First John 3: 1-7
LUKE 24: 36b – 48

My friends, the EASTER season is continuing … yes, Easter morn of 2018 is in our rear view mirrors and we are considering the flowers in our lawn, the fact that the Philadelphia Phillies have won five straight games, that we needed to turn one our air conditioning yesterday, and … oh wait … and … HE IS RISEN <<He is Risen Indeed>>

It is amazing how quickly many people pack away the Easter truth …. Perhaps the same people who get overly wrapped up in whether or not store clerks are saying Merry Christmas during the massive shopping season from the fourth Friday in November until the 24th of December; and those who look forward to reducing their church participation in the summer days ahead … it continues to challenge me; baffle me; truly confound me; and at times totally frustrate me when the truth of Jesus Christ … the message of our Savior … God’s pretty clear call for God’s people to be responsible to God gets perverted and twisted into the culture of our times including taking time off for priorities that mean more than God, include the popular politically motivated finger pointing and ALT FACTS highlighted by their memes whose intent is to denigrate or subliminally diminish the worth of others all of which goes beyond a relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ who went to the cross for us.

Well, after all Easter was just a date … in fact, this year Easter was on April Fools Day.  My concern and question this week … were we fooled?  What did the season of Lent alter in you this year?  A new closeness with God?  A dietary success or just 40 days of passing time in life’s ever continuing journey?

John who was present when Thomas expressed his doubts about the Risen Jesus … John who cowered behind a locked door on Easter afternoon and evening whose life became radically changed when Jesus appeared with John and the other disciples declaring PEACE BE WITH YOU … He heard Jesus ask all of them,

Why are you startled?  Why are doubts arising in your hearts?

He saw Jesus alive after the cross … He heard Jesus declare

It is really me!”

And, John believed …

John witnessed the growth of the early church after Pentecost …

a time when “believers were united and shared everything.”  A time when “The Lord added daily to the community who were being saved.”  A time when Jesus statement that John had quoted in his Gospel “Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe” had already come true to thousands of people.

But John also saw the challenges of faith.  John noticed that there were those out in the real world with other priorities including many who wanted to shake up people’s faith and even some who wanted to use faith for other intent.  He warned the early Christians and all of us as he sat thinking what words would be of value to those attempting to live our the faith as the people of Easter … the people who believe in God who created the universe and sent Jesus to us … those who can respond with ease and confidence HE IS RISEN INDEED when a pastor or friend notes HE IS RISEN.

We are those people my friends … we know … we believe … but John not only quoted Jesus when he wrote

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son”  and Jesus saying, “God didn’t send His Son into the world to judge the world but that the world might be saved through Him.

John in his letter a few paragraphs of which we heard this morning wrote a very clear warning, which I assume was important to him after observing some of his fellow early Christians …

Little children, make sure no one deceives you.  The same one who practices righteousness is righteous, in the same way that Jesus is righteous.”

Interesting … MAKE SURE THAT NO ONE DECEIVES YOU.  Interesting.  We live in a time where hate prevails … we live in a time when many who attend some churches in this nation of ours walk back out the doors to join in the hate chants and live lives that counter the justice Jesus taught that God has declared need to be a hallmark of the lives of those who truly believe.  We have some who will attempt to utilize their political philosophies who twist the Gospel message … to deny Jesus truths … as I taught in last week’s sermon, we even have some who threaten to arrest Christians hoping to bring a message of Jesus’s love of all and call to care for the least of these if these Christians were to step onto a college campus that claims it is a campus for Christ.

But, I am here to tell you … that perhaps no politically motivated message frustrates me and yes even angers me then one that appeared in a Facebook meme not just once but multiple times this past week.  I was not angry at those who posted it … I was not even frustrated with them but I was bothered that there were many who would read the simple message and accept it as the truth when truthfully its message was the lie and believing in the lie would only contribute to a lessening of the power of the Light of the Good News of Jesus Christ while enhancing politically motivated rumors out in the streets.

<<<SHOW THE MEME>>> If you are on social media I am guessing that you have seen this meme or a meme that is very similar to it.  Since social media began I have seen many versions of this posted by God loving, Jesus believing friends of mine who thought by sharing this they were trying to move people into action for God.  99 and 9/10’s percent of those who share this message are doing so not to deceive but

Little children, make sure no one deceives you.  The same one who practices righteousness is righteous, in the same way that Jesus is righteous.”

