A Fool's Paradise - Easter Sunday Sermon

1 Corinthians 15: 1-11              Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III

Mark 16: 1-8    Easter, April 1, 2018

They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?”  When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back.

Prayer:  Holy God, you are a wonder to us!  You restore that which was lost, you bring new life from death, create hope where there was seemingly only death.  We praise you!  Amen.

Happy Easter Fool’s Day!  Wait! What did he say? For us fools for Christ, this is a paradise day!  April Fool’s Day and Easter last coincided in 1956.  The next one is scheduled for 2029, very close to my retirement—so I might get one more shot at it.  After that, it occurs in 2040, and that’s it in the 21st century.  Three times.  So, the time to strike is while the iron is hot!

April Fool’s as a day of jokes and pranks is common enough.  What makes it rich and sassy is when paradoxes and false truths lead a person astray, only to have them find out later that they’ve been played.  One of my more favorite April Fool’s pranks I pulled on a woman named Bev at the church I served in Salt Lake City.  Bev is a lovely, vivacious person, always energetic, very overly involved in every part of her life.  She routinely stopped at the church in mid week.  She’d jump out of her car in the front driveway, rush in, and then get distracted and delayed because she was a talker.

One April Fool’s day, she did exactly that—she jumped out of her car, left her car engine running. She rushed into the church. She was there nearly a half hour talking to our secretary, when I got this April Fool’s idea.  I quietly slipped out to the driveway, got into her car, drove it to the back parking lot, and slipped back into my office unnoticed.  Then I waited.  Oh my!  The shrieks!  The bewilderment!  The shock!  “Somebody stole my car!  I can’t believe it!”  I played it up… I feigned dismay!  I hooked everyone.  Nobody knew I did it.  We rushed outside, we looked around, we anxiously discussed what we should do.  I suggested we should call 911.  It’s when she actually pulled out her flip phone and started to dial that I finally let her off the hook.  Suffice it to say, my head was on her chopping block for a little while, but everyone else, myself included, loved it!  I got the last laugh!  She was a good sport, though!  So, watch out!  Of course, I better watch out, too.

This idea behind April Fool’s day, that paradoxes and false truths can lead a person astray only to have them find out later that they’ve been played, is one that exists throughout our faith journeys.  We hear messages of false truths all the time.  Some come from within our culture, some come from human nature, some come from scripture and religion.  And, I realized that I preach about the paradoxes of faith regularly. 

In the end, though, I think God has the last laugh, and God’s message may sound foolish, but it trumps any of our human wisdom.  We are fools for God in Christ, for hasn’t God has made foolish the wisdom of the world (1 Cor. 1:20)?  Today is Easter Fool’s day, a paradise for all of us fools for Christ.

Let’s look quickly at a few of these paradoxes and false messages.  For example, somehow we think that God can use only those of us who do the right things, possess the right stuff.  Who are gifted! Hah!  Easter Fool’s!

Abram was 99 years old and his wife Sarai was 90 when God told them they would have a child and be the ancestors of a great multitude of people and nations.  How foolish is that?  David was a scrawny shepherd boy, and God tapped him to be the next king of Israel.  Mary was 12, maybe 13 years old when she found out she would be the mother of God’s Messiah.  Paul was an assassin hunting down the followers of Jesus—in fact, he never met Jesus in this world.  Yet, he untimely born, the least fit of all the apostles, became Christ’s greatest missionary.

Remember, friends, God can use you and your gifts, nomatter who you are.  God has a passion for you, and many times God uses those of us among the least.   Easter is a fool’s paradise because God has the last laugh.

Another example… in our Easter story today, Mary, Mary, and Salome all believe the tomb to be sealed.  They knew the heavy stone would cover the tomb.  They would need to find someone to open the tomb for them, and once open, the body would be visible, the stench

of death noticeable.  Hah!  Easter Fool’s!

God’s power rolls away the stone.  God’s presence in the form of an angel tells them that life has risen out of the tomb.  In whatever death moments we experience, always remember, friends, that Easter means God can make life rise out of death.  Don’t let death think it has power in your life.  Easter says that God has the last laugh.

In Jesus’ life, he spoke God’s truth to people, to religious leaders, even to the power of Rome.  The message the powerful leaders believed in was that their voice can overwhelm God’s voice.  They believed killing Jesus would silence him.  They believed that if they willed it, Jesus’ death would wipe out his voice.  They thought that their power, their systems of government, of business, of religion were more powerful than the power of God’s holy love.  They thought that his death was his end.

Hah!  Easter Fool’s!  Jesus WAS the love of God, and if that love were to die, it would become reproducible fruit.  His voice and power of love would be more powerful than ever before. So powerful, that death would lose its power.

Limericks often convey subtleties of humor.  Consider this Easter limerick:

Here’s the question that Easter begs:

Is it all about candy and eggs?

No, the point to be praised

Is that Christ has been raised

And death taken down a few pegs.1

Remember, no way, no how do systems within society and government and religion have power to knock out the power of love.  And, God has the last laugh.

Somehow, there’s a widespread belief that Christ came for only those who accept him… that he saves only those who love him.  Somehow, you have to earn Christ’s saving grace by living correct lives, by being moral and upright.  And, if you don’t repent from incorrectness, then you don’t stand a chance of receiving God’s grace.

Hah!  Easter Fools!  God is a God of total inclusion, and God is the author of Christ’s universal saving love and grace.  It is not earned, it is given.  It is not just for a few, but for the whole human race.  Consider another fun Easter limerick:

While making his way down the aisles,

The priest thought about Christ and the Gentiles:

How Christ rose from the grave

All sinners to save

And not just the upper percentiles.2

Remember, God’s love is all-inclusive, which is why we, as a church, are striving to practice such all-inclusivity, in all that we say and do.  Our fidelity let’s God has the last laugh.

Lastly, Mark’s gospel ends with the women fleeing the tomb, terrified, and “they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

Hah!  Easter Fool’s!  If that were true and all the other gospels stories were wrong, we wouldn’t be here today!  The deeper truth is that Mark’s gospel really doesn’t end there… the angel said that Jesus had gone ahead.  But, not to worry… You will see him.  God’s love emulated by us and acted upon through us, and empowered by the Holy Spirit in us is the way we see the risen Jesus.

We see manifestations of the risen Jesus in the two firefighters from York who lost their lives.  We seethe risen Jesus in the French police officer who traded places with the hostage in Trèbes, France.  We see the risen Jesus in the people who served the hungry at 1st Reformed Church last Tuesday.  We see him in the youth that stand up and speak to the powerful.  We see him in us.  The gospel of Mark continues through fools like us.

And, God has the last laugh.  Amen.

 

 

1) Brunelle, Christopher, The Church Year in Limericks, (MorningStar), taken from  Peter Marty, “Limericks for Lent,” Christian Century, February 28, 2018, p. 3.

2) Brunelle, Christopher, The Church Year in Limericks, (MorningStar), taken from  Peter Marty, “Limericks for Lent,” Christian Century, February 28, 2018, p. 3.