An Easter Sermon based on Acts 5:29-32, Colossians 3:1-14, Luke 24:13-35
Do you believe in miracles? Do you believe that God CAN reach into time and space and act in ways that we could have never predicted- ways that defy every attempt at "scientific" explanation? Do you believe that God has IN FACT done this through Jesus Christ, to heal and revive and guide us into God's Life?
Well, if you think miracles are possible- If you think they are probable- If you think they have in fact happened: Then let me ask you another question.
What is the biggest miracle in the history of the universe?
Is it creation itself? Is it the parting of the Red Sea? Is it God making donkeys talk or giving prophets a ride to heaven on flaming chariots? Is it God causing a Virgin to bear His life into the world through the birth of Jesus Christ? Is Christ's healings and exorcisms and control over nature?
No, these are not the biggest miracle by any stretch of the imagination.
I know what you are thinking is the biggest miracle in history: The Resurrection.
The conquest of evil, suffering, and death by raising our Crucified God from the dead. That has to be the biggest miracle in history!
Wrong. I don't think it is.
I think the biggest miracle in the world comes AFTER Easter. I think it has come in the 20 centuries of the history of the Church, the Mystical Body of the Risen Christ.
This is the miracle I stand in dreadful amazement at: How Christ's Church has tamed and domesticated and abused Her Lord's resurrection. I stand in amazement at how I tame and domesticate and abuse MY Risen Lord.
Think about it: What do most people think of the Church? Boring. Irrelevant. Powerless. Lifeless. Useless.
How did the most powerful Event in the history of the world- the Raising to life of Someone tortured to death- how did this event become boring? How did this message of new life- of Resurrected life following the pattern of Jesus' life- how did this news become bad news, irrelevant news, useless news? How did this New Life become so… so… lifeless?
How did it happen that we live in a society where everything seems more interesting than the most interesting Event ever to come across the world stage? We should be jumping for joy, exuberant, excited, electric over the fact that God has shown us in Jesus that Love is stronger than death, and that we can share in this Love by trusting in Him.
Instead, we will watch anything, do anything, think about anything, entertain ourselves with anything, talk about anything BUT the Greatest Event in History.
Think about it: At any given time you have umpteen tasks to do for work or school, and endless opportunities for fun and pleasure. Where does the Risen Christ fit in on your to-do list? Where does prayer, Scripture, sacraments, and service to others in Christ's Name get put on your to-do list?
I know where he fits in on my list most of the time. Dead last. If I get absolutely everything else done that I want to do, and I need to do, then just maybe I might fit in time to really connect deeply with the Person who has literally raised me from the dead with Him.
And most of us- even the most dedicated of us- are probably in the same boat.
And what do many of us who are in Church come for? We come to be consoled. We come to be comforted. We come to be patted on the back for how right we are, and congratulated that we are NOT "like them": Whoever "them" might be, whether conservatives or liberals, fundamentalists or revisionists, catholics or protestants, pentecostals or proper people, non-Christians or super-Christians.
So often we do Church- we do theology, we do Bible reading, we do prayer- in such a way as to make sure we are NOT like "them". We forget that the purpose of Church is instead to be LIKE HIM: The Resurrected Jesus.
Instead, we domesticate Jesus. We tame the Lion of Judah. We shove His Spirit into a closet and lock the door. We make sure that everything we do conforms to a pattern to carefully make sure we are not "like them". We may follow an Episcopal pattern, or a Baptist pattern, or a Pentecostal pattern, or a Liberal pattern. But whatever our pattern is, it quickly becomes a box that we shove the Risen Christ into.
And do you know what you have to do to fit a person in a box that is too small for them? You have to cut off their arms and legs and make them a corpse. That's the only way to make someone stay in your box.
So the greatest miracle in History to me is the Anti-miracle of how we take the Risen Jesus and turn Him into a corpse again. It is the reversal of Jesus first miracle of water and wine: We take Jesus' wine of Resurrection Life and turn it into watered down, tame, civil religion that is all about making people merely "nice" rather than making them into "little christs".
No wonder the outside world looks at Christianity as if it is Boring. Irrelevant. Powerless. Lifeless. Useless. The Church, all too often, deserves it.
Now, I am not saying that Christians- Christ-followers, little christs- should seek to please or impress the outside world. If we are being true to Christ, we cannot- we will not- please the outside world. The outside world looked at Jesus as threateningly strange and subversive, YET strangely attractive and compassionate.
That is how the early disciples were treated too. In the book of Acts, we find Jesus followers being accused of turning the world upside down. We see them arrested, beaten, mocked, and killed. Just like Jesus.
But we also see the mysterious world transforming power of Christ's resurrection Spirit working through them. We see in them a Love that cannot be killed, a mercy that will not die. Just like Jesus.
But, three centuries later, ten centuries later, twenty centuries later we instead find Christians who want to be at home in the world. We find Christians who want to be merely "nice": Merely good citizens who don't make waves in their culture. We find Christians who take it for granted that the way things are is the way they have to be, and the way they always will be.
