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First Reading = John 20:1-18
20Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10Then the disciples returned to their homes.
11But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
We are starting a new series for the next nine weeks looking at different spiritual pathways. These are nine different paths that lead you to a connection with God. Some people are designed to walk toward God by the intellectual pathway. Others are designed to walk toward God by the compassionate service pathway. Others are designed to walk toward God by the nature pathway.
The specifics are different for each person, but I have yet to meet someone who didn’t connect with at least one of these nine pathways. So if you’re feeling like your spiritual soda has gone flat, we’re going to give you maybe some new paths to walk toward God or some new ideas on how to go deeper with the spiritual pathway you’ve always walked.
This series was inspired by the book Sacred Pathways by Gary Thomas. It’s a really, really good book, so I highly recommend picking it up if you’re a reader. I also went through all nine of these spiritual pathways with my Monday night men’s Bible study group, and I posted the entire discussion guide on our website on the Spiritual Journey tab of our website – fpcl.org. You can use it on your own or in a group if you want.
And we’re also putting some tangible steps you can take to practice each spiritual pathway on the back of the bulletin each week. I really want to put a whole lot of spiritual tools in your toolbox over the next nine weeks.
In fact, I’ll go this far. I believe the next nine weeks are the most important series I have ever given in terms of the potential to impact you for the rest of your life. If you find your top one or two spiritual pathways, and if you discover several ways to walk down that pathway toward God, and if you also spot some of the potential pitfalls that can trip you up along the way? If you get that out of the next nine weeks, I will have taught you how to fish spiritually instead of just giving you some spiritual fish each week.
And what better time to start the most important sermon series I think I’ve ever given than Easter? Today we’re going to talk about loving God with mystery and celebration, which is called the enthusiast pathway. This spiritual pathway is about connecting your experiences back to God. This isn’t about thoughts and knowledge and study and understanding – we’ll talk about the intellectual pathway another week. This is about experiences. Spiritual mysteries. Celebrating what Jesus has done and who Jesus is without worrying about understanding everything.
And that’s pretty much a summary of the very first Easter Sunday. They had no idea what was happening, and when they got the briefest glimpse of it they were awestruck! Easter is a mystery! Easter is a celebration! Easter is a great example of the enthusiast spiritual pathway.
Sermon Reading = Acts 10:34-43
34Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 37That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
My son, like many five-year-olds, has a lot of questions. A few months ago, my wife and I were commenting on the beauty of the sunset over the mountains that evening. The reds and pinks and oranges and purples were like a painting stretched across the sky. And so my son asked me, “What makes the sky do that? And why is it blue during the day?”
I love questions, and I especially love science questions! Cue the Dad-splainer! So I started to explain Rayleigh Scattering and how the angle of the sun’s rays at different times of day determines how much atmosphere it passes through, and that determines how much light gets scattered, and that affects the color, and that then determines… Yeah, his eyes started glazing over just like yours!
Being such an experienced public speaker, I sensed that I was losing my audience and changed tactics. I told him, “But do you know the best thing about all of that?” “What, Dad?” “It looks cool!” “Yeah!”
Sometimes you just gotta appreciate and celebrate something that looks beautiful! That’s the enthusiast pathway for this week. Stop and smell the roses. Stop and appreciate the beauty. Appreciate that something is amazing even if you can’t explain it. Get lost in the moment, don’t get lost in the weeds.
It’s kind of hard to talk about mysteries in the information age. We can look up explanations for so many things within seconds. It seems like we can explain and quantify so many things! But we’re also surrounded by deep mysteries that we take for granted every day.
For example, let’s suppose I told you I was going to take a nap later today. Sounds pretty normal, right? But what if I told you that I’m going to go comatose for a few hours, hallucinate vividly, and then probably suffer amnesia about the whole experience? That’s what a nap really is! We have no idea what’s going on with all of that, but we take that mystery for granted.
And on Easter we are surrounded by a cornucopia of mysteries that we take for granted. The backdrop to Easter is Jesus, the Son of God, allowing himself to die on the cross on our behalf. But hold on. Think about that. That’s just as crazy as calling a two hour comatose hallucination with amnesia a nap! God died?!? God died for me?!? God died on purpose?!? To forgive my sins?!? What?!?
The next mystery is that on Easter we can sing at the top of our lungs, “Jesus Christ is Risen Today!” But hold on a second. How did he rise again from death? Why didn’t he just skip dying, step down from the cross, and show his power? What?!? Resurrection is a word we put around an unfathomable mystery.
