April 16, 2017 Easter Sunday
Romans: 6:3-11 Matthew: 28:1-10
There is a wonderfully crazy movie, called Big Fish. It tells the life story of Edward Bloom, who puts himself into strange and unusual situations, which result in marvelous, improbable adventures. His life of adventure starts in Alabama, when he is a ten-year old boy, and he goes with his two friends one night to a spooky old mansion, which is supposedly inhabited by an old woman who is a witch. The local legend says that she has a glass eye and that if you look into it you will see how you are going to die. Edward goes inside the house, finds the old woman, who is wearing an eye patch, and asks her to politely come outside. Outside the other two boys demand that she show them her glass eye. She pulls up her eye patch and both of them look into it, see their deaths, and promptly run away in fear. Edward then says to the woman, “I was thinking about death and all. About how seeing how you’re gonna die. I mean on one hand, if dying was all you thought about, it could kind of screw you up. But it could kind of help you, couldn’t it? Because you’d know that everything else you can survive.” She then allows him to look in her eye, to which he says, “So, that’s how it’s supposed to happen.” From then on when he does something that’s too dangerous and people warn him that he might get killed he says, “I know how I’m going to die. This is not how it’s going to happen.”
The main character ends up living a full life of love and adventure without fear – all because he knew what his own ending was going to be.
I think that was, in some measure, what Jesus experienced during his ministry. Several times in the Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples what is going to happen to him – that he is going to be falsely accused, put on trial, be put to death, and then rise on the third day. The disciples were pretty much in denial about this. Peter, the guy who is always in denial, openly contradicts Jesus and says, “This never shall happen to you.” But Jesus knows where he is going to end up, so until then he openly walks all over the Roman-Palestine territory and fearlessly preaches and heals in God’s name. I am not saying that Jesus was without fear. We can see that in the Garden of Gethsemane he is terribly afraid of what is coming. But he still, despite this fear, puts his trust in God to get him through it. And his trust was rested on the fact that even though he was going to have a horrible death, he also knew that, on the other side of it, he had life eternal.
On the other side of that horrible death was Christ’s resurrection. The final proof of the assurances that we have from God: The assurance that God reaches down and participates in this world that we live in; the assurance that we are forgiven for our sins; the assurance that there is eternal life that stretches beyond our death; the assurance that we participate now in that eternal life; the assurance that God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.
That’s a lot of assurance, and a lot to celebrate.
Unlike the movie Big Fish we are not told how we are going to die. After I saw the movie, I wondered if I would be like Edward and live without fear if I knew what my ending was. But then I realized that knowing how I am going to die is not the only way to take away the fear of dying. Having faith and certainty in the Christian Knowing that you really aren’t going to die, and that you are guaranteed to continue on into another life is actually a more powerful knowledge to live fearlessly.
Edward in Big Fish had a lot of adventures, touched a lot of people, and made a lot of friends along the way. But a lot of the good that came out of his life was incidental to the story. Although he made the most of his opportunities, a lot of them were simply chance encounters.
What would our lives be like if we lived a fearless intentionality in the Grace of God’s Assurances that we receive through Christ’s resurrection?
Let’s start with the assurance that God reaches into and participates in this world. This means that there is an active connection between all of us and God, and that you are also allowed to participate in that connection. When you intentionally decide what you want to do, and decide that you are going to be the best person you can be while doing it, you can ask God to help you in your process. You can say in prayer: God, I want to be a better parent, or a better co-worker, or a better student, or teacher, or nurse, or doctor. This is my objective, this is how I’m planning to do it, but give me guidance to chart my course; help me to see my errors and correct them; and show me how to use my work to further your love in the world.
God is a great partner to work with in life because He isn’t a control-freak manager. God is the type of manager who says: Hey, you got talent, you got skills, if this is a project that you’re interested in doing, go ahead and see how it works. If you need help I’m here for you – just ask. As long as you’re working on Building the Kingdom then go for it.
But of course, though we often start with good intentions, we can get caught up in our doubts and say: Well, what if I do something wrong? What if I really mess up? Well, that’s when the second assurance kicks in – that we are forgiven for our sins, those Systemic or Spontaneous Inflictions of Negativity.
Because of Jesus we have the assurance that God is with us now and forever, and that our mess-ups are forgiven now and forever, as long as we stay connected to God and try to work to correct them. You know those actions in your life that you don’t want other people to know about because you’re afraid that they’ll stop liking or loving you? Well, God isn’t one of those people. You can go to God and admit your mistakes, and He’s not going to sit there and lecture you for an hour on what you already know you did wrong. Instead what He’s going to tell you is: I still love you and I will give you the strength to live with this, and the guidance to show you how to make it right. God is not interested in fixing things by wiping the slate clean so that everything returns to the past – God is interested in making things right so that we can live with what has happened to us in the future.
But you know sometimes we really get discouraged and wonder if all this effort is really worth it. We can feel like: we’re born, we live, we die. I’m just one person living up here in the Northwest corner of Connecticut. What does anything I do matter?
Remember that assurance of eternal life that stretches beyond our death? This is where the resurrection is proof to your faith that there is SOMETHING beyond what we do here and now. We are not given to know exactly what it is. But I think we are not given to know that because it would completely short out all the circuits in our psyches. Think about it – if you took a person from the first century and put them in the middle of Times Square they would freak out and immediately go insane – they just wouldn’t be ready for it, or able to process it. It would be the same for us if we knew everything on the other-side. It would be too much information and we would freak out completely.
We have been given what we need to know. And what we know from Christ’s resurrection is that there is continuance of life after death, and that our faith is going to enable us to make the crossing into that life, and what we do here is not wasted but continues on in this life after we are gone, and is probably carried over by us into the life eternal. But we are actually participating in that eternal life right now. Eternal life means: Life all through time. Our past is eternal life, our present is eternal life, and death is only a point between the continuance of life in this place, to the continuance of eternal life in the next place.
But also, the fact that Jesus came back and walked with his disciples for another 40 days means that the current flows both ways. And if the current flows both ways with Christ: The final assurance is that God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven: Meaning that while we are moving from earth to heaven, God is moving from heaven to earth.
You are given endless possibilities in this life: Many different ways to be in life, many different ways to live in life, many different ways to take action in life. But remember they are all of them eternal possibilities, because you are living a life eternal right here, right now, with Jesus Christ’s love, God’s Glory, and the untiring and joyful working of the Holy Spirit.
The resurrection doesn’t happen just at Easter. The resurrection happens to you everyday when you wake up and say: I will intentionally live the eternal life that God gave to me. God forth and live it fearlessly with the eternal love that Christ gave to you in your heart. Go forth and live in fearlessly in the eternal glory of God.