March 27

Book Excerpt: An Easter Sermon

This is an excerpt from the forthcoming book Steve’s Grace by D. J. Mitchell.

“Christ is risen!” I begin.  “Imagine the sorrow his mother must have felt, going to the graveside to mourn her son, whom she watched die just three days before.  But instead of a grave and a memory, she finds an empty tomb and the question, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead?’  What a shock that must have been!”

So begins my Easter sermon.  I perform it for my family on Good Friday, two days before I will give it to the congregation.  They seem to love it. Cindy and Zephyr both proclaim it the best one yet, and even Susan seems impressed.

That doesn’t keep me from being nervous Easter morning.  I focus on each step of the service so I don’t obsess about the moment I will stand before the congregation and preach.

After the hymn, I read from the Gospel of Luke.

Then the moment comes.  I stand before the congregation, spread my hands and arms upward, and begin.

“Christ is risen!” I proclaim.

Then I pause.  The next line won’t come out.  I know what I’m supposed to say, but I can’t say it.

I’m not expecting what happens next.

“Christ is risen!” I repeat.  “He who was dead now lives.  Christ is risen in me!”

I continue in a softer voice.

“He is risen in every one of us who was once dead through sin, yet now we live through the Grace of God and the Sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ!  We have been redeemed, that we may escape the death penalty for our sins and live in Grace!”

“Do we fall short of what God wants us to do?” I ask.  “Let’s be honest.  I fall short far too often.  How about you?”

I raise my hand.  About half the congregation raises theirs, too.

“Do we try to play God in our own lives, and the lives of other people?” I ask.  “I do.”

I raise my hand.  More hands go up.

“Are we sinners?” I ask.

I open my hands, inviting an answer as I repeat, “Are we?”

“Yes!” they reply.

“Yes,” I agree.  “But we found new life through Jesus Christ.  Amen?”

“Amen!” they reply.

“Did you ever have an experience when something strange was happening in your life and you couldn’t figure out why?  Then later, you looked back and realized it was God?”

I pause, and see heads nodding.

“That’s what happened to the disciples of Jesus,” I continue.  “They were walking on the road to Emmaus, and a man joined them and talked to them.  And it was only after they had walked for some time that they realized that man was Jesus.

“That’s a little odd, don’t you think?” I ask.  “They spent three years traveling with Jesus.  He was their teacher.  They saw Him after the Resurrection.  They saw the holes in His hands and feet.  Yet here is a man they don’t recognize, and it turns out to be Jesus?

“Maybe he was in disguise,” I suggest.

Some people chuckle.

“Or maybe,” I continue, “Jesus appeared in a guise they didn’t recognize at first as being Him.

“Has this ever happened to you?” I ask.  “Something in your life happens, and it seems so painful or wrong that it doesn’t even occur to you that it could be God working in your life?  But later you realize that’s exactly what it was?

“It happened to me,” I say.  “I was comfortable in an ungodly life, but God shook it up for me.  At the time, it didn’t occur to me that this could be God working in my life.  I mean, I got into a situation where I did some bad things and almost lost my family over it.  I should have gone to prison.  How could that be God?

“And it wasn’t,” I say.  “I did those things, not God.  Just like the man on the road to Emmaus who was not Jesus.  But he was.  They saw the Risen Christ in a stranger.  And I can look back now and see the hand of God even in that most despicable moment of my life.  That’s what it took for God to get my attention.  I had to fully live up to my capacity for sin in order to realize I needed God.  Because how can I ask for redemption if I don’t know I need it?

“I am a sinner,” I say.  “I was raised from the dead by Jesus Christ.  How many of you are willing to say that with me?”

“I am a sinner,” I repeat.  “I was raised from the dead by Jesus Christ.”

About half of the congregation says it with me.

“Let’s say it again,” I suggest.

This time, everyone joins in.

“Christ is risen!” I proclaim.  “His tomb is empty!”

Then, in a softer voice, I add, “And so is ours.


March 8

The Value of Experience

“Experience is something you don’t get until just after you need it.” — Steven Wright

It used to be we looked for experience in our leaders.  FDR served as state senator, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and Governor of New York. Eisenhower served as general and military governor.  Reagan was a union leader, a political activist (for both parties), and Governor of California.  Bill Clinton spent twelve years as Governor of Arkansas, as well as serving as the state’s Attorney General.  Even George W. Bush, who many of his supporters now agree was a poor president, served two terms as Governor of Texas.

Fast forward to the 2016 presidential campaign.  Favorite Hillary Clinton has been elected Senator twice, and served six years as Secretary of State.  She has never run anything.  Yet far from being an outsider, she’s been the wife of an experienced politician, and is supported by big-money interests.  (Does her husband’s experience make her more qualified?)

Donald Trump has never been elected to anything.  He’s a famous businessman, yet not entirely successful (five of his businesses have gone into bankruptcy).  He’s supported presidential candidates from both parties, including George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton.  From 2001 – 2009, he was a registered Democrat.  Now, he’s a Republican claiming he can lead the nation.

Ted Cruz has been elected exactly once, as a junior senator from Texas.  He did serve as a legal adviser to George W. Bush, and spent 5 years as Solicitor General in Taxes.

Ben Carson is a retired doctor who has no political experience at all.

Marco Rubio served eight years in the Florida state senate, and served as majority leader for several years.  He’s served one term in the U.S. Senate.

John Kasich, who’s running in third place among the GOP, served 4 years in the Ohio state senate and 18 years in the U.S. House of Representatives.  He was also elected Governor of Ohio.  On the Republican side, he’s got the most significant political experience.  He’s also the only candidate to have run a state.

Then there’s Bernie Sanders, who served three terms as mayor in Burlington, VT, 16 years in the U.S. House, and 8 years as a U.S. Senator.  He has more years of political experience than any of the other candidates, and is the only candidate besides Kasich who has ever run an administration.

Ironically, the Hillary Clinton campaign regularly attacks Bernie for his inexperience, as do pro-Clinton editorials around the country.  But let’s look at the facts: By my count, Hillary has won two elections and served a total of 12 years in two positions.  She has never run an administration.  Bernie, on the other hand, has won eight elections, and served in four positions over 35 years.  He has three times the experience of Clinton.  Both served on many of the same committees.  It’s hard to gauge their respective records of “getting things done,” but many commentators suggest that Bernie’s record on working both sides of the aisle exceeds Hillary’s.

But none of that matters.  We’ve become a cult of personality, and it looks like we’ll be given a choice between Clinton and Trump.  The two most experienced candidates, Sanders and Kasich, will fall by the wayside.