THE REALITY YOU CAN BET YOUR LIFE ON
A Sermon for Year C, Easter 2
By Nathan L. Bostian
A Sermon for Year C, Easter 2
By Nathan L. Bostian
Have you ever been lied to? I mean, right to your face lied to? How did you know they were lying?
My wife, Kim, has a child in class who consistently forgets homework, forgets to get report cards signed, forgets to come to school, and forgets to treat other people like human beings. And she always has an excuse. Well, my uncle died… And when Kim finds out there was no funeral, it is Kim who somehow misunderstood her.
What she meant to say was that her grandmother has DIE-abetes and had to go into the hospital… And when Kim finds out that's not true, then it is the student's sister who went to court. That's why she didn't get it done. She piles up lie upon lie upon lie, until she is so deep she can't get out. Then she cries and cries. Its never her fault. You've met folks like that… Maybe you've been someone like that.
So, how do you tell someone is lying to you? Other than gut feeling, I think we depend on three major things to tell us if someone is lying: First, does their explanation fit the facts? Is their excuse the most probable, reasonable explanation of what you see?
Second, what is their motive? What do they stand to get out of it? Why would they want to say something like that? Third, what does their lifestyle look like? Do they act and live like someone who is basically trustworthy, or something far less?
In the case of Kim's student, the answer is clear. The explanations don't fit the facts, the kid's motive is to avoid responsibility and consequences, and her lifestyle shows a consistent pattern of manipulating the truth.
But there is another, perhaps more difficult, case: How do we know if someone is unknowingly repeating someone else's lie? Everyone in this room who has email knows an example of what I am talking about: Urban Myths. We get dozens of them every week in our inbox.
The kind I am particularly wary of is political emails. Those who are zealots of either side of the political spectrum generally enjoy spamming libelous gossip, of the worst kind, about the leaders of the opposition. During the Clinton years, it was wild accusations from the right about Clintonian conspiracy theories. Now, it is the left-wing's hobby to do the same thing to the Bush administration.
How can we tell if such things are no more than repeated lies? Well, I think the three factors I outlined above deal with this too: First there is the motive factor. Does the person repeating the gossip, want to believe what it says, for personal satisfaction? Here is a quick test to see if someone is a political zealot: Do they want to believe the worst about their opponents, to prove they are superior to them?
Second, does the explanation make the best sense out of the facts? One of my favorite sources for checking the facts about urban myths is snopes.com. The next time you get an email you think might be mythical gossip, check snopes.com out.
Third, does the lifestyle of the person or organization bear out that they are trustworthy? Are they the kind of folks you would want to testify at your trial, or back you up in a crisis?
And this question- how do you sniff out a lie- brings us to our readings today. Christians make lots of claims about Christ and His resurrection. We claim that this resurrection changes everything: It gives us power to live this life, with love and purpose, and it gives us a sure hope for the next life. We claim that this is the central event in history, and that it has the power to transform the world.
And all of this hinges on whether the resurrection is- in any real sense- true. Did it happen in reality? St. Paul himself says in his first letter to Corinth "If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith." He says that we are to be pitied, for being duped by such a gullible lie, if it did not happen in reality. If it isn't real, we should sleep in on Sundays, and go to Starbucks, because all of this worship of a Risen Christ is just a bunch of bull.
So, here comes the question: Is the Church repeating a lie, knowingly lying, or telling the truth about the resurrection? It's an important question, and everything we are doing here right now hinges on it.
And if we claim to follow the God of Truth, we have to ask questions about truth. Hard questions. Questions that will lead us to turn away from falsehood, and change our lives.
There is this persistent caricature of Christian faith that says that faith is blind. It is "believing what ain't so". And there are a fair share of Christians who buy into this. They get mad at Thomas for asking questions, to try and make sense of what he was hearing.
But Thomas was right on. Because we don't have to throw our brains out to believe in Christ. And when Thomas expressed an honest doubt- not a satirical, sneering dare for God to show Himself, but an honest desire to know reality- then Jesus showed Him Reality, in His hands, and in His side.
Faith is not that which works against reason, and believes in something despite the evidence. Faith is that which listens to reason, and trusts in the most logical, plausible explanation of the data.
So, what is the most logical, plausible explanation of the data for the resurrection? Is the Church repeating a lie, lying, or telling the Truth?
First, lets look at the motive for the Church proclaiming Christ's resurrection. And lets look at the Church before Christianity became the socially acceptable, upwardly mobile, officially sanctioned religion of the Roman Empire, which nice citizens were (and still are!) expected to be a part of.
For the first 300 years of the Christian movement, what did you get for proclaiming- and standing for- faith in the Resurrected Christ? You got mocked, socially isolated, persecuted, and on some occasions, executed in exquisitely cruel ways. Just like Christ.
Now, usually when you are trying to pull a con job, you get something definite out of it: money, power, pleasure, or social status. The Church got none of this. In fact, quite the opposite.
Jesus and all of his apostles- except John- were martyred for what they proclaimed. And this pattern continued for the next few hundred years. So, that tells me that either Jesus and His disciples were the most inept- and persistent- con men in history… Or they actually believed what they were saying is true.
