So my wife sent me a link to this video on youtube, which at first glance probably sounds like its going to be hokey, but bear with me. Check out this Lego Easter video, its really good.
Christ is risen indeed!
I remember growing up a number of films that were aired as television specials leading up to or on Easter. One of the most featured Easter films is one of my all time favorites, Ben Hur, starring Charlton Heston. This classic film won eleven Academy Awards, including Best Picture (1959), and is famously known for its epic chariot race.
What is often not know about this monumental film is that it is based on a novel, written in 1880 by an American Union general, Lew Wallace, entitled “Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ”. It is the “Tale of the Christ” post-script that catches me off guard. This post script seems ironic since the book is almost entirely about Judah ben Hur (played by Heston), and the ups and downs of his life in first century Roman Palestine.
And yet Judah’s life keeps intersecting with Jesus’ life. In one of the most moving scenes ever, Judah, who has been wrongfully arrested for a crime he did not commit, is being marched with a chain gang to row as a slave on a Roman warship. Exhausted, beaten, and thirsty, the gang collapses by a well in a village square. The village is none other than Nazareth. The local carpenter walks out, and Judah, who is denied water by the centurion guard, calls out, “God, help me”. A breath later a shadow falls over him, and it is that of Jesus. God answered his prayer, and in Jesus, God reaches down, lifts his head and gives him water. Powerful!
So, this Easter I have two Gospel truths for you to contemplate, which come to us from Scripture via the inimitable film Ben Hur. First, on the surface it appears that Judah’s life is going about its ups and downs and he keeps ‘bumping into Jesus’. But the dawning reality by the film’s end is not that Jesus’ life is intersecting with Judah’s, but rather the story of Judah’s life is being caught up in the much larger, grander story of Jesus’ life – The Tale of the Christ, that is, the Gospel. The message of Easter is not, “How can I fit God into my life?” but rather, “Through Christ my life is fit into God’s!”
And secondly, Easter tells us that God did not come to earth as a human just to make things out of wood (even if, according to Mel Gibson, they were new, trend-setting tables!). He came to heal a broken world. He came not just to give water to the thirsty, but to be a spring of living water, welling up to everlasting life (see John 4:13-14). And the Well of Everlasting Life is Jesus’ death on the Cross whose cleansing waters rinse away sin and guilt and fear. The Spring of Eternal Water bursting through the dry ground is his Resurrection from the Dead. So this Easter drink the Living Water of our Savior Jesus. And also watch Ben Hur.
So after the last few theologically oriented, substantial postings, I thought it would be good to turn to something lighter. A lot lighter. Like aerogel lighter. I came across this video looking for an updated link to a video in an older post on my blog and couldn't resist sharing, especially since it is a spoof on the classic arcade game Street Fighter II. (click here to see actual game footage if you don't know the game to compare and get the most out of the spoof). I grew up playing Street Fighter II like a maniac and I was good. Like ran-the-arcade-game-for-three-hours-on-one-quarter-taking-on-all-comers good. My apologies to our Pentecostal brothers for whom this video pokes a bit of fun, but I think you will find it low brow enough to not to be too offended, but corney enough to warrant a chuckle, even if you are a fan of Benny Hin.
Customer satisfaction. It’s a given in our culture. Companies and businesses go to significant lengths to ensure their customers are satisfied. If you call with a question you do not speak to ‘customer service’, if you are fortunate to actually talk to a person these days it is with a ‘customer satisfaction specialist’. The reason: satisfied customers come back, and it is a key part of business models and a force in our economy. Satisfaction guaranteed.
However, there is also a much stronger and much more subtle force at work in our world, one which we are likely unaware. In fact I was not even aware of it until a few weeks ago when a parishioner loaned me a biography of Charles F. Kettering, the innovative and indefatigable inventor and engineer of Dayton, after whom the town of Kettering is named. In this biography, Boss Kettering: Wizard of General Motors, there is a chapter called “Customer Dissatisfaction”. In it, Kettering establishes the concept that the auto industry would succeed financially only if their customers were actually perpetually dissatisfied. Not in the sense customers were to be unhappy with the cars they bought, and certainly not that Kettering wanted to make a substandard product. His point being that the industry needed to tap into people’s desire to want something better than what they already had – to be ‘dissatisfied’ with what they currently owned in order to want the next, newer version. Thus Kettering was instrumental in establishing the auto industry practice of cranking out a new model version every single year. What is remarkable is that Kettering was making these observations and arguments some 90 years ago.
Kettering’s point reveals that we live in a constant state of dissatisfaction. How many times do we buy something new, not because the current version we have is broken or defective, but simply because a newly innovated, updated version has just come out? Retail therapy anyone? How much energy and resources do industries and businesses put towards sustaining and tapping into our innate sense of dissatisfaction, convincing us we must have things we don’t really need. What I find most striking is that many of us are consciously unaware of this sense of dissatisfaction.
While this sense of dissatisfaction is readily connected to technology, it is nothing new, nor limited only to
commercial consumption. Religion falls prey to dissatisfaction as we seek newer ways to get a better “God-experience”. Even in the ancient world people were keen to 1-up to the next religious idea or fad. Such was the case in the city of Colossae, to which St. Paul wrote a letter guiding them to not fall prey to the latest philosophies and religious ideas that were part of the first century spiritual stew of the Roman Empire.
