I look around me today and at my own life and I see a lot of fear. I see people are afraid of where our country is going culturally or politically. In a little over a week is our national election. There are a lot of folks very worried about what might happen if the wrong politician comes to power or stays in power. There are people afraid for their children, worried that they may grow up in a land full of people who hate them for believing God. There are people worried about the devaluation of our currency by government banks and financial shenanigans – what if I don’t have any money to give to my children? What if they all end up broke and enslaved to debt? I can relate to that one a bit! Some people are afraid of war or of terrorists. What are the chances there will be another big war? Judging by history, I’d say 100%. Chance that it will come in your children’s lifetime? Pretty good chance.
I really love this old photo from WWII. It’s an image of great hope in the midst of disaster and destruction. The power of the resurrection is like this.
“On 20th April, 1941, the morning after 150 incendiary bombs had gutted St. Bartholomew’s, East Ham a bride and groom arrived at the wrecked church. They found charred timbers and ravaged walls were all that was left of the church where they were to be married that day.
But Helen Fowler, aged 20 of Caledon Road, East Ham and her Canadian soldier sweetheart, Cpl. Christopher Morrison, aged 21 of the 48th Highlanders stood proudly amid the ruins of the bombed-out church and made their wedding vows, while fireman played their hoses on the wooden beams which were still smouldering.”
Other people are afraid of things closer to home. Do you remember being in junior high and just being terrified about what other people thought of you? I know there are men in here very worried about what their wives think of them, and vice versa. We’ve let people down. We’ve screwed up. We’ve been hurt for real. Maybe we are still getting hurt by these same people almost every day. All of these things are little pieces of death chipping away at our lives. Being a better person (however you propose to do that) won’t make this go away. We are still being killed a little bit each day.
Jesus teaches us though that his resurrection is just the beginning. He is the first fruits of those raised to eternal life. His is the model. We are his children, who are growing up to be just like Him. He conquered death – for us. So that though we still die, we will be raised just like him. This isn’t something that just happens way later when the end of the world has come. Look at Peter and how he went from a scared poser to being a confident and passionate man who lived for God until the Emperor Nero crucified him upside-down just to get him to shut up. Our own lives will likely not look so dramatic or public – each of us is unique. Still, the power of Christ’s resurrection began RIGHT AWAY. It changes our lives today, right now. Jesus is not alive way up and heaven, leaving us out in the cold down here on earth. Just like in the Old Testament, he has “pitched his tent” so to speak right here in our midst.
I want to end from this passage from New Testament scholar N.T. Wright:
The earliest Christians, to speak of Jesus’ resurrection was to speak of something that, however (in our sense) earth-shattering, however much it drew together things earthly and heavenly, was still an ‘earthly’ event, and needed to be exactly that. It had earthly consequences: an empty tomb, footprints by the shore, and, at Emmaus, a loaf broken but not consumed.
No wonder the Herods, the Caesars and the Sadducees of this world, ancient and modern, were and are eager to rule out all possibility of actual resurrection. They are, after all, staking a counter-claim on the real world. It is the real world that the tyrants and bullies (including intellectual and cultural tyrants and bullies) try to rule by force, only to discover that in order to do so they have to squash all rumors of resurrection, rumours that would imply that their greatest weapons, death and deconstruction, are not after all omnipotent.
-The Resurrection of the Son of God, p.737
Let us pray.
Father God, grant us courage. Let the power of the resurrection of your only son overcome the fear in our hearts. Thank you for doing all of this for us all on your own. Though we don’t deserve any of it, you have continued to give us the very best gifts. Help us to open our eyes and see them unwrapped before us. Strengthen our faith and cast away our doubts. And even if they persist, we know you will not let us down. Thank you Jesus. Amen.
