by Rev. Randy Brown
I’ve always been amazed at how sermons come into being. For about thirty-eight years, I’ve been trying week after week to figure that out and I guess to figure out how they come into being. No two are quite alike. I remember growing up and then early in the ministry, what my heroes would say and one of my mentors was Dr. Wallace Chapel. Dr. Chapel was the senior pastor at McKendree downtown Nashville for twelve years. His son and I were standing together and his sons now the senior pastor at our church at Brentwood. One of these particular times… Dr. Chapel always liked to walk. He’d say, “I’m going to walk up my sermon.” I went with him on several of those walks. We were down at Saint Simon’s Island, Georgia in the early eighties and we went on a walk. We were just talking and I said, “Dr. Chapman, let me ask you a question. How do you watch your sermons?” I never will forget his answer. He said, “Any way I can.” Well, I identify with that.
Thirty-eight years later I’m still doing it in “any way I can” just like he did. Sometimes they come as we sit and reflect. Sometimes they come as a sort of historical nature. Sometimes it’s watching television or driving or listening or talking, but this week this sermon originated in a much different way. It originated in a conversation years ago that one of my Methodist preachers had with a young Hindu man. The young Hindu had recently given his life to Christ. And this Methodist preacher asked him this question, “ What does it mean to you to be a Christian at Easter?” The young Hindu convert thought for a moment and he gave this answer, “Dr. Joe, you asked me what being a Christian means at Easter. I’ll tell you what it means. It means victory over sin. It means victory over self. It means victory over death and the fear death. Dr. Joe you’ve asked me what being a Christian on Easter means to me. It means three things. It means victory. It means victory. It means victory.”
I think that’s a very sound doctrine. I think that’s good theology, and I’m indebted to that young Hindu convert as he shared that story. As God spoke to him, I want speak some of that into your life and your heart. What does it mean? It means victory. Victory over sin, over self, over death and the fear of death. Victory over sin. He has come to break the chains that bind us. We’re all bond by sin. It’s part of our nature. It’s part of who we are. We are sinners. I thought I’d get an Amen. Let’s try that again. We are sinners. Amen! What do sinners do? Sin! So we’re all bond by that. It’s a part of our nature, but he’s come to break the chains, and he’s come to forgive us. We don’t have to be living in sin all our life. We have to die to self, the scripture tells us, that we no longer have to be a slave to sin. We can die to self, and if the son sets us free – we are free indeed. That’s what happened on the cross. Jesus set us free.
By one man’s actions, sin came into the word. Sin came into your life and my life. But by another man’s actions, that being Jesus Christ, you and I are set free from sin, and it no longer has to rein in our life. Sometimes the freedom from sin happens overnight; just like turning on a light bulb. Those of you who were here several months ago when Rudy Kailas was with us; you remember he talked about that and how God just cleaned up his mouth and his language almost immediately. Some of us now have faith that we’re working on it. It doesn’t matter if it happens immediately or if it happens gradually and progressively. God will set us free from those sins.
We are told in the scriptures that our sins are like scars, but God will come into our life through the cross of Christ and He will forgive us of our sins; He will free us and cleanse us, doesn’t He. I want to illustrate that. You see this cross? This is the cross out of the youth room. They know we’ve got it. They’re letting us borrow it this morning. On that cross you see a lot of post-it notes. And, on these little post-it notes, there are words like lust, and pride, and anger, and hatred, and whatever your sin might be; we tried to cover that. And I knew yours so well, because I know mine so well, and I’m thinking we are a lot alike. So, but? The sins were nailed to the cross. Because of our sin, Jesus went to the cross. But, because of his death on the cross, your sins are covered, and my sins are covered, and He drops them into the sea of forgiveness, and he remembers them no more.
Do you know what that means? It means that if we struggle in our life, sometimes we are reminded of our sin. Sometimes the enemy wants to come and remind us and defeat us and that leads us to prayer and we go to God in prayer and we’ll say, “God, forgive me of that. God, do you remember when I did this? It’s something you’re not proud of. God do you remember when I did that?” God’s already forgiven you for that. God says to you, “I don’t remember. I choose to forget that.” The scripture says He takes our sins and drops them into the sea of forgiveness and He remembers them no more.
Jesus Christ, covered your sins and my sins on the cross. He takes them and he drops them into the sea of forgiveness. He remembers them no more. He separates us from our sin as far as the east is from the west. You see, one of the things that it means to be a Christian at Easter is victory over sin. Victory over sin. Then, there’s victory over self.
I mentioned Dr. Chapel a moment ago. The Chapels had three children: Kathy and Davis and Ken. Ken was the younger. And sometimes they’d say, “Actually, he was our little surprise.” Ken sometimes would come up with very profound statements. There was a time when Ken was trying to be good growing up. I mean he was really trying hard to be good. You’re trying hard to be good. It doesn’t work all the time does it, Franklin? It was one of those days where Ken was really trying to do good and be good; he just didn’t succeed very well with that. He came in to where his Mother and Dad were that night and he said, “Mom. Dad. What am I going to do about me?” Sometimes we have to ask that question. Sometimes if there’s a problem between us and somebody else, it’s not them; it’s us. “Mom. Dad. What am I going to do about me?” The scripture tells us that if anyone be in Christ, they are a new creation.
