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Monday, March 4, 2013

3rd Sunday of Lent


Sunday, March 3, 2013 - 3rd Sunday of Lent


            This past week an NFL superstar quarterback negotiated a new contract with his team.  He took less money than he was owed so that his team could sign other free agents and overall become a better team.  Commentators lauded him for putting the team first.  But, others pointed out that his fellow players might be angry because him doing that would put pressure on them to also take less money so their teams could sign high quality free agents. 

The NFL has a salary cap.  There is a limit on what they can spend on players.  If a team pays one guy $20 million a year, that reduces what they can pay other players.  So this big-time quarterback enabled his team to get higher quality free agents by giving up some of his money. 

One radio personality pointed out that his sacrifice is not that great.  How much of a sacrifice is it to go from a $20 million salary to $15 million?  On top of that, this quarterback’s super model wife also makes millions in her career.  The commentator went on to say that the ultimate joy in life for a guy, a dude, is to have a good routine, a good job, and a good life. 

This quarterback has played for the same team for over a decade.  He knows his city, his favorite restaurants, his routines.  He plays for a winning team.  He’s got everything anybody would want.  When I heard that, one thing came to my mind.  This radio commentator and I see things differently – so differently in fact, comparison is almost impossible. 

On the same station, ESPN radio, I heard another guy say that he only lives for his own happiness.  As he assesses people around him, he wonders how they can increase his happiness.  That is the driving force in his life.  If you never listen to ESPN radio and you think, “Well, that’s just that guy,” allow me to offer another example.  Years ago I talked to a friend who had just gone through an ugly divorce.  He went from family to a life where he lived alone.  As he described his new life as a single guy, he described the emptiness.  He did not deny it.  But his closing remark on his personal narrative was “At least now I am happy.”  We could both see he was fooling himself.  He stuck to his guns.  “At least now I am happy.”

The same type of statement came up in the debates around legalizing same-sex marriage.  What I heard from advocates is “Let people [in this case same sex couples] do what makes them happy.”  My initial thought was that is a foolish way to bolster an argument no matter what the issue is.  I am a happily married man, but I am not happy all the time.  Sometimes the source of my unhappiness is an unfortunate exchange I have with my dear, sweet, beautiful wife.  I say mean things.  I hurt her feelings.  And that is a two-way street. 

Of course most of the time, we laugh together and enjoy life.  But my point is happiness is unpredictable and fleeting.  One piece of cake makes me happy.  Ten makes me sick.  The quarterback will tell you football makes him happy.  But then he loses the big game and he’s so angry he does destructive things.  Life cannot be built around the pursuit of happiness.  It’s something that cannot be caught and if we catch it, it cannot be held.  I tell you this and I think of myself as a generally happy person.  Happiness is important and valuable, but it cannot be our ultimate end.

The radio guy said the football player has it all – a great job; a stable life; millions of dollars.  He has the ultimate success.  I happen to really like this player, but I could not disagree more.  I don’t think the ultimate is career success and financial stability.  I don’t even think the ultimate is happiness.  What is it then?  What is the ultimate thing to have in life?

“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection of the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11).  In the verses leading up to this, Paul cited his own resume – a list of accomplishments that would rank him as esteemed and successful in his day and time and place.  He had the ultimate.  He had it all.  He met Jesus and in the light of Christ – his crucifixion and resurrection – Paul looked what he had, what everyone like him would want, and he counted it as rubbish; millions of dollars – blech; Super Bowl rings – who cares; admiration from crowds of people – don’t want it.  Paul looked at all that we might think would bring happiness in life and he threw it all out like stinking garbage that is smelling up the whole house.  All he wanted was Jesus – the power of Jesus resurrection.

In his comment, one thing is clear.  The crucifixion and the resurrection are tied together.  You cannot have one without the other.  Last week we talked about the view from the cross.  When we see life from that angle, we align ourselves with the poor.  We live sacrificially.  And we live life in complete dependence on the Holy Spirit.  We place ourselves at the cross and live from there. 

Another point from Paul’s statement that might catch our attention is Philippians 3:11 where he finished his sentence saying “if somehow I may attain the resurrection of the dead.”  It certainly sounds like he’s suggesting that by commitment and spiritual achievement we earn resurrection.  Some Bible scholars think that is exactly what Paul is saying.  I do not.  In Philippians, Paul talks a lot about the effort in discipleship we make – we humans.  Our efforts are only possible because on the cross Jesus covered our sin and in resurrection, Jesus conquered death.  We receive what Jesus gives. Paul makes this point throughout his letters and especially in Romans and Galatians.  He also acknowledges in Philippians 2:13 that God is at work in us.  I won’t go into depth on this point.  I’ll just say that everything we accomplish spiritually comes because God enables us and comes after Jesus accomplished ultimate victory on the cross. 

Because of the life he’s granted – eternal life with God in God’s kingdom – Paul wants to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.  Paul wants to experience resurrection.  It is almost as if Paul wants to die so he can fully know what resurrection is.  It is not that Paul wants resurrection more than anything else.  He only wants resurrection.  The ultimate is not anything that we might consider would bring happiness.  The stuff of the world is crap as far Paul is concerned.  He wants resurrection. 

