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20080323_sermon-Sunrise

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“We serve God by serving others. The world defines greatness in terms of power, possessions, prestige and position. If you can demand service from others, you’ve arrived. In our self-serving culture with its “me-first” mentality, acting like a servant is not a popular concept.

Jesus, however, measured greatness in terms of service, not status. God determines your greatness by how many people you serve, not how many people serve you. This is so contrary to the world’s idea of greatness we have a hard time understanding it, much less practicing it.”

Two years ago, Brian Nichols took Ashley Smith hostage in her Atlanta home. Ashley wasn't an action hero or extremely brave, she just wanted to stay alive. She wanted things to end without anyone else being killed.

Ashley was reading The Purpose Driven Life and the paragraph I quoted was the next selection in the book. It became a catalyst for her and Nichols to start talking. As she gained his trust he eventually allowed her to call 911 and he gave up without any other deaths.  This was a man who told here, “Look at my eyes. I’m already dead”. Yet in that apartment something happened that allowed this man to see death wasn’t the only option, for himself, his hostage or anyone else.

While I was in Hawthorne Nevada a young female Pastor served a congregation Owyhee along the Nevada's northern border. She and her husband were expecting their first child after Easter. Maundy Thursday things didn’t feel right. She was more concerned on Good Friday as she realized she hadn’t felt the baby move and Saturday her worse fears were confirmed. Their child had died in utero. Easter Sunday morning she came before her congregation and preached about Jesus’ resurrection while still barring the body of her deceased baby. [side note to this is that they have had at least one healthy and complete pregnancy since then]

Something enabled these two to move beyond their present situation. Both of them knew a truth that sustained them beyond the present fear, anger, grief, hatred, sickness and despair with which the world would expect them to feel. They knew what they faced wasn't the end. They knew that the One who had grabbed hold of them wasn't going to let go no matter how horrible the situation was. They knew the One who kept them from slipping into the dark abyss hopelessness because they know Christ. And Christ gives hope.

Do you know people who face life with hopelessness? I read where Norman Vincent Peale spoke of being in Hong Kong. He came across a tattoo parlor and was looking at all the "sample of available tattoos: an anchor, a flag, a mermaid or many others. But he was surprised to see three words that could be tattooed on one's flesh, 'Born to lose.'

Peale entered the shop in astonishment and, pointing to those words, asked the Chinese tattoo artist, ‘Does anyone really have that terrible phrase, Born to lose, tattooed on his body?’

He replied, ‘Yes, sometimes.’

‘But,’ I said, ‘I just can't believe that anyone in his right mind would do that.’

The Chinese man simply tapped his forehead and said in broken English, ‘Before tattoo on body, tattoo on mind.’"[1]

Many of us know people who live lives either that are without a sense of hope, or whose hope is in the wrong thing. One person says you know your business is bad when you start treating wrong numbers like solid sales prospects. That’s a hopeless way to live. Lord Byron did whatever he wanted. If Entertainment Tonight had been around he'd have had his share of airtime. Yet at 35 he wrote,

“My days are in the yellow leaf,
the flowers and fruits of love are gone;
The worm, the canker, and the grief
Are mine alone.” Is that anyway to feel at 35?

What does hope do? People with hope are like the 75-year-old newlywed who looks for a home near a good school. It's the person who brings four pounds of steak, five pounds of charcoal and one match to a picnic. Hopeful parents have three teenage children and one car.

Adam Clarke who took over the Wesleyan movement in Great Britain, offers an answer to Byron's hopelessness. In his 70's Clarke wrote: "I have passed through the springtime of my life. I have withstood the heat of its summer. I have culled the fruits of fall. I am even now enduring the rigors of its winter, but at no great distance I see the approach of a new, eternal springtime. Hallelujah!"  

Hope comes in at least two flavors. There is the immediately sense of “hope for today”. We see this in comments by those like Revlon who described his marketing of cosmetics as “selling hope”. There is an immediate hope born from disaster. The power goes out and you light candles and grab for the flashlight with hope that it will get you through the darkness. It's a type of hope we can do something about.  This immediate hope wants answers. It wants a doctor to give us a pill so we'll be instantly well. It expects two hours with Dr. Phil or Dr. Laura fix everything that took years to mess up. It wants a life with no inconvenience and no pain. It is a life-limiting hope because once the current crisis is over its back to the same old way of life.

Let me suggest that Easter Hope is different.  It isn't a hope with a quick fix. It isn't a hope with easy answers. It isn't a hope that promises riches and power and the great “American Dream”. But it is THE hope, THE answer and THE future for those who wish to live eternally.

Pastor Cork Erickson has been my prayer partner for a decade now. Kenton prayed for him when a few years ago he went through cancer treatment.  The week after he got the official news that it was cancer, Father Albert at St. Andrews brought our focus back on the source of this eternal hope. He pointed out that the only thing that had changed since the day before the diagnosis was information. Cork had cancer they day before, the week before and the month before the difference was that NOW he knew. And, in spite of the knowing, his source of eternal hope for every situation hadn’t changed—it was still Jesus.

This is the hope that Ashley Smith held on to even when she kidnapped. This is the hope that the grieving pastor in Northern Nevada held on too that Easter morning.  And this is the hope that we can have today.

I know the darkness into which some of us have plunged. I know how we delude ourselves into thinking that all we really need are winning numbers, a little health or a lucky break. Yet the disease, dysfunctionality, and delusion seems to continue unabated.  One of my favorite quotes defines insanity as, “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. We keep doing the same old things and hope things will change, and we're surprised when they don't.

Easter hope doesn’t fade.  Easter is proof that God gives a rip about us when no one else does. It is the proof that God really loves us when we don’t love ourselves. It is the proof Jesus does actually makes a difference to people and for our world.

Want to make this Easter a new day for a new life? Tired of the hopelessness of trying to find hope? Does life exhaust you because you feel like you're wading through hip deep mud? Running to keep up or barely keeping your head above the waves of life? Then let me suggest that you begin by allowing Jesus to make you new. By admitting that you’ve messed up so much that there is no hope without His love, forgiveness and new life.  If you chose to leave the insanity of this world behind you will find in Jesus a Hope that restores, blesses and renews your life.


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[1] Les Parrott Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda: Live in the Present Find Your Future p. 173

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