But the enthusiast spiritual pathway leans into that mystery and celebrates it. Yeah it’s an unfathomable mystery. AND it’s cool! Yeah I can’t explain it. AND isn’t that fabulous!?! This spiritual pathway acknowledges that we worship a God who cannot fit inside our limited minds and limited perspectives and limited knowledge and limited experiences. And how great that is! God is bigger than I can imagine! God is stronger than I can imagine! God is more loving than I can imagine! God has more imagination than I can imagine! Hallelujah for that!
So let me share some spiritual practices that allow you to take those mysteries and use them to walk toward God. One of the spiritual practices is to make use of those times when you are comatose and hallucinating with a chance at suffering amnesia – dreams!
A couple of weeks ago, a woman I know was debating whether she should warn her good friend. Her husband was planning a surprise party for her, which is a nice gesture. But the way her husband was planning the party was going to annoy her greatly. So the woman I know was wondering if she should secretly spill the beans and help her friend prepare herself to make the best of the situation.
But no one wants to be the one who blows the surprise, right? Would that be being a good friend? Or would that be being a party pooper? Well, one night the woman I know had a dream that featured her friend. And in the dream, her friend told her, “You know me the best.”
So when she woke up she took that as a sign that she should go with her instinct to tell her good friend about the upcoming surprise party that would annoy her to no end. And that allowed her good friend to get her negative emotions out of the way ahead of time so she could make the best of it and try to appreciate the intent of her husband’s surprise party rather than the implementation that annoyed her.
By paying attention to the dream, the woman I know was able to do something loving for her friend. That’s a mystery. But you don’t have to explain it to be able to appreciate and celebrate it.
You can actually use your dreams as a spiritual practice. God speaks through dreams all throughout the Bible. There are dozens and dozens of examples. So this is a very real spiritual practice.
If you want to use your dreams as a spiritual practice, here’s a pretty simple method. Only two steps. First step – log what you can remember about your dreams each day for a week or so. The sooner you write it down in the morning, the more you’ll remember. Step two – pray for the Jesus to speak to you and guide you through your dreams every day that you’re logging your dreams. Look at your log and pray over it. Pretty simple!
Not every dream is guidance from Jesus. That’s one of the pitfalls of this spiritual pathway. That’s where a community of faith like a small group or some trusted Christian friends can help you confirm or question if you’re hearing from Jesus correctly.
But the process is pretty simple – log your dreams and pray to receive guidance through them. No guarantees on the particular week you’re trying it, but God definitely uses dreams to speak to people sometimes! Think about how good this news is. You don’t have to go to a Bible study for this. You don’t have to worry about your busy schedule for this. You don’t have to ask for permission for this. You’re going to sleep. You’re going to dream. If you remember at least some of your dream, you can write it down and pray for it. And sometimes, our mysterious God will meet you that way. I can’t explain that like I can explain Rayleigh scattering and the color of the sky, but at the end of the day? Having a God who loves us and is close enough to appear in our dreams is pretty cool! Maybe you’ll be able to say, like Mary Magdalene on Easter morning, “I have seen the Lord!”
Forms of Prayer
So that’s dreams. But there are other ways to walk toward God in this spiritual pathway.
Have you ever been browsing a website and you get one of those “We value your feedback” surveys? I almost always just say “No.” But about a year ago, Google was rolling out a major change to how you manage groups within Gmail. And I absolutely hated it! The new interface required about four more steps to add or remove multiple people from the group. I hate extra steps and extra clicks! So when they asked for my feedback, I gave it to them!
And guess what happened? They completely ignored my feedback, just as I expected them to do! Have you ever seen that old Farside comic where the suggestion box actually has a pipe to the trash can? That’s precisely what I expected, but I decided to give it a try anyway.
I believe we often pray as if we expect God to take our suggestion and concerns about as seriously as Google took my Gmail feedback. But have you ever prayed with an expectation that God would do something? Have you ever prayed with the expectation that God would be present? That’s a different form of prayer.
Someone called me out on this at my previous church many years ago. We were organizing a ministry where adults were paired with other adult mentors. And we had about 20 matches on paper when one of the guys on my staff suggested we pray for more matches. I agreed, but he stopped me. Because, I’ve shared this before, prayer is not high on my spiritual gifts. Sometimes I go through the motions. So he stopped me and asked, “do you expect God to actually answer this prayer?”
