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Being Jesus

Listen to the recording of this sermon:

John 20:1-18

March 23, 2008

Sermon preached by Rev. Donald Ng at the First Chinese Baptist Church in San Francisco.

Les Cheveldayoff gets crucified six times a week. It’s not that he has a bad job, it’s that getting crucified is his job. He gets resurrected six times a week, too, so it’s all good.

Les Cheveldayoff is Jesus. At least he portrays Jesus at a park in the midst of vacation- land destination of Orlando, Florida. Les is a ruggedly handsome guy with long wavy and sandy hair, a full beard, smiling eyes and six-pack abs—the prototype of the popular picture of Jesus, at least in that part of the world.

For six years, Les has been part of the cast at the Holy Land Experience—an interactive living history park/ministry that opened in 2001. When Les gets crucified every afternoon except Sunday (the day of resurrection) it’s a spectacle worthy of anything the folks at the Magic Kingdom can create.

The management at the Holy Land Experience wants to make it clear that they are not a theme park like the others around them in Orlando. There are no rides, for example. They prefer to refer to the park as a “living biblical museum” where people do indeed encounter the particular spiritual theme that Jesus Christ is Lord.

In other words, this isn’t Disney World and Jesus is no Mickey Mouse. The disciples, townsfolk and Roman soldiers in the Holy Land Experience are there to interact with the visitors and have their pictures taken as living historians. They act in the first person and must know all the details about life in first-century Israel. (Maybe instead of going to Israel this July, we should just fly to Orlando!)

Jesus after the morning show called “The Ministry of Jesus,” reappears again in the afternoon as he drags the cross down the faux Via Dolorosa while actors portraying Roman soldiers appear to kick and spit on him. Tourists line the streets taking pictures, some licking the “milk and honey” ice cream cones they bought from a nearby concession stand. The action moves to the “Calvary’s Garden Tomb” area of the park where Les/Jesus is “nailed” to a large cross that is lifted up by hydraulic motors. Later, he appears from the tomb that sits immediately below Calvary’s hill.

I have not visited the Holy Land Experience in Orlando but many obviously have. People who are spiritual tourists not only want to read the story in the Scriptures, they want to experience the Cross and Resurrection for themselves. We call our tour this July a “Holy Land Pilgrimage”—some of us perhaps all of us want to experience the Cross and Resurrection for ourselves.

Easter Tourist Attraction

Now we may not have hydraulic crosses and scale model tombs in our sanctuaries on Easter morning, but we do have Easter flowers that speak of new life. We have changed the pulpit paraments to white to represent victory over death. Last week, we cleaned the church and touched up the walls with new paint. Some of you are wearing new clothes to symbolize resurrection. We work hard to recreate our worship center and our church, we make sure that the music and the mood are right, and then we open the doors to the hordes of people who fill our pews for this one Sunday a year. For us, Easter Sunday is a tourist attraction.

If people treat Easter Sunday like a tourist attraction, maybe we in the church have made it that way. We schedule our spring clean-up day before Easter expecting spiritual tourists to visit. We talk to our friends, coworkers or family members and say to them, “How about joining me for church on Easter Sunday?” We say to people if there were a Sunday that we are at our best, it would be Easter Sunday, “How about coming to church then?”

If people treat Easter Sunday like a tourist attraction, maybe because we in the church haven’t done enough to point out the real message of Easter as an ongoing reality that continues beyond the historical event. Easter is more than what the producers of the Holy Land Experience or what Les Cheveldayoff does in Orlando.

The resurrection of Jesus marked the triumph of God over evil and death. But it also marked a fundamental change in the relationship between God and humanity. It signals reconciliation between God and his people. Paul writes in Romans 5:1, “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Easter is so much more and more entertaining than what you might experience at the Holy Land Experience. Easter is so much more than what you might experience coming to worship today at FCBC when you may have a pleasant experience seeing old friends, making new ones, and going out to dim sum afterward.

Easter, the resurrection of the Lord, the empty tomb mean that as Jesus is, we also can be. We can be selfless agents of love and reconciliation in the world.

John 20

The resurrection story in John 20 is a familiar one—Mary Magdalene discovering the empty tomb, Peter and John seeing the folded grave clothes, the visit of the angels, the risen Jesus calling Mary’s name. These are the stories of Easter that we gather to hear today. What we sometimes miss is that the real thrust of this passage points toward the ascension of Jesus when he activates and empowers the disciples to be like him.

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Mary moved to embrace the risen Jesus, but he said, “Do not hold on to me” because he had “not ascended to the Father.” It’s not that Jesus had some kind of dangerous spiritual aura about him or that human hands could not touch his resurrection body because later on we know that Thomas did touch Jesus’ hands and his side.

Mary wanted to hold on tight to her teacher and Lord because she wanted him to stay and get back to what it was like before. She wanted to cling to him as any of us would have when a loved one is suddenly alive again.

But Jesus reminds her of a bigger picture. The focus of Jesus was not on basking in the glow of the resurrection event, but on getting the word out to his disciples and getting them moving out on the mission of taking the message of the risen Christ into the world.

In John’s Gospel, it’s the ascension of Jesus that will empower the disciples and enable the mission to move forward. Jesus instructs Mary to tell the disciples that he will return to the Father soon. This would be the completion of Jesus’ glorification and his identity as the true Son of Man. The Ascension fulfills the promise by Jesus that he would prepare a place for those he loves.

The place Jesus loves is not only a faraway and future “heaven,” but it’s also the place where he has been born into, lived, and ministered and died for. When Jesus was talking about the Father’s house, it’s not only the divine-human relationship that Jesus himself embodied but it’s also the physical location that he and his disciples lived and died. Jesus’ return to God would be the event that makes it possible for the disciples to join in the relationship shared by Jesus and God the Father (John 20:17).

