Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Grown-Up Jesus

         There are things I used to believe when I was young: For every question in life there was one right answer; I could do anything; my father was not very smart; everybody would naturally like me; and probably… just probably, I was secretly the heir to the British throne and my parents were really just foster parents.

         As I grew up, I had to learn some hard truths: Don and Joyce in Sparks, Nevada were my real parents; no matter what I do, amazingly, not everyone is going to like me; my father was actually pretty smart; I have limits: limits of strength and stamina and interest – I can't do everything. I actually need other people, and; for every question in life there are probably somewhere between five and a hundred right answers. And my right answer doesn't have to be yours.

         I spent a lot of time thinking about God when I was young. I fell in love with the baby Jesus in the manger, and the young boy Jesus asking questions and listening to answers in the Temple, and gentle Jesus who was the kind and good Shepherd. Because I loved Him, in a few short years I decided I would follow Him always because: If you follow God you'd always be happy; bad things only happen to sinners; if I just prayed hard enough and long enough God would fix anything for me… the way I wanted it fixed, and; I would always be a good person.

         But then as I grew older, what I was actually experiencing in my life didn't match these beliefs: I wasn't always happy; I saw bad things happening to good people… and people I loved died; There were things in my life that I prayed hard and long about that never changed; and I learned I was not always a good person. I learned I could be cruel and thoughtless and selfish.

         Slowly, without realizing it, the boy Jesus was no longer enough for me. Jesus the kind and good Shepherd was no longer enough for me. The questions I was facing in my life were too hard. I had grown up… and I needed a grown-up Jesus. I'll bet you experienced the exact same thing in your life as you grew up.

         The same kind of thing happened to Jesus' disciples. There were things they used to believe. They used to think that it mattered which of them was the greatest and Jesus rebuked them in Mark 9:
         He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’
         They believed Jesus would never experience defeat or suffering as He foretold in Matthew 26:
         And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’
         Once Jesus was dead, they thought the story was done… and then Jesus approached them on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:
         They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place.’
         Yes, the disciples had some beliefs they had to grow out of. They had to grow up pretty fast in the last three days of what we now call Holy Week. What they thought they knew about life and death and power was turned upside down. They learned bad things happen to good people too. They learned that they were not always good people… they deserted him… they denied him. They learned they should've listened to the women. The four gospels were written for four very different Christian communities over a 30- to 40-year period, and in each one of them the women are named as witnesses to the resurrection.

         But they also learned they did not have to be afraid anymore. In John 20, they learned they had power within themselves to lead:
         … the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’
         They had to learn that however things appeared on the surface, God was still in control.

         The disciples needed a grown-up Jesus. I need a grown up Jesus. We all need a grown-up Jesus: A Jesus who really knows what it means to suffer, a grown-up Jesus who knows what it is to lose someone they love, a Jesus who knows what it feels like to be afraid. We all need a Jesus who knows what it feels like when the plans you made for your life burn to the ground and you're sifting through the ashes wondering what in heaven’s name you are going to do next.

         Only in the Gospel of Matthew do we find the story of Jesus' death and resurrection framed by two great earthquakes: One when he died on Friday, and one when the stone was rolled away on Sunday. The disciples were quaking and afraid, locked in that upper room, and Jesus came to them and told them they no longer needed to be afraid. You see, the rules were changed on Easter morning. No longer would death have the last word. No longer would suffering be all there was. No longer would human beings have to live in fear because Jesus – the grown-up Jesus –had overcome all of these things! He pulled back the curtain and showed us that no matter what the world throws at us, no matter how we suffer, we are not alone. By rising again he showed us that love cannot be conquered. Bracketed between two physical earthquakes the greatest earthquake of all time – Jesus' resurrection – changed everything. Our world has never been the same.

         Two thousand years have come and gone since the sun began to rise over old Jerusalem and the women came to the tomb that Easter morning. Two thousand years have come and gone since the Angel of God dressed in lightning rolled away the stone and tough battle-hardened Roman guards fell to the ground in mortal terror. Two thousand years have come and gone since they tried to make sure Jesus never walked this earth again, but they failed… and he stepped into that locked upper room and said, "Peace be with you."

     Two thousand years have come and gone, and yet, the resurrection is still being reported by people who've been able to catch a glimpse of the risen Jesus in the midst of human life. He has been seen in the streets of Port-au-Prince, Haiti in the eyes of those who suffer. He has been seen in the compassion shown by neighbors helping others during the recent fifteen-state tornado devastation. He has been heard in the cries for justice and basic human rights and dignity for all of God's children that have echoed from every corner of our globe: From Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Theresa in India
to Martin Luther King in America to Aung San Suu Kyi in modern-day Myanmar. Sometimes it's just a glimpse: A look, a brief moment. Sometimes just his hands appear. And they say those hands look remarkably like yours and mine.


  1. Rick, this is a lovely sermon. I wish I could hear you preach.

    A Blessed and Happy Easter to you.

  2. Thank you so much, Grandmère! I'm glad it touched you. Happy Easter to you and Grandpère!

  3. This is an excellent sermon, indeed! Thank you, and bless you Rick+

    hah! wv: nonbeabi

    yah --he's a follow of the grown-up Jesus type --a nonbeabi!


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