Ebenezer means "stone of help," and was the name of a monument raised by the prophet Samuel, saying, "Thus far has the Lord helped us." (1 Sam. 7:12) The hymn Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing includes the line, "Here I raise mine Ebenezer; hither by thy help I'm come." Through God's grace you and I have made it to today. Our job is to praise God for getting us here and trust him to bring us through tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Looking for Life

Luke 24:5b  "'Why do you look for the living among the dead?'"

[Here's a taste of my Easter sermon at New Market and Waveland Covenant United Methodist Churches.]

The women who had followed Jesus throughout so much of his ministry had come back to his tomb on that first Easter Day to perform the duties their religion required.  But when they arrived, they were shocked to find that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance.  Entering, they were distressed to find the body of Jesus was gone.  But in the moment of their confusion, two angels appeared, gleaming like white lightening.  And then came the question that changed the course of their lives, and the course of history: "Why do you look for the living among the dead?"

Whether we know it consciously or not, we are all searching for life -- a meaning to life, joy in life, fulfillment in life...life itself.  Yet too often, we search for life among the dead.

Augustine, arguably the greatest Christian thinker, writer, and theologian outside of the Apostle Paul himself, searched long and hard for life before finding it in Jesus Christ.  His classic autobiography, Confessions, tells the story of his tumultuous youth and early adulthood.  Born in 354 to a Christian mother and a pagan father, the precocious Augustine soon went his own way, both intellectually and morally. He studied astrology, fell into the Manichaeist philosophy, and finally followed the Neo-platonist school of mysticism.  All the while he learned and taught rhetoric as an up-and-coming intellectual of the late Roman age.  Yet his youthful lifestyle was also one marked by hedonistic abandon.  After finally accepting the truth of the Christian religion in his early thirties, he struggled one day in a garden with the sins of his past, wondering if he really could be forgiven, accept that forgiveness, and move on.  At that moment he heard a little child chanting, "Take it and read!  Take it and read!"  Seeing this as a sign from God to read the first bit of scripture his eye should fall upon, he grabbed his copy of Paul's letters and turned randomly to what we know know as Romans 13:13-14:  "... not in revelling and drunkeness, not in lust and wantonness, not in quarrels and rivalries.  Rather, arm yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ; spend no more thought on nature and nature's appetites."

Augustine had been searching for years for life.  He wanted something that gave meaning and purpose to his life, and a concrete reason to live. Yet he had done his searching among the dead, and felt consistently unfulfilled.  Finally, however, he came to see Christ as the source of purpose and joy in life, and his world would never again be the same.

This world gives us plenty of false religions to follow.  Some have names and leaders, others are more nebulous, more constructs of our minds than anything else.  We can waste our time in pursuits as diverse as watching sports to following the latest fashions, elevating our avocations to the importance of sources of meaning for our lives.  We can throw ourselves into family or work, or even good deeds for others, but forget that these things, though positive, do not in and of themselves provide us with life. 

The writer of Ecclesiastes, seeking pleasure in his life, tried every route available, ranging from the building of houses and planting of vineyards to the buying of slaves and the aquisition of a harem.  Yet in the end, all these things, good and bad, brought him no real meaning in life:
I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
   I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor,
   and this was the reward for all my toil.
 Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
   and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
   nothing was gained under the sun.  (Eccl. 2:10-11)
Like Augustine had learned, nothing we can build with our hands or devise with our minds can provide us with life. All that we do is fleeting, and we ourselves end in death.  So, why do we seek the living among the dead?

And yet we so rarely realize this obvious reality.  Plato tells us that humans live life as if in a cave, seeing not things but only the shadows of things.  If, however, they are led to the mouth of the cave and bathed in the light of the sun, we can at long last see things as they really are.

On that first Easter day, these women found themselves standing in a cave, looking at shadows.  They had been in that cave, so to speak, for a long, long time.  And then along came an angelic presence, flooding their world with light, so that they might see things as they were at last.  Christ was not dead; he had risen.

Stop standing there, looking around an empty cave.  Stop looking for the living among the dead.  The light of truth is available to us.  If you have called yourself a Christian, start living it.  Jesus invites us to find our life in him, in him alone, and live it fully and eternally.  Remember, Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.