6 Easter Proper C6
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 24:9-11 Sermon
May 1, 2016
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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal & With One Voice):
TLH 469 "Glorious Things Of Thee Are Spoken"
TLH 371 "Jesus Thy Blood & Righteousness"
TLH 394 "My Faith Looks Up To Thee"
WOV 731 "Precious Lord Take My Hand"
FAITH IN TWO EMPTY THINGS
TEXT (vs. 9-11): “When [the women] came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.”
This morning, I’m going to tell you about an individual who was a member of my congregation in Maryborough, Queensland. I know that I've mentioned bits and pieces about him to you before at various times in the past, so I thought perhaps you should hear the whole story. His name is Bernie Hartwig. Okay, so now you might be asking yourself, “Who in the world is Bernie Hartwig?” and “What does he have to do with our text for this morning?”
The Hartwig family lived on a farm that was 12 miles east of the town of Gympie in the state ofQueensland. Gympie is an old gold mining town about the same size as Seward. And one of the notable things about the town and the surrounding area are the many hills; and they are big hills too.
The Hartwig farm was no exception when it came to hills. In fact, Bernie used to say that he had more acres up and down than he did across. Bernie grew vegetable type crops on his farm. Because of the hills, he couldn’t use a tractor for a lot of his work, so he used a draught horse instead. He also irrigated his farm by gravity. He had two “turkey’s nests” as he called them, which were big basins cut out in the top of two of those big hills. Every night when the electricity was cheaper, he’d pump those turkey’s nests full of water from dams down below. Then during the day gravity would fill his irrigation pipes and water his crops. The whole farm was quite an operation.
Bernie was quite an individual too, every bit as interesting and unique as his farming operation. For me to say that he was an extremely faithful church member is almost an understatement. Every Sunday, he’d load his family into their car and they would travel 60 miles one way to church, and they’d even come other times too. Cynthia his wife and Penelope his daughter taught Sunday School, which meant extra trips to church sometimes. I had both Penelope and Glenn (one of his two sons) in confirmation class.
Bernie, along with his wife Cynthia, sons Timothy and Glenn, and daughter Penelope were extremely faithful and knowledgeable Christians; however, Bernie was someone very special to me.
When I first came to Australia, fresh out of seminary, I admit I found him kind of intimidating. He could match wits with any theologian there ever was. However it didn’t take me very long to realize that underneath everything beat the heart of a faithful servant of the Lord. He loved his Saviour, and his whole life revolved around serving him.
Whenever someone from the United States came to Australia, I made every attempt to take them to the Hartwig farm and have them meet Bernie and his family. I had everybody from my own family to church synodical officials there. I did this for several reasons.
Seeing the farm was of course one thing. Nobody could appreciate it without seeing it. The sight was breathtaking and beautiful. This was part of Australia that they never would have seen otherwise.
But more than that, I wanted them to get to know Bernie and his family. More times than not, we shared a meal with them. We were able to talk in a relaxed and casual atmosphere, and our conversations were always good. And I know for a fact that Bernie made a huge impression on virtually everybody I took to meet him. And as the years have passed, people still comment about visiting him and how they remember him, his family, and his farm.
In 1992, we were planning to do a big remodeling job on our church building in Maryborough, where Bernie and family were members. Bernie was going to spear head the project. He had previously worked in construction, so he knew what he was doing.
One day, he was out cutting down some trees he was going to have milled for lumber for the project. He had one particularly nice silky oak tree he was saving to use to build a piece of furniture for his wife. And so, after he cut down the trees for lumber, the final thing he did was to cut down the silky oak tree. That silky oak tree fell on him and killed him. Of course this devastated his family, our church members, and me too.
As I was preparing his funeral sermon, I kept the question in my mind: “What would Bernie want me to say to the people gathered here?” Here was this man of faith; what kind of an impact would his life have on those who mourned his passing? What did these people need to hear?
Understand now that Bernie could be about as subtle as the front of a bus sometimes, and everybody who knew him knew that fact. So, here’s one thing I told them in my sermon at Bernie’s funeral:
"If Bernie could right now, he’d take each and every one of you by the hand, and lead you to that six foot hole in the ground where he would be laid to rest. He’d tell you to take a good, long, hard look at it; and then he’d tell you 'You know, there’s one just like this with your name on it. What are you going to do?'" In essence, that asks the question, “Do you have a faith that takes you beyond the grave?”
You see, Bernie had a faith that centered around two empty things; yes, that’s right, two things that are completely empty! Those two things are an empty cross, and an empty tomb. And it’s those two things that we have been celebrating and talking about throughout the Easter season. And as we are now gearing up for Ascension, it's appropriate to end the season on this note.
During Lent, we sang the hymn "Beneath the Cross of Jesus" as part of our liturgy. There's a line in the final stanza that reads, "My sinful self, my only shame, my glory all the cross." We also sang, "In the Cross of Christ I glory." So why do we have this focus upon the cross? After all, the cross is nothing more than two pieces of rough timber. There's certainly nothing glorious about that. The glory comes through what Jesus did for us and for our salvation. The glory comes through the almost incomprehensible love God has for people like you and me.