It seems that their motive was sincere, but that does not mean that they were not sincerely wrong.
And so we turn to the issue of lifestyle. Did the Church live as we would expect them to live if the resurrection were true? Does their life bear out that the resurrection is a reality?
Now, what I am NOT asking here is whether or not the early Christians exhibited a lifestyle that is acceptable to polite society. They most definitely did not. Just look at the text from Acts!
They prayed loudly and demonstratively, believed God was speaking through them, and claimed God did miracles among them… And, for goodness sake, they even spoke in tongues!
They were actually serious about this Jesus stuff, and thought Jesus could change the world! Then and now, there is a style of merely aesthetic, enculturated, religious belief, that is very offended by such behavior. It sneers at it. It mocks it. It feels it cannot learn anything from such uncultured, low-rent, backwards behavior.
But we are not asking if they were uncultured or poor or even emotional. We are asking if their lifestyle is that which we might expect from people who lived for a Risen Savior.
And we have to admit that it was.
How else can we explain something that took a group of scared, timid, cowardly disciples and turned them into bold missionaries that took this message of Christ around the world? How else can we explain the fact that, supernatural events such as healings and signs and wonders, followed them everywhere they preached?
And, how else can we explain the un-selfish, un-conditional, un-stoppable love exhibited by the early Christians? One of the things that Pagan Romans pointed out about early Christians was that, not only did they take care of their own poor, but everyone else's as well! It was the love of the early Christian movement, and their willingness to die for what they believed, that eventually conquered the Roman Empire- for better or for worse.
So, it seems that the early Church had both the motives and the lifestyle that would indicate that the resurrection is true. But perhaps there is another explanation for why this is so. Perhaps they are just a well-intentioned group, that was deceived by a severe kind of group-think, which made them believe and live as if the resurrection was true.
That leads us to ask the question of what explanation best fits the data that we find, in the four Gospel accounts, in Paul's resurrection account in First Corinthians chapter 15, in the rest of the New Testament, and in the writings of Christians and their non-Christian critics in the early Christian era.
Now, for the last two centuries, it has been popular for a certain form of "enlightened" scholar, who lives in the age of Newtonian physics and modern engineering, and who has seen the triumph of human technology, to cast doubt on everything we find in Scripture, and come up with innovative new hypothesis to explain the "Jesus Event".
But, unenlightened people like myself, who live in the age of quantum physics and genetic engineering, and who are well aware of the carnage created by human technology in the last century, may well question the "enlightened" assumptions of such people.
Who has a better chance at knowing the reality behind the "Jesus Event"? Shall we trust the testimony of people who lived within two decades to two centuries from the New Testament, who were in the same basic culture, who spoke the same language, who had access to sources and traditions we do not have anymore, and who suffered and died for the Resurrected Christ?
Or, shall we believe European and American scholars, who live at least 18 centuries separate from the events of the New Testament, who speak other languages, who live in radically different cultures, who have partial and fragmentary access to early sources, and who gain social prestige, and university positions by inventing creative and novel ways, to re-explain or refute the faith of the Church?
Whom shall we trust? Who has better access to the sources? Who has a more pure motive?
This is not to say that modern scholarship is useless. There are tons of things we can learn from it. If you don't believe me, ask Biblical scholars Dr. Roy Heller, or Dr. Fred Schmidt, at the seminary next door. This is just to say that scholarship which seeks to destroy, rather than build on, the faith of the early Church is deficient at best, and devious at worst.
And this is not to say that the Bible is a perfect book, free from problems, which dropped down from heaven on angel's wings. No, it is a human book through which God speaks Reality into our lives… if we will let Him.
And, as far as the key event of the Bible- the resurrection- if you read the different accounts for yourself, it is true that you will get slightly different stories from Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul. There are questions that get raised over the exact order of events, and who was where, and when. Some of these problems seem to be easily explained by reports from differing perspectives.
And some of these problems are much harder to explain.
But, have you ever been in a traffic court where multiple witnesses are testifying to the same car crash? Perhaps one was in the car, another was on the corner, another in a nearby store, and yet another watching from a building above.
They don't tell exactly the same details, and some of the details they tell the judge, may seem to be contradictory. But, from this testimony you can get a highly accurate picture of the event: The big red truck was trying to make a turn and miss the red light, but wound up blindsiding the station wagon going through the green light.
And the one thing you CANNOT say is that the wreck never happened, or it was a mass hallucination, or the drivers forgot where they parked the cars, or that it was a spiritual- not a historical- event.
Yet, that is what some "enlightened scholars" would have us believe about the resurrection. But, even with certain problems withstanding, the motive of the early Church, the lifestyle of the early Church, and the evidence of the early Church, leads us to only one most probable explanation:
Death blindsided Jesus Christ, but Jesus wrecked death forever by really, physically, historically rising from the dead.
THIS is a Reality you can bet your life on, and live your life for.
Now, may the Risen Christ show Himself to you as He did to Thomas. May you feel His presence, believe His Truth, and touch His Reality. And may He pour out upon you His resurrection Spirit, that you may make Him real to others too.