Harrowing Of Hell
April 1, 2018

Resurrection News

Preacher: The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.

My son, Desmond, got into high school. We are proud of him, but, I must say we anticipated this…he has been trending toward high school since kindergarten.

Here is the interesting thing… once he was accepted everything changed. It was as if he stepped into high school before he walked through the doors. It is like that guy at work who announces his retirement and then starts wearing Hawaiian shirts every day.

It’s not that Desmond has checked out. It is just that he has this new, exciting framework through which to view his future. His high school status is really just a piece of news, as nothing has really changed. Desmond still has to go to his current school and do his homework. He still loves social studies and history and is less enthusiastic about science. He still has to ride the bus, and walk the dog, and make his bed. And yet, something is different, something is new…it is a piece of good news that Desmond likes to share.

Everyone likes sharing good news…isn’t that true? Don’t you like sharing good news in your life? And in our culture good news about school is generally well received, because academics are a lens, a framework, through which many of us believe hope and possibility meet their greatest potential.

And sometimes that is true and sometimes that is not true. Sometime people win at school and become college professors; and sometimes people lose at school and dropout; and become homeless; or rock stars; or founders of companies.

But the idolatry of school isn’t the point of this sermon; the point of this sermon is how news changes us, and how news, in this case resurrection news, becomes the framework through which we view the world.

I think it is easy to forget that the resurrection of Jesus is news, pure and simple. It is the announcement of something that happened. Too often people think (the church included at times), that resurrection is religion, or a moral code, or a vending machine from which to buy a Barcalounger in heaven.

But resurrection is not a new religion, though it taps into the divine; it is not a piece of advice, though it does outline a moral code; it is not an eternal retirement plan; though it may prepare us for a heavenly Barcalounger.

All of this morality and religion and life-after-death stuff is good, but it is a secondary by-product, a lesser frame, if you will, that is best understood through the reality that Jesus rose from the dead. That is the news. That is the announcement we remember today.

Now this news promotes an idea that can be hard to get our minds around, because resurrection doesn’t fit into any category of our thinking. It doesn’t fit into history, or science, or math. It doesn’t fit into cosmology, or cosmetology, or psychology, or the big bang. It doesn’t meet an economic model, or an artistic aesthetic, or a political paradigm.

At best resurrection has legacy in Biblical prophecy, but that is only helpful for those who know the Bible or give it any authority. And so, to many, maybe even some in this room today, resurrection is just foolishness, which is why so many smart people don’t believe in it; and yet, a lot of really smart people do believe in it.

This discrepancy has to do with frameworks for thinking, and the priority they take in one’s life. If the resurrection is your primary framework, if it is the primary lens through which you view the world, then it is easily to incorporate other frameworks like science and education and capitalism and democracy, and any artistic aesthetic under the rubric of God’s love. Because the resurrection framework is designed to help all other frameworks become their best selves.

And yet, resurrection doesn’t fit into the framework. It cannot be understood through the lens of science or education or capitalism or democracy, or a particular artistic aesthetic. The Creator cannot be squeezed into the thing that was made. And so, people who have a primary framework other than God’s love, often end up not believing in God at all, because they can’t make God fit into their worldview.
Hence the discrepancy between smart people. It is a framework priority thing.

I’ll give you an example of how this framework hierarchy plays out. I heard an interview with Jimmy Carter the other day. He is a pretty smart guy, who has seen a lot. He is now 93 and a survivor of brain cancer…and he still teaches Sunday school at his neighborhood church. You’d think he could find something better to do, but he seems to think that is pretty important…go figure.

Anyway, he was asked: “If you could put up a sign in the Oval Office for Donald Trump to read every day, and hopefully influence his thinking, what would it be?” And without a moment’s hesitation President Carter replied: “Be ye kind, to one another. (Eph 4:32) Or maybe,” he continued, “Love one another.” (John 13:34)

With these simple statements, President Carter modeled how our political system can find its better self within the framework of God’s love.

I’ll give you another example. Let’s use an issue, like immigration. The person seeking to fit God into their lesser framework might claim: “I have a God given right to this country, and illegal immigrant don’t.” I’ve heard something similar to this on NPR. While a person seeking to fit immigration into God’s framework might say: “I am advocating for a particular policy as a way of ‘loving my neighbor as myself.’” The first statement is trying to fit God into national identity; while the second is trying to fit policy into a divine precept.

Let me be a Christian apologist for a minute: when you hear someone defending a political position in the name of God, remember today’s sermon, and understand that what they may be trying to do is squeeze God into their lesser framework. President Carter was doing just the opposite as he sought to put our political system under the rubric of God’s love.

C. S. Lewis says this about the Christian framework: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

As the news of resurrection spread two thousand years ago, people changed as they realized that God could hold the entire world within God’s self. This reality freed them from the tyranny of lesser frameworks.

What happened as this Good News spread was it unleashed the power and wisdom of God; a power and wisdom that gave people startling clarity, and a shocking sense of themselves, and a wild transforming confidence in their own capacity for grace and love.

It was as if they were given a new way of being human beings. They were freed from systems that bound them. They were freed from the stone statues they worshiped, though they still appreciated art; They were freed from the idol of wealth, though many remained wealthy; They were freed from the desire for prestige, though many became wildly popular; They were freed from a particular political paradigm, though they still participated in politics; They were maybe even freed from the idol of good grades, though they still, I imagine, studied hard.

It is not that these systems went away. It is that they were tucked into the better system of a present God in the person of Jesus, under the framework of God’s eternal and personal love. That is what resurrection news states: that God is eternally present with us, and personally loves us. And this news, this power and wisdom, inspired many to be their best selves.

Many people, billions and billions of people have known this; even in this country, which is why we mark our currency: “In God We Trust.”

Resurrection is God’s way of saying: I know you; I care for you; I am here with you; I got you; I love you.

You fit in the world that God made. Your ideas and your ways of doing things fit into God’s creation–especially when you are seeking your best self. And while resurrection may be a bit hard to understand…while it may be at the edge of our comprehension…that’s OK; it’s Good News anyway.