The Heart of Resurrection
What is resurrection to you?
What was it to you in the past?
How has your concept of resurrection begun to change during this Easter Season?
On Easter: We talked about how resurrection is a God’s Love Wins moment. And that resurrection means letting go of our pre-understandings of our faith stories, dying to the staleness of hearing what we have always heard and rising to listen with new ears, new eyes and a fresh perspective as if hearing a story for the first time.
Last Sunday: We read about Thomas, Doubting Thomas, and discovered that resurrection is not only something that happened to Jesus two thousand years ago, but that it is something that we need today, each and every day…and our questions and struggles and doubts are a part of the resurrection process. Our doubts are gifts that when embraced and given to God through Christ, bring us to an encounter with Jesus…just like Thomas had…an encounter that can resurrect Jesus within our hearts and minds and souls to be more than a mere name, but a true savior and messiah.
So, What is resurrection to you? How is your understanding of it growing and deepening?
Resurrection: It’s not a word we use everyday.
Dictionary defines it using three words:
Oxford: Restore to life. Revive or revitalize (something that is inactive, disused, or forgotten)
Notice what God does in the resurrection: restored Jesus from death to life. Something that had never been done before! God does something new, something different, to be sure something consistent with who God is and what God does, but still something the world had not seen before.
For Israel, God had always been about giving and creating life, about bringing order to chaos (Genesis), and about liberating people all through the Hebrew Bible (Exodus). And through these God sought the people’s love, faith and devotion. Yet the people had always slide back into old habits, such as idol worship, such as being more focused on legalism than love. Habits that severed their covenant relationship with God.
God needed to shake his people up. God needed to bring his people back to life. And God did this through Jesus….by sacrificing his son and then doing something new – raising his son. And the result is that his people were in the words of scripture “pierced to the heart” burning in their hearts…so moved in their hearts that they became alive again, their relationship to God was
If you are ill and dying, and you want to live, you cannot just sit around, have to do something…see a doctor, get a treatment, some medicine. If you are failing, and you want to succeed, you cannot keep acting the same way, you have to do something different. If you are falling down and you want to get up, you have to try a different way. And that is what God did through Jesus, both literally and figuratively. Through Jesus, the people of God – we people of God – were changed, were resurrected.
You see, The heart of the resurrection story is is captured in one word: CHANGE. Resurrection IS Change at it’s very core. Resurrection is the ultimate change. It is complete change. Change from dead to alive. Change from despair to hope. Change from life-less to life-filled. Resurrection is about changing from an one way, an old way and rising to into another way, a new way.
But changing from something old to something new can be difficult, uncomfortable. It can seem unreasonable. And feel a lot like losing something that was and maybe is important. And we, like the disciples on the Road to Emmaus can be slow of heart to believe that something new and different can lead us to a deeper understanding of God, a deeper relationship with God.
German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer had something to say about the comfort and discomfort of change. He was part of the confessing church in Germany that stood in resistance to the Nazi regime. And he wrote this in a letter to his brother-in-law, a letter that was in part about the Bible and how we read scripture. He said:
If it is I who determine where God is to be found, then I shall always find a God who corresponds to me in some way, who is obliging, who is connected with my own nature. But if God determines where he is to be found, then it will be in a place which is not immediately pleasing to my nature and which is not at all congenial to me. This place is the Cross of Christ.
We like to pretend we know exactly where we can find God. In the Bible yes…but more than that. We like to pretend that we know exactly how to read the Bible to find God, exactly how to worship if we want to find God, exactly what to sing….which songs and what style. We like to believe we know exactly how to pray to find God. And if you consider the conversations, decisions, and discussions of some churches, you would think that folks know exactly what the church should look like to find God….what the sanctuary should look like, what color the walls and carpet should be, what elements of worship help us find God and what technology we do or do not need to find God. You get the idea, right?
And I find that so much of the time, those conversations and decisions are really about what is comfortable to people. Where they may have found God in the past. The things that satisfy them in their quest for God today. The things which they like.
