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by David Phelps

“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” - Mother Teresa

May, 2001

It's time for my seventh annual column about the balloons that fill our church on Easter Sunday. This year, as I looked at the balloons, I was struck by how different they were. There were red, orange, blue, green, purple and other colors not found in -- or out of -- nature. Most had blue ribbons but some had pink, purple or even black ones. An amazing variety, just like our church and our world.

In his sermon, pastor Allen Ladage spoke about the ways in which we can respond to the Good News of Jesus' resurrection. We can see the empty tomb and say, "Hmm, that's interesting," and go on our way. We can see the tomb and say, "I believe," with no idea what it is we believe. Or we can behold the risen Christ and say with Mary Magdalene, "I have seen the Lord!" (John 20:18b NIV). A true confrontation with the risen Christ changes us. Once we have seen him, we can no longer remain as we were.

And yet, each of our encounters is different, just as we are different. No two people have exactly the same religious experience. Mary Magdalene heard Christ speaking in a calm, sure voice (John 20:18); Thomas refused to believe until he had seen the risen Christ for himself (John 20:24-29); Peter found forgiveness and redemption in the very one he had denied (John 21:15-19); the Ethiopian eunuch sat quietly reading the scriptures until he decided, "I want to learn more," (Acts 8:26-39); and Paul was literally knocked down by the presence of Christ (Acts 9:3-6). But it doesn't matter how we approach the empty tomb; what matters is whether we see the one who rose from the tomb, and what becomes of us when we leave. The balloons in our church were different in both obvious and subtle ways, but each balloon was filled with the same helium and carried exactly the same message as all the others.

In his Easter Sunday devotional in our church's Lenten devotional booklet, our own Al Rohlfing wrote about a time when his Christian experience didn't match the expectations of the people around him. He was told that he couldn't possibly be a real Christian because he hadn't experienced the Gospel in the right way, and that he wasn't welcome. Those of us who know Al know better. Perhaps you have also been in such a situation. We would never say, "Only the big red ones are real balloons. The little blue ones don't count." We know balloons come in all different sizes and colors. But we have no trouble saying essentially the same thing about people. Paul wrote, "no one can say, 'Jesus is Lord,' except by the Holy Spirit." (1 Cor. 12:3b NIV). It is Christ who unites us; we make our own divisions (1 Cor. 3:1-4).

Remember that those balloons aren't just pretty, and they have more than helium inside them; each of them carries a message inside it. When we take them out onto the church lawn and let them go, they carry the message that "someone from Maplewood United Methodist Church is thinking of you." We have a message to carry too, the message of the empty tomb and the way it has affected us. There are people in our world who have not heard the message of the empty tomb as we have, who have not seen the risen Christ or heard him call them by name. Their experience will not be the same as ours but however it comes, their lives will be transformed. Just as we send forth our balloons to carry our message, Christ sends us forth to carry the message of the resurrection and the new life that it brings. If we can say, "I have seen the Lord!" and allow what we have seen to transform our lives, we can carry the message of the risen Christ to a world in need.

"Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized into my name. . . . For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel -- not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power." (1 Cor. 1:13-15, 17 NIV.)

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Copyright © 2001 by David Phelps