A Sermon For Year A, Easter Sunday
Copyright © 2008 Nathan L. Bostian
Based on Acts 5:25-32; 10:34-43; Luke 24:13-35
Copyright © 2008 Nathan L. Bostian
Based on Acts 5:25-32; 10:34-43; Luke 24:13-35
1. A CHRIST FOR EVERY TASTE: One of the interesting things about being on my side of the Easter phenomenon is looking at how other churches and ministries do Easter, and comparing and contrasting it with what we do.
As I was driving around this week, I noticed at almost every major intersection in my town, clusters of plastic signs by the side of the road offering every conceivable type of Easter worship experience.
Some advertized Sunrise Easter worship services. Others advertized contemporary, relevant, rocking Easter services. Yet others advertized classic, traditional, meaningful Easter services. Some offered services tailored to teens, others services tailored to children, and yet others tailored to young twenty-somethings.
In fact, at a couple of larger churches I saw banners advertizing multiple kinds of services at the same location: It is literally the shopping mall of Easter worship, with contemporary at one end of the Church mega-plex, classic worship at the other end, and children's worship somewhere in the middle.
And you should have seen these clusters of signs by the road (maybe you did!). It was as if the signs were part of some odd football fumble drill, where they were all crowded together, desperately vying to be in front, to get the attention of the consumer public.
Now, one part of me really is glad about all of this: It shows that there are well-meaning people at churches all over the place who want people to know about Jesus and encounter his saving power! They are so intent, that they are making sure that every conceivable person with every conceivable taste has an opportunity to encounter Jesus in a way that is comfortable and meaningful for them.
This is awesome. This shows that people Love Jesus and Love those who He came to save.
But, there is another side. A less sincere side. A consumer side to the story. Why is it- do you think- that we feel the need to advertize Jesus like He was mouthwash, or a sports car? Why do we feel we have to custom make Jesus, in every style and color, just to get people to pay attention to Him? Does Jesus really need our cool "power add-ons"?
Why do we think that the Gospel message- the message that God became human and literally defeated death- why do we think THAT message needs to be "massaged" to be more hip, cool, relevant, trendy, and marketable?
Why does Jesus need OUR help to be meaningful?
When we put it like that, it sounds silly. We KNOW that Jesus doesn't need our help to be LORD or to change lives. We KNOW that his message should be the most relevant message in the history of the world- to every single person in it, regardless of personal taste or demographic- because we KNOW that only his message comes with the guarantee of a Life stronger than Death.
We KNOW it, but I think we still have to put cosmetics on Jesus because we are afraid: We are afraid that His Story isn't true. We are afraid that He WON'T back up what He says. Yet, we are also afraid He WILL back up what He says.
2. WE TAILOR CHRIST BECAUSE WE ARE AFRAID HE ISN'T REAL: So, first of all, I think we tailor Christ to our liking because many of us- deep down inside- wonder if the whole thing is too good to be true. After all, we read stories like those in Acts and the Gospels, and nothing could seem further from our everyday reality.
We find Jesus-followers boldly standing up against the authorities and proclaiming the Risen Christ. We see them unabashedly taking His message of resurrection and hope to people who have no hope. And we see that Jesus actually WORKS in miraculous ways. People are healed. Demons driven out. Christ grants them miraculous escapes from jail and danger.
But, we don't see that in our lives. We fear- I fear- mentioning Jesus in polite conversation because I might get labeled a Jesus-freak, a fanatic, or worse- the worst "f" word you could be called: A fundamentalist! [SARCASM]
We have trouble mentioning to our well-educated, respectable Atheist and Muslim friends that Jesus is Risen, and He is Lord- to say nothing of proclaiming Jesus where we might actually get persecuted!
And we don't see miracles like that either. At least not in this culture. And we are incredibly skeptical of people from other cultures who claim to experience miracles. It seems that miracles like the book of Acts hardly EVER happen to college educated, upper-crust kind of folk (like us!). [SARCASM]
And, let's be honest: When is the last time you ever saw someone rise from the dead? The whole "Christ is Risen" thing smells kind of fishy to those of us in an age of science.
So, we feel like this whole Easter thing is a happy myth that we have to fix up, and make relevant, to people who have experienced neither the power nor the passion that the Bible speaks of.
So, we custom-make Christ because we feel like we have been sold a defective product, and like a shady used-car salesman, we must exaggerate the truth to get people to buy in.
But, is it really reasonable that the Gospel Story is un-reasonable? Is it really logical that the Resurrection event is illogical?
I mean, just because we have not experienced something and have not seen it with out own eyes: Does that mean it isn't real?
We believe in blood cells, quantum atomic structure, physical laws, economic trends, and even our own brain: But we have never seen them. We believe them, on the basis of faith, based on inference from the evidence we have, as interpreted by people we trust (such as scientists).
We put our faith in the most probable inference from the facts we have, back to cause that gave rise to those fact. In other words: We look at something in our world and say: "Now why is that?" Then we weigh the possible explanations and put our faith in the reason that best fits.
But what best fits the data we have for the Resurrection? What best fits the power and passion we see in the early Church?
Were these poor, oppressed, mostly uneducated early disciples inspired to practice radical Love, overcome racial and ethnic divides, stand against the authorities, suffer and even die on the basis of a pious myth about some Rabbi named Jesus of Nazareth?
What turned disciples who were too scared to even admit they knew Jesus- who denied Him and hid from the authorities- what turned them into a movement of people that overcame the mighty Roman Empire after 300 years of non-violent social action?