What was true about the relationship between Jesus and God would now be true of the disciples. Jesus said, “My father is now your Father and my God is now your God.” So here’s the Easter message for this year—The glory of Easter, the glory of Jesus, was to be acted out by the disciples. They were to be Jesus’ hands, feet and voice serving people everywhere.

Being Jesus

In all due respect to Les Cheveldayoff, 21st century Christians are not about beards, robes, six-pack abs and being crucified and resurrected six-times a week. Being disciples today is about walking the talk, dying from our selfishness, being raised as a new creation and being in relationship with God, whom Jesus called “Father” everyday.

Some of you came this Easter morning with the expectation of hearing that “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” again. Yes, this is true! But what you are also hearing is that when Jesus ascended into heaven to return to God the Father, he commissioned us to be like him on this earth until he returns. Just like Jesus had a human/divine relationship with God, we now have that human/divine relationship with God ourselves.

Being like Jesus every day means that as Jesus walked among the people of his day, showing mercy, healing the sick, interacting with others with respect and love, we, too, get to live in the world walking the talk, making a difference, healing the wounded, binding up the broken, blessing those around us, lifting up the fallen. We get to do all of that when we are being like Jesus.

Being like Jesus every day means that some things in our selfish interests die when we follow Christ. We may not get crucified on a hydraulic cross six times a week, but we do “die” to an old life so that we may have a new life. It can’t be more dramatic than the four persons who were baptized last Sunday. Being like Jesus means we go through a dying daily. We say “no” to those selfish interests as we put the needs of others first. This is tough to do, but who said crucifixion was easy.

When we are being like Jesus, some times it feels like we are also buried with him. People forget us when we are buried—out of sight, out of mind. When we faithfully direct the spotlight on the care for others, no one notices us and sometimes no one cares.

But being like Jesus also means resurrection. The power of God energizes us afresh every day and each moment of the day. We too are resurrected from our buried existence to be alive to a new life and be alive with a new life! We too are breaking out of the tombs of life that keep us from the joy of serving God in this world that needs so much love and hope.

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Being Jesus

The good news on this Easter morning is that Jesus is calling you to “be Jesus.” And not only called but empowered to be what we have been called to be. Someone else taking your place cannot fulfill this call. You and I can’t say let the Apostle Paul be like Jesus since he met the Christ on the Damascus road. You and I can’t say let Martin Luther King, Jr. be like Jesus since he’s been to the mountaintop. You and I can’t say let Tim Lee, Randy Leung, Clay Manguiat and Courtney Yuen be like Jesus since they publicly professed their faith in baptism last week. You can’t say let Pastor Don be Jesus since he’s the minister.

Being Jesus is not for someone to assume the role that only you have to fulfill. Being Jesus is much more. It’s about recognizing that we have a new relationship to God as a child of God, reconciled to God through Jesus—a turn of events which allows us not just to act the part, as does Les Cheveldayoff, but to live the life day after day.

The key to being Jesus isn’t to be different. The key is to be your self. You are never closer to being Christ-like than when you are at your best. When you are feeling compassionate or generous or merciful and you act that way, you are being the image of Christ. You are being you.

When we are at our best, not even Jesus could do better. Why? Because we tend to think that Jesus is bringing to the human encounter some special Jesus-ingredient that we, mere mortals, don’t have. But remember what Jesus said to Mary to tell the disciples—“I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” By being and doing our best as his disciples all those mundane and ordinary every day acts of kindness and compassion, not even Jesus could perform them any better.

You don’t need to be the Incarnate God to give a thirsty person a cup of cold water. Just give him a cup of cold water. It’s not magical. If someone needs a kind word, then speak a kind word. It’s not rocket science. If someone needs forgiveness, then say, “I forgive you.” It’s not superhuman. If someone needs a jacket or a coat to wear, then give him your coat because you can’t tell me that you don’t have a closet full of jackets and coats. It’s not that hard.

I love what happens whenever we have a sidewalk tea like we did last Sunday. There will always be our local neighbors or a passer-byer who would come and partake of our cookies and sandwiches. I noticed two last Sunday. If our neighbors want something to eat, then let them have a cookie and a cup of tea. We had plenty to give away.

Being Jesus is easy. We don’t do any people any favors especially some of you who are here for Easter this morning that being a person created in the image of God that you need some kind of super-spiritual status to be a capable Christian. Sometimes being Jesus is just listening over coffee. The point is, for large parts of the day, you are being like Jesus.

Les Cheveldayoff may look the part of what a lot of people picture Jesus to look like. But the truth is that you are like Jesus when you are just being yourself. We are like Jesus when we simply choose to act like him—serving humbly, speaking passionately, living generously, doing justly, and offering mercy.

Many of you may have come to church this morning as some kind of spiritual tourists hoping to hear the stories of the Risen Christ, getting goose bumps from singing hallelujahs, accumulating enough “church” until you come back on Christmas Sunday. But Jesus today in his resurrection and his ascension has reconciled you with God. You may have come today as spiritual tourists but you are leaving as disciples being like Jesus.

Let us pray.

O God Almighty, on this Easter day, we see Jesus Christ. We all can say, “I have seen the Lord.” We declare that we have been freed from the bondage of sin, that we have been freed from death, that we have a life with Jesus Christ after life on earth, a life that we cannot even imagine. But today, dear God, we know you as our Father and our God as Jesus taught us. Easter, the resurrection of the Lord, the empty tomb mean that as Jesus is, we also can be. We can be selfless agents of love and reconciliation in the world.

Enable us to be like Jesus today and everyday revealing your love and grace in who we are and what we do in the name of our Lord and Savior Christ Jesus. Amen.

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