It's best to give up and go along after all...
So, we try to find a way out of the discomfort of being seen as threateningly strange and subversive. We want to be upstanding citizens of this world, well respected by those we respect as respectable.
But as Christians give up their peculiarity- as we give up living in the peculiar Way of the Risen Jesus- as we give up being threateningly strange and subversive- we find that we give up something else. We give up being strangely attractive and compassionate.
We become Mundane. Boring. Irrelevant. Powerless. Lifeless. Useless.
We become anything BUT Christ-like.
And the Great Anti-miracle does its dirty work of turning the Good News of the Resurrected Jesus into the bad news of an impotent, incompetent, irrelevant Institution.
But I think a Greater Miracle can happen.
And Jesus did too.
According to John, chapter 14, Jesus promised us that "whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father" (because He will send us His Resurrection Spirit).
Now THAT is a Greater Miracle. Not just one Christ with a capital "C" spreading His resurrected life throughout the world. But dozens, hundreds, thousands, millions of Christians- little christs- spreading that same Life. Infecting the world with the Love that cannot die. What Greater Miracle is there than that?
And while many might say this is an empty promise, I tend to believe it is true. Because the guy who said it knows a little something about God, about miracles, and about rising from the dead.
And I believe we can see bright shining glimmers of this Greater Miracle coming true through the History of Christ's Church. We see it in the lives of His followers who were not content to merely be "nice" people, or good citizens of this world. We see it in those who were able to see past mundane religiosity to the glorious Christ.
We see it in those who not only came to Church, and partook the sacraments, and heard the Word preached, but who actually went out into the world around the Church to become living sacraments who embodied God's Word to the world around them.
We see it in Peter and Paul; In Mary and Junia; In Priscilla and Aquilla; In Roman Martyrs and Desert Mystics; In Medieval Theologians and Monastic Revivals; In Julian of Norwich and Anselm of Canterbury; In John Wesley and William Wilberforce; In CS Lewis and Deiterich Bonhoeffer; In Martin Luther King and Archbishop Desmond Tutu; In Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II; In the lives of Christ followers who are not famous- or infamous- but who live their normal lives in a way that is threateningly strange and subversive, YET strangely attractive and compassionate.
These people lived- and live- the Resurrection Life of Christ in a way that is anything but Boring. Irrelevant. Powerless. Lifeless. Useless.
This is the Greater Miracle. And it is spreading. Silently. Slowly. Stealthily. Subversively. It is spreading.
This Greater Miracle will undo the Great Anti-miracle of turning Christ back into a corpse. This Greater Miracle will unleash a vast tidal-wave of innumerable little christs into the world. And I think this Greater Miracle will include all of us gathered here.
If you will allow it. If you will surrender to it. If you will let the Resurrected Jesus capture your imagination, seize your desires, and infect your soul with His Compassion that is stronger than death.
And lest someone might think I am advocating some free-for-all, do-it-yourself, anti-Church kind of Christianity, where we throw our Prayer Books and Hymnals and Theology books on a bonfire and storm the streets with Jesus banners. I am not.
Although, I am not against Jesus banners, provided there is some incense too!
No, I believe the Church, and Her sacred acts, Her sacred traditions are a key part of this Greater Miracle. I believe our sacred actions- through which we encounter the Risen Lord in hearing and taste and touch and smell and praying and preaching and praising and personal contact- I believe these are the Greatest tools we have to allow this Resurrection Life to flow into us, and through us into the world.
But, this Greater Miracle hinges on IF you choose to encounter the Risen Christ personally- and HOW you encounter the Risen Christ personally- through the sacraments and sacred texts of His Church.
Are we coming to worship, to prayer, to Eucharist, to Scripture hoping to be coddled and confirmed in our prejudices? Or are we coming to the challenged, to be transformed, by the Resurrection power at work in these rituals?
We should come to worship expecting Christ to show up, and leave worship assured that Christ is working through us to transform our lives and transform our world.
This is the Greater Miracle, and I want to see us all a part of it. I want to see a dozen, a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand of us rise up with Christ's resurrection power on this campus.
I want to see us live a resurrection Love that accepts all and rejects none- A resurrection Love that will not give up until everyone is treated with justice and dignity and compassion and not like consumable objects- A resurrection Love that does not stop until everyone comes to know the Risen Lord who is the Source for all true Love.
I want to see a resurrection People who pray without ceasing, who live like there is no tomorrow, and who will not capitulate to the world's demands to label people, and put them in boxes, and consume them like fast food.
And to make this Greater Miracle a reality in our community, I want to challenge you to become the catalyst. And to begin this, I want to dare you to do three things:
First of all, I dare you to use your imagination. Imagine yourself, your community, as part of the Greater Miracle. What might that look like? How can you be used to make this happen?
And to help you in your imagination, I challenge you to do some imaginative reading. Read the end of the Gospel of Luke where Jesus rises from the dead. And then read all of the Book of Acts, where the early Christians begin to live this Greater Miracle. And as you read, do not read to analyze for parse out the story. I want you to imagine yourself as part of that early Jesus-movement.