Let’s pretend for a moment that we are historians (maybe we think we are scientists, but we aren’t really) who want to figure out what happened back in AD 33. Keep in mind that even though the world is full of skeptics today, virtually EVERYONE still admits that SOMETHING crazy happened back then. Nobody doubts the incredible rise and influence of Christianity – our archeology is full of nothing if not old cathedrals, bibles, saints, and kings claiming to rule or fight for Christ. You would be hard pressed today to find even a hardened atheist who thinks that Jesus didn’t exist. We just disagree about who he was. In fact, Buddhists, Muslims, and just about everyone acknowledge that Jesus lived and died and said some pretty interesting things. The catch is that we Christians say he also came back to life because he was the Son of God. That’s the sticking point.
But regardless, SOMETHING happened back then after Jesus was executed. We can use some simple logic to break it down in to pretty short list of possibilities.
* I discussed the chart above extemporaneously for a while. Brief paraphrase below.
When you look at the lives the apostles and the first 300 years worth of Christians, they would not have risked their lives for something they just fabricated. It goes against every possible thing we know about human motivations. The rise of Christianity is not some special exception of insanity that so many would die for this hope for no earthly gain. That Jesus actually came back to life and was seen profoundly by many people is the best and simplest explanation for all that followed. (I don’t have time to go into great detail on this right now.)
The cartoon above is intended to ridicule Christians. The trouble though is that it assumes the folks in the left image are really starting with a pure clean slate. In fact, they bring just as many constraints to the table as the ones on the right. Before the consideration even begins, “Jesus rose” is crossed out from the list above with a sharpie. We know THAT doesn’t happen. That leaves them only one of the options left and so they look at some of the facts and argue about which one it was. Were the early Christians evil? Or just stupid? That’s about what they have left to pick from, and that is before they even get started. Now the guys on the right have some problems too, especially if they are trying too hard to impress the other side. They can end up making the same mistakes.
Throughout the years, Jesus has been a popular figure. Even amongst secularists, you can’t score many points by bad-mouthing him or his teachings in the west. Because of that, the need for a likable but safe Jesus has been especially necessary in the past century. The middle road, #3 on the list above, serves that purpose nicely.
If you saw the PBS special “From Jesus to Christ” about 2 years ago, then you probably have a pretty good idea what this myth version of Jesus looks like. This is the really popular version of Jesus and Christianity right now in the public square. If you hear a politician talk about Jesus these days, it’s probably going to be the safe myth Jesus, not the disruptive risen Lord. This allows people to still keep Jesus around and pay homage to him and respect him and say nice things about him. That miracle stuff about him coming back from the dead though? Um, didn’t happen. But who cares! Isn’t this stuff great anyway? Now anyone who still insists that he did come back is a dangerous fundy, kind of like those nutty terrorists that take Islam too seriously. The mythical Jesus though is really cool. He’s safe.
Jesus as myth has become the de facto view for secularists in the past 50 years. I think part of why this is is because it fits nicely into the popular sort of “lowest common denominator” baseline spirituality that we have accepted in the west in the past half century. People everywhere are talking about how they are “spiritual”, but not “religious”.
Philosopher Slovaj Zizek (who by the way is definitely NOT a Christian) puts his finger on one reason this is so popular today.
When today’s New Age ideologists insist on the distinction between religion and spirituality (they perceive themselves as spiritual, not part of any organized religion), they (often not so) silently impose a “pure” procedure of Zen-like spiritual meditation as the “whiteness” of religion. The idea is that all religions presuppose, rely on, exploit, manipulate, etc., the same core of mystical experience, and that it is only “pure” forms of meditation like Zen Buddhism that exemplify this core directly, bypassing institutional and dogmatic mediations. Spiritual meditation, in its abstraction from institutionalized religion, appears today as the zero-level undistorted core of religion: the complex institutional and dogmatic edifice which sustains every particular religion is dismissed as a contingent secondary coating of this core. The reason for this shift of accent from religious institution to the intimacy of spiritual experience is that such a meditation is the ideological form that best fits today’s global capitalism.
(I cut the Zizek quote from my sermon, but still wanted to include it here.)
