Resuscitation or Resurrection
Through the years a favorite TV show of our three boys is "Star Trek." Besides watching reruns of "Gilliganís Island" and "Brady Bunch," they watched "Star Trek," the same episodes over and over. Even now as adults, when we are together as a family and a "Star Trek" rerun is on, they gather in front of the TV and have a contest to see who can name the episode first. I sit there mystified as the program barely gets started, usually the first glimpse of the first scene, when someone hollers out the name and plot of the episode. Would that they knew the Bible as well!
I must admit that even I find "Star Trek" entertaining. I think "Star Trek" became and remains popular because it touches that adventure spirit in most of us to seek new worlds to conquer, new places to visit, new things to see; the thrill of going somewhere where no other human has ever been. Also, the "Star Trek" heroes are aliens, foreigners in strange lands, and that touches the feeling in most of us that we donít quite belong here--that we are, in the last analysis, aliens on this planet. I especially enjoyed the movie, "Star Trek IV" where the heroes go back in time and visit San Francisco in the 1960s, where they quickly discover they are aliens.
My message this Easter morning is to affirm that questing, frontier, pioneering spirit in you and tell you there is a new world out there, a new existence with new possibilities and new adventures, called the kingdom of God; and to affirm that indeed you and I are aliens on this planet, for our true home is with God.
My text this morning, from the suggested epistle lesson for today, is Colossians 3:1-2, "Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things." Set your minds on things above. "Do not be conformed to this world," Romans 12:2 We are in this world, but we are not of this world. We are aliens here, longing for the new world, longing for Godís world, where there are new adventures, new hope, a new way of living. "Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things," because we believe in resurrection and not resuscitation. Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, not resuscitated. Resuscitation happens when a person presumed dead or near dead is brought back to "more of the same." Jesus was resurrected. He was raised, changed to a new life, with a new body, a spiritual body, not a physical body. Resurrection is the certainty of a new heaven and a new earth, a new way of life.
This past week I received an advertisement of a book just off the press. The title and description are intriguing. Written by two professors at the Divinity School, Duke University, the book is called, Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony. Sounds like a "Star Trek" episode, doesnít it. According to the review, the book explores the "alien" status of Christians in todayís world, and offers a vision of the church as a colony, a holy nation, a people, a family standing for sharply focused values in a devalued world.
You see, what too often has happened in Christianity is we have baptized the status quo and told Godís people to live within the confines, obey the laws, and be good, nice people. In the Middle Ages, there was little, if any, difference between being a citizen of the Holy Roman Empire and a catholic Christian. The two were synonymous. There have been times in our own history when being a Christian and a good American were synonymous. The United Methodist Church has been called "the Republican Party at prayer." A good Methodist Christian, it was preached, embodies American middle class values.
Because we practiced resuscitation, where being a Christian is "more of the same," we accommodated ourselves to the prevailing culture, and surrendered to the morals and values of the secular society around us. We have rarely seen ourselves as resurrected people, raised to the new life in Jesus Christ where we are citizens of the kingdom of God. We have been sloppy in developing our unique belief system, and in teaching our children and grandchildren who they are, and what they stand for.
As a further result of this accommodation to resuscitation where we think believing in Christ and following Christ is "more of the same," we are finding ourselves vulnerable and baffled at how to live in a world where the underside is not very pleasant. Sounds again like a "Star Trek" episode. Go beneath the surface of a very pleasant, comfortable existence for most of us here this morning, and you discover an underside of crime, drugs, homelessness, hunger; abduction, abusing and exploiting of children; uncontained greed on the highest levels of industry, banking, and government; skinheads and neo-Nazis who attack blacks, Jews, and gays; bizarre religious cults, and even Satanism.
