Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (C)
August 5, 2007
Before and After
Colossians 3:1-11

Have you noticed the examples of transformation around you? We’ve heard the politicians who reinterpret past votes as a strategy for election. Some of you remember that old magazine ad of the guy at the beach getting sand kicked in his face and the before-and-after photos. A popular transformation television program is the home makeover shows.

But the greatest before-and after-transformation is described by Paul, and it is in three acts: “you died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God … then you will also appear with [Christ] in glory” (vv. 3-4). Yet much remains between the beginning and the conclusion of our life in Christ.

Accept the wonder and struggle of a changed life (vv. 5-11).

The new life in Christ begins with the Holy Spirit’s conviction and our conversion. Paul used the image of resurrection to describe it-“you have been raised with Christ.” Yet from conversion to heaven is the struggle of change. We dare not ignore the call to personal discipline: “set your hearts … set your minds … put to death … rid yourselves … put on the new self.”

Romans 7:21-25 describes the “war” that rages-“evil is right there with me … waging war against the law of my mind …. Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

A baby learns to walk with some struggle. A child learns to ride a bike usually with some falls and scrapes. The Christian grows toward Christlikeness through a struggle with the old nature.

Adopt the disciplines to maintain a changed life (vv. 12-17).

Baseball teams enter the game after the discipline of practice. The player needs to be in good physical shape and have the right equipment. An undisciplined, unhealthy and poorly equipped team is well on the way toward defeat. What do we, “God’s chosen people,” need to experience victory after our salvation?

Stay dressed with Christian virtues (vv. 12-14). “Clothe yourselves” is an imperative verb. We are commanded to clothe ourselves with Christian virtues, tying them all together with love. These virtues are the opposite of the old life described in verses 5-7.

Check your heart regularly (v. 15). A news account told the story of a young basketball player who collapsed on the court with a heart attack. At conversion we were given Christ’s peace; from conversion on we must “let the peace of Christ rule.” When people or problems perturb us, His peace blows the whistle.

Exercise the mind and life (vv. 13-16). Physical exercise invigorates the mind and body; spiritual exercise invigorates our relationship with Christ and impacts our world. Centered on “the word of Christ” exercise the mind and life with forgiveness, thanksgiving, ministry and worship.

After having plastic surgery on her face, a woman was advised by her doctor, “I have done an extraordinary job on your face, as you can see in the mirror. I have charged you a great deal of money, and you were happy to pay for it. But I want to give you some free advice. Find a group of people who love God and who will love you enough to help you deal with all the negatives inside you. If you don’t, you’ll be back in my office in a very short time with your face in far worse shape than before.”

Maintain the motivation (v. 17). The transformed life is for the glory of Christ. Whatever we do must be motivated by Him and result in thanks to Him. The end is worth the struggle and discipline.

In the 1994 Winter Olympics held in Norway, 23-year-old skier Tommy Moe of the United States captured the gold on the men’s downhill-a tremendous comeback.

Sports Illustrated indicates he had shown potential for years but became involved in smoking pot and drinking. At age 15, eight years before his Olympic gold, he received an invitation to join the U.S. ski team, but he was kicked of the team when coaches discovered he sneaked out of camp to smoke pot.

Tommy’s father, an Alaskan construction worker, ordered his son to Alaska and put him to work. He started work at 4 a.m. and worked 12 to 16 hours a day. At the end of the summer, his father said. “I asked him if he’d rather be doing this or if he’d rather be skiing with the team in Argentina. That straightened him out.” Tommy acknowledged, “It humbled me up pretty fast.” (Bill Whittaker)

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John 20:1-18

Diet advertisements make great use of before and after pictures. Here
is the individual when he weighed 475 pounds. Here is that same man
(supposedly) after two weeks on the diet and losing 225 Pounds! What an
amazing difference!

