Monday, May 26, 2008

“Everything To Live For”

Acts 2:14, 22-32; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31[1]

Several years ago my oldest son Derek and I visited two canyons in the Southwest. We spent a day at the Grand Canyon with about 12,000 other people. The sight of the canyon was truly impressive; it is one of those places on earth whose grandeur cannot be captured by photography. We also spent a day at Chaco Canyon in Northwestern New Mexico. You may not have heard of it. It is the site of the oldest Native American ruins in the U. S. It’s about 20 miles off the pavement along a bumpy dirt road.

Archaeologists think that Chaco Canyon was first occupied about the year 500 by Native American farmers.[2] By about the year 800 they were building the crescent-shaped pueblos for which the site is famous. The pueblos were built along lines marked out by the sun and the moon, as well as perfect East-West and North-South lines. The discovery of many pre-historic roads that fan out to the surrounding area suggests that Chaco Canyon may have stood at the center of a fairly large and well-developed culture, known today as the Early Puebloan People. They flourished there for another 350 years, until they were forced to leave by an extended drought. Most historians would agree that they founded the Pueblo Cultures that still thrive in the desert Southwest.

If you’ve ever been to the Grand Canyon, you can perfectly understand why so many people go there. But if you visited Chaco Canyon, you’d have to ask yourself why in the world anyone would want to visit, let alone live there. It’s a stark and barren landscape. There’s really nothing much to commend it as a place to build a fairly sophisticated complex of pueblos. We can only speculate at this point, but some have suggested that the unique geographical and astronomical alignment of the canyon may have related to ancient Puebloan religious beliefs.

As Derek and I wandered the ruins of Chaco Canyon that day—with about 12 other people as opposed to 12,000!—I found myself wondering what it was that enabled men and women to do what it took to survive the harsh conditions of that time and place. It’s hard enough to survive what life has to offer in the relative comfort of what we call “civilization.” It’s hard to understand what motivated people to endure the hardships of life in those primitive conditions. What did they have to live for?

If we took the time to study what life was like for the early Christians, we might ask the same question. As Peter says in his letter, they suffered for their faith in a wide variety of ways—ranging from ridicule to hostility, and from ostracism to lynching! In the midst of their hardships, the Apostle Peter reminded them that the Easter faith offered them a “living hope.” Their hope was “alive” because it is a hope that comes from the life of the risen Christ who defeated death. Their hope was alive because it is a hope that comes from the promise of never-ending life in God’s new creation and “brand-new” life here and now through God’s Spirit. Their hope was alive because it is a hope that nothing can quench—not doubt, not hostile enemies, not even martyrdom, which they suffered on occasion. Because of their “living hope,” Peter assured them that they had “everything to live for.”[3]

But there had to have been times when those First-Century Christians asked themselves why they had to suffer so much if all that was true. I think part of the problem is that our faith in the resurrection and our hope of new life simply exceed our grasp. But just because we may not be able to get a handle on them doesn’t mean that our faith and hope are not just as alive today as they were in Peter’s day.[4]

Even though we may not be able to fully grasp our “living hope,” the good news of Easter is that the new life of the risen Christ is something that takes hold of us and changes us forever.[5] That is the basis for our hope and faith—not that we can grasp everything there is to know about God and faith and eternity, but rather that God has grasped us through the living presence of our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. The hope of Easter, that new life will one day transform everything and everyone, gives us everything to live for.[6]

And as Peter assured those first Christians doing their best to live their lives in the midst of the struggles of their world, he continues to assure us that the experience of being “grasped” by God is one that cannot be diminished by time, or doubt, or even death. It is an experience that transforms us for good because we are from then on “kept safe by the power of God” (1 Peter 1:5, TEV).

[1] © 2008 Alan Brehm. A sermon preached on 3/30/08 by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX.

[2] See the article on “Chaco Culture National Historical Park,” at .

[3] 1 Peter 1:3 (The Message): “Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for.”

[4] Walter Wink, “Resonating With God’s Song,” The Christian Century (March 23, 1994) “The resurrection is not a fact to be believed, but an experience to be shared”

[5] Paul Tillich, “Faith and Uncertainty,” in The New Being, 77: says, “In our uncertainty there is one fixed point of certainty, however we may name it and describe it and explain it. We may not comprehend, but we are comprehended.”

[6] Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 85, 88; cf. Jürgen Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 256; Jürgen Moltmann, Experiences of God, 20, 28

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