Sin has separated us from God. When Adam and Eve rebelled against God in the garden, sin was introduced into this world. From that time on, it has been the natural tendency of human beings to go their own way instead of God’s way. Genesis chapter 6, verse 5 says it well: “The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.”
That’s not just describing someone in the distant past. Those words describe the likes of you and me. It’s tough to hear things like that, but if we’re honest with ourselves, we have to admit it is true. We have far too often just given in to the temptation to sin without any compunction at all; and when we feel a twinge of guilt in our conscience, we either try to ignore it, or blame it on someone or something else. We don’t like to take responsibility for our sinfulness.
But Jesus did. All of the sins of the human race for all time were laid upon him. He took all of those sins to the cross where he bore the punishment for them. God pronounced judgment on Jesus for all of our wrongs. Remember that hymn verse, "My sinful self, my only shame, my glory all the cross."
Paul writes in Philippians chapter 2, verses 5-8: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross!”
The cross symbolizes that our sins have been paid for in full. So when we look at the cross, we know that all of our sins were crucified right along with our Saviour. Jesus paid the price for those sins by shedding his holy, innocent, and precious blood.
But that original cross is empty and gone. Jesus isn’t still there paying for our sins. The ransom has been paid in full. There is no further requirement on our part to pay for them. Jesus did it all. It’s a done deal.
The Holy Spirit now works in our hearts to accept by faith what Jesus did for us. Through faith alone in our Saviour, we experience God’s grace, his undeserved love for us, as he gives us a new and restored life as one of his dear children.
The second empty thing is of course the empty tomb. On Good Friday, Jesus went into battle for us, and he won. The empty tomb on Easter is proof of that. Death and hell could not hold Jesus, nor can it hold the true believer in Christ.
In 1 Corinthians chapter 15, we have what is called the great resurrection chapter in the Bible. In my years in the ministry, I don't think I've ever conducted a funeral or committal service without sharing at least part of this chapter. God the Holy Spirit caused Paul to record some very pointed, but beautiful words of hope for the believer. Verses 12-14 read: “But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”
The forgiven sinner needs to have a faith that sees beyond the grave. For we look into the tomb in the garden where Jesus was laid, and we see that it is empty. Therefore, we can be sure that our own graves will not hold us either.
God promises us that we too will be raised from the dead, and that as believers, we will inherit the mansion in heaven he has prepared for us. Jesus has conquered eternal death and hell for us, so we will not have to experience it. Therefore, we can look into our own grave and see the beauty and hope that lies beyond it.
In our text for today, we are told about the women who had gone to Jesus’ tomb and found it empty. The stone had been removed, and they talked with an angel. The message came forth, “He is not here; he is risen!”
But when the women told the apostles what they had witnessed, the apostles didn’t believe them, because their words seemed like nonsense to them.
The women had gone to the tomb to finish the embalming process on Jesus’ body. They fully expected to find a body. They hadn’t planned on finding an empty tomb. But that’s what they found, and that’s what they told the disciples.
We live in a world where many regard religion as nonsense. A man being crucified and dying for the sins of the world? An empty tomb? Come on, get serious!
But those people who regard this as nonsense also have a fear of death and dying and what lies beyond. They should fear because the prospect isn’t good for the unbeliever. Without the empty cross and the empty tomb, the only thing left is fear.
The resurrection is a fact that removes fear. The Christian can close their eyes and breathe their last without any worry of what lies ahead, because God has promised them a glorious future that can be seen now by an empty cross and an empty tomb.
Nobody was ready for Bernie Hartwig to die back in 1992; nobody that is, except for Bernie himself. He was ready and willing to go anytime the Lord wanted to take him. I knew that for a fact.
Bernie was the picture of health. He was tall and lean and muscular. My mother called him a “strapping young man.” He worked hard and provided well for his family and generously supported his church. He also had a great sense of humor and enjoyed being around people. He was also very outspoken, and you always knew where he stood.
In the years since his death, his eldest son Timothy became a pastor, and has a wife and family. He served a congregation in Lake Havasu City, Arizona and now serves a congregation in North Mankato, Minnesota. His daughter Penelope (or Penny) is married with a family and lives in Brisbane. His youngest son Glenn is also married with a family, and has taken over the farming operation as well as being a police officer. And his widow Cynthia moved into town and works as a nurse in the local hospital. Bernie believed whole-heartedly in the Bible verse recorded in Proverbs chapter 22, verse 6: "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it." And looking at his family, I can certainly see evidence of that very thing.
Under the sweat and dirt of this hard-working farmer beat the heart of someone who loved his Lord more than anything. Anyone who knew him knew this to be a fact.
Bernie lived his life trusting completely in the Lord who had been so good to him. The empty cross and the empty tomb were signs of promise and hope. And that is something that he shared with everybody. His Saviour had forgiven him all of his sins, and his Saviour had given him an exit from the grave, which would prove to be his entrance into the gates heaven.
The disciples thought that the women’s story of an empty tomb was foolishness. Many in the world today would agree with that. But we know better. We know that because the grave could not hold Jesus, it will not hold us either.
Our sins have been forgiven. Our future in heaven is secure. Therefore we can rejoice today and every day, as we exclaim: He is risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!