Friday, March 28, 2008

Audio from Easter sermon, Mar 23

Sermon from Easter Sunday, Mar 23

I am always amazed at the way little Gracie plays in her crib. For those of you who may be visiting or from out of town this week, Gracie is our two-year-old daughter and she really is at the point where she is developing her personality. It’s a fun time; it means she says “No!” a lot more often than she used to, but it’s still just fun to see her become her own person. One of the funniest things about her these days is the way that she plays with her stuffed animals. She has a whole colony of them, practically, probably 10 or 15 of them that basically live in her crib with her. And every time we put her down to bed for the night, or for a nap, she has to have them just so, arranged just right. She puts each of them down, just so, sometimes with Winnie-the Pooh right by her head, sometimes with her stuffed chicken right by her head. And she tucks them all in and goes to sleep, and then when she wakes up the first thing she does is start to play with them. She doesn’t cry for us, she just likes playing with her animals. And so we hear her say something like, “sit down, monkey. Sit down, Lion. Sit down, Francine.” And we go upstairs and she and all her animals are sitting there, and she says, “Picnic!?”
Who knows why kids like stuffed animals exactly? I must confess I don’t exactly know. I did when I was a kid; I had a bunch of stuffed animals, and I always liked having them all there right there in my bed with me, snug and close. While I can’t say exactly what it is, I think it’s that desire that kids have to have their own space, where things make sense to them. Outside of her crib, Gracie’s world doesn’t always make sense to her. Her parents are always saying, “Do you need to go to the potty?” when all she wants to do is play. People are always picking her up and taking her places. Her mom and dad strap her into a car seat and take her to the grocery store, without asking her. We drive right by Dunkin Donuts and don’t ask her opinion about whether we should stop in. Yet in her crib Gracie is in control, and all of those unjust forces, all of those things that she cannot control—in her crib those just fade away. In her crib, everything makes sense, and everything is safe and cozy, everything is as it should be.
Now, of course, as Gracie’s daddy, I chuckle when she does this. But truth be told, I do it too. Maybe you do it too. I don’t know how you have spent the last few days, but every year around this time, I immerse myself in the world of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Yes, this week has been Holy Week for me in more ways than one! This is a very special week for me, where I fill out one of these little brackets and then I root for the teams I have picked, and I cheer hard.
I love this time of year and quite honestly I have since I was seven or eight. There has always just been something about this bracket—it’s so symmetrical, so perfect. Sixty-four teams, such a perfect number. Eight squared. Four cubed. Progressively, day by day, teams get eliminated, according to the NCAA’s perfect plan. They have the thing timed out to the minute. One game starts at 12:20, one at 12:25, one at 12:30, so that two hours later, at 2:20, 2:25 and 2:30, all the games are finishing and most often in exciting fashion. I just love the way it’s all so organized, and just so.
And it’s not just this bracket, as those of you who are sports fans can attest to. There’s something almost magical about sports, the way it is organized. No matter what is going on in the world outside, when you step out onto that court, or onto that field, all of it is put aside, and now you are simply following a bouncing ball or a gliding puck. Sports gives us the illusion of fairness, of rightness, of justice. We love sports because they give us the appearance of being fair; sports at least seem to be a place where talent and merit get you to the top, not who you know. We all know it’s not that simple, but it’s easy to pretend that it is; in the middle of a game, it is the best competitor that wins, not the ones with the most connections, not the one with the proper bloodlines.
As I say all this, I’m aware that I’m doing essentially what Gracie does. In a world that appears to be hostile, appears to be unfair, sports appear to be an exception. Sports appear to be a safe escape in a crazy world. Gracie sets up her animals and has tea parties; and I fill out my bracket and buy pizza and chicken wings. But we’re both pretending, both building forts to keep the unjust world outside and create our own little fantasies where things are safe; it is an effort on both of our parts to set up a bastion of rightness in a world gone wrong.
I don’t think I’m alone in this way of looking at things. We all do it; whether with our cribs, or with our sports, or with something else, we create little spaces in our lives where things are right, even if the world is gone all wrong. Some people do it through their homemaking; they create their home to be their castle, “a quiet place in a crazy world,” if you will. Some people do this through their friends, surrounding themselves with people they like, people they perceive will be friendly to them though the world may be hostile. Some people do this in the food they eat: they seek emotional support by eating whenever the urge strikes them; or, they seek emotional strength by denying their bodies food because their hunger is the one thing in their life that they can control. Some people even do this in their churches, seeking to make their churches comfortable places, familiar places, fortresses against an unfriendly, ever-changing world. No matter how you scratch out a safe place in an unsafe world, the fact is that most of us spend our time doing that sometimes.
Even as I claim that this is something we all do, I realize that doing this betrays a pretty negative view of the world we must have. If we spend our time playing games, creating our own little worlds to keep the real world at bay, then that speaks to how bad we feel like the real world is! We must really think the world is a bad place to always have to be defending ourselves against it.