Romans tells us that He offers us new life. Hebrews tells us that the blood of Christ cleanses us from that which leads to death. First John tells us that we pass from life, and death into life, and when we refuse to love each other we remain in death. Colossians tells us to put to death the flesh of sin. When we put something to death we come alive at the resurrection. If you want new life in your life then something has to happen. In order for there to be a resurrection, something has to die. You can’t have a resurrection if you don’t have something dead. They go together. What is it in your life and in my life that we need to die to, so that we can experience and anew the resurrected power of Jesus Christ.
Victory over self. What are you going to do about you? It was 1979. It was the second year that I stood in a pulpit to preach an Easter Sunday sermon. A few weeks before that, Thomas had come to me and said, “Preacher, I want to join the church.” I thought man that’s great. Easter Sunday is looking good already. He said, “No. You don’t understand.” I said, “Then tell me.” He said, “I want to join your church, and I want to be baptized, but there are some things in my family that I have to get right first.” I said, “I don’t know what they are, but you’ve got a good attitude about it.” He said, “Well, preacher I don’t know what they are either. We’ve been estranged for years and nobody knows why. Nobody knows what the original problem was. We just know there’s a problem.” He said, “I’m going to meet with the family later this week and I want you to be praying about it.” And, we did.
The next Sunday he said, “We had our meeting and everything went well.” I said, “That’s great.” He said, “And, I’m ready.” The next Sunday, Easter Sunday 1979, he and his daughter knelt at the altar of the Promise United Methodist Church. One of the heart-breaking things was that last year at Promise, when they closed that church. That’s painful. I remember back to Thomas’ story. I remember Thomas looking up at me with a holy look falling onto his face. He looked up at me and he said, “Preacher, I’m the happiest man in the world right now. I’m happier then I’ve ever been.” Because he had died to self. Victory over self.
What is it that we need to die to? That you and I need to die to? Someone asked the question to the preacher, “ Did you plan to sin?” He answered, “No, I do enough accidentally. I don’t have it plan.” We need to be careful. We can have victory over sin and victory over self.
And, then, the third thing that this young Hindu man said was, “We have victory over death and the fear of death.” Hebrews tells us that we’re free of things that hold us and cause us to fear death. Acts tells us that death could not keep Him in the grave and that the last enemy to be destroyed was death. First Peter says that Christ suffered for our sins to bring us to new life. I don’t know if you ever met Dr. Reginald Mallard or not but Dr. Mallard was a United Methodist pastor and he was also a physician from England. He had a beautiful English accent, and I remember him telling the story that growing up, he got one new suit a year and it was on Easter Sunday. He always associated Easter Sunday with new suit day. And, then he said, “I remember standing behind the pulpit the first time I did a funeral.” And here’s the words that he read, “For the perishable must clothe itself within imperishable and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed for the imperishable and the mortals with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true. That death has been swallowed up in victory.”
Today’s a new suit day. We don’t have to be afraid because death has been defeated. It’s no longer here. It’s defeated, and we have victory over death and the fear of death. Now, early this morning during our sunrise service, Lou Hunt’s granddaughter was here and I remember the conversation that Lou and I had. I shared it with some of you. It was shortly before she died: only a few days. I walked into her room at Saint Thomas Rutherford Hospital, and she knew that her time was coming to an end. She said to me, “Preacher, tell those Methodist Evangelists to quit praying for me; I’m ready to go home.” Now, if that’s not victory over the fear of death, I don’t know what is. It was my appointment years ago, it was in Mount Pleasant Tennessee. There was an aged lady named Dot and Dot didn’t come with a reservation, she lived just down the street. I went to see Dot one day, and she was kind of a crusty old lady and she said to me, “If you ever have church on Sunday night I’d come.” I said, “Okay.”
So about a month later we had Sunday night church. Guess who didn’t come? I went to see her not long after that. She had been told that she had a terminal illness. We talked about a lot of things. She shared about her faith. The last thing she said to me as I stood on her front porch that day was this, “Preacher”. Now you know when somebody starts a conversation that way, that something is coming. She said, “Preacher, I’m going to be all right. Even if I’m not.” Victory over death and the fear of death. Those two ladies taught me more about that than anybody that I’ve ever met.
Today is Victory Sunday. Today is Victory Sunday. Amen! What are you going to do with it? Growing up, in high school, my brother graduated Who’s Who, cum Laude and all that stuff; and I just graduated, thank the Lord. I told somebody I majored in wrestling. I wrestled with English and history. I wrestled with all those things. Especially algebra. I remember I was having a difficult time with algebra. One of my friends said to me, “The answers are in the back of the book.” I thought, “Hallelujah.” My grade started improving immensely. Then Mr. Brandy found out what I had done. Instead of just turning in answers, now we had to turn in problems and show how we worked the problems. If I know what the answer is, I’ll work the problem. How many of you identify with that?
We’ve got some problems, but I’ve read the back of the book, and I know the answer. Everything that we’re doing right now, all that we’re going through… I don’t want to minimize it, but we’re just working the problems. The answers are there and the victory is all there, as well. Amen? Amen. I’ll close with this. Someone said to a preacher one time, “Preacher, you can’t prove to me that there’s a Christ, because you don’t have a brain.” He said, “Friend, we don’t have a corpse either.” That’s what the book says, and the book never lies.