Jesus as myth is really great for mix-n-match spirituality. Just like we get to choose our clothes and the pics on our Facebook pages and the accessories for our iPods, in the hyper-individualist culture of today, we get to choose (and vote with our wallet) what we want to believe about God. It helps if you pick things that sort of make sense as it’s less troubling psychologically but still, it’s up to you. The Jesus whose resurrection is a myth, a fantastical (though good intentioned) story works really well for us “choose your own adventure” types.
The utter and shocking alternative to this is something very tangible and solid that really happened on the ground, not something just in our heads. Positive thinking is great, but that wouldn’t have turned Peter’s life around and it’s not going to turn ours around either. What CAN and WILL turn our lives around is the fact that Jesus came back from the dead, bodily, all on his own, and conquered death, won the victory over sin, and rose up to rule over all of creation.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.
(1 Corinthians 15:20-23 ESV)
ALL our hope, not just some of it, is hinged upon his literal, actual, historical resurrection from the grave.
And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
(1 Corinthians 15:17-19 ESV)
Well, way back in first century, about AD 33 (give or take a few years because our calendar is a bit off), something really strange happened. This strange event was unprecedented. Nobody had ever heard of anything like it. There had been stories about people coming back from the dead before, but they were always part of myths – fantastic tales that very intentionally and obviously blurred the lines between reality and fiction. This man Jesus of Nazareth coming back from the dead was something different. All the people that talked about it were stone-cold serious. They weren’t kidding or hyping it up. Today, people talking about religion will often group the bible in along with the Iliad, the Odessy, the old Hindu Vedas, Native American stories about the Coyotee spirit, etc. But they couldn’t be more different, especially the New Testament. When Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Paul talked about Jesus coming back from the dead, they talked like people giving real eye-witness accounts of this man they knew being executed and then blowing the door off his tomb for real a few days later. The other writers of this time, like Josephus the great Roman historian from the first century, and Tacitus and few years later, talk about Jesus coming back in very matter-of-fact language (even if they themselves were skeptical). In fact, as exciting as the resurrection is, the gospel accounts are far too boring to be considered myth literature.
Not only are they stone-cold serious, but many of the gospel accounts feature elements that anyone trying to sell the story would NEVER include. For example, the first people to the tomb, who later tell everyone the news – who was it? A bunch of women. This wasn’t the 20th century, this was eastern antiquity. Women had no rights back then. Their testimony was no good in court. They were 2nd class citizens in about every possible way. If you were trying to explain that Jesus came back from the dead back then and you actually wanted someone to take you seriously, the last thing on earth you would do is start telling about how a bunch of ladies were the first ones to talk about it. Gee, it’s almost like the story is told that way because they were just recording what happened that day and not trying to spin it.
But all I’m talking about is some of the written accounts we have from back then. Does any of this prove that Jesus came back from the dead? Of course not. In fact, I think it is folly to pretend like they do. Some Christians, with very good intentions, have tried to “prove” the resurrection of Jesus using a lot of archeology and quasi-scientific psychoanalysis of the apostles. The problem with this approach is it let’s the modern secular scientists ask all the questions. They get to set the terms of the debate and they will make certain that just throwing bible verses around is going to look silly. If you want to talk about the historical truth of Jesus’ resurrection, you are going to have to admit the limitations up front ask some different sorts of questions. Going into more detail on this would be something to do in an apologetics class.
You don’t even need to be a scientist to understand that dead people stay dead. This man Jesus didn’t though, or so somebody says. More amazing still, is the impact this news had on the world in just a few short years.
Let me read to you a passage from Augustine, written in his book The City of God about the year 426 AD:
What is really hard to believe, for anyone who stops to think, is the way the world came to believe. The fishermen whom Christ sent with the nets of faith into the sea of the world were men unschooled in the liberal arts and utterly untrained as far as education goes, men with no skill in the use of language,, armed with no weapons of debate, plumed with no rhetorical power. Yet, this catch this handful of fishermen took was enormous and marvelous. They hauled in first of every sort, not excluding those rare specimens, the philosophers themselves.
It is incredible that Christ should have risen in His flesh and, with His flesh, have ascended into heaven; it is incredible that the world should have believed a thing so incredible; it is incredible that men so rude and lowly, so few and unaccomplished, should have convinced the world, including men of learning, of something so incredible and have convinced men so conclusively.
