The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
April 4, 2021 – Easter
Did Jesus really come alive after dying and is He still alive? The possibility of that being true both thrills and threatens; it occasions both hope and fear.
Duke’s William Willimon tells of how once a skeptical friend asked him why he needed a resurrected Jesus. He replied, “I don’t need a resurrected Jesus. Come to think of it, I’m not sure I want a resurrected Jesus. In fact, [in one sense] a resurrected Jesus is a real nuisance…I’ve got a good life. I’ve figured how to work the world [to my advantage]… My health is good, and everybody close to me is doing fine. I have the illusion I’m in control…and [making a difference]…No, I don’t need a resurrected Jesus. Actually, [by believing in one], my life becomes more difficult.”
A German scholar named Pannenberg once observed, “The evidence for Jesus’ resurrection is so strong that no one would question it except for two things: First, it is a very unusual event. Second, believing it actually happened necessitates our changing everything in how we live.”
It’s no wonder then that Mark ended his Gospel by saying that the women left the empty tomb “afraid”.
Cosmologist Stephen Hawking labeled Christianity a fairy tale for people scared of the dark and Sigmund Freud dismissed it as a product of wish fulfillment. But isn’t it as likely that skepticism is a product of wish fulfillment? Don’t we have as many reasons to wish that skepticism is the right stance in life as we faith? Who wants to be accountable for all the bad things they’ve done? Who wants to be told what to do all the time? Who wants to deal with a resurrected Jesus whose reality would require us to reorder our life? Tim Keller calls the Easter faith he embraces “the most irritating religion on the face of the earth”.
Even if the Easter story is true, it’s still a pain half the time. It keeps disrupting our status quo and calling into question all sorts of things – say, how we spend our money, conduct ourselves sexually or respond to racism. Is it not a bother, if not a fright, to think Jesus is always there asking us to change our lives and our world?
Easter has its scary side as well as its uplifting side, and we will only accept how it induces fear and discomfort if we appreciate how it inspires hope and expectation of rewards that make its costs seem small.
It is human nature to wish we can, at no price, “have it all”; but the reality of life is that we have to weigh one set of wants against another. So which do you want more: The companionship and empowerment Easter might give you, or the self-indulgence and the apathy to the plight of the poor it might deny you?
There is good evidence for the reality of Jesus’ resurrection – for example, in the moral improvement honest people swear they gained by knowing a living Jesus – but such evidence doesn’t prove He’s really there. So if the objective evidence is inconclusive, shouldn’t we suspend judgment and remain agnostic?
Not if the Easter story is more than just an assertion of an alleged fact of history but also an invitation into a certain kind of life today. While we can hold back from forming any opinion, we cannot hold back from forming one kind of life or another. The decision whether to try the Easter form of life can’t be delayed indefinitely. Ultimately, we will, or we won’t, try it; but we might never get around to trying it just by not getting around to deciding. Sitting forever on the fence eventually means not jumping on the one side. In other words, not deciding to try it in the end amounts to deciding not to try it.
Consider this analogy: Suppose you love Disneyland. Suppose I out of the blue call you to tell you that today only Disneyland is admitting a small group of folks, to have the entire park to themselves, “on the house”, for the small price of giving feedback on new reopening protocols. Each guest this day will enjoy unlimited rides without ever waiting in line and unlimited food without ever paying. Suppose further I tell you that I’ve got a pass for the day, that you can have it if you come get it within the hour and that, if you fail to show up in time, I’ll give it to someone else.
You have to decide whether I am sincere or pulling your leg. If you’re not sure about trusting me, you have to decide if it’s worth your while to take the risk of hoping I’m sincere, canceling your prior plans, and finding out for sure if you can have, for free, the time of your life at the “happiest place on earth”.
What you decide to do depends on two things: 1) what you think of me and 2) how much you’d love to have the kind of day I’m saying you can. Taking the gamble on being played the fool and losing a day to a practical joke is justified only if the possibility of enjoying such a Disneyland day is too wonderful for you to miss out on a chance at it.
From the Bible, you’ll hear Jesus say, “Follow me and I’ll give you the time of your life, every day and into eternity.” Does it make sense to trust Him and to let go of some other possibilities on the chance of gaining bigger possibilities? Well, what do you think of Him and how much do you love the idea of having what He says you can? Do you love it enough not to play it safe? What do you most hope for…and which risk do you most fear?
The resurrected Jesus is, I believe, standing in front of you and daring you this day to take a chance on Him, perhaps for the very first time, perhaps as never before. What do you say?