I think frankly that when we do this, we have a whole lot in common with Jesus’ disciples, and their actions when Jesus laid in the tomb. The world must have seemed like a pretty cruel place to them during those 36 hours. From the moment they saw him dragged from the Garden of Gethsemane, to the moment they saw him unjustly accused before the courts, to the moment they saw him whipped and scourged, to the moment they saw him writhe in pain upon the cross, to the moment they saw his lifeless body crumple to the ground and be buried, they knew that the world they lived in was cruel, and unjust. They knew this man had done nothing wrong and still he had gotten framed and nailed to a tree. They knew that this man cared only about loving and healing and still he was accused of the most vile blasphemy and found guilty. They knew that there was no justice in the world, that there was no righteousness to be found in any human heart; they just knew that the world had an inexorable bent towards injustice. They just knew that there was something wrong with the world that could never be cured, and the best hope they had was just to keep their heads down, try to make a living, and stay out of people’s way. What are you going to do now, Peter? Well, I think I’ll go back to my nets and catch fish. What else can I do? What are you going to do now, Matthew? Well, I think I’ll go to my buddies in the government and see if I can get my old job back as a tax collector, or at least something to put bread on the table. What else can I do? What are you going to do now, Simon? I’ll keep my head down and see if anyone else comes along who stokes my revolutionary fire. What are you going to do now, Mary Magdalene? Well, I’m going to try to get his body back. Like Gracie playing with her stuffed animals, taking care of mere cloth and stuffing, at least she could console herself that Jesus was somewhat safe if his body was at least cared for properly in her tomb. All these men and women knew to do now was to keep their heads down and try to stake some sort of claim in a hostile world.
And then the impossible happens.
Just as everyone has now become convinced of evil’s grip on the world, just as everyone has now figured out that the world is a hostile place, and an unjust place, something happens that shatters that belief. Something happens that opens up a new horizon on reality. Something happens that hints at the fact that maybe the world is not simply an unjust place; something happens that hints at the fact that maybe we are not going to hell in a handbasket after all. Something happens that whispers that God is life, and that God’s life is stronger than death. Something happens that whispers that the grave is not the end. And something happens that shatters the myth that we are in a bad world which is getting worse, and instead we see clearly that as bad as the world may seem, it bends toward life, not death. As loud as death may speak, as much as it may dominate the conversation, as much as the specter of death haunts our hearts and minds, something happens that says that death will not have the final word. Jesus is risen! He is risen indeed!
And confronted with this news, the disciples are such different people. They are given new life, a new spirit. These miserable, lonely people were just about to go back to the ratrace, to their old, life-sucking jobs. But when they find out that Jesus is risen, they leave that life behind and they go out and change the world! They tell everyone they know that Jesus is risen, they preach it when people respond and give their hearts to Christ, they preach it when people get angry and put them in jail, they preach it even when preaching it costs them their lives—they preached it because they had to preach it. They had seen that the world which appears to be getting worse and worse is in fact getting better and better and they had to tell people, they had to tell people the good news, they had to tell people that God has conquered death, and they had to tell everyone they knew because they didn’t want anyone else throwing their lives away just trying to keep a hostile world at bay, when they could be serving the risen Savior. There was an urgency to their message because it was so vital for people to know that the world bends towards life, not death, and it was so vital for people to know that God is in control and this eternal kind of life is what he created us to live!
The reason they preached is the reason I preach it to you this morning. There is an urgency when I preach that Christ is risen—just as there was for the other disciples—because I’ve seen too many people throw their lives away thinking that they are destined to be victims in a hostile world. I have seen people descend into stinginess because they are just sure that they live in an unfriendly world and so they might as well at least have nice things while they are here. I have seen people immerse themselves in their work, because their work makes sense and their work is predictable. Just like Gracie immerses herself in the crib because the crib makes sense and is predictable, just like I lose myself in the NCAA tournament because it makes sense and is predictable, some people immerse themselves in their work because even though it sucks them dry, at least it makes sense. I have seen people think that life consists in their social status, or the car they drive, or the baseball team they cheer for. Not because they actually like any of those things, mind you, not because they really think they’re important.
Instead, I have seen so many people make their lives about these tiny little things because they are afraid the great big world is hostile and unfriendly. I am here to say to you this morning that Jesus is risen, and so that great big world is not hostile but in it God is revealing new life if you will just see it and accept it. And I must say it with urgency, I must say it with passion because I don’t want you to give your life away to some little thing, I want you to give it away to the great God who made this whole world and is redeeming it before our eyes.
I’ll close this morning with a brief story. Many of you may be familiar with The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis’s children’s books which double as lessons about the Christian life. If you don’t know the books by that name, you may know the first book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe which was made into a movie a couple of years ago. In that book, a God-like figure is a lion named Aslan. The White Witch, who is the personification of evil, has the right by law to kill a young boy. But Aslan negotiates with the White Witch, and offers himself as a substitute for the boy, to be killed on his behalf. He can do this because of what he calls a “Deep Magic,” a law written deep in the foundation of the universe.
Everyone wonders why Aslan does it, why he would give up his life for the boy. And there’s a very moving scene when two of the boy’s sisters go and cry over Aslan’s lifeless body. But, soon after his death, just like Jesus, Aslan comes back to life again. And everyone wonders how he did it. After all, didn’t the deep magic suggest that dead people stay dead, that people just don’t come back to life? And Aslan says, “Though the witch knew the deep magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know.”
This is my urgent Easter proclamation to you—though everything may tell you that things are bad and getting worse, there is a magic deeper still which the world does not know. There is a God who has knocked out death itself and is willing to knock it out in your life if you will but seek him. Though all around us death seems to reign, God will not let it have the final word. Live as children of life!