What the little group of skeptics must explain is why they still hold out so blatantly against a whole world of believers who have an explanation of their faith. The world has believed this insignificant group of lowly, unimportant, and uneducated men precisely because the divine character of what happened is more marvelously apparent in the insignificance of such witnesses.
-Augustine, City of God, Book 22, Ch. 5
There are several things to notice here. When Augustine wrote this, much of the world he knew was full of Christians. There were not so many skeptics, so it was a bit easier for him to ridicule them and say, “So you are soooooo much smarter than, who? Just about everyone?” Actually, in the world today, there are places still like that. Countries like Ethiopia and Uganda are over 80% Christian. Millions of people and only about 1 in 5 you meet on the street does NOT believe in the son of God. The same goes for large areas in Latin America, such as Ecuador. Here in the U.S., unless you live in the Bible belt region, it’s more like the opposite. Only 1 in 5 people you meet on the street takes Jesus seriously. Here in the Pacific Northwest the number is closer to 1 in 10. In some parts of Europe there are even fewer believers like us.
Still, notice that Augustine calls the resurrection of Jesus Christ and “incredible” event. It really is unusual. So why does everyone believe it? Because the people that told the message were really clever? No! They were a bunch of stupid fisherman. There were unschooled blue-collar workers. Were they rich and powerful, disseminating their weird religious ideas by making a lot of calculated back-room political deals and brainwashing people by controlling all the TV channels? No! The apostles and early followers of Jesus were mostly poor country bumpkins. There were a few rich an influential people number among the early Christians, but they often had to keep things on the down-low so as not to rile up the secular authorities.
So why should anyone believe this stuff? Well, we believe that the Holy Spirit works invisibly in our hearts and minds so that we trust in this good news. God, our maker, knows it’s EXACTLY what we need to hear and when we do hear it, our eyes light up and even if we can’t articulate it or talk about it very well, we recognize that it is PRECISELY what could save us from this painful mess of guilt and death we are stuck in. More on that later.
Some of you may be sitting there right now thinking, “You know, I really don’t care so much about this science and history. It doesn’t shake my faith. I believe in Jesus because I’ve met him for real. I’ve heard him speak to me before. Sometimes when I pray, I can feel him next to me. Trying to tell me Jesus isn’t alive would be like trying to argue that the sky isn’t blue. God is very, very real to me, first hand. It doesn’t feel that way all the time of course, but it has often enough that I don’t really doubt it.”
You know what? If you can give a testimony along those lines, that is wonderful. I am glad that you experience His presence in such a way. That is the holy spirit interacting with you. Honestly, there have been moments like that for me too, thought I wouldn’t say it’s been the regular day-to-day experience for me. For some of us, part of our faith and part of our relationship with God is thinking these things through. We can’t rest until it makes a certain amount of sense to us and that takes time and often a lot of work. I like how one Christian thinker, Robert Hammerton-Kelly puts it: “The right explanation can help heal a mind distressed beyond endurance by events whose significance it cannot grasp.”
What I’m saying today may be of more benefit to some of you than to those who have experienced Christ in a more mystical and personal way.
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I saw this article on the front page on Yahoo news just a couple of weeks ago. You’ve probably seen things like it before too on the cover of magazines or talked about on TV. This sort of thing comes out all the time. “Is science close to ruling out God?” “A complete understanding of the universe would leave no grounds for the existence of a higher power.” It goes on to talk about how religious thoughts are just certain chemicals reacting in our brains.
Well, IS science close to ruling out God? Well, no, not even close because that’s not the sort of thing science can do. The hearts of men can rule out God, and do – all the time! And they don’t need science to help them out. In fact, science can’t do it. Here is why.
Science can only answer questions about the natural world. It is a certain strict set of tools for combining what we can observe with our senses with rigorous reasoning. It isn’t a tool for metaphysical philosophy but rather a method for discovering how things in the present work. Science can’t explain WHY things work the way they do, only HOW. A doctor can examine a man’s body and say that it appears he died of a heart attack. It cannot say whether the man was a good man or not or whether it’s a good or bad thing that he died.
