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Looking in the Wrong Place
April 6, 1980

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

LUKE 24:1-12

Willis Tate, a former president of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, says that he once received a letter from a mother who was quite anxious about her son's entrance into his university. She wrote the president of SMU, holding him personally responsible to see that her son got a good roommate. She said she wanted a roommate for her son who did not grow a beard, or wear beads, who was a good student, who attended church regularly, who neither smoked or drank, nor used bad language and who was not too interested in girls. She closed this letter by saying the reason this is so important is that this is the first time my boy has ever been away from home, except for three years in the Marines.  

Everyone is looking for something. Many people do not know what or where so they look in the wrong place, like trying to find the correct roommate. Even those people who have an idea of what they're looking for often look in the wrong place. What are you looking for in your life? Success, meaning, fulfillment, companionship, salvation? I suggest to you that what you're really looking for in life is God, a personal relationship with God. We are all restless until we find reunion with the one who made us, the one who created us, the one who loves us. I suggest to you that really at the bottom of what you are looking for is life, spelled with a capital L. Many look in the wrong place. 

On Sunday morning after Jesus died the previous Friday, the women went to the tomb and found the tomb open and empty. As we heard in the lesson recorded by Luke, two angels appeared to the women and asked them this question, which is as relevant today to you and to me as it was to those women, “Why are you seeking the living among the dead?” Why do you look for life among the dead? Jesus could not be found in the tomb. The resurrected Christ could not be found in the cemetery. In all the Easter accounts in the four gospels, no one found Jesus that morning in the tomb. You cannot find the living among the dead, but many people look for their salvation, look for their meaning, look for their fulfillment in the wrong place. They look among the dead. Many people are looking for life among dead things, things which are dead and inert— material possessions, money, bank accounts, wealth. They are all dead.  W. E. Sangster, a very famous British Methodist was in the United States a few years ago and made this observation. He found that Americans, compared to all the people in the world, have the nicest homes, the most cars, the greatest wealth, and write the most books on how to be happy.

Happiness is not found among the dead. Many people are looking in the dead past, in what's gone on before. The good old days are in their youth—they dress youthfully, they smear cream all over their face, they act childish and they find nothing. For the past is dead. People look for meaning in bottles, pills, alcohol or drugs. Three old men were sitting on a park bench. A reporter interviewed them, asking them what they did, how old they were and what they like to do. The first man said, “I like to play checkers and I'm 91.” The second man said, “I like to play checkers and I'm 95.” The third one said, “I drink three pints of whiskey a day, smoke five packs of cigarettes and stay out all night.” The reporter, very impressed, asked, “How old are you?” He said, “27.” Why seek the living among the dead?

Where do you look? Where did the resurrected Christ make appearances? I studied the Easter accounts this week, looking from this point of view. Where was it and in what situation did Jesus appear? Did they experience the presence of the resurrected Christ in the tomb? No, but he was found in three other places and situations. I commend them to you because these have proved profitable to those early people. 

The first place where Jesus appeared most often was in the midst of the disciples as they were meeting and eating. Two times in Luke, they were meeting and eating and three times in John—two times they were meeting and the third time they were fishing and eating. People criticize us Methodists and tease us because we build beautiful kitchens and love to eat. We love potlucks, Easter breakfasts, coffee and refreshments. They laugh at us. 

But, Jesus appeared to the disciples as they ate together, as they shared meals together. That act became the sacrament of Holy Communion in the breaking of bread. I believe Jesus can be most experienced in the sacrament of Holy Communion, and also in the eating and sharing of meals together. They were eating and they were meeting. Luke says the disciples were gathered together discussing what had happened that day. They were sharing their experiences when Jesus appeared. It's in the fellowship of the church as we worship together, as we share, as we pray, as we eat together, as we serve Christ together—it’s in the fellowship of the church where you can find what you're looking for. 

