Monday, April 5, 2010

most to be envied (EASTER SERMON)

A couple weeks ago someone asked me a question. “What belief, if any, is so important to Christianity that if proven wrong you’d walk away from the faith?” I didn’t even have to think. “The bodily resurrection of Jesus.” That was my answer. In other words, if a bone-filled tomb is discovered with the following inscription – here lies Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary and Joseph, brother of James, cousin of John the Baptist, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate and who walked around Galilee with twelve disciples and was hailed as their teacher and Lord, yes the same Jesus that fed 5000 people and pissed off the Pharisees and socialized with sinners and was called Son of David by some and the Christ by others – well, I’d give you all a big hug, pack up my things, and pursue a career in professional wrestling. Why? Because trying to put the smack down on Hulk Hogan or whoever’s dominating the WFW these days would make more sense than following a Jesus who was dead. Paul puts it like this: “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” And a few verses earlier he says this: “if Christ hasn’t been raised your faith is meaningless and you’re still in your sins.” In other words, if Jesus is still dead than so are we. Our hope depends on the truth of his resurrection.

Now, perhaps you’re thinking – isn’t that a little, I don’t know, dramatic? “Isn’t faith,” people will ask “primarily about friendship and warm feelings and helping us find our life’s passion, and isn’t God a senile, benevolent grandfather type who longs for nothing more than to give us all ice cream cones in heaven?” To which I will reply – no. You see a lot of people miss the point of the Gospel because they don’t understand the problem that Jesus came to solve. In other words, people wrongly assume that their main problem in life is their broken marriage or their depression or their inability to find work that excites them, and because they’ve misunderstood their problem, they don’t fully grasp God’s solution.

The reason Christianity hinges on the truth of Jesus’ resurrection is because none of these things – not one – is our primary problem. They’re all symptoms of the giant problem that plagues us. Divorce and depression and cancer and meanness and pride and natural disaster and various disabilities and insecurity are not our primary problem. They’re symptoms. Think about it. If broken relationships were really our problem then why not worship Dr. Phil? But – if humanity’s problem is something far worse, something we cannot solve on our own, then the solution required must itself be dramatic. And that’s exactly what Jesus’ resurrection claims to be: a dramatic solution to a horrible problem. But if Jesus hasn’t been raised? Well, that means we’re left dealing with that problem on our own.

Now, failing to understand the problem the Gospel responds to isn’t a new phenomenon. Apparently, there were some Corinthians who also forgot what their real problem was and they were claiming that Jesus didn’t really rise from the dead. And so Paul reminds them: “for in Adam, “ he says, “all die.” “For in Adam all die.” And a few verses earlier he tells them, “you are still in your sins.” Sin and death. These, Paul reminds the Corinthians, are the problems that plague humanity, the cancers that infects the cosmos. Sin and death. These, and nothing else, are the problems the first Christians risked their lives to tell the world that Jesus’ resurrection had solved. Sin and death. That’s what we have to deal with if Jesus hasn’t been raised from the dead. And so Paul asks them – “You know what that means don’t you, if Jesus hasn’t been raised? It means that of all people we are most to be pitied. Because our hope depends on the truth of his resurrection.”

The reason we are here tonight, the reason we gather week after week to celebrate Jesus’ life, the reason that we of all people are most to be envied is because the One we’ve put our trust in, the One we seek to follow, the One that we call Lord – He’s alive. Jesus is alive. Yes, he tasted death. Yes, he bore our sin. But, he did so to defeat them both by rising from the dead. Yes, Paul says tonight, in Adam all die. But in Christ we are made alive.” And then Paul asks them. “You know what it means don’t you if Jesus has been raised? It means that of all people we are most to be envied. Because, as a matter of fact, Christ has been raised and our hope depends on the truth of his resurrection.”

The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and our future resurrection that Jesus’ resurrection guarantees, are the bedrocks of the Christian faith. Of course our hope in Christ is for this life, but our hope in Christ is not, as Paul says, for this life only. After all, because Jesus was raised bodily from the dead, we who belong to Christ will also be raised in our bodies when He returns to judge the world. Should we die before that happens, which I imagine we will, we will of course be safe with God in heaven. But, the hope of heaven is not what we celebrate at Easter. Heaven is not the end. Resurrection is the end. This earth, the one we inhabit now, being flooded with the glory of God – that is the end. The defeat of our enemies – sin and death – that is our hope.

In other words, resurrection is what the entire creation is waiting for, the grand finale to God’s good but fallen creation, that moment in time when what happened to Jesus will happen to us, too. And it is this hope – and no other hope – this hope that Jesus’ resurrection has launched new life – it is this hope that invests meaning in the life we now live. We have hope now, in this life, because Jesus’ tomb is empty. Now, there are a million reasons why this is true but I’ll end tonight by mentioning two.

First, if sin and death have been defeated and God is sovereign and resurrection awaits us, then nothing that happens in this life is irredeemably tragic. All things work for our good. As Paul writes in Romans, “in the end all things work for the good of those who love God.” All things – painful things, seemingly senseless things, sinful things – all things work for our good. After all, when Jesus was raised from the dead he still had holes in his hands and his side from the crucifixion. But in the resurrection those holes were his glory. In the same way, when we are raised from the dead at the end of the age we will still have holes as well. But in the resurrection those holes we have from the crosses we bore and those holes we have from the mistakes we made will be our glory, too. Why? Because they will be filled with the mercy and healing and love of God.

But there’s another reason the resurrection invests our life with meaning now. Not only does God use evil for good. He also multiplies the good that we do on earth a hundredfold in the resurrection. That’s what Jesus means when he talks about storing up treasures in heaven or what Paul means when he talks about working for an imperishable crown. God will take our every act of love and blessing and healing and forgiveness and celebration and use it in the grand finale that awaits our world. Our work here on earth, the work we do in faith because we love Jesus, all of it will be used eternally for our joy and for God’s glory. What that means is that every moment in this life is an opportunity – an opportunity to make a lasting contribution to God’s new world. In other words, no day on earth is ordinary. No day is boring. No day is meaningless. That is, of course, unless we let it be by not living now with an eye to God’s resurrected future.

Alleluia Christ is risen! 

The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia.

You’re right. Which means that we of all people are most to be envied. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You are so darn smart! I will quote you in the years to come. Thanks for this reflection!!!