You probably learned about the scientific method in school. You start with a hypothesis about something. That is a suggested idea about how something works. It’s a guess. Then, you have to set up an experiment. A well-designed experiment will be “controlled”, meaning it will test just one idea or prediction at a time. If you try to do too much at once, you risk drawing wrong conclusions about why something did or didn’t work. I don’t work in a laboratory, but I do program computers for a living. This idea of the “smallest testable case” is the key to debugging software. I would be hopelessly lost at work without it.
Once a scientist’s experiment is successful in portraying a certain outcome, the next step is for it to be repeated. You have to do the experiment again and again and get the same results. If you don’t, then something is happening that you don’t understand and you need to go back to the beginning and refine your hypothesis or narrow the scope of your experiment. Another important element is that other scientists need to be able to test out your experiment on their own and come up with the same results. If they don’t, then something about your research is flaky.
Science is a wonderful tool for discovering all sorts of things in the natural world and thinking clearly through many of the problems we try to solve every day. Isaac Newton, who worked back in the 1600’s, was probably the best guy to ever do all this right. In the process, he figured out an astounding amount of things about calculus, light, gravity and astronomy. He was also a Christian and spent about a third of his time studying the bible, much to the dismay of some scientists who admire him today. Perhaps they should not be so dismayed?
Something people often forget today is that the scientific method is of little use for analyzing history. History is something we don’t have immediate access too. An event in the past happened only once. You can’t repeat it. You can’t observe it first hand to record accurate eyewitness data yourself. Even something as simple as hearing whether the Vandals won their football game yesterday (probably not) is based on hearsay. You can’t set up an experiment to prove it. You can only dig up some evidence and make some informed guesses.
In our age, the prevalence of video has created an illusion in ours minds that if we have a recording of something, then it definitely happened. Even things as far back as WWII seem a lot more undebatable since we have lot of old film footage from then still around.
Except we all know that videos can be fake – not just by what they show, but usually in what is NOT shown. Science can only use what we know about the natural world to say whether something COULD have happened a certain way. Skeptics say the gospel accounts are fake. We can’t “prove” that they aren’t, just like we can’t prove anything else about history. But we can see if what they say makes sense and does a good job of explaining things or not.
Example: The following is from a documentary that discussed the use of staged protest and conflict photos in middle-east journalism.
The passage today is John chapter 21. Now, I like reading John so much, I don’t want to cut to the chase and just read a few key verses. I love reading scripture out loud. I love listening to it out loud. It’s usually better than preaching anyway! So I’m going to read most of it.
After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.
When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”
(John 21:1-19 ESV)
So lets set the context just a bit here. Peter ran to the tomb on Easter morning and saw it empty. Later, he and the other disciples met the risen Jesus briefly. But, Peter still doesn’t know what to do. He’s confused, he doesn’t know what it means, he doesn’t think anyone but his friends care that Jesus is (sort of) back anyway. He can’t keep doing what he has been doing the last three years. He’s afraid of the Romans, afraid of the Jewish leaders, and he’s probably very ashamed of having denied Jesus the night before he was executed. He still hasn’t dealt with that yet. We know about it from reading the scripture, but I really doubt he told any of the other disciples until afterwards. Peter could have stood by his master that night, but he threw him under the bus instead. Does Jesus want anything to do with him now? “I wouldn’t want anything to do with me.” he thinks.
So he hikes back up north to his hometown, dusts off his fishing boat and goes back to his day job. He’s trying to catch some fish, but he’s just not into it. Then, on the beach, Jesus appears again. “Oh my gosh! I’ve got to get back to him. I just can’t go back to my old life. He changed everything about my life. I’m a total mess without him. I don’t care what he thinks, I’ve got to go see him.”
