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Think Triumph!
April 11 and 12, 1998

JOHN 20:11-18

The Russian communist lecturer concluded, "Therefore, there is no God; Jesus Christ never existed; there is no such thing as a Holy Spirit. The church is an oppressive institution, and anyway it's out of date. The future belongs to the State, and the State is in the hands of the Party." He was about to sit down when an old Russian Orthodox priest stood up, "May I say two words?" he asked. The lecturer thought, "What can he say in two words?" So, in exasperation, he gave the priest permission. The old man looked out over the crowd and shouted two words (it's three in English), "Christ is risen!" Back came the roar of the crowd, "Christ is risen indeed!"

For decades the communist totalitarian state tried to stifle the church, destroy faith, bury God, but Christ triumphed! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed!) A member of one of my former congregations was in Moscow on business. It happened to be the first Easter after the communist government fell, and he asked where there might be a church having Easter services. A friend took him to an Orthodox church located about a mile from the Kremlin. The church had hourly services beginning at 9:00 PM on Saturday night. When they arrived for the 9:00 service, there were several hundred people standing outside. About 250, including Bob and his friend, were admitted inside for the service. There was singing, there was incense, there were chants. At the climax of the service, the priest led the congregation outside to proclaim that Christ was risen. When they got outside, there were now about 1,500 people, mostly of young adult age. Bob was afraid they were rioting or demonstrating, but no, they were standing quietly. They were holding candles, praying, worshiping. By the time of the midnight service, the crowd had grown to over 100,000! Decades of prohibiting religious education did not quench the Spirit. Christ is risen! (Christ is risen, indeed!)

Let's celebrate the resurrection. If you want proof of the resurrection, come next week to hear the sermon. Today, let's celebrate, using the ancient greeting. When Christians met one another, they greeted one another with "Christ is risen!" and the response, "Christ is risen indeed!" Let's revive this practice. Say it after the service to one another. When you see your neighbor, tell him/her "Christ is risen!" When you answer the phone today, don't say, "Hello," say, "Christ is risen!" Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed!)

We've been talking about how to succeed, not just survive, during Lent. We began with Dream Big, we end today with Think Triumph! If the communists couldn't extinguish the Spirit, certainly your spirit can triumph. You will never be defeated; fail a few times, perhaps, but not defeated. "Because I live, you will live also," said Jesus. Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed!) There is nothing that can defeat you. On Easter, the devil was defeated. The devil may not yet admit it, but he is dead meat!

They thought they were done with Jesus. They hung him on a cross, they put his body in a cave, they rolled a stone across the entrance. He was dead. He was buried. He would no longer hound them, disturb them, challenge them. He was dead. But, God had the last word. When the women came at dawn on Sunday morning to anoint his body with spices, the stone was rolled aside, the cave was empty. Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed!) There in the garden, Mary wept tears, then she saw the one she thought was the gardener. Then, she saw the Lord. "I have seen the Lord!" she shouted. Look around, the risen Christ is everywhere. With eyes of faith, you can see him. Think Triumph!

A young mother of five children became desperate because of health and financial problems, and decided that life was not worth the struggle. She took her youngest child, a pre-school age girl, into the bedroom, turned on the gas heater without lighting it, and lay down on the bed with her arm around her small daughter. She listened to the gas escaping, and became aware of another sound, the radio was on in the next room. For some reason, it seemed important to get up and turn it off. When she went into the room, she heard the hymn, "O, what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear all because we dot carry everything to God in prayer." In that moment, she realized the mistake she was making. She rushed back into the bedroom, turned off the gas, opened the windows, picked up the little girl and held her tightly. She said later, "I began to pray. I did not pray for help. I prayed a prayer of gratitude to God for opening my eyes." Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed!)

