The visuals for this sermon are at http://prezi.com/8fxspeqp4jxn/easter-sunday-the-continuum/
So. Easter. Resurrection Sunday. It’s a great day. A day we remember every year when everything changed.
How many of us were here last Palm Sunday? We celebrated the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, perhaps sensing some of the tension of the crowd that greeted Him that day, knowing that in a few short days those same people would be crying out: “Crucify Him!” Good Friday? Two days ago many of us gathered to mourn. In a sense Good Friday is God reaching out to us with His love. It is love’s appeal to humanity to be reconciled to God
Whether you were or elsewhere for these important services in the Christian calendar, or if this is the first service you’ve been to for a while…you have a response to the story of Jesus.
You have a reaction to the incarnation, the birth of Jesus, the life of Jesus and the death and resurrection of Jesus.
You have given thought to the events of Jesus Christ’s life, and you have, through your response, whether or not you realize it, placed yourself on a continuum of sorts.
For many of us this continuum will seem somehow very familiar, because in one form or other this has been our journey.
This is where I started. Before knowing anything about Christian faith, I dismissed it. This was due to my upbringing as an atheist.
The very concept of God, let alone the possibility that God exists, was rejected out of hand. It didn’t even merit a conversation. Those who believe in God were believed to be foolish.
Primitive. Unenlightened. Gullible. Definitely not to be included in any social circle my family was a part of. Those who risked speaking of God or of faith were mocked before their words were done.
So God as a concept was rejected. I affirmed this 100%. The idea of God as personal on any level…this I admit to never having considered. Perhaps that’s understandable.
When a person’s idea of God is a grey-haired old man dishing out summary judgment from the clouds…that’s really easy to mock. When someone’s idea of God is that He is cold, aloof, law-loving, distant and impossible to please…that’s easy to dismiss out of hand. And so I did.
I had lived in a household, in a family social circle, and interacted with friends, all of whom had no time for or interest in God. There was no reason to think anything about God.
At 17 I had never been to church; I had received no Christian instruction. If it was possible to have had less than zero interest in God, that would have been me.
But I started to have doubts. Those doubts came as I started to bump up against Christians…first a vice-principal who would scold me for acting out or being late or absent from class, and then would offer to pray with me, and then invited me to a Bible study.
Then I met a girl whose family wierded me out by the way they lived and the way they thought, and by a distinct and disturbing groundedness and joy that they had.
That these people…intelligent, thoughtful, kind, gracious and loving people….that these people said they believed in God and followed Jesus Christ….this created a crisis for me. Not a crisis of faith exactly…..or perhaps that’s exactly what it was.
I began to doubt what I believed. I began to consider something I would never have imagined myself considering. Maybe God was real. And maybe my mocking rejection of God was actually a rejection of an ugly, twisted caricature of God, and not God Himself.
My stomach was in a knot for months. Not only because of my personal doubts and how those doubts challenged everything I had believed up until that point.
But also because EVERYONE in my life up to that point was someone who would start to mock me if they knew that my doubts were growing. Doubt is a very real place on the continuum.
Over time I began to realize that whereas once I stood clearly and proudly with people who all agreed that the earth was flat, I was starting to suspect that it was round after all.
Once I stood arm in arm with people who were sure that God was not real, and all of the sudden I wasn’t so sure. What would people think? What would my intellectual family think?
What would my druggy friends think? Doubts hurt. Doubts run deep. Doubts make us fear change. Such questioning can make us go back to thinking that the earth is flat.
But questioning and probing is a really important place on the continuum. When we don’t any longer hold or grasp so strongly what we formerly had rejected; when we’re not so entrenched in the worldview we once had; and when it’s because we think we may have discovered something way, way better…That is a good place to be.
That’s the place on the continuum where we can start to look at people of faith as real people…and not rely on mocking caricatures we’ve held to in the past.
And we can consider that maybe they’re different on the outside, in their attitudes and behaviours, in their joy and contentment and passion for life, because they are different on the inside.
And maybe that difference is that God, for-real God, is present in their life.
Being in a real questioning place is when we can start to look at the Bible as though it might have something to offer us.
We can read Jesus’ teachings and be open-minded to His wisdom, open-hearted to His love so clearly evident in the way he was with people; our own attitudes toward life and our fundamental understanding of what’s important in life can be changed when we’re in that questioning place on the continuum.
This is where we start to consider the implication of the cross – the suffering of Jesus – was it, as the Bible affirms, an act of self-giving love by someone who was completely sinless, on behalf of people who not only were sinful but who were to kill him – undeniable culpability in other words?
And this is where we consider the life-changing event of Christ’s resurrection – that if He rose again from the dead, triumphing over death and sin – this is proof of His Divinity.
This is proof that God is intensely personal, That God in fact is a person – God, the Son of God-Jesus, is fully human and fully divine.
Often there comes a time for many of us who have rejected God, and then doubted the wisdom of having done that. There comes a time when we’ve gone through extended periods of time when we really considered the Bible and seriously considered if having faith in God is a good idea. There comes a time when we say: “Yes!”.
It might start as a “Hmmmm…ya!?” Then a more confident: “Ah…yes”; before it comes close to a clear affirmation.
But our questioning and open-minded and –hearted attitude will often lead us to a place where we now have huge confidence that the record of the Bible is extremely accurate and completely reliable.
We may well come to believe that the Bible is true, and therefore that Jesus must be God, that He must have come to earth and lived among us and taught the very wisdom of God.
He must, therefore, have actually gone to the cross, and there died; not just any death, but a sacrificial death for the whole world on behalf of those who would believe in His sacrifice and thereby become redeemed children of God.
Often believing is Jesus is a product of reading His words, considering His life and His loving sacrifice. It is often also a product of looking at how Christians live, imperfect as we all are, and seeing in that Christian man or women compelling and ultimately convincing evidence for the existence of God.
You know, as weird as it seems at this point, it’s possible for a person to believe in facts about Jesus, to believe the Biblical record, to be convinced of the historicity of the Christian faith and the trustworthiness of the Bible, and still not have come quite far enough.
There’s an odd and wonderful passage in the Bible that illustrates what I mean: John 1: 10 He (Jesus) was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God--13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
Two things: Believing – coming to trust in the name of Jesus, which means coming to trust in all that the Bible says - by Him and of Him; and receiving Him.
This is where it gets really personal. I believe in all that Jesus did, that He died for my sins on the cross to reconcile me to God; AND I receive Him. Say what?
I receive Him, I accept Him into my life as MY Saviour, MY Lord and King. That’s when things get REALLY exciting. And that’s the final step on our continuum today, which is really just the beginning.
To all who receive Him, to those who believe in His name, God give us a right. It is the right to become children of God. This is the final step where God’s desire to be in relationship with us is completely realized.
We are embraced by God. That means all that we are, including our wounds, our sins, our sorrows – is embraced, accepted completely by the everlasting God. This is the beginning, because forgiveness is just a beginning.
Then God sends us out to live as free people, ever thankful for the freedom Christ won for us on the cross. We’re sent out as free people to be agents of His love, to be ministers of reconciliation, to be people through whom God’s best intentions for this planet and every soul on this planet are made to happen, made real, made manifest.
So. Easter. Resurrection Sunday. What is your response to the story of Jesus? Where are you, if you don’t mind me asking, on the continuum between rejecting God completely and being embraced by the living God?
Is this continuum familiar to you? Has it been your journey? Or might your journey begin today?
May each of us here this Easter Sunday come to be embraced by the living God as we choose to believe and receive God’s greatest gift to us…that of His Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, One God over all. Amen