There on the beach, Jesus restores Peter. His life changes forever. He never forgot this conversation with Jesus. It was a long time ago and we don’t have full records of everything Peter did in the years afterwards, but what we do have show us a man that really had lost all fear. He no longer cared what people thought about him. He didn’t care what the oppressive government thought. (Then eventually killed him too.) He didn’t care what the religious leaders thought. He didn’t care what his family thought. He didn’t try to build up his career or buy a new fishing boat. He never denied Jesus again. All the terrible pain of that moment had been erased by this man who had come back from the dead and forgiven him. He thought absolutely all was lost – that his mistake would haunt him and stick with him the rest of his life. Any rational person would think so. But it didn’t. He failed at life, but he got it all back. Jesus came back, had lunch with him, and gave it all back to him.
Wouldn’t you like to receive the same thing Peter got that day? Have you failed at life? Do you have a failed marriage? A career that got torpedoed, probably by yourself? Do you dread family gatherings at Christmas because your father and mother never say anything nice to you? Have you really screwed up? Did someone really screw you over? This is all due to us living in a broken sinful world. No amount of wishful thinking and mental gymnastics can patch this up. The gospel has no weight if Jesus is not really risen. Peter knew He had been – the Lord was right there in front of his face. He couldn’t have explained how that changed everything right then and there, but he knew it did for his life. We are more distant from the event – very distant now in fact, so we have to believe without seeing (blessed are we!), and there is no shortage of people on the sidelines who may laugh at us part of the way.
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The following 6-part series of posts constitute the bulk of the sermon I gave on 10/28/2012.
I knew we were close to wrapping up the Gospel of John and I really wanted to talk about the centrality of the resurrection. Sometimes, when I go to study the bible, I can get several pages into it and feel like I’ve come up with nothing – nothing worth talking about anyway. This time, it was just the opposite. I found, reading through scripture and other books and thinking about my own relationship with God, I had so much to say about the resurrection, I didn’t even know where to start. I think I could yack up here for five or six hours and not even come close to running out of what I consider to be compelling and interesting and useful material! But doing that wouldn’t help anyone, including myself. I tried to boil things down to a “best of” playlist of sorts, but I found that many of the top ideas just didn’t fit together really well. What I’ve come up with instead today is a bit meandering. I’m just going to follow one train of thought as it winds through the landscape of the resurrection of the Son of God. Let me tell you where I’m going to try and go with this before I begin.
Our passage today features Simon Peter, the apostle, rather prominently. I want to look a bit at his life and talk about how Jesus coming back from the dead affected it in some really profound ways. From there, I want to look at some of the evidence we have that Jesus really did rise from the dead, as well as discuss the pitfalls of trying to “prove” these sorts of things about God in the first place. In there, I want to take a look at several possibilities for what happened on Easter and afterwards and explain from several different angles why we Christians believe what we do. Finally, I want to return to Peter and compare what the resurrection meant to him and how it means similar powerful things to us today, especially regarding it’s power to cast out our fear and give us (much needed!) hope for the future.
First, let us pray. This is a bit of a longer prayer, but it says all I intend to ask of God this morning.
Father, negate all my faults and fears as I come to speak against men’s faults and to negate their fears with good news. Your good news of the resurrection of Jesus, your son is potent medicine – the only cure for our world, and for each of our individual persons. Stretching out to touch us now, 2000 years later, it is a wave that builds up steam as it goes, a tidal wave of your grace, covering all our sins, our hates, our twisted desires, washing over us, burying the world and all living things with your kingdom. We will not drown in your love, but find we can breath in a richer world than we ever imagined. Jesus when you opened your eyes on the third day in the tomb outside of Jerusalem, death began to work backwards. If death seems stronger now, it is only due to its frantic fevered grasping for straws before the dawn comes and the grave is overcome completely. Jesus, send your holy spirit to quiet our hearts and still our fears. Those fears are many and sometimes we do not trust you. We do not believe you rose, or we do not believe that it means anything of significance for us. Those are almost the same thing. Strengthen our faith, not because we need to psych ourselves up because we have nothing (or almost nothing) to believe in, but strengthen our faith because we have something so great and terrible and wonderful to believe in that we cannot bring our cynical skeptical selves to take it all in. The good news of the work and love and resurrection of your son Jesus is more than our minds and hearts can contain and so we fill them with other things instead that seem to allow us some space to breath or some concepts we can work with safely. Forgive us for that. Regardless, we declare to you now that we desire you, all of you, the full force of your power for every man, woman, boy, and girl. Lord, we ask you to fill us with faith, empty us of fear, and cause us to overflow in love. Amen.
