Whatever he does. And I could go on.”
Sure, you could. But before you do, let me ask you this question: where are the witnesses? Who was there when Muhammad rode off in to heaven? Nobody. There are no witnesses in the story because there were no witnesses to the event because it didn’t happen. Who was there when Buddha reached enlightenment and transcended his body? Nobody. It had to happen in secret and all alone, because there were no witnesses. But if there were no witnesses, how do we know what happened? We DON’T because it is just a made-up story.
But what about Jesus? His is not a story of a man doing miraculous things is secret. He is in the streets. He’s in the synagogue. He is nailed to a cross for all the world to look upon. He was killed by trained killers – people who had executed dozens or maybe hundreds of people in the same way. He was dead as dead can be. He was sealed in a tomb – literally sealed to prevent anyone from sneaking in. Guards were paid to keep all of Jesus’ followers away so that no one could fake his resurrection.
But He went and rose anyway! In glory, he rolled away the stone and stepped out and the guards ran panicked back to the priests who hired them. And He stayed there, outside the tomb so Mary could meet Him. And then He walked with people on the road. Then He appeared in the upper room. Then He walked on a lake in broad daylight. And by the time He ascended into heaven, there were more than 100 witnesses there to confirm the fact. Saint Paul reports that Jesus showed himself to more than 500 people after the resurrection. FIVE. HUNDRED. Most of whom were still alive when He made that claim.
And that doesn’t even mention the dead he raised with him who went home to their families to bear witnesses to what Jesus had done. Jesus stuck around for over a month, eating and talking and showing that He was very, very much alive!
We talk a lot about the cross, and we talk fairly often about the empty tomb. But the truth is, the empty tomb is not proof enough. My hope is not in the empty tomb – an “Argument from silence.” My hope is in the risen Christ… Jesus of Nazareth in the flesh. That’s the real proof.
I’m making a big deal about this because if you think that Jesus’ resurrection is just another religious myth to help us feel better about our own mortality or something, you have completely missed the point. The story of Easter is not a metaphor or a fiction or some sort of spiritualized account. JESUS DIED. JESUS ROSE. AND HE IS ALIVE TO THIS DAY. Not just in our hearts or memories. He is ALIVE.
You want to know how I know my faith is founded on the truth – how in the midst of countless belief systems, I can be absolutely sure that Jesus is what he claimed to be? Because He did it all out in the open, for all the world to see. JESUS DIED. JESUS ROSE. AND HE IS ALIVE TO THIS DAY.
Which is great for Him… but that is far from the end of the story. His resurrection is also the proof of the promise that we will rise with Him. In 1 Corinthians it says, “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. 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.”
See, the story of Easter isn’t just a cool story about something that happened to somebody else ages ago, halfway around the world. His victory over death is for you. He’s showing you a preview of what’s ahead. When you pray to Christ, you’re praying to a flesh-and-blood, living-and-breathing person who literally loved you to death, and overcame it. Jesus paid it all on the cross, it’s true, but what good is that if we still end up dead? But this is the goal. This is the victory. This is what He’s about. And if He was so public about His resurrection, how could we not be? He doesn’t want us to keep this message a secret, held in these four walls or in the quiet of your own heart. He wants us in the streets! He wants us out there and over-the-moon excited. Bold. Joyful. Fearless, because…
CHRIST IS RISEN!
I’m pretty sure where we get our tradition of exchanging Christmas presents directly from the gifts that the Magi brought to Jesus.
December 4, 2016
December 4, 2016 - Second Sunday in Advent
By Pastor Michael Cofer
You can tell Christmas is coming: eggnog is nestled hopefully in the dairy case at Kroger; you can’t find a parking spot in the same zip code as the mall and your calendar is overflowing with wonderful (if time consuming) holiday events. Kids in school are getting extra cagey as they anxiously await Christmas break. Travel plans are being made furiously and maybe you’ve got an extra-extra workload to make your upcoming Christmas vacation happen.
Life is full, hectic and maybe a little overwhelming. I think we’d all like to find a little peace for ourselves. Maybe some down time, a little quiet time, a little “me” time. Or, better yet, wouldn’t it be great if life just slowed down so you could handle it at a more reasonable pace?
But, maybe you’ve had this experience–I certainly have. You have a moment to rest and a quiet moment… but your brain won’t stop hounding you with the stuff that you could or need to be doing instead of resting… and even in the quiet, you don’t find peace.
There are a lot of things that can rob the peace we should have: busyness, anxiety, guilt, bitterness, anger. Know what all of them have in common? They aren’t out there. They’re in our hearts.
