"Easter 01: When the Future Breaks In"
by Tim Suttle
N.T. Wright is perhaps the most celebrated theologian and biblical scholar of his time… which is saying something:
- Given that the words Biblical scholar & celebrated don’t usually show up in the same sentence very often.
- This is a picture of N.T. Wright on the Stephen Colbert show … where he proved that British comedy really should be left to the experts.
- He was in KC a few years back & told this story... about a time when he was in the U.S. for a conference in Atlanta.
And at the same time the 2003 Rugby World Cup was happening, and his beloved England had made the finals.
- Now, I don’t follow rugby, but Wright is a huge rugby fan.
- The World Cup is a big deal …
- It’s held once every 4 years & England had never won a championship.
- …but here they were in the finals against Australia, the host country.
- This was huge… like Royals WS game 7 for N.T. Wright.
So he set his alarm to get up in the middle of the night to watch the game.
- Flips his TV on… clicking thru channels, & nobody has the match on.
- In the UK it was basically a national holiday, but in the U.S. nobody seemed to care.
- So he got up went to the lobby, checked the TVs down there.
- Finally phoned his daughter back in England so she could update him.
To this day, the 2003 Rugby World Cup Final is a really famous game. [video]
- I mean Australia & England have some history, you know?
- It’s basically a chance for little brother to beat up on big sister (bro.?).
- England was winning in the final minute of regulation, when Australia tied the match at 14, and they went into extra time.
- They played for 20 more minutes & they were still tied, 17 all.
- When with 20 seconds left, the poster boy of English Rugby, Johnny Wilkinson dropped a goal and England won the game 20-17.
- It was their first ever rugby world cup championship.
So here is N.T. Wright, stuck in the middle of the night in a hotel in Atlanta, GA with absolutely no one around to share this good news with…
- He said he almost went up up to the clerk behind the desk to hug him and say, “Did you hear the news!”
- But he realized not only was nobody interested, but even if he did tell them, they wouldn’t really get it.
You might as well be excited about China beating West Germany at table tennis—nobody cared!
- Around here our hearts are oriented toward Chiefs & Royals …
- Most of us don’t know anything about rugby & don’t really care.
- He had this amazing good news, & nobody around him cared about it.
Anyway, as people started coming down for breakfast he looked for someone from Europe to share the news with.
- The first person to come down who knew what he was talking about...was an Australian.
- So this good news that he had, it was folly to Americans…
- It was scandalous to the Australians…
- But for those who believed... it was reason to celebrate.
- They’d finally won a world cup, & a generation of English boys grew up wanting to be Johnny Wilkinson.
I tell that story because that’s sort of how this thing called the gospel works.
- The resurrection of JS Christ is folly to those who don’t care about it.
- It’s scandalous to those who are invested in another team… but …
- For those who are waiting expectantly, it’s a life-changing proclamation
PT: That first Easter, the good news of the resurrection was a source of life and strength for his followers. But to everyone else, it was kind of no big deal … maybe a little bit annoying to some, but mostly irrelevant to everyone else.
And… here we are on Easter Sunday in America, 2017. And when we say, “He is risen indeed,” there are lots of people who say (yawn)… “Ok, if you say so.”
- Some consider it folly … have no connection to xianity? Why matter?
- Some will see it as a scandal … Really? You’re still clinging to those religious beliefs … after all we know about science.
- Most people simply don’t know why they should care.
- Yet for those who long for a different kind of life, this makes us want to hug the clerk behind the desk & say, ‘did you hear the good news?’
The resurrection is good news either way … but you’ll only hear it as good news if you have somehow been prepared to receive it.
- Think of the analogy: as long as our hearts care more about Baseball than about Rugby, we’ll never understand the good news…
Probably all of us have a brother, or spouse, or neighbor, or friend who is consciously or unconsciously convinced that God doesn’t exist … you?
- For them the Christian ‘good news’ is folly.
- Our culture isn’t equipped to help us imagine or feel God’s existence.
- Author Ronald Rolheiser says, “The air we breathe is agnostic.”
Nietzsche’s famous claim “God is dead,” got the ball rolling 100 years ago.
- What’s funny is, for those who have actually read it, Nietzsche wasn’t really making a claim about God.
- He was making a claim about us.
- He wasn’t saying God up in the heavens has died.
- He was saying we’ve constructed a world in which it is no longer necessary for God to exist …
- & the problem w/this is that it makes everyone completely miserable.
Nietzsche’s famous line comes from: Parable of a Madman about a man who lights a lantern in broad daylight, and rushes into the marketplace saying,
- “I seek God! I seek God!”