Imagine: How would you feel? What would you see? How would you live? Keep a journal. Write your thoughts down. Underline the parts of your Bible that speak to you.
Finally, imagine what that would look like transposed into your life in this culture. On this campus. What if the Greater Miracle began in you, right here, right now?
After you have done this, I dare you to Question yourself: "Am I willing to risk the embarrassment that will come if I allow the Risen Christ to work through me in this way?"
Am I willing to live in a way that people will think of me as threateningly strange and subversive, YET strangely attractive and compassionate?
This is a crucial question. Because, if you boil down the reason why the Church is so often powerless and boring, it is usually because deep down we are embarrassed. The Risen Jesus embarrasses us. Living in His way of resurrection Love embarrasses us. We don't want people to think us strange, peculiar, or weird. So we go along to get along.
And now, if you are willing to imagine the Greater Miracle, and you are willing to be embarrassed by the Greater Miracle, I have one last dare:
Pray and ask that it would happen in you, through you, with you. None of us together or apart can make this Greater Miracle happen on our own, no matter how big our imagination. But Christ can. And Christ will.
If we are willing to imagine a New Life, question ourselves, and pray with passion, Christ will. Amen+
For reasons I am still not entirely sure of, I decided yesterday that it was time to clean the garage, re-organize, and build bookshelves that I have been meaning to build for months. My wife suggested that it would be a good day to do it- like she suggests every couple of weeks when we have a few spare hours in the schedule.
But yesterday, it seemed like time. It just felt right.
Maybe it is because I want to start working out on weights again, and I can't until I uncover them from all the stuff on top of them. Maybe it is because I have walked past the mess one too many times, and am tired of being harassed by it. Or maybe it is because I would like to put our new huge recycling tub in a place where we will actually USE it.
Whatever the reason, it seemed right.
So, from 5pm to 2am I worked on it (yep, I am THAT neighbor). And after 40 cinder blocks, 20 2x10x10ft boards, two trips to Home Depot, a can of spackle, a mound of trash taller than me, and a really sore lower back, I am finished.
There is a new set of 8 foot tall shelves along every wall, and the weight set is prettier than I remembered it. A ton of extraneous junk is gone (and more will leave once Kim picks through it). Walls are patched. Everything is re-organized. Everything has a place, and there is a place for everything… and then some.
And for the first time in the history of our home ownership, we could actually park our car in our garage if needed.
I am happy.
I am at peace.
I am sore (in a good way).
And in the midst of praying about my happiness (yes, I actually prayed and thanked Jesus after finishing), it dawned on me:
This is a lot like what God has been doing to me lately. In fact, it might be a perfect parallel.
Anyone who knows me knows that this has been a crazy year: Going through ordination process, graduating seminary, having second child, starting new job, working two jobs, getting ordained deacon, having new chapel built, keeping up with wife and two kids, etc. etc...
As a result my interior self has gotten cluttered. Imagine if you can only respond to 20 emails a day with any type of sincerity, but you get 50 emails a day. Or imagine if you can only label and store 20 items a day in your garage, but you get 30 or 40 items a day to put up. Imagine what your inbox would look like- or your garage would look like- after six months of that.
That is kind of what my inner life looks like right now. its confusing, bewildering, and often overwhelming.
It is just like my garage has been for the last few months since we found out we had termites and had to move everything to the middle of the floor to get rid of the little pests.
And just like going through a re-organizing my garage, I find that re-organizing my soul has the following characteristics:
- You find out that your storage space is insufficient, and you have to build new, sturdier shelves and place new hooks to hang things off of.
- You find treasures that you had forgotten you had, and you pull them out, dust them off, and start using them again.
- You find things that you once thought were valuable, but are now really trashy, or poor quality, or just horribly insufficient for life as you live it now.
- You find that the whole floor space needs to be reconfigured to make room for what really matters.
- You find that too much clutter can take all the joy out of what should be a really cool space.
- Conversely, you find that once the clutter is removed, a sense of peace and deep joy (that far exceeds the amount of work you put into it) suddenly fills your soul.
- But, you do have to put hard work into it, and you have to make time to do the deep cleaning and hard construction. You can't just sit around hoping it will happen. You have to do it.
- You never know when the time will be right to do it. Sometimes, it just happens.
- Like the project last night- which was suggested by my wife, and assisted by several people at Home Depot and my brother in law and neighbor who took items we no longer need- our spiritual growth is something we simply cannot do on our own. We need the grace of God and the help of others.
- It isn't finished. There are still lots of things that can be put up, and re-organized. But I am light years ahead of where I started.
I know this sounds corny, but the process of organizing my garage actually makes me feel like somehow I have cleaned, organized, and built new storage for my soul as well. I just feel more whole somehow.
I hope that as I pray and sort through what has been one of the most life-changing years of my life thus far, that the Lord Jesus will help me to do in my soul what I did last night in my garage. And I hope He will do the same for you too.
This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.