It was Sunday, and Pastor Edna is about to give The Best Children’s Sermon Ever. “Kids,” she says, “today we’re having a very special guest here in our church. In just a minute, he’s going to come right down this aisle. Can anyone imagine who it will be?” One child- a veteran of many children’s sermons- responded, “Jesus?” “No!” the pastor says, ” It’s better than that! It’s a pony!”
I mean, how could it be Jesus? Jesus is dead. He’s been dead for over 2000 years. Of course it’s not Jesus. So we’ve got something even better! We’ve got a pony!
Another Sunday morning in a different land… Mary is at Jesus’ tomb. Jesus has been dead three days already. Except He isn’t. The tomb is bare, with nothing but a couple of burial linens cast off to the side. Suddenly, Mary feels a Presence behind her. Jesus is dead. She saw his body. So it must be the gardener- someone who might know where they took Jesus’ body. I mean, who else could it be?
BUT GOD!… had different plans! Mary didn’t know it right then, BUT GOD! was doing something new right in front of here. Because there was Jesus. Not the gardener, BUT JESUS, raised from the grave.
St. Paul will write his version of things later in the 8th chapter of the book of Romans: “I am persuaded- absolutely convinced- that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Because GOD!… saw death and decay, and said, “They cannot hold Love. They cannot restrain the hand of love.” There are two words that can change the world. Two words: BUT… GOD!
Now, I don’t want to put down any group of people, but I feel sad for atheists. You know why? Because they don’t have those two words.
Steve Martin once realized that the religious people have so much good music, and atheists don’t have any, so he wrote the first ever atheist hymnal. It took one whole page. “Atheists don’t have no songs! Christians have their hymns and pages,” he sang. “Baptists have their Rock of Ages, but no one ever wrote a tune for Godless Existentialism.” “Atheist songs add up to nada,” he sang, “but they do have Sundays free.”
Slaves did more than survive, because they were singing I’ll fly away, O glory, I’ll fly away. When I die alleluia bye and bye: I’ll fly away! Poor white folks did more than survive, because they were singing, Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let my hide myself in Thee…
Life is hard, and the powers of despair and death lurk right around the corner. BUT GOD!… BUT GOD!
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” That’s what it says in Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” But what if you’re sick. What if you’re crushed? What if life is so hard, and the future as you see it is harder. What if you’re DEAD?
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” That’s great, but I can tell you this right now: I can’t rise from the dead, no matter how hard I try!
I can’t… BUT GOD!
The Prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 11:1-11) was stranded in the desert wilderness, no water anywhere. And there in the distance was a dry, dead stump- the stump of Jesse. Dry. Dry. The stump was dead. Then he looked closely, and on the side of the stump was one little green shoot, no bigger than the tip of his little finger. And nodding with assurance he said, “There will come one from the House of Jesse who will redeem Israel. A dead stump in the middle of the desert… BUT GOD! intended it for good, to save God’s people.
Joseph of the Technicolor Dreamcoat was thrown in a hole by his brothers. That hole was intended to be his grave. When he later confronts those same brothers, he tells them,“You intended to do me harm, BUT GOD! intended it for good, to save God’s people.” (Gen. 50:20)
400 years later, Egypt’s Pharaoh orders all Hebrew babies to be killed. His mother puts the infant Moses in a rush basket and casts him into the waters- That Nile River will be either a river of hope or a watery grave. The Pharaoh intended it for harm, BUT GOD! intended it for good, to save God’s people.
1200 years later, another king- old Herod- once again orders all the Hebrew babies to be killed. And Mary and Joseph tuck little Jesus into a saddle bag and run into the deserts of Egypt. Herod intended it for harm, BUT GOD! intended it for good, to save God’s people
30 years later, Lazarus was sick unto death. He died and they put him in a grave and there he lay for 4 days until he started to stink. Then Jesus came, and said, “Roll away the stone,” and He yelled, “Lazarus, come out!” Disease had intended it for harm, BUT GOD! intended it for good, to save God’s people.
And a few weeks later, Jesus is hauled up before Pontius Pilate and executed as a traitor to Rome. And they put him in a grave, and they roll the stone to seal it tight. And for 3 days He lay there until He should be starting to stink. And then came that divine command, “Roll away the stone!” And when the women came to anoint His dead body, there was nobody there. Nobody there. Just a gaping hole in what used to be a grave. The powers had intended it for harm, BUT GOD! intended it for good, to save God’s people.
BUT GOD!… BUT GOD!… We overuse the little word, “but.”
- We say something nice to our kids and then follow through with the uppercut, “BUT you forgot to…”
- We sit in a meeting listening, and when the person speaking has the decency to stop, we say, “That was very interesting- some good ideas… BUT we tried that before and it didn’t work…”
- We sit in the middle of our dreams, “BUT I can’t do that.”
- We scatter our negative little BUTS like weed seed.
BUT… when it comes to God… “BUT” becomes the power of hope, the power of courage, the power of life. It stands against the very doors of death and says, “I DON’T THINK SO!”
Easter morning- those 3 women saw that gravestone rolled away, saw that empty tomb… They ran away in fear; they embraced defeat in the very face of victory. It can’t be Jesus! It just can’t!
BUT GOD!… BUT GOD! says, “Nothing can separate you from the love of Christ Jesus!” The stone will be rolled away, even in the face of our fear and disbelief.
In the book of Acts (2:24), Peter is preaching out on a street corner. He repeats all the deadly words again: “betrayed,” “handed over,” “crucified,” “killed”- each one a nail in the coffin. The world has done its worst. But that’s not the end of the sermon. Peter keeps preaching, “Jesus was betrayed by people who took the law into their own hands… And you nailed Him to a cross and killed Him. BUT GOD! BUT GOD! BUT GOD! released Him from death’s grip and raised Him up, because it was impossible for Him to be held in death’s power.”
Sure death will take us, each and every one. BUT GOD! will define what comes next. BUT GOD! will create within this very flesh a new life. BUT GOD! cries out, “You may have this day, Death; BUT I hold the last!”
When it seems the end has come, ” BUT GOD!” When you see no way forward or out, BUT GOD!” When death has done its work and it seems all hope is gone, ” BUT GOD!” Because with God, all things are possible.
Christ is alive, Let Christian sing!
The cross stands empty to the sky!
Let streets and homes with praises ring:
Love, drowned in death, shall never die!
Amen, Lord! Amen.
Resources: Rev. Robert Horst, Trinity UCC newsletter, Trinity Bells, March 2005 Brookfield, WI; Rev. Anthony Robinson, StillSpeaking Devotional, Acts 2:24. Mar. 19, 2012; Rev. David Moyer, Wisconsin Conference Life newsletter, April 2012. “Nothing Better”
SCRIPTURE FOR EASTER, APRIL 8, 2012 ACTS 2:22-24
Fellow Israelites, listen carefully. Jesus of Nazareth- you know the miracles and wonders and signs God did through Him…according to God’s intentions, this same Jesus was betrayed by people who took the law into their own hands and handed Him over to you. And you nailed Him to a cross and killed Him. BUT GOD released Him from death’s grip and raised Him up, because it was impossible for Him to be held in death’s power.
Friends, hear what the Spirit would say to us today.