But if resurrection tells us anything it is that God is not content to let us carry on as normal. That our practice, our belief, our faith needs to grow and deepen. And so God brings to us resurrection. God takes the dead places of our lives and shakes things up, works to revive us, restore us….not through the same old same old, but through something new.
You may have found God through something specific…a song, a place, a prayer, a particular way of doing communion…anything. And the tendency for each of us is to go back to that thing to experience God again, to find God again, to be with God again through that same thing because it felt so good or was so inspiring, it can be so again.
Both Bonhoeffer and the resurrection story say something altogether different. Both say that you need a new experience. That what was – if we stick with it, if we continue in that same way – will lead us to death, just like the Israelites. That going back to old habits, old ways is comfortable and what has become comfortable is not the way to deepen your journey with God.
In fact, always going back to what you like, to what was comfortable will actually cause you to find a God that looks just like you want him to look, a God that merely obliges you because the God you find in what is comfortable is really yourself – yourself as God.
In contrast, if you really want to find God, if you want a relationship with your creator, if you want to deepen your spirituality, if you want to grow as a human as a child of God, to grow in faith and discover salvation…then you must find God in the cross: place of discomfort, a place that is about dying to the old and creating new life, a place that does not feel cozy, but stirs you to something more, something deeper, a place where your heart is, like the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, pierced.
Now, don’t take what I am saying too far. Pay attention to what I am not saying as well. I am not saying everything changes. I am not saying become so uncomfortable that life is unsustainable, that you are disoriented.
Think deeply about this. There are things that do always stay the same… The Bible, the cross, the truth of resurrection, God as 3 in 1: Father/Mother, Son and Spirit. There are core practices that at their essence stay the same….prayer, communion, thanksgiving, confession.
What changes, what must change if we are to grow as humans, as Christians, as children of God, what changes if we are to grow in following Christ – is the way in which we do those things. We might say the way we package those practice and messages.
For example, as a child, what songs did you sing? What prayers did you pray?
I remember simple songs and simple prayers: Jesus Loves Me, Now I lay me down to sleep. And those were good…they were new at the time, they helped me find God as a child.
But today, not so much. Now, they are fun and comfortable and familiar. They take be back t my childhood, make me feel warm and fuzzy. They reinforce my childhood views of God. But I am not a child anymore. And I like to think i know more about God now than I did when i was a child. Today, I need something deeper, something that pushes me further.
It is not that the things of my childhood are not useful, not that they do not have meaning and purpose and a place in my life. Certainly they do. But if I only search for God within the, then I will only find the God that I knew as a child, the God that I needed as a child.
Today, I am an adult….my faith has grown and deepened and I am able and capable of knowing God deeper, more intimately. I can handle more about God. And that happened because I learned other songs and prayers of faith that pushed me beyond those ones of my childhood.
You cannot wear the same shoes forever, you outgrow them. You cannot wear the same clothes forever, they get worn and begin to fray. The same cup you used years ago to drink from, it can become discolored, it can crack and break. Maybe you used a slide ruler years ago, but in today’s world, the slide ruler just does not function well. Maybe you got your first computer in the 1990s. Well, it won’t work today. You need a new one to do anything in this digital world.
The essence of our faith and practice is changeless. But the things we build and create to share the core messages, the essence of our faith and practice, they must change. For if not, we will die, we will falter, we will lose touch, we will stop growing, stop maturing.
The essence remains. The packaging changes. Feel secure in the essence, trust in the changeless-ness of the essence. And embrace the possibilities of changing the packaging….because doing so can show you something about God you have never before seen or understood!
So, I ask you today, let us remember what is core and let us embrace the changes we must engage in order to grow and mature as a family of faith to live into our mission to serve Jesus through mutual support and embodying love and grace for all. Let us change because we need resurrection. And lest we be too anxious about change, let us remember all those many things that are at our core that are Changeless. Let us take comfort in our changeless essence. And let us push forward by practicing resurrection in everything we do to communicate the message of Christ to a world that has already changed…and will continue to change with or without us.
The good news is that change is not bad. Change is inherent at the very heart of our faith, a faith based on the truth of resurrection. May we embrace the heart of our faith by practicing resurrection that we become the resurrected church of Jesus Christ right here in the heart of Dunn.