Resurrection Life, NOW!
Indianapolis First Friends Quaker Meeting
Pastor Bob Henry
April 2, 2019
On July 5, 2009 – nearly a decade ago already (I can’t believe how time flies) – I attended a one-of-a-kind conference for pastors in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It was strangely unique in several ways. First, it had an interesting title, “Poets, Prophets, and Preachers.” The main speakers were three up-and-coming thinkers, authors, and pastors of our day - Shane Hipps, Peter Rollins, and Rob Bell – who have each become voices for change in the way we do pastoral ministry today. The focus of the conference was to help pastors take an in depth look at “the art of reclaiming the sermon.”
At the time, I don’t think I knew how important this conference would be for my life and ministry. To this day, I still remember many of the teachings and experiences I had – almost as if they happened yesterday – and to my surprise much of what I learned is still applicable today.
This conference not only shook many of my ministry paradigms, it also had me questioning many aspects of ministry that I had never even explored.
On the final night the writer, philosopher, storyteller and public speaker, Peter Rollins was speaking, I will never forget how he concluded the evening by talking about practicing the resurrection. He concluded by sharing a parable his friend wrote as he left church one day...it went like this…
“I dreamt that I died and I went to heaven and St. Peter was there. He opened the gates to welcome me in. “How great to see you!”
He said, “I was just about to step into heaven, then I noticed some of my friends were there. Some of them Atheists, some of them Buddhists, and some of them “God-knows-what.” He said, “St. Peter, what about my friends?”
St. Peter says, “Well, you know the rules. You know the rules”
And then his friend said, “I thought of my reference point. Jesus the outsider…Jesus the drunkard…Jesus the bastard…the friend of sinners…Jesus the one who would always stay with those who were oppressed.”
And he said, “You know what…I’ll just stay out here with them.
And the parable ends with St. Peter breaking a smile and saying “AT LAST, AT LAST, YOU UNDERSTAND!”
Even though this was a powerful parable, Rollins concluded this story with a more personal story. At a speaking engagement, he was asked a question about if he denied the resurrection of Jesus. This is how Peter Rollins responded,
Without equivocation or hesitation I fully and completely admit that I deny the resurrection of Christ. This is something that anyone who knows me could tell you, and I am not afraid to say it publicly, no matter what some people may think. [And then he paused.]
He held the pause long enough for some people in the room to literally gasp and concerned whispers to be heard. Honestly, I was a bit in shock myself (thinking did he just say that) and readying for people to begin leaving. Then without missing a beat Peter Rollins continued by saying...
I deny the resurrection of Christ every time I do not serve at the feet of the oppressed, each day that I turn my back on the poor; I deny the resurrection of Christ when I close my ears to the cries of the downtrodden and lend my support to an unjust and corrupt system.
However, there are moments when I affirm that resurrection, few and far between as they are. I affirm it when I stand up for those who are forced to live on their knees, when I speak for those who have had their tongues torn out, when I cry for those who have no more tears left to shed.
The emotion in that auditorium was overwhelming. Some people gave Peter Rollins a standing ovation, while others sighed in relief. I remember myself beginning to physically shake (or maybe I was Quaking – even though it was before I became a convinced Quaker) and the tears rolled down my face. My friend sitting next to me was weeping as well. The power of those words along with what I believe is the power of the resurrection transformed that auditorium and not a single one of us left the same as we had entered.
I believe I can say that I experienced the transformational power of Christ’s Resurrection with the people in that room in a special way. About five or six years later, I ran into one of the guys that I sat with that night and we reminisced about hearing those words of Peter Rollins and how it had such a huge impact on our lives. He agreed it was life giving and life altering.
The proof that God raised Jesus from the dead is not the empty tomb, but the full hearts of his transformed disciples. The crowning evidence that he lives is not a vacant grave, but a spirit-filled fellowship. Not a rolled-away stone, but a carried-away church.
