Saturday, April 30, 2011

So I Believe
Ps. 118:24; Mt. 28:5-6[1]
Last week we talked about how we as people of the 21st century have some challenges with the founding events of our faith: the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. I’m afraid that if Jesus’ death poses problems for us, his resurrection does so even more. We can all understand death—most of us have first-hand experience with it. We can also understand sacrificing oneself for the sake of others—most of us have been called upon to do just that for the sake of the people in our lives we love and care about. But none of us has any first-hand experience with resurrection—at least not literally. We may have known someone who has had a “near-death” experience, and there are many who have. But there is simply nothing in our experience of this world that gives us a basis for grasping the idea that a person who was dead—not for minutes, but for over 36 hours—somehow came back to life. I simply don’t understand the concept of a dead person coming back to life.
That doesn’t bother me too much, though, because I know that there are some elements of our faith that we may never understand. But what I can do is have the experience of the risen Christ in and through my life. I can sense the presence of the Spirit, I can feel Jesus’ impulse to compassion, and I can enjoy the freedom of faith and hope in the God who is always here. At the end of the day, I think that’s a big part of what Easter is about. When we experience the presence and power of God in our lives, it is the same Spirit that the disciples encountered in Jesus of Nazareth.[2] And the reason we celebrate the resurrection on Easter Sunday is because that same Spirit of the risen Christ lives in me and in you and in all who have the experience of his continuing presence.[3]
And so because Jesus is alive and well in this community, there are some things I believe in.[4] I believe in the Savior who died on the cross to break the power of everything that threatens to enslave or oppress or distort or destroy our humanity.[5] And I believe in a God who takes all our pain and sorrow and suffering and sadness and loss and death and turns it all into new life. And I believe in the new life that came into being on that Easter morning and that will one day transform everything and everyone. [6] Because of the Easter presence of the Spirit is alive and well in this community, I believe in a God who loves us with a love that never lets us go—whose “steadfast love endures forever” (Ps. 118:1). And I believe in a God who never, ever abandons anybody. And I believe in a God for whom “we are all beloved daughters and sons of God”![7] That means that there is no one who is beyond the grace and mercy and love of God. Because of the Easter presence of God is alive and well in this community, I believe in the God who fills this whole creation with the beauty and goodness and truth and love. And I believe in a God who is working to restore the whole creation to the place where it is once again “very good.” And I believe in a God who brings hope out of hopelessness and new life out of death.[8]
Simply put, because the Spirit of Easter is alive and well in this community of faith, I believe in a God who is working to bring grace and peace and mercy and love and justice and freedom and joy and life into every life.[9] To me, that’s what Easter is all about. That’s what the resurrection is all about. But because I believe in this God, the God who raised Jesus from the dead—there are some things I refuse to believe in. I refuse to believe in death and hell and Satan, as if they were somehow more real than God’s love and God’s presence and God’s gift of new life. I refuse to believe that death gets the last word in our lives. I refuse to believe that despair and decay get to define our very existence. [10] I refuse to believe that nothing can ever break the vicious cycles of violence and injustice and despair and death in this world. I refuse to believe that we have no hope and no love and no freedom and no real life.
At the end of the day, it seems to me that the real meaning of Easter is the continuing presence of Christ in all our lives. It means that for us, “Jesus is the light in our darkness, the bread that satisfies our hunger, the vine that is the source of our life, the healer who makes us whole … .”[11] Not “Jesus was,” but “Jesus is.” Easter is like a promise that points toward a future filled with hope and joy and love and life.[12] But it is a promise that we can all begin to experience right here and right now because Jesus is alive and well in us all. Although we may never understand all that Easter means, because Jesus is alive and well in us, we can believe.

[1] © 2011 Alan Brehm. A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 4/24/11 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX and at A Community of the Servant-Savior Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX.
[2] Paul Knitter, Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian, 115, 128; cf. also ibid., 126, where he identifies this Spirit as the Spirit of the God who “suffers not only for the victims of the world” but “suffers like them and with them. Cf. also Hans Küng, The Christian Challenge, 215.
[3] Cf. Knitter, Without Buddha, 129, where he says that the point of the resurrection is that “[Jesus] as the Christ-Spirit is actually risen and alive in me. If he’s not alive in me, which means in us the community, then so what if he stepped forth from the tomb … .” Cf. also Marcus Borg, The Heart of Christianity, 83.
[4] Cf. Küng, Christian Challenge, 225-26: Easter faith is “a radicalizing of faith in God”; it means that the God who raised Jesus “can be trusted … beyond the limits of all that has hitherto been experienced to have still one more word to say.” I believe that word is life!
[5] Jürgen Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 181-83.
[6] Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 197; cf. Moltmann, Way of Jesus, 182.
[7] Henri Nouwen, Here and Now, 52, 61-62, 128, 140.
[8] Cf. Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 31-34.
[9]Hans Küng, The Christian Challenge, 120 “God’s cause will prevail in the world.”Moltmann, Theology of Hope , 204, 216; Moltmann, Crucified God, 129, 176, 178, 242-44, 276-77; Moltmann, Church in the Power, 77, 83, 100, 134-35, 190-192, 216; Moltmann, Way of Jesus Christ, 104, 109, 133, 178, 190, 223, 225, 255, 263-64, 276, 278-79, 282-86, 303-7, 325; cf. also
[10] Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 22-26
[11] Borg, Heart of Christianity, 88.
[12] Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 24-25. Cf. also Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 4.3.319 says it this way: we look forward to the day when “the light of life which has appeared in Him will penetrate and fill even the remotest corner of the cosmos.” For me, this hope is based on biblical promises like “ I have swallowed up death forever” (Isaiah 25:8) and “I will wipe away every tear” (Revelation 21:4) and “I am making the whole of creation new” (Revelation 21:5).

No comments: