The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger

ROLLING STONES

Delivered 4/4/99
Text: John 20:1-18
To read endnotes, click on the the note number, then click on the to return to your place in the text.

A family was watching a movie of the life of Jesus on television. Their six-year-old daughter was deeply moved as the film realistically portrayed Jesus' crucifixion and death. Tears ran down the little girl's face as they took him from the cross and laid him in a borrowed tomb. She watched as a guard was set. Suddenly, a big smile broke on her face. She bounced up on the arm of the chair and said with great anticipation, "Now comes the good part."(1) AMEN!

The story is as familiar to us as to the little girl. It should be - fully one-quarter of the material we have in the gospels is dedicated to it. In the pre-dawn darkness of the first day of the week, some of Jesus' most devoted friends... women...made their way to the garden of Joseph of Arimathea, to the tomb where their Lord had been laid after being taken from the cross. The embalming process had begun on Friday afternoon, but, because of Sabbath restrictions against work, it could not be finished until now. So here are the women, ready to complete their somber task.

Foolish women. What about the stone? In front of the opening to the tomb was a groove in the ground; and in the groove ran a huge stone, circular like a cartwheel; and the stone had been wheeled into position to close the opening.(2) In fact, the authorities had actually sealed that stone to make sure that no one would move it.(3) What's that you say? The stone was rolled away? Yes. As we say, the story is familiar. The good part.

I read recently of a church school teacher who tells of an Easter pageant she staged with her class. When it came time to assign parts, some children wanted to be soldiers, others the women at the tomb, still others the Apostles. One little boy however insisted on playing that stone that was used to block the door of the tomb. No speaking part? "No," said the little boy, "I want to be the stone." The teacher asked why. "Because it will feel so good to let Jesus out of the tomb."(4) The good part.

Have you ever wondered about that stone? To be honest, I never have, not until this sermon. A stone is a stone is a stone. Big deal. Yes, this one WAS a big deal - probably a couple of hundred pounds...more than the average woman (or even two or three) could move. Now, think for a second: why was that stone there? It was there to keep anyone from getting in or out. This stone said STOP! But we know the good part, and suddenly there is a sermon in that stone, this giant STOP. The Easter story says many things, and one of them is that our God, in addition to everything else, is in the business of ROLLING STONES.

Perhaps you saw the Newsweek cover story a couple of weeks ago concerning the continuing influence of Jesus. I was intrigued by the response to a question posed by a survey: "Do you believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead after dying on the cross?" 88% of Christians said yes; 32% of NON-Christians also said yes!(5) Almost one-third! What should we make of that? Perhaps that folks who have seen one miracle after another in the world of quantum physics and microprocessors are less astounded at the fact of physical resurrection than we might suppose. The new question then becomes, SO WHAT? Does Jesus' resurrection have anything to do with me? Can it fill my emptiness and dry my tears? Can it change my life?

The answer may be as near as that stone, the one that is stopping you from really living. That BIG stone.

Does your stone have a name? Perhaps it is Guilt. Something you have done or failed to do is haunting you. The first disciples must have felt it...they had let Jesus down horribly. But Easter came and the stone was rolled away. Is your stone named GUILT? Lord, come again, and roll away the stone.

Perhaps your stone is Fear. The first disciples felt it...cowering behind closed doors. But Easter came and rolled that stone away too...opening the path to a fearless faith. Is your stone named FEAR? Lord, come again, and roll away the stone.

Perhaps your stone is Weakness, something that has taken control of you that will not let loose. Yes, the disciples felt helpless and hopeless too. But Easter came and rolled it away and they were remarkably changed. Is your stone named WEAKNESS? Lord, come again, and roll away the stone.

You stone may have many names. The good news of this resurrection morning is that our God is a God of rolling stones. This is the good part. Lord, come again, and roll away the stone.

The school system in a large city had a program to help children keep up with their school work during stays in the city's hospitals.(6) One day a teacher who was assigned to the program received a routine call asking her to visit a particular child. She took the child's name and room number and talked briefly with the child's regular class teacher. "We are studying nouns and adverbs in his class now," the regular teacher said, "and I would be grateful if you could help him understand them so he does not fall too far behind."

The hospital program teacher went to see the boy that afternoon. No one had mentioned to her that the boy had been badly burned and was in great pain. Upset at the sight of the boy, she stammered as she told him, "I have been sent by your school to help you with nouns and adverbs."

When she left she felt she had not accomplished much. But the next day, a nurse asked her, "What did you do to that boy?" The teacher felt she must have done something wrong and began to apologize. "No, no," said the nurse. "You don't know what I mean. We have been worried about that little boy, but ever since yesterday, his whole attitude has changed. He is fighting back, responding to treatment. It's as though he has decided to live."

Two weeks later the boy explained that he had completely given up hope until the teacher arrived. Everything changed when he came to a simple realization. He expressed it this way: "They would not send a teacher to work on nouns and adverbs with a dying boy, would they?" A huge stone had been rolled away, and it made all the difference.

It can make a difference in your life too. In yours and yours and yours and yours. Our God is a God of rolling stones. We learned it with the whole world on that first Easter morning...the GOOD PART! And we learn it again and again and again in our own lives with a simple prayer. Whisper it in a moment as you come to his Table: Come, Lord, roll the stone away.

Amen!


1. Ben Manning, via Ecunet, "Sermonshop Sermons," #1343, 3/30/99

2. William Barclay, Daily Study Bible Series, CD-ROM, (Liquori, MO: Liquori Faithware, 1996, used by permission of Westminster/John Knox Press)

3. Matthew 27:66

4. Kirk Smith, via Ecunet, "Sermonshop 1999 04 04," #120, 3/31/99

5. Kenneth L. Woodward, "2000 Years of Jesus," Newsweek, 3/29/99, p. 58

6. This story has been "floating around" long enough for the original source to have been lost. This most recent iteration was posted by Stanley Jewell, via Ecunet, "Sermonshop Sermons," #1360, 4/3/99

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