Once upon a time, there was an old shepherd. Every day he’d take his flock up into the hills, taking his bible with him. He’d sit and read for hours as the sheep grazed. But then came the day when he lost his favourite Bible while he was out with his sheep. He searched everywhere, but couldn’t find it, and eventually realised he must have left it somewhere up in the hills.
He’d given it up for lost when three weeks later, sitting at a campfire – thoughts wandering – a sheep walked up to him carrying a book in its mouth.
The shepherd couldn’t believe his eyes when he took the precious book out of the sheep’s mouth and realised it was his lost bible. He raised his eyes heavenward and exclaimed, “It’s a miracle!”
The sheep looked at him and said, “Not really, Your name’s written inside the cover.”
You know I love stories. All kinds of stories. But I especially love bible stories.
Noah and the Ark. It rained 40 days and 40 nights. Of course, here in Brighton, we call that the summer but in the Sinai region it must have been quite something.
Soddom and Gomorrah, fire, brimstone, and a pillar of salt – or what happens when you treat strangers badly and karma catches up with you.
You know, I’m always amazed how many churches still teach that the story is about being gay – but then I suppose if they admitted that the story was actually about how we treat strangers they’d have to be nicer to their LGBT neighbours.
Let’s face it, it’s much easier to twist the story so you have an excuse to be bigoted and homophobic.
I think the same thing happens with the story of King David. The young pretty boy who slays Goliath and when offered the king’s daughter decides he prefers the King’s son, Jonathon.
When Jonathon is killed in Battle David mourns him with a song. He sings Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than the love of women.
But then who’s comfortable with God anointing a bisexual king who falls in love with another man? No wonder I’ve seen lots of paintings of David slaying Goliath but none of him snogging Jonathon. Hey ho.
And then, of course, there’s the greatest story ever told, the story of the carpenter’s son from Nazareth who turns out to be the Messiah, the chosen one of God.
And it is a story, it’s not just a list of facts. We have four different versions of it in the bible. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and they’re all a little different.
Why’s that? Why have four different stories all about the same set of events, the same people, the same Jesus?
Because what happened was so momentous, so extraordinary, so amazing, that there was no way it could be reduced to a collection of facts.
Do you ever watch detective dramas? I’m thinking Morse, Prime Suspect, Luther, or the fun ones like Castle, Death in Paradice, Bones. They all seem to follow the same format. They start off with a murder and then we spend about 45 minutes gathering all the evidence to find out whodunnit. It’s like a game of Cluedo.
But in the Easter story, we know who did it from the get-go. The Romans and religious authorities, with the cross, on Golgotha. We get given all the facts from the outset. It’s not exactly a complicated whodunnit.
But then when it’s all over when the story’s finished and nothing can be done when Jesus is dead and buried, – an angel rolls away the stone from the grave and Jesus rises from the dead. No cons, no fakes, no graverobbers, no overly zealous followers or pranksters, Jesus rises from the grave.
So Jesus must have only looked dead when he was buried. Or maybe God brought him back the same way Jesus brought Lazarus back. He’d go on to live the rest of his life than die in the end like everyone else.
No, Jesus spends just over a month appearing to people and sharing the good news of the Kingdom, and then ascends to heaven. And what is the good news? Whoever you are, God loves you. Whatever you’ve done, God loves you. Whatever other people say, God is for you.
God loves you so much that even if you were to betray God, deny God over and over again, run away when things got tough, were to nail God to a cross, play dice for their clothes, and watch them die in torment, they’d be back to be with you, to support you, to love you. Jesus doesn’t just preach this, he lives it. He doesn’t tell us, he shows us. It’s ludicrous.
Romans 5:8 – God shows us what real love is when, even when we’d done nothing to deserve it, Christ died for us.
1 John 4:18-19 “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because God first loved us.”
1 John 4:7-8 Love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”
Somehow, engaging with this story, we’re set free. we’re forgiven. We get given a new life. Somewhere in the process of connecting with the story, we find that we’ve been made a member of the family of God. We are loved, cherished, created to be who we are – to be as you are.
This story of the carpenter’s son touches you in ways you don’t understand and you realise that don’t have to worry about what other people think of you, you know you are loved beyond belief. This crazy story touches you and it’s like a key turning, connecting you with reality and truth.
You realise that if you give your life to this man – who lived, died, and rose again, you never need to fear being judged by anyone ever again. You never have to worry about the mistakes you’ve made and that the universe might exact some form of vengeance.You don’t even have to fear death because Jesus went through all this so you would never have to.
And it makes no sense. It happened 2,000 years ago. It’s just a story! How could it possibly be true? There are even four different versions of the same story and they don’t even agree on the details.
Yet on this Easter Sunday, having travelled with Jesus over the last six weeks of Lent through the desert journey, through the temptation, into Jerusalem, through the Passover meal, to this Easter Sunday, this moment –
– we are touched by something that makes no sense to the mind and can only be grasped by the heart. We realise something that’s absolutely nuts and discover something completely ridiculous; that every word of it is true. – and standing beside the carpenter’s son there’s the one character you never in a million years thought you would find in the middle of the greatest story ever told. You.
I pray that you have a blessed Easter and that your heart be touched by the Grace of God. Amen.