s104g97 Somerton Park 30/3/97 Easter Sunday
"they ... fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid". Mark 16.8
So ends the account Mark gives us of Jesus' life and death. Later editors have added to the original manuscript a variety of accounts of the resurrection appearances. The most interesting one for me is in verse 12, when it is stated: "After this he appeared in another form to two of them as they were walking into the country ..." Clearly the ways Jesus appeared to people after his resurrection differed. We can assume that this is true still. He is not at all limited by our notions even of consistency.
I choose this particular text because it portrays dramatically the first reaction people had to the resurrection. The women, totally bewildered, ran away and kept quiet about what they had seen. They even forgot what the young man had told them to do - tell his disciples and Peter.
When one looks at the accounts of Jesus resurrection, the majority are in fact the same. There is but one statement made about the disciples actually getting out and about, spreading the good news that Jesus was risen. But other than this one reference, all the rest speak of the confusion and unbelief of the disciples, them wondering about what was befall others and themselves, and accepting the food Jesus offered them to eat. As he had been right from the beginning, Jesus was still in charge, doing things for them.
Only those editors who added to Mark gospel is there one positive response to Jesus' resurrection noted. In verse 20: "They went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere" but even this is with the grace of God, for it is immediately followed by the words: "while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it". From start to finish, the good news is of God's actions in the world. It is never our response to it. Humanity consistently then and still even now finds the proclamation of the gospel something that we find very difficult.
This is the reason I have little time for a style of enthusiastic evangelism which has all the answers - be they all ever so orthodox and scriptural answers - which has the attitude that the real problem facing Christianity is the reluctance of Christians to evangelize. Sadly they have all the right answers to all the wrong questions.
After 20 odd years in the Church, evangelism has always been presented to me as easy - we only have to do it. In reality evangelism is not just difficult, it is impossible - for us. True evangelism is what God does, while we by and large stand on the side-lines flat-footed.
Because so many in the Church have this misconception that evangelism is easy, and what we do - suddenly there comes a whole lot of pressure on Christians. There is pressure on clergy to be powerful preachers. There is pressure on lay people to be effective in their open welcoming attitude to others. There is this ever present pressure to perform - to be successful.
I have felt that pressure ever since I was ordained. Hierarchies are built on exerting that pressure. It is particularly effectively exercised when there is a general perception that the church is declining. Indeed those exercising that pressure often think they are being very effective in God's service.
Prior to Theological College, I studied electrical engineering, and the basic skill of an engineer is to actually find out the precise question which was being asked. No matter how correct the answer 7 is to the question: what is 4 + 3? if the question is actually 4 x 3 the answer 7 will always be wrong. In reality the most difficult part of most problems is finding out what the question actually is. Once that is determined, then the answer, far more often than not, just follows. How many errors are made in examinations for the simple reason that the student hasn't read the question properly! I know only too well - I've done it often enough myself. In fact examinations are as much a measure of a person's ability to cope with the stress than a test of a person's knowledge.
The skill of an engineer has never been to know all the answers, but the ability to discern the right question and to then know where to find the answer.
I have no doubt at all that the love of Jesus is the answer to every question, yet that love must be felt by the person concerned. No matter how much rational arguments are put to people, when God touches their lives that the good news is felt and the reality of the gospel becomes plain.
Let us take courage this Easter that God is alive and well. He still comes in different ways to different people, and despite all to the contrary he is still in charge of his disciples. We remain a rather motley bunch. Motley may we be or not, Jesus changes lives still, and this surely is good news. The resurrection means that he couldn't be confined to the grave, and so he can't be confined to the grave, then or now.
We need to act as if this is in fact true. As if it is a present reality and not a pleasant fact worthy of passing historical interest. If our evangelism is based solely on what we must do then Jesus for all our pious words is effectively sidelined. We, and of course I mean the Church, get in the way.
I recall reading some time back the little book: "The Te of Piglet" which is a companion volume of "The Tao of Pooh", both by Benjamin Hoff. Often when one reads books from a stand point other than the Christian faith, one gets an interesting insight into how others perceive the Church. Hoff writes from a Taoist viewpoint. Towards the end of this delightful book he states "many will cling to seemingly powerful we're-God's-chosen-people religions ... not recognizing that ... the Infinite Universal Power is far more than the narrow-minded gatekeeper of an exclusive Spiritual Country Club" (p 250).
How often do I say at funerals that Jesus doesn't stand between us and God keeping people away from him - those who don't believe, those who don't believe enough, or those who don't believe the right things. Every time! No, Jesus is the way the truth and the life, and no one comes to the Father but by him - precisely because he stands by each and everyone - all who would come into the closer presence of our loving and heavenly Father - to help them on the way.
But it is not just at the hour of our death that Jesus is active. The path to the closer presence of our Heavenly Father begins in this life, in the here and now. Similarly Jesus is active here and now, in our lives, as he helps us on the way.
This is the resurrection faith, and the most effective way of proclaiming it is to allow it to continue to happen in our lives. To let God continue to do things as he wills. To continue to let go and let God. He can be as much in charge or as little in charge as we let him. But if we want to remain in charge, we will show no one anything of his life at all.
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