If Jesus had stayed dead- if the disciples had stolen the body or made up the story- all the authorities would have had to do was grab the body, cart it through the streets, kill the leaders of the Jesus-movement: And it would have ended.
But it didn't end. And they DID kill the leaders. Yet they never found the body. Why is that? What is the most reasonable explanation? [PAUSE] Maybe the resurrection IS real.
And what about the idea that we do not see stuff like Acts happen anymore today? Is that really true? Or is it just that our culture trains us, from a very early age, to be so jaded and skeptical that we would never see a miracle even if it bit us in the butt.
We explain away everything. The things we can't explain we ignore. And the things we ignore we treat as unreal.
But what if those people from other cultures- those that claim to experience Jesus miraculous resurrection power- what if they aren't making it all up?
And how do we explain lives like Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II, Martin Luther King Jr., and Archbishop Desmond Tutu (and a million others!)? How do we explain events like the abolition of slavery, and the massive movements toward racial and gender equality that have only happened in cultures impacted by the Gospel of Christ?
Where do those people come from? Where do those ideas come from? Is it just a coincidence that it is in THOSE cultures where this crazy resurrection Story is proclaimed that we see this happen?
What is the most probable inference to put our faith in?
3. WE TAILOR CHRIST BECAUSE WE ARE AFRAID HE WON'T ACT: So, let's say we are over the hump of believing the Jesus Story is too good to be true. Let's say that we actually believe that, 2000 years ago, a man rose from the dead and this impacted the rest of world history.
Why then would we still feel the need to market Jesus like diet soda? If we believe that Jesus' resurrection has the power to change individual lives and even entire cultures- a lesson we learn over and over from history- If we believe that, why do we feel that we need to "help" Jesus change lives in our culture through slick marketing?
I think we do it because we are afraid that Jesus won't actually show up when WE NEED Him. Sure, he showed up for the disciples. Sure, he showed up and changed people and cultures in the past. But that was them. This is US.
Can we trust Jesus to show up for US, here, now, and change lives?
We fear that the answer is NO. We fear that if we put too much trust in Jesus, He will leave us hanging. We fear that Jesus won't love us and help us like He does for others.
So we make backup plans. We say: "Jesus may show up, but if he doesn't- and let's be honest, we don't really think He will- if he doesn't we can still do it ourselves!"
So, we devise a system of self-help instead of relying on the resurrection. We look for relevance and style, instead of Reality and Scripture. We reduce the Gospel to something that is easily controllable, readily consumable, and will never let us down.
But, is it really true that Jesus will let us down? Or, is it the case that we never really gave Him the CHANCE to show up?
Maybe trusting Jesus is kind of like learning to ride a bike. Remember learning to ride a bike?
The hardest thing was trusting the bike enough to build up speed to actually stay balanced.
Because the bike will never balance if we hold back, and stay slow and controlled. The bike will just fall over on its side, time after time. Or worse: You will get stuck with those dinky training wheels and you will wobble back and forth, moving like a snail, with no stability.
The bike only becomes trustworthy when you put your whole trust in it, press down those pedals as hard as you can, and get enough speed going so that you are stable and secure.
It would be insane to say "Bikes are untrustworthy!" just because we am too afraid to ride them fast enough.
Yet, that is what we do with Jesus. We don't put our full trust in Him. We wobble back and forth without really committing our lives to live fully for Him.
And as a result, we never experience the power of His resurrection in our lives, and the stability and security that brings.
4. WE TAILOR CHRIST BECAUSE WE ARE AFRAID HE WILL ACT: But, let's say we are over this hurdle as well. Let's say that we both believe the resurrection IS a Reality, AND we believe that Jesus WILL act in our lives if we put our full trust in Him.
Why then do we still feel the need to custom-make Christ to fit our own style and our own needs? What stops us from trusting in Jesus alone- not "Jesus AND relevance", or "Jesus AND my demographic", or "Jesus AND my ideology"- but trusting in Jesus.
Jesus drunk straight, not mixed with the fashions of our age.
If we are convinced of the power and presence of the Risen Christ, why do we so often opt for something far less?
I think we do it NOT because we are afraid He isn’t real, BUT because we are afraid HE IS. I think we do it NOT because we are afraid He will not act, BUT because we are afraid He will.
I think we are scared to death of what might happen if we let the Real Jesus loose in our lives.
What might He want us to do? Where might He lead us? What would happen to all of my desires and pleasures, not to mention my favorite sins and prejudices?
We want control. We want predictability. We want what we want, when we want it. And it scares us to death to give that to Jesus.
So we tame the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, and turn Him into our pet kitten. We ignore the Lord of the Universe, and make Him the mascot for our own pride and prejudice.
Even though we have every rational reason to trust Him- every logical reason to believe that His plans for us are far better than anything we could come up with on our own- We still struggle to loosen our grip and let the Real Jesus in.
And this is not just YOUR struggle, but it is MY struggle. And this is not just MY challenge, but it is YOUR challenge.
I challenge us all to loosen our grip and let Jesus be Lord. I challenge us all to surrender the rights to ourselves, and give those rights to Jesus. I challenge us all to get on the bike and pedal as fast as we can.
Tonight join with me, loosen your grip on yourself, and once again surrender ourselves to Christ. I invite you, as you come up to take the bread and wine, to give Christ your whole self: Your body, your heart, your mind, your will. You soul.
Just as the disciples 2000 years ago, I invite you to encounter the Risen Lord Jesus in the breaking of bread. Amen+