The more I thought about it, the more I’ve come to realize that peace isn’t something to be found. It’s something to be made…
Jesus is called the prince of peace. At his birth the angels said “peace on earth!” But those things weren’t incidentals that Jesus happened into. They were his mission. Jesus came to bring peace between God and man. He didn’t look for it. He didn’t wait for it. He came to make it.
You’ll remember that Jesus said, “blessed are the peacemakers.” He didn’t say, “blessed are the peace-finders.” You know what the difference is? Peacemakers make the first move. Peacemakers are the ones who humble themselves and put themselves in the vulnerable position.
Think for a moment how God could have made his entrance… He could have come with a host of sword-bearing seraphim in righteous retribution. Or, He could have shown forth in unveiled holiness as he did in the days of Moses and David – when to touch or even look at Him would mean instant death for sinners.
Instead he came as a tiny, precious baby born among pack animals and greeted by poor shepherds. It didn’t have to be this way; these were choices God and the message it sent was crystal clear: “I come in peace.”
That peace wasn’t going to just happen on its own. There was never going to be a morning when the world stumbled into peace with God. Even among God’s chosen people. Do you know that “Israel” means “struggles” or (more literally) “wrestles with God?” Peace with God doesn’t come naturally to us.
But that’s why Jesus came. That’s why He became one of us – to bridge the gulf between God and man. To deliver the message of God’s love and forgiveness and make peace. And that’s why He laid down His life – to bring an end to the conflict between God and man, to heal the mortal wound in our relationship with God that began with Adam and Eve.
And yet… the song the angels sang wasn’t about peace in Heaven, but “peace on earth and goodwill toward those on whom His favor rests.” The peace of Christ shouldn’t stop with our relationship to God, but it should spill into our relationships with our fellow man. How will that happen?
Do you suppose that we will find peace with our neighbor? Or will we need to make peace with them? If we follow the prince of peace, then we will learn about the humble joy of being peacemakers. And peacemakers make the first move. Peacemakers are the ones who humble themselves and put themselves in the vulnerable position.
What does that look like? It means being understanding and gracious when others have offended us… even if you have the right to be angry or bitter. Why would anyone ever want to exercise that right?! Instead, a peacemaker returns offense with love, kindness and forgiveness (even when it isn’t being sought). Peacemakers humble themselves, and admit their own mistakes and ask for forgiveness.
There is no peace with God without grace and forgiveness. And, you know what? The same is true for peace among men.
So, perhaps part of our Advent preparations should include some serious self -examination. Which of my relationships are broken and hurting? What unforgiven sins do I need to finally forgive? What bitterness and anger do I need to let go of? Who do I need to ask for forgiveness? Where are guilt and shame driving a wedge between God and me, or between my brother and me?
And let’s not stop at self-examination… because alone it won’t accomplish peace. Rather, let’s make the move to actually asking God and our neighbors for forgiveness. Let’s take the steps to mend our broken relationships. You won’t be received 100% successfully. Some folks don’t want to be forgiven. Some folks want to nurse the grudge and cling to the hurt. You might not be able to help that. Jesus faced the same thing, you know. That’s okay. Still, he made the first move. And even to those who rejected Him, He never withdrew his offer of grace. And that’s the call for us. In Romans 13 it says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
You know, an interesting thing happens when you are a peacemaker–you will have peace. Even in those relationships where they don’t want to forgive or be forgiven… If you are the peacemaker, then you will lay down the burden of those sins. Your love and compassion for the other person will grow, as you see how it hurts them to carry the hurt around. But you will have peace–peace that goes well beyond what seems possible… because the peace we have to offer is nothing other than the same peace we have received in Christ. The grace and forgiveness we have in Him is sure and certain and inexhaustible. He made the first move and humbled himself to make peace, and that’s what we celebrate on Christmas.
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life. (St. Francis)
How do you receive the most valuable gift ever? And, once you know its value, are you willing to give it away?
March 27, 2016
There is a time and a place to sit in quiet contemplation and meditate on the deep mysteries of God. There is a time to enter humbly and reverently into the presence God.
But it’s not today. Today is a day to let it all out. All the alleluias that have been bottled up for 6 weeks… all the joy and praise and light can’t be contained anymore. BECAUSE JESUS IS ALIVE!
I’m sorry, but if that doesn’t rouse you from your sleep, you must not be paying attention. JESUS IS ALIVE. Right now. He was nailed to a cross. He was dead and buried. But He is alive again! This isn’t a metaphor. This isn’t a “spiritual” thing. He got up off the slab, folded his burial shroud nice and tidy as if He was making His bed in the morning. Then he blew the boulder away from the entrance in an explosion of glory and WALKED OUT OF THE GRAVE.