- The crowds ridicule & taunt him, saying “Has he got lost? Is he hiding?”
- The madman turns on them and shouts:
- “God is dead, I tell you, and we have killed him, you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? That which was the holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives.”
Then the madman goes silent, and smashes his lantern on the ground & says,
“I have come too early. This deed is still too distant for people to see, and yet they have done this to themselves. They have killed God!”
Nietzsche’s line, “God is dead,” is a lament as much as a philosophical claim. And, for many in our day, the world has become similarly dis-enchanted.
- The problem with that is, that a disenchanted world is miserable… and it makes us miserable, too.
- Because that’s not what we are built for!
- There’s something about a pure rationalistic, materialistic view of the world that just doesn’t do it for us.
PT: Because there’s something deep inside all of us that knows there has to be more. It’s there because we’re human. There’s something divine that we are all aware of, and we can’t prove it scientifically, and there’s no double blind study… nevertheless … we all have this hunch that it’s out there, calling to us.
The writer of Ecc. said it this way: “God has set eternity in the hearts of men.”
- There is something deep inside all of us, that longs for something beyond ourselves … it was placed there by God.
- No other creature on the earth carries either the glory or the burden of that longing for something more.
- Eternity is in the human heart, & yet we often struggle to get to it.
- And the reason we can’t get to it is because:
- Our imaginations have been shaped by a world constructed in such a way, that it is no longer necessary for God to exist.
PT: The story we tell today (the story of resurrection), it shapes our imagination in such a way that we can receive that something beyond ourselves; the eternity that lives in our hearts. This story gives us the chance to experience the reality of God right here in this life; to come alive w/a life that lives on even into eternity
What I really want to do this a.m. is offer you a chance to reorient your heart.
- I want to fan a desire that lives inside you that may have slept for years.
- I want to wake you up to what your heart most desperately desires...
- Which is not just another year of going through the motions of a flat, apathetic, selfish, sluggish, life …
- But a new life, in the new creation … that has begun in Christ and is available to us now, IF …
- … we are willing to reorient our hearts toward a connection w/God.
I saw some data on this. [Video – glow worms] The organism with the world’s shortest life span lives in New Zealand in a pitch black cave.
- They are called glowworms.
- Inside this cave are thousands of these glowing creatures.
- They remain larvae most of their life.
- But then they finally hatch and get wings, and they:
- attract a mate, have children and then die - all in a single day.
- They aren’t even born with mouths – they have no way to even feed.
- That’s all they get, a single day… & yet they’re simply stunning to see!
On the other end of the spectrum is the oldest living organism in the world.
- How old do you think the oldest living organism in the world is? (turn)
- It’s not a dragon, or a forest, or a reef. [Video – Sea Grass]
- The oldest living organism is called Mediterranean Sea Grass.
- And scientists believe patches of this grass are up to 200,000 years old.
- About 10,000 years ago, a prophet called Isaiah wrote the line:
- “All flesh is grass, and all human glory is like the flower of the field...the grass withers, the flower fades.”
- But by the time he wrote that, (this) Mediterranean Sea Grass was already 190,000 years old.
And as stunning as that is… neither 100,000 year-old grass nor 24-hour-old glow worms have eternity set in their hearts like we do.
- They don’t care like we care.
- They don’t wonder like we wonder …
- What does my life mean?
- What is this sense inside me that there is something bigger going on?
- Why does my heart long for God even if my mind can’t get on board?
PT: The Christian story says, that’s in you because you are a human being; you were made in the image of God to pay attention to that holy longing, because it is your deepest connection to God, and to all that is really real in this life.
And it’s a scandal to those who think life has no meaning.
And it’s folly to those who have no connection to God.
- Even tho: to live w/out connection to the divine causes so much pain.
- In fact it’s often this very pain that opens the door to eternity in our hearts
Living with no connection to God makes us miserable… problem is:
- Most of us have enough resources to stay ahead of the misery …
- We can amuse & entertain ourselves so we don’t feel the pain of our disconnection with God.
- We numb, shop, eat, medicate…
- We have a million ways to stimulate enough endorphins to keep us one step ahead of our pain.
- …when the only grace of that pain is the way it drives us back to this longing that lives at the heart of every human being… this intuition …
- …that you were made in the image of God to make meaning out of life.
- …that the only way to meaning & wholeness is to somehow participate in a relationship w/God.