Paul admonishes the Colossians to make sure that “no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition” (2:8). He wanted them to not chase after religious practices and observances to be better Christians, and so feed their sense of dissatisfaction. Instead he urges them to be satisfied with Jesus Christ. In Colossians Paul gives us some of the grandest and richest descriptions of Christ in all the New Testament. “For in him all the fullness of God was please to dwell” (1:19). There is no one greater than Jesus, the God-Man, and nothing sweeter than his Gospel, and yet, as Augustine pointed out, “Our hearts are restless, until they rest in Thee.” Learning to be satisfied in life is a constant challenge, and certainly part of our life of faith we are to learn to be satisfied with God’s saving grace in Christ. During July we will be reading through Paul’s letter to the Colossians. May we heed its glorious presentation of Jesus Christ, and learn from its sacred message to die to our dissatisfaction and trust in and be satisfied with Christ alone – for all else will leave us wanting.
Crux sola est nostra theologia – the Cross alone is our theology. This phrase was coined by Martin Luther, the great Protestant Reformer, almost five hundred years ago. Not that the Cross is the only thing Christians ever think about, far from it, but Luther’s point is that a right understanding of the Cross of Jesus (that is, his death, resurrection, and ascension) is essential to understanding Christianity. Luther pointed out that in the realm of ideas, of philosophies, literature, culture, religions and spiritualities, there are essentially one of two stories being told. The first is what he called a theology of glory, which is characterized by the upward struggle of the soul to attain to righteousness. A theology of glory appeals to our own sense of accomplishment, and while admitting we may not be perfect, seeks to spur us on to bigger and better things. When this theology of glory is applied to the Christian Gospel, the result is often simply Good Advice, rather than Good News. It ultimately leads us to ruin because the glory story fails to account for our inability to attain to that which it points, even if what we are striving for is good.
Contrasting this theology of glory is what Luther calls a theology of the cross. In this story sinners do not climb to heaven, but rather Heaven comes down to earth as a Perfect Person, Jesus Christ, who alone is able to rescue and save sinners. The story of the cross does not appeal to our sense of accomplishment, instead it holds up a mirror to our true nature and reveals out innate need of a Savior. This is at the same time horrible and life giving. Horrible because it shows that, as the old Prayer Book confessions put it, ‘there is no health in us’. It calls a spade a spade.
It is life-giving because in the Gospel a message is given to sin-sick souls that something has already been done to cleanse, forgive, restore, justify, and ultimately glorify them. The rub is that we sinners had nothing to do with it, and we just don’t like that part! That is why it is by God’s grace. In his letter to the Galatians, St. Paul declares, “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness came through the Law, then Christ died for nothing” (2:21).To put it in Luther’s terminology, if the Glory Story worked, then we have no need of Jesus on the Cross. If we are helpless, and can see our own helplessness, then we have every need of a crucified and risen Savior.
The cross story creates faith in Christ, the glory story creates faith in ourselves.
As we enter the season of Pentecost, the longest season of the church year, our worship orients itself to the ongoing work of Christ through the Holy Spirit. Those who are in Christ are led by his Spirit to preach the Gospel, heal the sick, pray together, sing together, live together, and learn together. It is perhaps fitting that during the first part of Pentecost, through June and July, we will be reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians. This short letter is packed with the Apostle’s fiery explanation of the importance of the theology of the Cross. The work of the Spirit of life and freedom brings our life and our story into the story of the Cross, not the other way around (which is the glory story). “For I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live but it is Christ who lives in me; the life I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loves me and gave his life for me” (2:20).
Luther's ideas did not arise in a vacuum, but from reading Scripture and having a gift at distilling the concepts of the Bible in clear terms. If you have never read Galatians, give it a shot. If you have, try reading it again and see if you can track with Paul's thinking regarding a theology of glory versus a theology of the cross. Crux sola est nostra theologia.
I came across a very interesting quote from, of all people, Lucille Ball:
"Knowing what you can't do is much more important than knowing what you can."
Quite a profound thing to say. We readily hone our skills, know our strengths, and play to those strengths. And while this is all certainly good (who goes to a job interview and hopes to share with their prospective employer what they can't do), I believe one of the hardest things to do in life, and one of the gifts of maturing, is to know with clarity and honesty what you simply can't do, and not live in denial, but to make peace with what you can't do.
This is true in life as it is true with God. We simply can not by our own efforts commend ourselves to God. A tough pill to swallow, but embracing this reality opens the door to faith in the One who Can. The gap between us and God has not been filled by our efforts, we Can't, but by Jesus who Can. He has met all of God's righteous requirements, has not failed, and loved to the last and paid the price of blood for those who Can't.
What the Gospel does is it not only frees us from running from our failures, but also through Christ means we no longer are defined by what we Can't Do. Trusting in Christ doesn't mean that you automatically become a superhero who can do anything you put your mind to. What it means is that your are loved in the face of your failure not because you have succeeded. And that will in fact change you.
So for a guy who likes beer, and even brews his own, and is a Mac user (no, not a crazy, over-the-top-Mac-is-my-Master Mac user, I just have a computer that happens to be Mac. And an iPhone. And an iPod. But hey who doesn't these days anway. Where was I. Oh, right, beer). So for a guy who likes Macs and brews his own beer, this video was for me - maybe I should get an iPad after all. Enjoy!