A few months ago my brother and family were visiting from Montana where Bob is a radio announcer. He told us of the active Satanic cults in rural Montana. The sheriff even called a meeting of parents to educate them so they could help prevent their children from being victimized and recruited. I dismissed the report as a local phenomenon in Montana. Then a few weeks later, I received a copy of the newsletter from my home church in suburban Minneapolis (it was rural Minnesota when I lived there, now it is suburban Minneapolis) in which the pastor described and warned his people about Satanic cults which are active in their area. Then, a friend who is a United Methodist minister in Sacramento, California, told of the witches in his area of Sacramento who take the babies of heroin addicts and prostitutes and sacrifice them to Satan. Then, last week we were told of Satanic activity in Morgan Hill! Saratoga schools are very careful to check credentials of anyone arriving to pick up children, and all school personnel wear names badges so strangers can be immediately noticed.
When I was growing up in rural Minnesota, our biggest fear was that some of the youth might marry and turn Catholic! Today, it is scary to think of the enemies out there, and how vulnerable and susceptible are even children of middle class, affluent families. We are aliens in a strange land.
A shipwrecked sailor who had been stranded on a deserted island for three years could hardly believe his eyes when one day he saw a ship on the horizon. When he signaled, it stopped, dropped anchor, and a small boat came to the shore. An officer stepped out and handed him a batch of newspapers. "The captain suggests that you read whatís going on in the world. Then let us know if you still want to be rescued!" The teacher asked Johnny, "What shape is the world?" "I donít know," Johnny answered, "but my dad says it is in the worst shape it ever has been." Iím not trying to be pessimistic this morning and spoil your Easter; Iím trying to be realistic, and tell you we do not belong to this world. We are aliens who have been raised to a new life, not resuscitated to "more of the same." "Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things." We have been perhaps too tolerant, too open-minded, too accepting of opinions differing from our own. Where we have failed our children and ourselves is not presenting the Christian alternative, so they have a firm, solid basis from which to evaluate the many different religions, philosophies, life styles, and cults out there.
We do have strong positions. No, we do not have to take drugs in order to cope with stress or be happy. No, we do not have to compromise our values in order to succeed. No, we donít have to cheat, lie, steal, and greedily take in order to prosper. Yes, we can join those who work for a higher good than making money. Yes, we can join those who are dedicated to improving society, influencing it to be more like the kingdom of God, without thought of cost to themselves. Yes, we can join those on Earth Day next week who seek better ways to take care of this planet God lets us use while we are here as guests, as aliens. Yes, we can be in this world without being of it. We can explore the new world, the new way of life, the kingdom of God, while living in this world. We can be missionaries to this world, setting examples, telling them of the new life in Jesus Christ, and redeeming this world--not surrendering to it, but redeeming it.
Let me ask you this morning. Do you know what are the basic beliefs, the fundamental doctrines of the church? Can you list succinctly and clearly what you believe? Are you able to tell your children or your grandchildren how Christianity differs from the world out there? Are your children and grandchildren being given the proper training in order to discover who they are so they can evaluate what is out there, and distinguish between the good and the bad? Are they in Sunday School? Will you volunteer to help work in our Sunday School and make it even better? Are you personally growing in your theology?
As I prepared this sermon, I thought about the colony you and I are establishing as aliens on this planet, and decided to preach a series of sermons on basic Christian beliefs. I will begin in two weeks--on April 29. Iím calling the series, "Beliefs You Can Believe In." I decided to title each sermon very simply and personally. The titles form a simple creed which you can teach children, and memorize yourself. I will preach six sermons: God Made Me, Jesus Loves Me, The Holy Spirit Helps Me, I am Chosen, The Church Nurtures and Challenges Me, and I Will Live Forever. I hope you will be here. Simple personal titles, but understanding what each seemingly simple title means can do much to help you keep your perspective in this complicated age in which we live. "Beliefs You Can Believe In" can make the difference between resuscitation--"more of the same"--and resurrection, living a new life in the midst of an alien society.
The invitation this Easter morning is for you to receive and enter the new life in Jesus Christ, to "Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things." If you are not a church member anywhere, I invite you to become part of our colony. The next orientation class will meet on four Wednesday evenings, beginning May 2. I invite you to Sunday School and worship regularly, and I invite you to share in the special Easter offering this morning to help spread the word of Godís love and resurrection to an alien world through our World Service and Conference Benevolence apportionment, our share of our denominationís world wide mission.
ã 1990 Douglas I. Norris