- But this is folly to those who have a long-term disconnection… it’s actually really, really sad…
- And it’s scandalous to those who are committed to some other idea about what it means to be human … & it has always been this way …
Everything Jesus did… his life, teachings, death & resurrection was to help us:
- Reestablish our connection to God.
- Jesus wasn’t about starting a new religion or giving us new beliefs.
- He was trying to wake us up to the connection we have to the creator & sustainer of the universe because it’s the only way to find peace.
You see, the Jewish belief Jesus was given as a child, was a belief that when God created, he created not so much a thing, but an ongoing story…
- Instead of a scroll or parchment, God used creation, (the cosmos).
- Instead of a quill or pencil, God used humanity (Israel in particular).
- This story was about a loving father, whose children were lost & alone.
- … estranged from their father … and there was deep sadness.
- And the Old Testament never really resolved the story… a cliffhanger.
- So there was this question hanging out there: how will the story end?
Anyone whose ever read a story knows that the actual meaning of a story can only be clear from the very end of the book.
- Only then can you look back & say, “Oh, that’s what this story is about”
- Unless … the author has somehow anticipated the end of the story in the middle of the narrative itself.
That’s the resurrection. When Jesus came out of that tomb, the end of that long Jewish story came crashing into the middle.
- Eternity came crashing back into time.
- And since that day, this is what Christians have believed:
- That: there will be a day when there is no more sin, death, & decay.
- No more shame, or fear, or self-hatred.
- When war, and violence no longer rule the world.
- Where peace reigns and rules.
- The bible calls this the Kingdom of God … right ordering of all that is.
- When Jesus came out of the tomb … that future day came rushing back into the present & exploded into the world w/pwrfl creative force.
And if you and I will receive this life from him,
- Then we can actually begin to live this eternal kind of life, right now!
- What that means is… brokenness, death, loss, shame, violence…
- Those things can no longer determine the meaning of your life.
- If you receive this new life from Christ… then you will come alive.
- You will come alive in such a way that even when you die, life will overcome death.
One of my favorite characters in history is Winston Churchill. One of the things I love most about him was his sheer resilience – nothing got to this guy.
- He had a famous running battle with a woman called Lady Astor, who was the 1st female Member of Parliament… couldn’t stand each other.
- She once accused him of being drunk.
- He said, “I am drunk. But you are ugly; & tomorrow when I’m sober, you’ll still be ugly!”
- Another time she said to him, "Mr. Churchill, if you were my husband, I'd put poison in your coffee."
- And his response was, "Lady Astor, if you were my wife, I'd drink it."
There a great story about Churchill at a dinner party when as a young man.
- He was sitting next to a beautiful young woman, but was so engrossed in thought that he hardly noticed her.
- Suddenly he looked over & asked the woman, “How old are you?”
- She replied, “I’m only 19.”
- He said almost despairingly, “I’m 32 already. Younger than anyone else who counts, though.”
- Then he said, “Curse ruthless time. Curse our mortality. How cruelly short is the allotted span for all we must cram into it? We are worms. All men are worms…”
- And then he added, “but I do believe I am a glowworm.”
That was Churchill. Someone who spent his time lighting the darkness even if for just a day… For that’s all the glowworm has … just a day.
- Because all flesh is as the grass …
- Churchill lived this glowing life, and then he died.
- And they remembered his life in a stunning funeral…
- This man who had seen England through her darkest hour.
- They held the service at St. Paul’s in London.
- And after every word had been spoken & the benediction pronounced.
- [play taps] A bugler stood up, high up in the vault of the cathedral & he began to play a song … you know this song?
Day is done, gone the sun,
From the lake, from the hills, from the sky;
All is well, safely rest, God is nigh. You can just imagine …
There was silence. Everybody in that vast audience thought about this great life and how now it's done … like all of our lives will one day be done … and everyone thought the service might be over as well.
Then suddenly, from way up high on the other side of the dome another bugler got up and played this: "Reveille," the song of the morning.
The major told the captain
The captain told the sergeant
The sergeant told the bugler
The bugler told them all
Christ is the bugler, who told them all… you’ve got to get up!
- It’s Easter morning … arise & shine, for you light has come.
- Live your life in deep connection with God … & each other…
- a connection that only comes through a relationship with Christ.
- What are you waiting for?
PT: All flesh is grass, we only have a day. How short it all really is for us. But God has placed eternity in the hearts of men. "Taps" is not the end. It’s time to wake up... So play the Reveille today. Today Christ is risen. He his risen indeed… And today is the first day of the new creation. The Kingdom has come & it is living inside of you … will you wake up & come to life?