According to N.T. Wright, the great significance of this for Paul and for you and me is we are counted among the people of God.  What brings happiness?  $1 million?  $10 million?  Assurance that we will go to heaven?  Maybe for you none of this stuff.  For you it might be a beautiful day on which you can spend hours riding your bike on offroad trails under a glorious blue sky.  For our good friend Jonathan Elwing, it is fishing off the Florida Coast.  Bishop Tom Wright says no, those things may be wonderful, but the great significance of Christianity is that we are promised resurrection, which in turn means we are counted among the people of God. 

These bodies we have will rise at the final judgment.  In resurrection, our bodies will change.  There will be no injury that could hurt us.  The undefeated enemy, death, and his sidekicks disease and old age will be wiped out.  We will be resurrected, our bodies will be incorruptible, and we will live forever.  But the most important thing to note is we will be counted among the people of God.  The primary thing, says Wright, is “belonging to the Messiah” (Justification, p.151).  Christ.  Nothing is as important to us as the reality that we are his.

Because of the resurrection, we now see the world from the vantage point of God’s kingdom.  Last week we stressed seeing from the cross.  Now we stress seeing from the view of one made righteous, from the view of one in the kingdom.  Is this resurrection perspective the same as the crucifixion perspective?  No, but it is not contrary to it either.  As we grow in Christ, we come to realize how multiple realities are absolutely true at the same time.  When we enter Christ, we enter both his crucifixion and his resurrection. 

We can’t know fully what this means until Jesus returns.  Paul’s statement, “I want to know the power of the resurrection,” shows he did not know it fully and we don’t yet either.  But we know that in the Kingdom our joining with others in Christ is a more powerful than marriage; we are closer to our brothers and sisters in Christ than to our relatives.  The union in Christ is more important than our union with our countrymen.  Family bonds and patriotic loyalty dissolve as our connection Christ deepends. 

Our Kingdom perspective also determines the way we see people who do not know Jesus.  Our heart breaks for them because they have not experienced his joy.  We long for them to have the freedom of forgiveness and the happiness of fellowship in Jesus and with others who are in Jesus. Happiness is important, but we don’t get it by going after it.  It comes when we are in Christ.  People will waste their lives chasing happiness.  Because of the resurrection, we are in the Kingdom and we long to draw those who are outside in as well.

Scholar and Pastor Paul Beasley-Murray adds that the resurrection is a sign that Jesus is divine – God in the flesh.  Peter had declared Jesus to be Lord (Luke 5:8).  But he didn’t really know what he was saying and if we had been in his sandals and not yet known the resurrection was coming, we would not have known any more than he did.  After the resurrection, Thomas looked at Jesus and said, “My Lord and My God” (John 20:28).  He knew as did Paul that in Jesus he was relating to the God of the universe.

Beasley-Murray thus writes, “In confessing Jesus as Lord, the early Christian were not saying, ‘Jesus is Lord of my life,’ they were saying, ‘Jesus is Lord of the world’” (The Message of the Resurrection, p.223).  The resurrection is the event that determines reality.  Everything we know must be measured by it.  The only conclusion we can draw is that the risen Jesus is supreme Lord of all.   When Christian apologists debate both Muslims and atheists – two extremely different opponents – the lynchpin of the Christian apologists’ argument is the resurrection.  Everything hangs on it and when the historicity of it is established, the debate is over.  Jesus is Lord. 

Paul writes “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.”  Such a desire eclipses all others – money, fame, success.  It is all as nothing compared to the resurrection.  The resurrection of Jesus is our hope.  Moreover, as the scholars we’ve referenced show, it is our identification.  We are among the people of God.  It is our priority.  Because of the resurrection, Jesus is Lord and our lives are lived at His pleasure.

I remember a talk with my dad.  I saw him go somewhere.  I looked into his eyes as we talked and he was leaving and happy to be going.  It was seven years ago and we had just done my grandfather’s funeral.  My dad buried his dad.  He was sad as one always is in that situation.  He was also pensive.  It got him thinking about what he would want us to do for his funeral when his day came. 

Honestly he wasn’t too concerned about the funeral service.  He told me he wanted to be cremated.  He said wait for a day when the wind is right.  Then hike up to McAfee’s Knob.  It’s a favorite hiking spot in Roanoke with a gorgeous view of the valley.  He said to take his ashes and fling them off into the air.  “It won’t matter,” he said, “I’ll be somewhere else.”

He was and is in the process of knowing Christ and the power of the resurrection.  He doesn’t think about his funeral in terms of what might be said about him.  When he considers his own end on this earth, he thinks of Jesus and he knows he’ll be with Jesus.  He’ll be somewhere else.

When we live in the resurrection, we are from somewhere else – this world in its redeemed state.  Heaven.  God’s presence.  However you might conceptualize it, the key is we don’t fit here and our future is not here, not as this place is right now.  The resurrection grants us a Kingdom perspective where we know Jesus is Lord.  When we look around, we see everything here from there. 

I don’t have a new spiritual practice this week. Rather, I encourage you as you take up the practices we’ve mentioned in previous weeks to seek the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Seek to know it and to live your life from that perspective – the view of the risen one.  He is the Lord.


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