One of the great joys of preparing to preach each week is spending time reading and reflecting on the text(s) from the Bible on which the sermon will focus, as well as the thoughts of others that relate to the text(s). This also is the root of one of the great challenges of preparing to preach each week: trying to whittle down what could be said to what should be said. At least in my experience, most weeks I could say far more than I actually have time to say, far more than could be received even by those with the greatest attention span, far more than can be reasonably be digested and put into practice.
I’m thinking this might be a good space to share from time to time some of what I am unable to include in my sermons. Perhaps this will even create space for some dialogue so that the sermon might be a bit more of a conversation starter than a monologue.
Sunday’s sermon began in Matthew 16:21-26, in which Jesus warns his disciples of his coming death and tells them those who desire to be his disciples must take up their cross and follow him. From there, the sermon rehearsed the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection and in so doing attempted to explore the ways in which these pivotal moments shape the way we hear and respond to the invitation at the heart of Jesus’ ministry, “Come follow me.”
Given the aim of the sermon, I didn’t spend a great deal of time dwelling on the resurrection story. The main idea I wanted to emphasize regarding that narrative was the way the resurrection ought to give us courage to heed Jesus’ call to take up the cross, rather than being afraid of what might happen if we do.
One of the difficulties we often run into when discussing the story of Jesus’ resurrection is skepticism of its authenticity and truthfulness. Unfortunately many Christians only add to the difficulty by trying in vain to prove the story’s authenticity and truthfulness, especially as it concerns what we might call “the afterlife.” There are many reasons Christians ought to consider a different approach to responding to such skepticism, and there are many different alternative approaches they could take. Perhaps there’s no better reason to consider a different approach than that the earliest followers of Jesus did not take this approach.
N.T. Wright, in his stellar book Simply Christian, writes this about the earliest followers of Jesus:
“[I]nterestingly, none of the resurrection stories in the gospels or in [Acts] speaks of the event proving that some kind of afterlife exists. They all say, instead: ‘If Jesus has been raised, that means that God’s new world, God’s kingdom, has indeed arrived; and that means we have a job to do. The world must hear what the God of Israel, the creator God, has achieved through his Messiah.'” (115)
For the earliest followers of Jesus, the resurrection provided a script to be lived, a way to walk through life. It was more than a theory, more than an idea. It changed not just the way they thought about the future, it changed the way they lived in the present.
If only those of us doing our best to follow Jesus today could give up our efforts at providing proof (that we’ll never be able to provide) and instead demonstrate the power and the wonder of the resurrection by the way we live our lives.