04.16.2017 Preaching Text: “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above…” (Colossians 3:1)
Every year on Good Friday, from noon to three (the time tradition has it Jesus hung on the cross), Linda and I sit in the sanctuary in silent prayer. And every year I discover something new about God and myself.
With the rush of Holy Week and its preparations I look forward to this time to disencumber myself of all my racing thoughts and various stresses. As always, it takes a while for me to settle into a quiet state, maybe 15 or 20 minutes, if not more.
In my Maundy Thursday meditation the other night, I talked about a couple of moments from my life when I felt completely connected to God and the world, moments uncluttered, clear, clean, and open. In those moments, I said, I was able to sense God’s ineffable light, when everything seemed infused with an extra-ordinary luminosity. In these moments I was able to sense a clear channel of God’s grace.
One of the things I often do on these Good Fridays is to reminisce about my past in an effort to get a sense of where I am today. As it happens, every scene becomes imbued with a certain clarity, with an understanding or perspective that sheds light on these events.
One can, of course, remember one’s past dully, as if reading a list. But in these moments my memories seem to come alive, as if they’re happening now.
Another word for this experience is revelation, those moments when time stops and is infused with a kind of eternality where past, present, and future merge seamlessly together.
Then again, this perception of things is something I recall having far more often as a kid. I can still remember waking up in the morning excitedly, wondering what new discoveries and fresh insights I would experience that day. The whole world seemed vigorous and unsullied, bursting with buoyant light, engendering a cheerful mood of expectancy.
Over time, however, as we grow and “mature,” we tend to lose this sense of wonder and excitement, this sense of the new. Life lived in our world chips away at our innocence.
Slowly, over time, we adapt to a “wiser” but sadder outlook on life. We adapt to the brokenness around us and learn to cope. While there is a satisfying sense of mastery that comes with this, it also tends to diminish the awareness of our erstwhile godly innocence. Revelation, it seems, comes far less often. And life can take on a certain grim determinism as we sleepwalk through our days.
But Easter boldly proclaims a change, portending a return to something sweeter, more innocent, something connected to real life. It is the invitation to experience once again our lost innocence.
The curious thing about life is that when we’re fresh from God, we take for granted the luminous qualities offered naturally. And when this starts to elude us, we scramble to get it back.
Sometimes this leads to a desperate and unhealthy obsession with such things as drugs, alcohol, sex, money, power, status – worldly obsessions all. The trap is that they seem to work…in the short term. They promise to take us out of the mundane, to give our life a boost, to remove all momentary limitations and troubles for a short-lived high.
But because these things are temporal, worldly, things of the flesh, they cannot and will not last. And because they don’t last, we are drawn to repeat them again and again as a form of escape.
One of the unfortunate side-effects of these artificial means of escape is that it takes ever more and more to achieve the same “high.” Newer and more extreme measures must be employed to achieve the same effect. Meanwhile, our lives grow dimmer as we stumble around in the darkness in search of the next exit ramp into escape.
Yet God has sent Jesus into our midst as light, as true light. That light enters our dark places and illumines them with truth and beauty, a truth and beauty far more desirable than any drug.
In cultivating and nurturing this light is produced not a momentary cessation from our darkness, our struggles, our pain, but an enduring and uplifting awareness that’s source is heaven itself, that place from whence we came and to which we one day shall return.
The Christian life is, then, an invitation to this life of light, God’s light. It is not fleeting, fickle, or fraught with hidden, deleterious side-effects. It is, in a sense, the return of the joy of childhood innocence, filled with excitement, expectancy, and fresh insight, as God-light is infused in and through everything.
Some refer to this experience as being “born again,” others as “regeneration,” still others as “spiritual transformation.” But no matter what one calls it, it refers to something both necessary and real.
It’s this reality that leads Peter, who denied Jesus three times during his trial, who rejected his friend Jesus, and who hightailed it into the hills out of abject fear, to boldly proclaim Christ resurrected on the streets of Joppa.
Likewise, it is this same reality that leads Paul, in Colossians, to argue for Christ, to the exclusion of all other paths to the spiritual truth.
One of the reasons the modern church avoids such talk today is that it fears promoting or “evangelizing” the truth of Christ resurrected will prove us to be “self-righteous” or better than other people.
In other words, we rightly reject the idea that we are the “good people” who are going to heaven, while the rest of you are destined for you-know-where. We think that talking about new life, born again life, regenerative life is triumphalist and insensitive to others’ beliefs and values.
The best definition of evangelism I’ve ever heard, however, is that of one beggar telling another beggar where to find a loaf of bread. It is not our inherent worth or presumed superiority that motivates us to reach out. Nor is it to place ourselves above those we seek to “convert.”
Rather, the motivation is that we have stumbled onto something lovely, something we can’t help but share with others. Our interest is not to beat people over the head, but to let them in on something that promises to make life more meaningful and joy-filled. Why wouldn’t we want to share that?
In his introduction to Colossians in The Message, Eugene Peterson points out that Paul was attempting to communicate the joys of the gospel to a people who believed there were many paths to salvation.
But in his evangelization, Peterson explains, Paul goes about it with “rooted humility and a most considerate heart.”
The church is here to share the Good News that a new and sacred life is available to us all, one that frees us from the punishing effects of our world’s darkness.
Its promise is instead that we can know and experience God’s unyielding, ineffable light, an experience we may falsely have concluded was lost to us forever. Amen.