Pastor Lee Ortman: I have never before shared the text of a sermon. I am doing it because "Revive Logan County" is this week and this sermon is a way I can encourage us to be involved.
“The Resurrected Presence of Christ”
John 20: 19-31
After being invited and led to Christ and discipled, which was a long up and down experience because I had a lot of issues in my life that made me struggle along the way. There were some folks at my church that stuck with me and we shared some difficult things about ourselves and drew closer to God by seeking His will through bible study and worship and serving others.
It changed my life dramatically and to make the story short for today, I eventually discovered that God was calling me into full-time ministry. I left my former life behind and placed my trust in Jesus.
I realized the greatest joy as a pastor when I was blessed to sit face to face with someone facing imminent death, especially if I could help that person confirm their faith and take away the doubt that comes sometimes at the end of life.
I helped this elderly lady at the end with her doubts about her own faith and we were able to talk about her worry that her grandchildren were being pulled away from God by the culture they lived in today.
“I wish with all my heart for my grandchildren to stay connected to church and grow in their faith in Jesus Christ” We prayed many times about that.
She died, and the funeral was a great celebration of her life for me to lead. I felt blessed to have had this journey of faith with her.
I spoke to one of her teenage grandchildren at the funeral dinner about connecting to a church because of her grandmother’s prayers. She asked me a question I did not expect.
She asked me, “What is the church good for? Everything I see connected to them anymore is selfish and hateful.”
I literally choked on my decaf. Some went up my nose. Very embarrassing for the dignity of a pastor to choke and spray hot coffee out his nose.
I tried answering the question by telling her that the people in the church are no different than anyone outside the church. They struggle and have weaknesses and doubts and fears just like anyone else.
I told her that the difference is that God has reached out to us to help us overcome our sin and separation through a transformation that comes from the resurrected Son, Jesus, who died to set us free from sin and death. All God wants is for us to believe in him and accept that love and forgiveness through the power of the Holy Spirit Jesus freely gives to us.
When we accept Christ, we are transformed and receive new life in him.
I thought to myself—I just hit a homerun for Jesus.
Then she said, “But what is the church good for?” She told me that she could seriously consider and accept that there is a loving God, but the church gets in the way because the church she knows about doesn’t act like it knows that the message to share is one of love, acceptance, forgiveness and new life.
Then she said that some of her friends who went to church have dropped out because they felt nothing but pressure to compete against other churches for who was the best and who could outdo the other. It was about the “holier than thou” attitude while they would not accept people who were different and the way they used their money and time was all about themselves and their church activities and programs.
I have been thinking about this episode for quite a while. When I have shared this with other church people their responses and answers turn to doctrines and politics, and differences in world-views, music, movies, and clothing styles. I hear descriptive names like “those people”. They won’t listen.
I realize that the place to start should be the need we all have for the saving grace offered by Jesus on the cross and the new life we can live from because of the resurrection. Show unconditional love because that is the love you received from Jesus.
Look at the differences between the disciples of Jesus. Look at the variations of people who were transformed by Jesus. Many people that Jews were not allowed to even be near or notice, Jesus reached out to them. Jesus loved the rejects of church and society just as much as he loved the saints of the church.
It is about faith, aided by the Holy Spirit, replacing doubt and fear with hope, joy, and forgiveness.
How much real transformation is going on in our churches today in America? Is our church united for “the resurrected presence of Christ”?
Is that the universal theme across the landscape?
We begin this week to visibly answer the question of that young girl and everyone else who does not know the resurrected presence of Christ in their life.
Revive Logan County begins this Friday and it makes every attempt to surrender all of us under the umbrella of the resurrected presence of Jesus Christ. No church names, no church buildings to attend, no doctrines about dress or music or who sins more than anyone else.
We are going to the people of all walks of life in Logan County to love them with concern for them and prayer for them. That is our intent. For two months we have been praying for the Holy Spirit to empower us in unity to open hearts and minds by this work. That people would know the presence of the resurrected Christ in us as we reach out with simple loving concern for our neighbors.
That alone, we believe, will be blessed to make Christ known and alter the image most people have of the church in Logan County.
Right now, we live in a time and place where the true church that Jesus commissioned and blessed is needed.
People are getting literally crazy and misguided, misled, and overwhelmed with selfishness and isolation. The multitude of levels of pain and human misery is explosive, tearing lives apart, destroying the foundations of family, personal freedoms and responsibility, and faith.
The only answer seems to be blaming others. At the same time, we are all going down with the ship. “It’s not my fault”, seems to echo across the land.
Money, it seems, is still the major way out of pain. Cash is a poor poultice for injuries, mental anguish, loneliness, and hopelessness. Try rubbing a $20 bill on your throbbing head.
There seems to be a reward for cynicism about faith. That will always be a challenge. A long time ago a man named Ambrose Bierce defined faith cynically this way. “Faith is belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge of things without parallel.” Ambrose wasn’t the first and he will not be the last to mock faith.
What is the church good for? Not good at all for people who think money is the root of all happiness. Not good for making lists of people to blame for what we don’t like about life.
People are running scared, no one trusts anything anymore, violence it seems is never far away. Fear about every part of life hangs over us. What is the church good for in a world out of control and in chaos?
That is the same place the disciples find themselves in that dark room in Jerusalem. Jesus is dead. The church they knew from childhood had nothing to offer but condemnation and rejection. They had no hope to return to what they now saw as the deterioration of their own people into suffering, subjugation, hostility, and destruction.
Jesus was the image of the God they needed, a God who loves each person and wants to forgive and heal and redeem. He took on flesh and the way he suffered and died. What did it accomplish? In the sadness of that dark hiding place, it seemed to the disciples that Jesus’ death was senseless.
Then came the miracle of the ages. Out of darkness came light.
The resurrection of Jesus gave the disciples the answer that would transform them through the Holy Spirit and destroy the power of sin and death. The resurrected presence of Christ would forever hold open the doorway to the eternal life of those who believe in him.
The dwelling of God would forever be with all those who believe in Jesus Christ and God will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for all this chaos that has been a broken sinful world will pass away.
That is what the church is good for friends. That is why we need to be united in the resurrected presence of Christ. If we will concentrate on that together, all those, who are like the disciple of Jesus named Thomas, will stop doubting and believe. Let’s all join with our brothers and sisters in Christ and get the church, the church people think they know, out of the way, and let us now be united as the church of the resurrected presence of Jesus Christ who died to save us from sin and death on a hated, despised, Roman cross of crucifixion.
Answer with your personal unwavering belief in Jesus Christ. If you struggle with your belief, ask God for help and ask other people to pray with you about it. Don’t keep your struggle to yourself.
Don’t camouflage it with how great your church does things. Don’t exaggerate the power of your specific church. Don’t worry about the bad examples that people might love to share about church people.
Focus on loving others and helping them to experience the resurrected presence of Jesus Christ. Your own life will be blessed, and your faith will be strengthened.
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