Easter 3B Sermon (2012)

3rd Sunday of Easter
Texts: Luke 24:36b-48;
Acts 3:12-19; 1 John 3:1-7


When our family embarked on the journey of adopting [names withheld for Internet] from war-torn Liberia seven years ago, it was very much a leap of faith; an act of following Jesus by seeking to relieve some of the suffering in this world. Little did we know how much [name withheld] had already suffered, and to relieve it by simply bringing him to a safe and nurturing environment would not be enough. His trauma was to the extent that his suffering will continue for years. Even now, he is at a crucial point of healing in his life, and we welcome your prayers for him.

The last Sunday of Lent Pastor Dave asked, “What would I do if I weren’t afraid?” On Easter morning I asked: “Whose suffering might I share and help bear, if I’m weren’t afraid?” These questions have become an “a-ha” moment for Ellen and me: in seeking to relieve the suffering of two of God’s children through international adoption, we have actually shared the suffering with our entire our family in a way that has threatened at times to overwhelm us. This has been a journey of faith in a way we never anticipated.

It was probably a good thing seven years ago that we didn’t realize how much we should fear being overwhelmed by suffering. This can be said for Jesus’ disciples, too, when they signed up in Galilee to follow Jesus. They could not have imagined what would happen on Good Friday. They thought they were following the Messiah who would win the victory to relieve their people’s great and long suffering under the oppression of empire after empire. They did not understand how he could have ended up crucified by their enemies, the Romans.

That first Easter was very tenuous for them. The Gospel of Mark Easter Sunday ended with the women running away afraid and not telling anyone the angel’s Good News. They were still overwhelmed by the suffering of Good Friday. Mark was trying to tell his followers that it is not easy to follow a suffering Messiah. He ends his Gospel abruptly and invites them to listen again to the power that Jesus shows in healing people, casting out demons, miraculously feeding thousands, and stilling storms on lakes. To listen again to Jesus prophesying his own suffering, death, and resurrection three times, while at the same time trying to teach them what it would mean to follow a suffering Messiah.

Luke was more direct. In our Easter Gospel this morning, Jesus suddenly appears to his disciples and tells them,

“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you — that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day…” (Luke 24:44-46)

This is actually the second time he says this. A few hours earlier on the road to Emmaus, Jesus tells two disciples,

“Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” (24:25-26)

Are we ready yet? Or are our hearts still slow to understand? When we sign-up to follow Jesus, are we ready to take on the suffering of a world still laboring under the oppression of sin? The work decisively began in Jesus the suffering Messiah, but there is still much work to be done. Are we ready to not let the suffering overwhelm us?

First, Jesus blazed a trail to transformation and new life, and we can find new life by following his example of loving service. His resurrection is the cornerstone of God’s promise that New Life is always possible. One pastor was asked how she knew that Jesus’ resurrection had taken place. “Because I’ve seen it many times,” she answered. She had witnessed many times the transformation that takes place when people follow Jesus. She had walked with many who came through times of suffering to newness of life. We hope and pray this for [name withheld]. We have to hope and trust that it is still possible for him.

Second, Jesus went through it alone — utterly abandoned by even his closest followers. In taking his place at God’s right hand, Jesus now pours out his Spirit of courage on his followers who now have each other to rely upon when the going gets tough — the promise of Community.

When our family has faced the threat of being overwhelmed these past few years, we knew we could not — can not — make it alone. It was often overwhelming and isolating the first few years. But as we reached out more to extended family and friends, in sharing the suffering the burden became lighter. It takes the strength of community — being with a group of people together in mission — to keep us strong as we share suffering. One of the core insights of 3D Ministry that Pastor Dave and I have been learning more about is that having groups of 20-50 people to create “missional communities” within a larger community strengthens us as we follow Jesus and dare to take on suffering in our world. 20-50 people was the size of the first Christian communities who gathered in house churches — churches the size that you could squeeze into one house when gathering together, and roughly the size of an extended family.

That seems so simple, and yet it has been hard for us to learn in modern churches. We are used to banding together in the size it takes to build large buildings like this one we are blessed with. Larger groups are also the size it takes to have good programs for raising children and youth into the faith. But it’s not the best size for supporting one another in more personal ways when we are going through times of suffering — much less when we are trying to dare following Jesus by taking on the suffering around us in this world. Many congregations have tried small group ministry to encourage building personal relationships, but many times a group of 6-12 is too small to really take on the kind of suffering we face in this world. Like my own family, we in the church may find it takes the size of an extended family to take on meaningful mission.

In 3D Ministry congregations are mentored to be successful in all of its various grouping sizes. From large gatherings for worship celebrations and certain programming, especially for youth and children; to caring for one another in small groups of 6-12, which 3D Ministry calls “huddle” size. But it is intentionally adding extended family-size groups of 20-50 people to really take on meatier mission projects that is vital. Their tagline for these mid-size communities, what 3DM calls “missional communities,” is, “Small enough to care, big enough to dare.” To dare to be in mission following our Suffering and Risen Messiah.

There are times throughout the 50-year mission of Prince of Peace we can point to Missional Communities working together — the trip to Guatemala is a recent example. Pastor Dave and I are being led to move us toward intentionally building more Missional Communities at Prince of Peace. Places to deepen relationships and both support each other as we share our own joys and sufferings, as well as to answer Jesus’ call to go into the world and share the suffering of others, so that their burden may be lighter.

In the coming weeks and months as you hear more about 3D ministry, please meditate, pray, and talk to others about the amazing possibilities that lay ahead for our community. What is your passion for mission? Would it help to carry out through an intentional missional community? Pastor Dave and I especially invite your ideas and energy if you feel the Spirit nudging you to help lead with us as we embark on this path toward deeper mission. Amen.

Paul J. Nuechterlein
Delivered at Prince of Peace Lutheran,
Portage, MI, April 22, 2012

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