John Powell in his book, Unconditional Love, tells about Tommy, one of his students. Tommy was the "atheist in residence" in Powell's theology class. Tommy constantly objected to, smirked at, jeered at the idea of a loving God. Powell called Tommy a "serious pain in the back pew." When Tommy turned in his final exam, he asked cynically, "Do you think I'll ever find God?" Powell responded with a surprising, "No! But I am absolutely certain that God will find you!"

Several years later, Tommy returned to see Powell. He was thin, pale, and all his hair was gone, as a result of chemotherapy. Tommy said, "I've got cancer in both lungs. It's a matter of weeks." Powell was surprised at Tommy's acceptance and good spirit. He was only 24 years old, dying of cancer, but said, "It could be worse. Like being fifty years old and having no values or ideals, like being fifty and thinking that booze and making money are the biggies in life." Tommy continued, "But I came to tell you how, as you predicted, God found me." After he had been told he had cancer, Tommy got serious about finding God. He banged bloody fists on the bronze doors of heaven, but God didn't come out. Then he remembered another lesson from the class. Powell had said, "The essential sadness is to go through life without loving. And it would be almost equally sad to go through life and leave this world without ever telling those you loved that you loved them."

So Tommy decided to tell those he loved that he loved them. He began with the hardest one, his Dad. Dad was reading the newspaper when Tommy approached, "Dad..."

Without lowering the newspaper, Dad said, "Yes."

"Dad, I would like to talk with you."

"Well, talk."

"I's really important."

The newspaper came down three slow inches. "What is it?"

"Dad, I just want you to know that I love you."

The newspaper fell to the floor, and his father did two things that Tommy had never seen before. His father cried and hugged him. They talked all night. Tommy had similar experiences with his mother and his brother.

Tommy told Powell, "Here I was, in the shadow of death, and I was just beginning to open up to all the people I had actually been close to. Then, one day, I turned around, and there was God. God found me." Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed!)

The sound of Martha's voice on the other end of the telephone always brought a smile to Jim's face. She was not only one of the oldest members of the congregation, but one of the most faithful. Aunt Martie, as all of the children called her, just seemed to ooze faith, hope, and love wherever she went. This time, however, there seemed to be an unusual tone to her words. "Preacher, could you stop by this afternoon? I need to talk with you."

As they sat facing each other in the quiet of her small

living room, Martha shared the news that her doctor had just discovered a tumor. "He says I probably have six months to live".

"I'm so sorry ..." but before Jim could finish, Martha interrupted. "Don't be. The Lord has been good. I have lived a long life. I'm ready to go. You know that." "I know," Jim whispered with a reassuring nod. "But I do want to talk with you about my funeral."

The two talked quietly for a long time. They talked about Martha's favorite hymns, the passages of Scripture that had meant so much to her through the years, and the many memories they shared. When it seemed that they had covered just about everything, Aunt Martie paused, looked up at Jim with a twinkle in her eye, and then added, "One more thing, preacher. When they bury me, I want my old Bible in one hand and a fork in the other".

"A fork?" Jim was sure he had heard everything, but this caught him by surprise. "Why do you want to be buried with a fork?"

"I have been thinking about all of the church dinners and banquets that I attended through the years. I couldn't begin to count them all. But one thing sticks in my mind. At those really nice get-togethers, when the meal was almost finished, a server or maybe the hostess would come by to collect the dirty dishes. I can hear the words now. Somebody would lean over my shoulder and whisper, 'You can keep your fork.' And do you know what that meant? Dessert was coming! It didn't mean a cup of Jell-O or pudding or even a dish of ice cream. You don't need a fork for that. It meant the good stuff, like chocolate cake or cherry pie! When they told me I could keep my fork, I knew the best was yet to come! That's exactly what I want people to talk about at my funeral. Oh, they can talk about all the good times we had together. That would be nice. But when they walk by my casket and look at my pretty blue dress, I want them to turn to one another and say, 'Why the fork'?

That's when I want you to say, I want you to tell them, that I kept my fork because the "THE BEST IS YET TO COME!"


© 1998 Douglas I. Norris