Message of Grace / Painesdale
The following Easter service was presented in a Zoom internet worship meeting April 12, 2020. For those who have internet access, the Michigan Conference presents an Easter morning worship message which can be found at michiganumc.org
Chuck Williams, Pastor
Houghton Grace and William Paine UMCs
Opening Prayer Let’s pray…Lord, as we comply with stay at home orders and while our church buildings are closed, your people are still the church, and we are here. We are thankful that you have brought us through holy week. We praise you for sending your Son wherever we find ourselves. We are grateful that when the time was right, Jesus made his way to earth and then into Jerusalem to build a kingdom, a community -- of faithful people. Be with our families and friends today and remind us all that even though in person services have been cancelled, Easter is not. Christ is still risen. Remove worries and bless our Easter joy, in the name of the risen Lord we pray.
Children’s Time This musical video we are going to play is planned for Children’s Time but I think we can all enjoy it… https://open.life.church/items/78613-jesus-gave-it-all-video-mp4.
He gave everything so we could find healing and hope, and the best news of this day is that Jesus is risen and the tomb is empty, and we know that because Jesus lives within our heart. So let’s listen or sing along to the traditional hymn, He Lives.
Hymn He Lives
Message Easter Joy
Some people seem to find Easter-like optimistic joy naturally and easily. Others, like the journey of holy week, have to fight through to joy. Either way, Psalm 30 helps us on our journey. This Psalm, like Easter, teaches us that endings are not as final as we sometimes think. Out of dark times when God seems absent, when grief and doubts rise to the surface and challenge our beliefs, times such as when Jesus had to say final words to his friends, who later that night fall asleep as he prays in anguish, and who separate and abandon him as he is arrested, tried, punished, mocked, crucified and buried. Out of this dark period emerges an Easter joy, a new life, a new future, a new hope that God is indeed faithful to his Son Jesus and to his people.
David wrote it many years before, but I could just as easily hear it coming from the lips of Jesus reflecting on holy week and Easter… Listen to the Good News Translation of Psalm 30…
- I praise you, Lord, because you have saved me and kept my enemies from gloating over me. I cried to you for help, O Lord my God, and you healed me; you kept me from the grave. I was on my way to the depths below, but you restored my life. Sing praise to the Lord, all his faithful people! Remember what the Holy One has done, and give him thanks! His anger lasts only a moment, his goodness for a lifetime. Tears may flow in the night, but joy comes in the morning. I felt secure and said to myself, “I will never be defeated.” You were good to me, Lord; you protected me like a mountain fortress. But then you hid yourself from me, and I was afraid. I called to you, Lord; I begged for your help: “What will you gain from my death? What profit from my going to the grave? Are dead people able to praise you? Can they proclaim your unfailing goodness? Hear me, Lord, and be merciful! Help me, Lord!” You have changed my sadness into a joyful dance; you have taken away my sorrow and surrounded me with joy. So I will not be silent; I will sing praise to you. Lord, you are my God; I will give you thanks forever. (Psalm 30 (GNT))
Joy (or lack of it) can be learned
First, joy (or lack of it) can be learned. Take winning and losing games, for example. Some people learn to gloat with glee when they win, and be sadly sore when they lose. In an old Calvin and Hobbes cartoon strip, they are working hard on a safety poster contest for school. Day after day he is imagining his overwhelming victory and fame and glory he will receive after he wins. The day’s strip finally comes when he finds out he didn’t win. In the next day’s strip is filled with anger about injustice. Hobbes tells him, “Well the important thing is that we tried our best.” Calvin snaps, “The important thing is that we lost”. Hobbes says, “Oops. I always forget the purpose of competition is to divide people into winners and losers.” Calvin replies, “What’s the point of trying if you can’t be a winner?” The next day, Calvin is wanting his father to go to the judges and school board to correct their obvious of corruption. Dad replies, “Calvin, losing is a part of life. You should learn to be a good sport about it and keep things in perspective. After all, winning isn’t everything.” Calvin replies, “Is that really what they believe on the planet you’re from?” Father: “You’ve been watching athletic shoe ads again, haven’t you?”(1)
Ideally, we can learn to do our very best and have good and sportsmanship, win or lose -- because as Psalm 30 and holy week teach us: In life, there will always be wins and losses -- progress and setbacks life, successes and failures, and we need to learn how to deal with both. We can be deniably proud (to pretend problems don’t exist and feel we can control out challenges alone (and when the problem becomes too big to ignore -- to blame everyone and everything else). Or -- we can allow those challenges to overwhelm us to be pessimistically defeated (to give up trying). Or -- we can hold our heads high in confidence in God and others and continue to thankfully, graciously do the best we can -- whether we are weeping in the dark garden, crying out on a cross, or triumphantly emerging from the pit of the tomb...
