Each year, here in Burlington, Broad Street United Methodist Church sponsors a sunrise service at the Riverfront Promenade for all of the community churches. Yesterday morning was cold and windy and yet the turnout was great, there were at least eight different churches represented. We really had a wonderful time worshiping together. I was given the privilege of being this years speaker. Since it was a short sermon I thought I would just post my sermon transcript to my blog today:
“But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”
Today we celebrate the resurrection of our Messiah, of our Lord and Savior Jesus. Today we gather here, by this river to sing, praise, remember and enjoy the cornerstone of our faith, Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!
The resurrection of Jesus is more than an act of power, it is more than His triumph over sin and death, more than an empty tomb and astounded, even unbelieving disciples. The resurrection of Jesus is the fulfillment of His mission, the fulfillment of our redemption, it is the culmination of three years of ministry and the fulfillment of thousands of years of waiting, waiting for the seed of woman to crush the head of the serpent.
When Jesus began His public ministry, He stood up in the synagogue in Nazareth, his home, and he took the scrolls and read these words:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”
This was not a simple Bible reading, this was an announcement and an introduction. Jesus was introducing Himself as the Messiah and He was introducing the will of God into the midst of God’s people. He was announcing what His life’s work would be and was giving all those listening a way to judge His actions and know what to expect from everything that He would do. Jesus was making it very clear that all of His life would be lived with only these purposes, to preach good news, to heal the brokenhearted, to set those that are bound and captivated free, to open the eyes of the blind, both physically and spiritually, to bring justice to those that have been scarred by injustice and to proclaim the heart, will and mind of God. He later taught us to pray what He was living out, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
This announcement of purpose and power is important to us today, on Resurrection Sunday, because, as Romans 8 tells us, “the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead lives in us.” If the Spirit of resurrection lives in us then our lives must be spent for the exact same purpose that the resurrection fulfilled, the redemption of the lost. We have not been saved for a mere place in heaven, for a solitary seat at the table of the Great Feast, we have been saved so that we might be partakers not only of the rewards but of the work of the resurrection.
II Corinthians 5 says:
“Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us; we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.”
Earlier in the chapter Paul wrote that we have been given “the ministry of reconciliation” and then defines that ministry using Christ as it’s example and definition, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them”.
This ministry that we are called to, that we have been not only invited to take part in but that we have been equipped for by virtue of the Spirit of resurrection that dwells in us, is the ministry of redemption and reconciliation. In the prior Scriptures, the word imputing means to calculate, record or count. We are not imputing, not called to count sin, calculate it, keep a running record or a tab for the world around us. The word reconciliation means to restore favor. We are called to lead the men and women and children around us back to the favor for which they were created, back to the favor of God, back to the image of God, back to the creation in which God stood over and declared to be good. Our calling is not to be pious and honored but to be humble and spent, poured out as servants just as Christ was poured out on our behalf as He died and then rose from that death to give us the life we could not attain for ourselves.
I want to finish today by sharing with you a story that I believe sums up my heart and thoughts today. It is a story that many of you may know but I want us to see how it relates to us, here on this riverbank in the city of Burlington.
In August of 1836 an African American man named Severn Martin was arrested here in Burlington. A slave trader from Virginia had come and accused Mr. Martin of being his property, a slave that had run away some 16 years earlier. Mr. Martin denied the charges and was taken before the county magistrate, who was also the mayor of Burlington. Even though the slave trader had no documentation or proof the magistrate found in his favor and ordered Mr. Martin to be turned over to him as slave property and returned to Virginia. When Mr. Martin was first arrested the city was incensed, the citizens gathered together and the stories that I read said there was a near riot. After the ruling was handed down the citizens of Burlington City were even more angry, but this time they acted not out of emotion but in wisdom and in the Spirit of resurrection. Our forefathers rallied together and they collected among themselves $800, the price the slave trader demanded for Severn Martin’s freedom. Mr. Martin was set free, he was redeemed, and the federal law was later changed because of this action of the citizens of Burlington, so that no one else would ever have to endure what Severn Martin endured.
Our heritage here in Burlington is of redemption. We are not merely a small group of people who have been redeemed, we are the ambassadors of Christ, we are those filled with the Spirit of God, the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead. I ask you today, on Resurrection Sunday, will we be the Ambassadors for Christ we are called to be? Will we allow God to plead through our lives for the reconciliation of our children, our grandchildren, our neighbors and coworkers? Will we make Jesus’ calling our calling and give whatever is necessary so that those around us will know the love and truth of God? Will we return to our heritage and while it may not be literal slavery that we are seeking to abolish, will we let our love, our lives, our words and our deeds be used to abolish the slavery of sin, of prejudice, of addiction, of poverty, of division and separation of any kind?
I will close by returning to our opening text, Romans 8:11:
“But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.”
Let us choose to live the life of resurrection today. Let us choose to believe that we have been redeemed so that we might bring redemption to others. Let us decide that our community will be a community of redemption, of healing, of love, of mercy, of freedom and of resurrection. Let us let the Spirit of Christ give life to our mortal bodies that we might be the ministers of reconciliation that would see freedom for the bound, mending for the broken and sight for the blind. We are commanded in Scripture to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, may we choose to also pray for the redemption of Burlington, that this city would be restored to God’s favor and be a shining light of freedom just as it was for Severn Martin those many years ago. May the heart of this city ring loud and true, “He is risen! He is risen indeed!”