I don't usually post my sermons, as they are written for a particular group of people, and simply don't translate well into this medium. I'm making an exception tonight, as I think part of this one, offered within tonight's Easter Vigil, might be relevant to some of the conversations going on here at Jake's place. Do keep in mind that this is my last Easter message to these folks; I'm not preaching in the morning, and I'll be moving on in June. There's a bit of seed planting mixed in here:
On this night, around 2000 years ago, something happened. We don’t know exactly what happened. All we have is the testimony of those who saw evidence of this “something” the next morning. A wandering rabbi by the name of Jesus had been executed by the Romans for the crime of treason. They said he claimed to be king of the Jews.
Three days later, his tomb was found to be empty. Some of his followers told stories of seeing him alive. Throughout his small band of followers spread the message; “He is Risen!” At first, these followers weren’t sure what that meant exactly, except that one they loved, whose loss they had mourned, had somehow appeared once again in their midst.
Over time, this “something” that happened, this event, became the definitive moment in the faith tradition known as Christianity. Eventually it came to be understood to mean something like this; “through Jesus Christ, death, our ancient enemy, has been cast down and trampled underfoot.”
We are no longer held captive by our fear of death. That is a wonderful thing in and of itself, but is that it? Is that what Easter is all about? Not being afraid to die?
I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t seem to cover the myriad of emotions I feel when confronted with the story of the resurrection. I think overcoming fear is a big part of it, but I’m not sure it is simply overcoming the fear of dying.
In the Gospel account, the risen Christ tells the women, “Do not be afraid.” That’s all well and good for them. If I was able to walk with Jesus Christ, the son of the living God risen from the grave at my side, I wouldn’t be afraid either!
With those in the Gospel story, we proclaim, “He is risen!” What do we mean by that? If he is risen, then where is he?
It’s time for my thunderstorm story again. A little boy was scared during a thunderstorm. His Mom tried to comfort. “Don’t be scared,” she said. “God will keep you safe.”
“But Mom!” the little boy cried. “Right now, I need a God with skin on!”
Sometimes we all need a God with skin on. In order for this idea, this concept of resurrection and immortality to not just float away, it needs to be concrete; it needs to put on some flesh.
One way of understanding a sacrament, an outward sign of an inward grace, is that these things, wine, bread, water, oil, words, people, in a sense become for us concrete ways that we can hold on to the lofty concepts that they represent. We understand Jesus to be the sacrament, the outward and visible sign, of God. We understand the Church to be the sacrament, the outward and visible sign, of Jesus Christ. We, those who are baptized and filled with the spirit of the living God, are the Church. Each one of us is a living sacrament. Each one of us can be God, with skin on, for each other. We can represent the risen Christ to one another.
It isn’t always easy to see Christ in your neighbor. Sometimes it’s because your neighbor is a jerk. But most times, I think we cannot see Christ clearly in others because our own vision has become cloudy. How do we clear our vision?
Last night I spoke to you about suffering and death, and suggested that sometimes we have to let something die in order to make room for the new thing God might be doing.
Sometimes we have to let go of something that we have been clinging to desperately in order to see the risen Christ in our midst.
Last night I spoke of the little pit bull that lives within me, and the need for me to let my old friend die. I mentioned that the reason that now is the time to finally let go of the attack dog inside of me that has kept me safe for so long was because I felt God doing something new within me, and this pit bull, with his growls and long teeth, was barring the way for this new thing.
What is this new thing? I promised you if you came back tonight I’d tell you about it. Now I’m not sure just how to describe it. It’s a particular way to view our relationship with God, and our relationship with each other. It’s not really that new, I suppose. It’s Christianity in its most basic form, actually. It seems that somewhere along the way, most likely while paying too much attention to the barking of my pit bull, I seem to have forgotten some of these basic themes.
I’m relearning this relational approach to God through the writings of one author. I’ve got four of his books, which I’m dipping into simultaneously. Right now, I’m allowing this writer to be God, with skin on, for me.
That may sound a bit strange to some of you. Keep in mind that I’ve been an avid reader since childhood. All of my life, it has been various authors who have been my spiritual guides. When I read the bible during the office, the conversation I have with those writers makes God more real, more concrete, for me. Many years ago, C.S. Lewis was the lens through which Jesus came alive. Later, it was through the writings of Alan Jones, then even later I stumbled across Walter Wink. And then there are the story tellers; Walker Percy, Iris Murdoch and Robertson Davies; and the poets, Wordsworth, Donne and Herbert. Each one of these wordsmiths invited me into a conversation that was exactly what I needed at that moment in my spiritual journey. They were, for this incurable bookworm, “God, with skin on.”
I’m not going to mention the name of the author who seems to be ushering in a new chapter in my own spiritual life, as some folks might be inclined to run out and buy his books. That would be a mistake. Most likely you would be disappointed. He’s not a great writer, and his ideas are not that novel. He speaks to me right now. I’m not sure he would speak to you.
This guy describes himself as an evangelic, catholic, poetic, biblical, charismatic, contemplative, anabaptist, clavinist, anglican, green, incarnational, depressed, unfinished Christian. I love it! He refuses to be put in a box. I’ve worn most of those labels at one time or another in my life, but the idea that I don’t have to take one off to put another one on is refreshing to me. It eliminates a lot of the internal arguments I have with my little pit bull.
He speaks of evangelism; proclaiming the Good News of God in Christ, as a dance! A dance…how wonderful. He talks about nature as God's artwork, God's text, showing us so much about the Creator.
He describes the tension between science and faith this way; “Science sought to explain the world without God, it produced a story without meaning. And Christians, trying to recast the gospel in the language of science and reason, produced a propositional belief system that lost touch with the story that gave it power. I am interested in seeing science and faith as collaborators.”
He reminds me that diversity is a good thing. “Life evolves to thrive in many different niches. The same should be true among Christians,” he says. "We need incredible diversity to fill many, many niches."
And most importantly, he speaks of Christianity as a relationship, not a set of beliefs. He calls for more conversations, and fewer debates.
The pit bull in me doesn’t like this guy. But right, now, he represents, for me, the whisperings of God.
How do I know that this author is right? I don’t. But when I close the book, and look around, I see evidence surrounding me of the truth of his words. And I see even more evidence for why the pit bull must be allowed to die. I want more conversations, more relationships, and this snarling attack dog is in the way.
If I am honest, the main reason I kept the pit bull around was because of my fears; fear of being rejected, fear of being wrong, fear of losing the debate, fear that God could not keep me safe. It’s time for me to hear my Risen Lord saying, “Do not be afraid!” It is time to place my faith in God, instead of an internal pit bull.
Christ is risen, and in our midst this night. How do I know? Because I feel a new life emerging within me. Because I’ve encounter the risen Christ in the writings of a wonderful man. Because I see Christ being made manifest in the love Demi offers me each day.
And, I know that my Redeemer lives, because I see him in each one of you gathered here tonight.
Do not be afraid. He is risen. Alleluia!