I thought for a long time about what message I was supposed to bring to you all today. Easter is a big, important day. So I wanted to give you a big, important sermon. But I prayed about it, and asked God what to say, and you know what He told me? Jesus resurrection is impressive enough, all on its own.
I don’t think we fully appreciate the significance of Easter. The facts are so simple any child can understand them, but the news is so good, it’s almost hard to believe. Jesus died. And then He came back to life and will never die again. He’s living and breathing and speaking and thinking and celebrating.
It’s tempting to laugh at Mary as she’s standing at the empty tomb. She turns and looks at Jesus, full on in the face and she in all sincerity asks Him, “Have you seen Jesus? He seems to be missing…”
But really, you have to cut her some slack. She expected to see Jesus lying in the tomb. Usually when you put a dead person somewhere, they tend to stay there.
Now, if you’ve ever been stood up, you know it’s not a great feeling. You’re not sure how long you have to wait around, maybe you’re hoping that the other person got caught in traffic, or maybe went to the wrong place or something. In your mind you invent all sorts of reasons why they aren’t there with you.
And standing there at the empty tomb Mary is feeling a bit stood up. She had come at o-dark-thirty to take care of Jesus’ corpse. She had the spices ready to go to cover up the smell. She had mentally prepared herself for the shock of seeing him lying there, and was all set to go through with the mourning process.
But He wasn’t there. And her mind raced to think up some explanation… maybe they moved him. But “they” who? And where to? People shouldn’t be messing with Jesus body! And after she finally accepted that He was gone, she started to weep.
Of course, Jesus had told them all that He had to die, and on the third day he’d rise again. But, in the midst of her grief perhaps resurrection seemed like too much to hope for. Or maybe she thought He meant something spiritual when He talked about rising from the dead. So the empty tomb doesn’t immediately fill her with hope – she hasn’t yet realized that this resurrection is real, a flesh and blood thing.
Now, let’s be honest with ourselves: most of the time, we see what we expect to see. Sometimes I’ll bump into one of the fine folks from Hope Lutheran when I’m at the grocery store or the gas station or something. Maybe I’m wearing flip flops or a sweatshirt or a hat. And we make eye contact… and it’s awkward. I smile with the “hey there!” smile and they smile back with the “Do I know you?” smile. And then it clicks and they go, “Oh! It’s pastor! Hey Pastor! I didn’t recognize you without the robe!”
This is precisely what happened to Mary. In her mind, Jesus was still dead, even though her eyes were looking straight at him. And then it happens; He calls her by name and realization washes over her in a flood of joy and relief and wonder.
Maybe we’re a little guilty of the same thing. Sure we know He’s alive, but maybe sometimes we expect Him to play dead. Maybe we don’t expect Him to speak anymore. Maybe we don’t expect Him to move anymore. Maybe we don’t expect Him to heal, and feed, and occasionally flip over some tables.
Easter isn’t just the celebration of a miracle 2,000 years ago and half a world away from here. It is the celebration that JESUS IS ALIVE right now. The tomb is still empty.
And you know what the folks who visited the empty tomb did? They ran and told people. They didn’t care if they looked silly or if people would think they were crazy. They had just witnessed the greatest event in history and who cares what anybody thinks about them! When you have news this good, you have to tell somebody.
I’m here to tell you today that the tomb is STILL EMPTY and JESUS IS STILL ALIVE. This isn’t old news, folks. This is earth shaking, heart pumping, too-good-to-be-true-but-it’s-true-anyways news. And I’m sorry, but it is not okay to keep this to yourself.
When Chick-fil-a is giving out free sandwiches, we tell everyone and their dog. We post it on Facebook. We tell the other folks in the office before leaving for lunch! “Come on, guys! Let’s eat more chicken!”
It’s natural, right? When you have good news, and you can give it away freely… you do!
You want some good news? How about this: Jesus is alive. And you know what that means? He’s just the first of the resurrection. His resurrection is a preview for you and me, and for everyone who believes in this Jesus. This is so much better than free chicken sandwiches. We’re talking about the cure for death. And it’s absolutely free.
I hope you can get excited about that. Better yet, I hope you can tell somebody, because the whole world needs to hear this:
Christ is Risen!
All the alleluias that have been bottled up for 6 weeks… all the joy and praise and light can’t be contained anymore. BECAUSE JESUS IS ALIVE!