Two persons told me recently why they did not participate in St. Paul's. They said they felt they were living perfectly good lives, didn't need the church, and really couldn't see what the church had to offer them. I guess that's fine. I didn't argue with them. It's not my business to push or sell anything. But, I was amazed to find two people who never sin, who never hurt anyone, who never disobey any commandments, who were always living up to their expectations, who never feel guilt, or shame, who never feel afraid, or lonely, or worried. That's impressive. Or, who never feel they have anything they can share and contribute to the rest of us. 

Jesus once said a very strange thing, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” The more modern translations say, “Happy are those who feel a spiritual need.” Happy are you when you feel a need for when you feel a need, express that need and come to church expectantly, you will find the resurrected Christ. You will meet that need in the fellowship of the church. As the disciples  were meeting, as they were eating, as they were sharing and discussing, there was Jesus in the midst. 

A second place, but before I before I go on—there are many churches today who are false churches. As we seek to find meaning in the church, let us make sure we are wary of what's going on in the world today. There are many false prophets around who are very capable of enticing and seducing our young people—the Moonies, the Universal Church, the Church of Scientology, the Children of God. Beware of any group that gathers together to share. Make sure it is a group in Christ. 

We have a new member here at St. Paul's. It came early in the week. Nevin Hawk pointed out a carrier pigeon who landed here during the heavy winds. It has a band around its leg. It's still out here. What an interesting story that pigeon could tell! We don't know what happened. Did a wounded bird lose its sense of direction in the heavy wind? We don't know. But I like to think that bird found a home here in this church—food to eat, water to drink, security, a home. 

When the disciples gathered together as the church, they found what they were looking for. 

The second place where Jesus appeared, Matthew records, was to those people when they believed and when they obeyed. When the angels told the women that Jesus had risen, and told them to go and tell the disciples, they believed the angel and ran to tell, and while enroute, Jesus met them. The disciples were told to go to the mountain and to wait for Jesus. The disciples believed and they acted in faith. And when they acted in faith and went to the mountain, they met Jesus and received the Great Commission. 

You find what you're looking for when you believe, when you act in faith, and do what you know you're supposed to do. Very few of us have to be told what is demanded of us. We know what to do. We know how to be honest in our business dealings and in our dealings with other people. We know how to have compassion. We know when to have tenderness. We know when to speak a word to a lonely person. We know when to reach out in love. We know to have integrity and honesty and to stand up for what is right. And when you do it, you’ll find fulfillment and meaning. A little boy received a telephone call during dinner. His father asked him what it was about. And he said it was a friend of his wondering about playing marbles for keeps. The father said, “What did you tell him?” He said, “I told him I didn't think he should play marbles for keeps.” Father said, “Well, what did the friend think of that?” “The friend said he wasn't interested in what I thought but what I did.” Not what you think but what you do. 

The women were told to go and tell. While they were telling, they met Jesus. Two men were reading an obituary of a friend. They were surprised to learn that their friend had been a member of a particular church. They'd never known it. Imagine all those years, he'd never told them. He'd never spoken a word of witness or a word of faith. I think he missed countless opportunities to discover the risen Christ. Act on what you believe. 

Thirdly, John records a touching incident when Jesus appeared to Mary in the garden while she was weeping. She thought he was the gardener until he spoke her name. Many times they did not recognize the resurrected Christ until he chose to let them know. Jesus had compassion on Mary and felt that she needed to know his presence. Why? Because she was weeping. She cared enough to weep and he came to her. What a strange place to look! What a strange place to look for joy, to look for Life, to look for salvation—in tears! But, many persons have found Christ when they have cared enough about someone or something to weep. Many have found Christ in their darkest hour because they were open, humble and ready. Sara Teasdale wrote, “I found more joy in sorrow than you can find in joy.” Because when you weep, when you care, you are humbled, and you are open to the Spirit. 

Where would this church be if we had people who cared enough about the will of God to weep in prayer? Where would you be? What would you find for your life if you cared enough and deeply enough to weep in tears as you pray for your salvation, as you pray for your fulfillment? Where would you be if you cared to the point of tears of finding Christ, finding him in the fellowship of the church, finding him in the act of obedience and finding him in your sorrow?

© 1980 Douglas I. Norris