Joy demands expression which inspires joy.
Joy demands expression which inspires joy. So much so, that deeply felt joy makes our heart, and sometimes our voice, burst out into smiles, laughter, or song -- even if it is just to ourselves -- when there is no one there to see or understand. The Psalmist encourages us by example to sing and not be silent and to be forever thankful. Often, it is easier to behave our way into feeling joy, rather than feeling our way into joyful expressions and actions. So, if we aren’t feeling joyful, some purposeful smiling, laughing, singing, thinking about and doing things that make us happy – may lead to feeling the joy we want to experience.
Joy is not dependent upon circumstances.
Joy is not dependent upon circumstances. Stressful circumstances certainly impact us, and joy is more easily sensed in easy times, but true joy does not require happy times. Granted, the Bible is filled with stories and parables where joy is found at the end of a sad situation – a coin is lost, then found; as is a sheep, a seed is just a seed until it finds good soil and then flourishes. A martyred Savior is risen from the dead… In these, sad circumstances are resolved and transformed to joy. But even more to this point – the story of the banquet where the host invites the outcast, the maimed, the poor, the rejected -- in this case, the assumed joy of these honored people coming to the banquet does not necessarily change their present situation, but gives them an opportunity to experience the joy of God’s presence even within unhappy situations.
Miller Cooley was an accomplished dancer. During the late ‘40s, she began teaching dance and baton twirling. She traveled throughout rural north Georgia, holding classes in the public schools as an itinerant dancing teacher. In a culture that often included poverty and family tragedy, she undercharged for her group and private lessons. She searched and found students who wanted to learn to dance without concern for talent or ability to pay. She believed that every child who wanted lessons should have them and every child should be encouraged to want them. Every spring she held a recital. She choreographed elaborate productions. She spun fantasies of fairies and elves like no one else and lured even the most cynical little boy and girl into participating in her illusions. And they all performed, regardless of their current skill. She knew that no matter how clumsy and graceless, performing gave one confidence in public, and it was about what the performance did for the children, not what the children did for the performance.
Her daughter grew up pirouetting, tapping, tumbling, whirling, and twirling to all kinds of music, wearing all kinds of fancy outfits, and surrounded by children who, in her words, “some of whom could leap through the air like gazelles and whirl like dervishes; others lumbered and flopped about like beached whales, with big toothy grins on their faces.”
David and Jesus too, found joy in the midst of an often stress-filled kingship, carving out a kingdom while surrounded by enemies without and sometimes even within their own ranks; which leads to the last point.
Joy moves beyond being served to serving others
Joy moves beyond being served to serving others. One factor that helped the dancing program work was that no one was doing it alone – it brought together many children, and parents, and communities to celebrate something in the midst of difficult times, and it gave confidence and hope for their next generation. David said he felt secure in himself and thought he could win all by himself without God or others. It was then that he suddenly felt alone, afraid, and that God was angry with him. David came to realize that the kingdom wasn’t to serve and build up the king. The king was serving God in building up a kingdom of faithful people.
This Easter, even though we can’t be physically with each other, God is still among us and with us, and we need to be a part of what God is doing in his people. Joy in God, and especially in the joy of his resurrection binds us to one another and inspires courage, faith, hope, and carries with it the potential to become agents of healing and transformation.
Prayer Lord, when things are going well, it is easy to be happy, but like David, it is also tempting to feel as if we need no one. Remind us that if we think we can stand alone, then struggles within us, if not around us; are right around the corner. Remind us that even as we have to hunker down, we are not alone, we can be one in your Spirit, because Jesus is not dead, but is alive and we have this hope in Jesus Christ… Amen. Listen or sing along…
Closing Song Christ the Lord is Risen Today (with He is Not Dead)
For our more recent prayer request go to this link: http://www.houghtongraceumc.org/prayer-lists.html
… Lord, you know our requests and we lift them to you. We praise you this day because the cross finished its work and the tomb is empty. Your love has conquered and continues to expand and defeat the forces that would drag us down -- you are no longer bound to an ancient story, you come to us in today’s holy weeks, in our conflicts, fears and struggles. With us, you enter into every temptation and opposition and failure and offer to restore us with your joy, your justice, your love. Amen.
Now glory in the empty cross - for it is the symbol that assures our forgiveness, that his grace continues to watch over and protect our spiritual renewal to eternal life. Know that the tomb is empty and we serve a risen Savior who is unrestrained in his world today. Experience and share the joy of his risen life in you and with each other. Amen.
(1) Bill Watterson, Homocidal Psycho Jungle Cat: A Calvin and Hobbes Collection (Kansas City: Andrews McMeel Publishing), 105-110.