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There is one sort of singing meant to fill a cathedral or a Broadway stage. There are other kinds though that are naturally much more personal. This is one of my favorite examples. If you had to belt this out to be heard by anyone outside of a tiny living room, it would become something else entirely.
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A few weeks ago, we had some friends over for a “Hobbit Second Breakfast”. We ate a large brunch filled with scones and sausages and I read some out of Tolkien’s essay On Faerie Stories. Good times.
We also had music playing in the background the whole time. I tried to pick some light happy (but not too fast) celtic stuff that a contented hobbit might want listen too, along with a few relevant tracks from the films.
Here is my hobbit playlist (Title, Artists, Album):
Flaming Red Hair, Howard Shore, LOTR Complete Recordings Vol. 1
The Bog of Allen/Eanach Dhuin/Bill the Weavers, Teada, Music and Memory
A Sligo Air/Sally Gally, Teada, Music and Memory
Aibreann, Lunasa, Lunasa
Stolen Apples, Lunasa, Otherworld
O’Carolan’s Welcome/Rolling in the Barrel, Lunasa, Otherworld
The Miller of Drohan, Lunasa, Otherworld
Island Lake, Lunasa, La Nua
Snowball, Lunasa, La Nua
Stepping Stone/An Seanbhean Bhocht, Teada, Give Us a Penny and Let Us Be Gone
My gosh, what a title. What could this possibly be about? Just that.
Are you familiar with the Super Mario Brothers video games? Of course you are. The franchise is still going strong. I grew up playing everything from the original old school Nintendo titles to the most recent Super Mario Galaxy 2 on the Wii, which my kids love. From very early on in the game’s history, Mario has had to visit desert worlds and fight his way through quicksand, snakes, cactus monsters, the angry hot sun, whirlwinds, and all the usual sorts of adventuresome things you might find in a desert. And what is always there in the background, scrolling along or on each side of the map as you wind your way through? Pyramids. Lots of pyramids. Some games even include levels inside of scary pyramids, usually inhabited by a mummy of some sort. It’s obviously all a cartoonish reference to ancient Egypt. It can’t possibly be anything else.
But now for the music. What is deserty music? Something middle eastern, right? Sure. So what have many of the Mario games features in the soundtrack over the years? Wait for it… sitar. The East Indian sitar and tabla drums. Now in case you are geographically challenged, India doesn’t have squat to do with Egypt, pyramids, or the Sahara desert. It is thousands of miles to the east and inhabited by Hindi people of an entirely different genealogical and cultural line as that of northern Africa or the Arabian peninsula. The time is also all out of whack too. The great Pharaohs who built the pyramids and filled them with creepy mummies lived in antiquity. We are talking 2000 BC and such. The sitar is not an ancient Indian folk instrument of a similar era, but rather a relatively modern development from 18th century eastern classical music. The sitar really came in to common use about the time Bach was writing his violin concertos and organ works in Germany. True story.
The following recording is a great example of what I’m talking about with the Mario soundtracks. This one is from the “Dusty Dunes Galaxy”.
I’m probably not the first person to point this out. Also, don’t think that by doing so I am critical of the eclectic combination. I am not! I love Mario. I love the desert motif, and I really dig the sitar music. It’s all great! But, I’m sure someone out there has made the casual assumption that if you were to go to Egypt and see the pyramids, you might hear some sitar music in the market. Absolutely not. An oud or shawm or a solo singer maybe, but definitely no sitars.
One question I have is, given Mario’s vast popularity, has this strange association rubbed off into other forms of media? Are there movies set in the desert featuring sitars in the soundtrack? Those sorts of musical associations can be hard to separate, especially once made in youth.