A Frayed Knot – 2011 Easter Sermon

A Frayed Knot
Easter 2011 Sermon
Matthew 28: 1-10

Several people have asked that I publish the story and sermon given on Easter Sunday, April 24, 2011. People were given 6” pieces of string as they entered worship.

 

I want to begin today by telling you a story about a piece of string. I know that you will want to tell the story later so I invite you to take out your piece of string and follow along as I tell the story.

There was once a piece of string who was very hungry. He decided that he would treat himself to the best dinner. So he went to the fanciest restaurant in town and walked up to the host and asked to be seated at the finest table for one. The host looked down his nose at the little string and sneered, “We do not serve your type here. Now leave before I call the authorities.” The string turned and walked sadly out of the restaurant.

But once outside he was determined to get his fancy meal and he struck upon a plan. The little string bent himself over in half and made a loop. Then he twisted around and poked his head up through the loop. Reaching up, he untwisted his top. Then did the same to his feet and walked back into the restaurant.

Once again he approached the host and asked for the finest table for one. The host squinted at the little string and said, “Aren’t you that string that was just in here a moment ago?”

The string responded, “No, I’m a frayed knot.”

 

You might be wondering why I would tell such a silly story on Easter. It’s because this is the central message of Easter. This is the gospel message. This is the point of the resurrection. Be not afraid: Be a frayed knot (afraid not).

The word “afraid” appears in this short lesson four times. Twice it describes the fear that people were experiencing and twice the people are told, “Do not be afraid.”

There many things in this Easter Gospel that normally raise our anxiety or make us afraid.  And because fear is one of the strongest motivators for our behaviors I think it is important to walk through this story and see what kinds of things God is telling us that we don’t need to fear.

 

The story begins with the women going to the tomb. Matthew is the only gospel where the stone is still in place. Then all at once, there is an earthquake, an angel descends and rolls the stone away to show that the tomb is empty. The angel then sits on the stone, his clothes dazzling white like lightening. The Roman guards are so afraid that they shake and pass out while the women stand firm.

This is an example of first century Jewish humor. The big tough soldiers faint while the women are strong. The message here is that we need not fear earthly powers. The Roman soldiers represent earthly powers. In Jesus’ day, Rome held all the political power, all the economic power and all the military power. In the presence of God’ messenger and the news of new life, all these powers cannot stand. They pass out. They faint.

So in the face of earthly powers we can be a frayed knot (afraid not)

 

The second thing, and I believe the most important message of this story, is that we don’t need to be afraid of God’s judgment.

There are many people out there who are eager to tell you that God is unhappy with you. They remind you that you have done wrong, you have thought wrong things, and believed wrong. They tell you that God is fed up with you and angry with you and has to punish you. They want you to be afraid of God’s judgment.

Last month, on March 11, the Pacific earthquake off the northeast coast of Japan caused a catastrophic tsunami and the ensuing nuclear disaster. Two days after that earthquake people were on You Tube and on the television and radio claiming that this was God’s judgment against the people of Japan for not being Christian enough. These people were excited about this judgment and punishment.

I don’t believe that the earthquake was God’s judgment against the people of Japan. In the gospel story the earthquake is not God’s punishment against the people. It is a sign that God has done something new. In fact, the message that the angel brings is not a message of punishment but one of love, grace and forgiveness.

Then, as the women leave the tomb, both afraid and filled with joy, Jesus appears to them and tells them to “Go and tell my brothers to meet me.” He calls them brothers. I’ve always just read that and understood that he was talking about the apostles, his disciples. But the fact that he calls them “brothers” is a big deal. These are the people who betrayed, denied and abandoned Jesus in his hour of need just a few days earlier. They deserted him and now he calls them “brothers.”

As the story goes on we learn that when they do meet Jesus on the mountain in Galilee he does not say to them, “I want you to sit here on this mountain and think about what you did.”

He doesn’t say to them, “I think you owe me an apology.”

He doesn’t say to them, “If you confess these terrible things you did, then I will forgive you.”

No! Jesus comes out of the tomb having already forgiven them. He picks up where he left off. He doesn’t dwell on the past but puts the disciples to work continuing his ministry. “Go and make more disciples,” he says. “Continue what we were doing.”

It is amazing how God never gives up on us no matter how wrong we are. In fact, the Gospels can be seen as a litany of ways in which the disciples get it wrong. Over and over they think one thing is going to happen and something else happens instead.

The disciples think that over 5000 people who came out to hear Jesus teach are going to have to find their own supper.

But something else happens instead.

They thought that Jesus was going to have to walk around the Sea of Galilee or take another boat since he stayed behind to pray while they rowed across without him.

But something else happened instead.

They thought that Jesus would not want to be bothered by little children.

But something else happened instead.

They thought the Messiah was going to lead Israel to be an earthly power: a political, military and economic power.

But something else happened instead.

When they saw him die on the cross they thought his life was over and his ministry finished.

But something else happened instead.

Jesus was raised from the dead. He is alive and his ministry continues.

This is God’s judgment: You are forgiven. You are loved. So in the face of God’s judgment we can be a frayed knot (afraid not).

 

So if we know that we are forgiven and don’t have to be afraid of God’s judgment about the things in our past;

And if we don’t have to be afraid of any earthly powers in this present age…

That leaves only one arena: The future.

 

As Matthew tells the resurrection story the angel tells the women to, “Go. Tell. He will meet you.” Out there. In the future. In the days to come. He is already waiting for you.

And as the women go, even before they get to the mountain and even before they get to tell, Jesus meets them. And he says, “Go. Tell. I will meet you.” Out there. In the future. I will be waiting for you.

You see, the resurrected Jesus is not bound to time the same way we are. Jesus is in the past, in the present and in the future all at the same time.

He’s out there in your future getting things ready for when you get there. He is preparing. He will meet you there as you go.

Now I’m not just talking about after you die.

I’m talking about later today at Easter dinner when you find yourself in the awkward and disagreeable conversation with that one relative you swore you were not going to get into this conversation with. Jesus is already there.

I’m talking about later this week when you have that difficult test, when you hear rumors that there will be another round of layoffs at work or when you get bad news from the doctor’s office.

I’m talking about later this year. Jesus is out there preparing for that time when you can be the grace and love and forgiveness of God to someone who is hurting or dying or despairing. Jesus is there getting ready to be with you when there are no words to say, but only a hand to hold on to.

And when you come to your last breath, Jesus is already there. Jesus goes ahead of us into death so that we do not have to go there alone. We do not go through death alone.

And if we think that death has the last word in our lives we will be surprised because something else will happen instead. Jesus will be there to lead us to new life: Resurrection Life.

So in the face of the future, and whatever it might bring we can be a frayed knot (afraid not).

So Go. Tell. And be a frayed knot (afraid not) because Christ goes with you. Amen.

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