[Read it again]
That is exactly how I felt that night in Grand Rapids – I was a transformed disciple, part of a spirit-filled fellowship and a carried-away church. I was armed and ready to bring resurrection life to my world.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that the resurrection story isn’t important in the Bible, nor am I saying that there aren’t other ways to look at the Biblical story of Jesus’ Resurrection that are not important as well, what I am saying is like Peter Rollins and Clarence Jordan, we need to see the Resurrection of Jesus in ways that pertain to us bringing NEW LIFE and HOPE into our world, TODAY. I don’t think Jesus intended it for just his day nor for simply when we die.
Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan in their book, “The Last Week” (which I have referenced on several occasions this past “Holy Week”) make a good point about going one step further with what you believe about Jesus’ resurrection. They say,
If you believe the tomb to be empty, fine, now what does this story mean? If you believe that Jesus’ appearances could have been videotaped, fine, now, what do these stories mean? And if you are not quite sure about that, or even if you are quite sure it didn’t happen this way, fine, now what do these stories mean?
This reminds me of my upbringing in the Lutheran Church where I was taught to ask the question “What does this mean?” at every juncture. If you read Luther’s Small or Large Catechism you will see why…because after every belief statement made it is followed up by the question “What does this mean?”
And let’s be honest, that may be one of the most important queries for us as Quakers to be asking of our faith and understanding, today. What does this all mean?
“What does this resurrection of Jesus mean to me?” “What does the resurrection of Jesus mean to the world around us? What does the resurrection mean to people who need a new take on life?
If the Resurrection of Jesus doesn’t have some type of continued impact on us today and we are not seeking out its meaning in our daily lives, I think we miss the full impact of the resurrection in our life.
I believe the Resurrection of Jesus is more than an event 2000+ years ago, it is more than a simple transaction creating a ticket to heaven when we die, or the possibility of living again someday after we die. Rather it is about the ongoing resurrection all around us and what I consider the daily resurrection life. Resurrection changes everything.
The early Christians talked all the time about the Resurrection Life and its importance. Like in Romans 5:10-22 where it states…
"If, when we were at our worst, we were put on friendly terms with God by the sacrificial death of His Son. Now that we're at our best, just think of how our lives will expand and deepen by means of His resurrection life! Now that we have actually received this amazing friendship with God, we are no longer content to simply say it in plodding prose. We sing and shout our praises to God through Jesus, the Messiah!"
Or Romans 8:14
"God's Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go! This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It's adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike 'What's next, Papa?'"
Or as Paul emphatically explaining the importance of this to the people in Corinth,
Do you think I was just trying to act heroic when I fought the wild beasts at Ephesus, hoping it wouldn't be the end of me? Not on your life! It's resurrection, resurrection, always resurrection, that undergirds what I do and say, the way I live." 1 Corinthians 15: 32.
Ponder for a moment… (on back of your bulletin)
What does the Resurrection of Jesus Christ mean to you, today?
Are you only holding on to what it meant 2000+ years ago, or what it meant in the Bible?
How is Christ’s resurrection still transforming you and the lives around you? How is Christ filling us with the Spirit and carrying us together away to action?
My answer to those queries co-mingle the thoughts of Rollins, Jordan, the Apostle Paul, and Jesus. Folks, it is about living out the resurrection in our daily lives – in the present moment, as much as it is a future hope. And maybe that is because resurrection is about transformation from death to life – not just after we physically die, but after each death we face on this planet. We are surrounded by death all the time – failures, struggles, losses, you name it…they create death all around us.
Marcus Borg says it this way,
[For Jesus] God was the central reality of his life and the kingdom of God was the center of his message. The kingdom of God was not about heaven, not about life after death, but about the transformation of life on earth, as the Lord’s Prayer affirms. It is not about “Take us to heaven when we die,” but about “Your kingdom come on earth” – as already in heaven. The kingdom of God on earth was about God’s passion – and Jesus’s passion – for the transformation of “this world”: the humanly created world of injustice and violence into a world of justice and nonviolence.
That sounds like a charge for us Quakers. As we respond to the resurrection life, as we expand and deepen our understanding, as we are beckoned by God to go, as we sense the adventure in bringing freedom, hope, peace, and life to a world filled with violence and injustice. May our response be as St. Paul’s…
It's resurrection, resurrection, always resurrection, that undergirds what I do and say, the way I live! Amen!