It kind of stopped me in my tracks. I paused for a while and said, “You know, you’re right. Let’s pray over this like we expect Jesus himself to write down a few names for us.”
Much, much longer than I ever would have kept praying normally, we had six more pairings. And a year later, guess which six mentor pairings had the most life impact? Guess which pairings kept going after the end of the program? Yeah. Jesus knew what he was doing. Turns out Jesus knows people better than I do. Who’da thunk it?
Praying with the expectation that Jesus will show up in some way is a spiritual practice. I’ve had other times where I could tangibly feel the presence of Jesus during an expectant prayer, but I couldn’t tell you exactly how the prayers were answered. Like the stone rolled away from the tomb on Easter morning, the presence of Jesus is its own fulfillment of prayer even if you can’t articulate what he did.
Our prayers don’t go into the heavenly trash bin. Our prayers land on the desk of the Son of God. And he knows my name as well as he knows Mary’s name. I can’t explain that, but it’s pretty cool!
There are other spiritual practices for loving God through mystery and celebration on the back of your bulletin or on our website, but I want to highlight just one more today.
One of the women in our church named Sue took a trip to rural Ethiopia. She had seen poverty around the world, but not like what she saw on that trip. It left her shaken to think that God would let her live such a privileged life while allowing these people who were singing God’s praises to live with so little.
But she couldn’t shake the image of the children she had met. So she went back the following year, with a couple of young women in tow who wanted to experience what she had told them in stories and perhaps find a way to help.
Her church asked her to share some more of her stories, and soon people were giving her money she hadn’t asked for to go and make a difference in these places and with these people who had been planted on her heart.
While she was there, an Ethiopian friend asked her to buy a blanket for a widow in the local church. As she handed the woman the blanket, the woman praised God that he had finally sent her help!
Sue shared that her first thought was that God didn’t do this! She took a miserable airplane flight, rode in a car that bumped and swerved for 12 hours. But then…but then…a calm, peaceful presence flooded her. And she thought of all the people who made this possible. She was just a conduit for the love and presence and care of God!
I’ll let her finish the story in her own words. “I continued taking trips to Ethiopia for the next twenty years and am humbled by all the blessings that have transpired. I’ve stumbled on desperate students, grateful parents, and abandoned children, who I’ve been able to help through the charity I established. All of the students I took with me have found direction and meaning in their lives and I found a passion like none I’d had before. My Ethiopian kids are all now adults and are working. The kindergarten I helped establish with seven students is now a school for more than 200. The blessing have never stopped.”
You never could have convinced her on that first trip to start a school for 200 kids. You never could have convinced her on that first trip to start a charity. That would have been too big for her!
But she wasn’t the one building it. Jesus was building it through her and through the other people around her. It took a willingness to take the next spiritual risk. It took a willingness to take another spiritual risk and keep going back. It took a willingness to take the spiritual risk of accepting people’s donations and trying to do something with them in Ethiopia.
Taking the next spiritual risk in something that is too big for you to achieve without Jesus doing the heavy lifting? That’s a spiritual practice.
And that’s when we see resurrection power! Resurrection power, Easter power, isn’t conjuring a miracle. Usually, resurrection power, Easter power, is watching one act of faithfulness, and then another act of faithfulness, and then another act of faithfulness, and then you look back and realize miracles are happening all around you like Sue’s experience in Ethiopia.
You and I are following Jesus because some women saw the risen Christ and they told some Jewish men who followed Jesus when he was alive. Those men told others. And people kept telling others because they experienced life so differently and so much more meaningfully when they followed Jesus. Rinse and repeat for almost 2000 years and here we are in Littleton, Colorado on Easter. That’s too big for anyone to achieve on their own. But for God? That’s just another day at the office. That’s resurrection power, that’s Easter power. That’s one spiritual risk after another after another after another for 2000 years to reach us today.
I can’t explain how that stuff happens. But I see it all the time, and it’s pretty cool.
Sisters and brothers, I can’t explain Easter to you. I can’t explain a God who dies for us to forgive us and then rises again three days later. I have no scientific terms to explain that. But I also don’t need to.
Because God works through mysteries and dreams and expectant prayers and taking one spiritual risk after another until all of a sudden miracles are happening all around you. That’s resurrection power. That’s Easter power. I can’t explain it. But it’s pretty cool. And I’ll gladly give a Hallelujah for it.
So Happy Easter. He Is Risen! He Is Risen Indeed! Hallelujah!