While we may look dubiously upon diet photos here is one photo we must
take seriously. In these verses we behold an amazing before and after
photo of the disciples. The “before” photo shows us lives of
hopelessness and grief. The “after” photo taken Easter morning shows us
lives filled with renewed, faith and joy after the fact of the
resurrection grasps their lives. Which of those photos best describes
your life?

The joyous and confusing discovery.

I don’t think we should be surprised that Mary Magdalene thought Jesus
had been moved. Remember, you and I are reading this text from way
after Easter. I’m certain that if we were where Mary was we would have
concluded the same thing. Mary knew that Jesus had been placed in a
borrowed tomb. Maybe the rightful owners had come and removed him!
After all Jesus had been placed hastily in this tomb.

As soon as it became clear to Mary that Jesus was alive she went back
and told Peter and John. A foot race between the two disciples began to
the tomb. John being younger out ran Peter and beat him to the now
empty tomb. All they had to do was see the tomb and believe. Why? Why
would just seeing the burial cloths be enough for them believe?

If someone had moved the body, especially for re-internment, it’s
unlikely they would unwrap take the grave cloths from the body. Jesus
was wrapped tightly with 75 pounds of spices and oils. It appears as
though Jesus had passed through the cloths! The cloths simply collapsed
as he rose from death and laid where Jesus had been. After Peter and
John saw that, they believed.

Now, the interesting thing was that these folks still did not
understand what was going on! They still did not understand that Jesus
had to die and be raised from the dead. This truly was a joyous, yet
confusing discovery.

Mary’s struggle to believe

Peter and John believe but have not yet seen the risen Lord. Mary
Magdalene does not believe, or at least she struggling with the fact
that Jesus is not there. That would soon change.

Two angels announce to her that Jesus had been raised. Yet she still
believes he has been moved and not raised. Then she sees Jesus. We
should not be surprised that she doesn’t recognize Jesus at first. She
turned and saw Jesus and mistook him for the gardener. Jesus simply
called her name and she immediately recognized him!. From that point on
her life was changed! She was moved from inconsolable grief into
boundless joy; from hopelessness into hope.

Before we are too hard on her we need to cut her some slack for two
important reasons. I’m certain you would agree that it is not ordinary
for the dead to be raised. We do not expect the deceased to walk away
from the funeral home and neither did Mary. When was the last time you
saw a dead person resurrected?

Second, and equally important, Mary and the others still did not
understand from the Scriptures that Jesus had to die and be raised from
the dead. This was God’s plan which, for the moment, was beyond their
grasp. So Mary did not react any differently than you and I would have
reacted had we been present that first Easter morning.

Which photo describes your life?

We see in these verses a distinct before and after picture. We see it
in Mary’s life and in the lives of Peter and John. Peter and John were
filled with grief and profound loss before the news of Jesus’
resurrection reached them. Then, when they saw with their own eyes and
believed, grief melted away into joy. I believe it is safe to say their
lives were forever changed.

It was the same for Mary. Before seeing the risen Lord she was filled
with disbelief and hopelessness. After she saw him and knew he was
alive she was filled with hope and joy. Before and after. Where are
you? Are you living in Mary’s before or after picture?

I think many Christians live like Mary did before she realized Jesus
was alive. At least that is the temptation. How does this fact of
Easter change your life? Where do I start? Of course we know we have
peace with God. Easter is the exclamation point on Jesus’ last words
from the cross, “It is finished!”

Easter means we have hope in difficult times. That is, you and I can
face grief, disappointment, even tragedy with the knowledge that Jesus
lives! The life he has is also ours! We are never out of his loving
reach or beyond his help, support and intervention.

Because of Easter we also have the supreme confidence that God hears
and answers our prayer. He lives! He lives to answer our prayers for
his glory and kingdom.

Are you a before or after person? Live as though Jesus is alive! In all
things hope and pray and rejoice. Jesus Christ has risen! He is alive
in your life! Happy Easter!

Sermon brief provided by: Tim McQuade, Loveland Presbyterian
Church, Loveland, OH

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