Posts Tagged ‘Philip Yancey’

Sermon 03-31-13: Easter 2013

April 8, 2013
This picture, taken during my trip to the Holy Land in 2011, reminds me of Peter's "stooping and looking in" in Luke 24:12.

This picture, taken during my trip to the Holy Land in 2011, reminds me of Peter’s “stooping and looking in” in Luke 24:12.

Happy Easter! Sorry this is late. My family and I just returned from our spring break trip in Florida. Yesterday, I left Vinebranch in the very capable hands of my friend John Alan Turner.

At first blush, the angels’ question to the women at the tomb seems a little silly: “Why do you search for the living among the dead?” “Because Jesus is dead,” the women might have responded. “We watched the Romans kill him, and the Romans are nothing if not experts at killing people!” Contrary to modern myth, people in the first century knew as well as we do that when people die, they stay dead. It’s no wonder they had a hard time believing in the resurrection at first. So if you struggle to believe in it, you’re in good company! You’re starting in the same place as people who would later lay down their lives because they believed in it so strongly.

If you already believe it, however, this sermon will challenge you to consider what it means for our lives and world today.

Sermon Text: Luke 24:1-12

The following is my original sermon manuscript.

Nearly everything I learned about working with people—or didn’t learn but should have—I learned from my experience working in sales for a large telecommunications company. My friend and mentor was a man named Don. Don worked on a large national account with a partner, Allen. The account was an important client that would soon be spending millions on new communications equipment—either with our company or with a competitor. In an effort to close the deal, Don and Allen invited their customers on a lavish business trip. And they wined and dined them, treated them like royalty, pulled out all the stops, spared no expense.

And that was exactly the problem, you see: they spared no expense. And when they returned from their trip, and our boss, Eddie, saw their expense report, he was furious. First, he called Don into his office and chewed Don out. And all Don said in response was, “You’re right. I’m sorry. It will never happen again.” After coming out of Eddie’s office, Don told me, “I better go warn Allen.” Allen, you see, was a little more hot-tempered than Don. Don knew that Allen’s tendency was to argue back—and Eddie was in no mood for arguing today. So Don said to him, “Allen, no matter what Eddie says to you, you just need to agree with him and apologize profusely. I’m serious, Allen. Don’t try to argue. Don’t try to defend. Don’t try to justify. Just say, ‘Yes, sir. You’re right. I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.’ Otherwise, you’re going to get in trouble.” Read the rest of this entry »

“We live out our days on Holy Saturday”

March 29, 2013

As I’ve reflected this week on the meaning of resurrection and Christian hope, I’ve been deeply moved by this essay by Philip Yancey in this month’s Christianity Today. As the author of a famous book called Where Is God When It Hurts? Yancey says he often gets called to speak to groups who are struggling with questions of faith in the midst of suffering. Most recently, he spoke to people in Newtown, Connecticut, in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre.

As I pondered what to say to the sorrow-drenched community, I felt my faith strangely affirmed, not shattered. Trust me, I know well the nagging questions about a good and powerful God that crop up when suffering strikes, and my writing attempts to address those questions. With Newtown, though, I was drawn back to Bishop Desmond Tutu’s writings on his experience in South Africa. As head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he braced himself for a test of his theology, in part because “good Christians” had carried out so many of the crimes in his country…

Yet after two years of listening to such horrific accounts, Bishop Tutu came away with his faith strengthened. The hearings convinced him that perpetrators are morally accountable, that good and evil are real and that they matter. Despite the relentless accounts of inhumanity, Tutu emerged from the hearings with this conviction: “For us who are Christians, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is proof positive that love is stronger than hate, that life is stronger than death, that light is stronger than darkness, that laughter and joy, and compassion and gentleness and truth, all these are so much stronger than their ghastly counterparts.” As if by negative image, the events at Sandy Hook also affirmed Tutu’s experience.

As a “theological counterpoint,” he said he’d been reading atheist writers like Richard Dawkins, who believes that the universe has “precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.”

“Is that what you’ve seen here?” he asked his audience.

As I stood before the group gathered Friday night, Dawkins’s description rang all the more hollow. “I don’t think that’s what you’ve seen,” I said. “I have felt an outpouring of grief, compassion, and generosity—not blind, pitiless indifference. I’ve seen acts of selflessness, not selfishness: in the school staff who sacrificed their lives to save children, in the sympathetic response of a community and a nation. I’ve seen a deep belief that the people who died mattered, that something of inestimable worth was snuffed out on December 14.”…

Tragedy rightly calls faith into question, but it also affirms faith. It is good news that we are not the random byproducts of a meaningless universe, but rather creations of a loving God who wants to live with us forever. That “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” in order to reconcile with his rebellious creation. That by entering our world, the Son took on our sufferings and temptations, demonstrating in person that nothing—not even death—can separate us from the love of God.

But is the world—even a restored, redeemed, and renewed world in God’s future kingdom—”worth the pain that it encompasses?” Yancey asks.

After talking to parents in Newtown who lost a son or daughter, I have a clue to the answer. If you ask them—”The six or seven years you had with your child, were they worth the pain you feel now?”—you will hear a decisive “Yes.” As the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote after the death of a young friend, “‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” Perhaps God feels the same way about us, his fallen creation.

This is a profoundly good point.

Near the end of the essay, Yancey offers a three-part answer to the question, “Where is God when it hurts?” Part of the answer, he says, comes from the holiday we celebrate today, Good Friday, when Christ absorbed all evil and suffering in his own person.

Though God has dealt them a death blow through his death and resurrection, evil and suffering continue for now. It’s as if Creation itself were living on Holy Saturday:

Holy Week offers the template. On Good Friday Jesus absorbed the worst of what Earth has to offer, a convergence of evil and death in an event of profound injustice. Easter Sunday gave a sure and certain sign of contradiction, demonstrating that nothing can withstand the healing force of a loving God. We live out our days, though, on Holy Saturday, aware of the redemptive power of suffering while awaiting the restoration power of creation made new.