Before I get into the deception of this MEME … let me ask you a question … well first let me quote Jesus, who is RISEN and alive, the Son of God, our Savior and Master …

I was in prison and you didn’t visit me … I assure you that when you haven’t done it for one of the least of these you haven’t done it for me … The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to proclaim release to the prisoners.”

Just a few words from Jesus about those who are incarcerated and I will admit I continue to live with a guilty conscience for my failure to find a way to care for those in jail but how many of you would object to the men in women in prison having God’s Word in their hands?   This meme certainly is raising a complaint that we allow prisoners to have access to God’s Word … or is it a subterfuge designed to get those reading it to lower the value of the prisoner in contradiction to Jesus message to not only visit the prisoner but to set the prisoner free?   My question … do you think prisoners should be denied access to God’s Word?

But, what truly gets me fired up is the blatant lie that is contained in this … my friends the WORD OF GOD IS ALIVE and LIVING … JESUS CHRIST IS RISEN <<HE IS RISEN INDEED>> and in this land we refer to as the United States of America there is not a single school public school system that bans the Word of God from either being brought into school or read during students’ personal time.  It is true … students cannot read the Bible as the math teacher brings a lesson in algebra nor can a student begin receiving out loud from the Psalms as fellow students share the same classroom and take an examination.  But, then again students cannot read from their Facebook or Instagram pages at those moments either.  In students study hall time … during students lunch periods … in home room … on the buses to and from school … in their faith-based after school clubs God’s Word can be read and by the way …

Yes, by the way …. Our kids can pray at school.  The only thing that can’t happen is they can’t be forced to pray the prayer of the school administration’s preference.  Children in a district with a Muslim school board cannot be forced to read the words of Mohammad from the Quran nor can they repeat a prayer to Allah.  The Torah read in Hebrew is not a required daily practice for students who are not Jewish in our public schools.  Protestant students are not required to pray to the Catholic saints and frankly Jesus taught Christian believers the following lesson,

When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites.  They love to pray standing on the street corners so that people will see them … when you pray, go to your room, shut the door, and pray to your Father who is present”

That’s what we need to teach to our kids … they can pray … they can read God’s Word and are they seeing you and I going off to pray privately?  Are they seeing you and I reading God’s word or is there so much dust on our Bibles that our kids question why we even own one?  Have our kids seen you open a BIBLE APP on your phone to read the verse of the day?  The devotion of the day?  Or to continue your daily Bible reading right on your phone?  Have you taken time to look at their phones?  Is a Bible app front and center and have you opened it up with them?  HOW MUCH DUST IS TOO MUCH and are we so wrapped up believing political memes that lie about kids praying in school; that lie about bringing God’s Word into our kids’ daily lives; and that want us to demean those in prison?  HOW MUCH DUST is on your relationship with the Risen Christ?

Little children, make sure no one deceives you.  The same one who practices righteousness is righteous, in the same way that Jesus is righteous.

In our Gospel lesson, Jesus declared,

You are witnesses of these things. Why are you startled? Peace be with you!”

And, John wrote …

See what kind of love the Father has given to us that we should be called the children of God and that is what we are.  The world didn’t recognize Him; it doesn’t recognize us.”

So, make sure that the world goes forward each day wondering who you are because you live so differently than they do … loving God, loving all of your neighbors, forgiving those who have done you harm, turning your cheek to your enemy, and living for justice that embraces the message of Jesus in Matthew 25.  John said,

You know he came to take away sins”

…and I know you know that so go be a living example to the children, to the world, and be witnesses for Jesus Christ wherever you go bringing His Light into the world!  Dust off those Bibles if you need to and open up your Bible app today at lunch just to get the waiters and waitresses wondering what you are looking at.  Who knows they might ask and you can show them ….

And, before you post anything on social media that relates to God, Jesus, and God’s Word or our relationship with the Creator … think about why the person who created it wants you to share it with friends.  I can guarantee that God will not make prayer decisions based on whether or not you pass along someone’s pretty picture … God is far beyond social media … God is into ONE -on-ONE relationships that are alive and not covered in dust. AMEN

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