Real Life (In a Nutshell) —– Easter Day —– April 4, 2021
Acts 10: 34-43 —– 1 Corinthians 15: 1-11 —– John 20: 1-18
It wouldn’t surprise you, would it, if I told you that our culture is always in a hurry? People travel to other places where the pace is slower—and they come back and talk about how it took awhile to get used to the lack of hurry, but they eventually came to enjoy it. But then they came home and got caught up again in the swirl of haste. The culture of haste has a number of symptoms. Here are just a few:
Commercials on television are fast-paced, hurled at us, one after another, sometimes lasting as little as 5 seconds.
Another example is Cliff Notes. I was a literature major in college, and I was shocked to see these little booklets in the campus bookstore that one could read in place of the actual book.
Then, of course, there are the get rich quick schemes. Or how about a pill that helps you lose weight quickly, without dieting or exercise? Or a program that lets you get rid of your debts without the long, tedious method of actually paying them off?
These are all random symptoms of our “culture of haste.”
I know that many of us are “chronologically advantaged” enough to remember a day when people took time for long, relaxed conversations. But the culture of haste has no room for these long visits—“there’s just no time!”
Every now and then, someone will ask me a theological question. I have learned that, in many cases, I need to ask, “Do you want the 5-minute answer or the 30-minute discussion?” Sometimes I get a response that indicates that 5 minutes is just too long—couldn’t I just “put it in a nutshell?” You know—just sum it up or give a synopsis that is short but complete?
Unfortunately, the same thing happens when people go to the Scriptures with a particular question and, because of their haste, they take one verse (maybe two) and build an entire belief out of it. Friends, by all means, GO TO THE SCRIPTURES! But there is no shortcut. To gain an understanding that is grounded in the Scriptures requires THE WHOLE OF SCRIPTURE, not just a few pet verses. It is dangerous to try to put the Gospel “in a nutshell”. \\
That being said, I couldn’t help but notice that all three of our passages for today are brilliant examples of how to do this very thing! I know, I know I have been bemoaning our tendency to want REAL LIFE in a nutshell, but these passages really do express the HEART of the Christian faith!
In Acts, Peter delivers a message to a group of God-believing Gentiles, 1. Summing up the life of Christ; and, 2. Explaining that his life and death and resurrection make it possible for us to LIVE! This is not an extensive theological treatise. It’s the Gospel in a nutshell that concludes with this promise: “Every- one who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
We stopped short of the passage that explains what happened when Peter was speaking. It says that the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message—much to the amazement of the Jewish believers who had traveled with Peter! And Peter then asked, “Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? (Even though they are Gentiles?!) They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have!”
Our passage in 1 Corinthians was also directed to God-believing Gentiles—the people in Corinth whom Paul had been “loving into the Kingdom.” First, he reminded them of the good news he had shared with them in person, then he summed up that good news (he put it in a nutshell). 1. Christ died for our sins; 2. He was buried; 3. He was raised on the third day; 4. He appeared to different people.
This is precisely the meaning of our Gospel reading—the Easter story of the empty tomb! Without the resurrection, we would just have a heartwarming story about someone who loved and healed and taught—but was unfortunately killed. End of story. \\ Without the resurrection, we would have no need for our passages from Acts and 1 Corinthians. The glory of Easter morning is what gives life and power to all the rest of Scripture!
Through his death and resurrection, Jesus becomes the BRIDGE that reconnects us to God—the bridge to real life, life that is connected to joy and wholeness.
We don’t have to be geniuses to receive this gift of life. It’s not about US, and not dependent on our ability to fully understand it. All we need to do is to LET GO of our stubborn self-sufficiency, and let God give us new life in Jesus Christ!
I’ll finish today by telling you the story of Jeremy’s Egg.
Jeremy was born with a twisted body and a slow mind. At the age of 12, he was still in the 2nd grade, seemingly unable to learn. His teacher, Doris Miller, often became exasperated with Jeremy. Sometimes, he would squirm in his seat, drool, and make grunting noises.
At other times, he spoke clearly and distinctly, as if a spot of light had penetrated the darkness of his brain. Most of the time, however, Jeremy irritated his teacher. One day, she called his parents to come to St. Theresa’s for a consultation. As the Forresters sat quietly in the empty classroom, Doris said to them, “Jeremy really belongs in a special school. It isn’t fair to him to be with younger children who don’t have learning problems. Why, there is a five-year gap between his age and that of the other students!”
Mrs. Forrester cried softly into a tissue, while her husband spoke. “Miss Miller,” he said, “there is no school of that kind nearby. It would be a terrible shock for Jeremy if we had to take him out of this school. We know he really likes it here.”
Doris sat for a long time after they left, staring at the snow outside the window. Its coldness seemed to seep into her soul. She wanted to sympathize with the Forresters. After all, their only child had a terminal illness. But it wasn’t fair to keep him in her class. She had 18 other youngsters to teach, and Jeremy was a distraction. Furthermore, he would never learn to read and write. Why waste any more time trying?
As she pondered the situation, guilt washed over her. “Oh, God,” she said aloud, “Here I am complaining when my problems are nothing compared to that poor family! Please help me to be more patient with Jeremy!”
From that day on, she tried hard to ignore Jeremy’s noises and his blank stares. When spring came, the children talked excitedly about the coming of Easter. Doris told them the story of Jesus, and then to emphasize the idea of NEW LIFE springing forth, she gave each of the children a large plastic egg. “Now,” she said to them, “I want you to take this home and bring it back tomorrow with something inside that shows NEW LIFE. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Miss Miller!” the children responded enthusiastically—all except for Jeremy. He just listened intently; his eyes never left her face. He did not even make his usual noises.
Had he understood what she had said about Jesus’ death and resurrection? Did he understand the assignment? Perhaps she should call his parents and explain the project to them. That evening, Doris’s kitchen sink stopped up. She called the landlord and waited an hour for him to come by and unclog it. After that, she still had to shop for groceries, iron a blouse, and prepare a vocabulary test for the next day. She completely forgot about phoning Jeremy’s parents.
The next morning, 19 children came to school, laughing and talking as they placed their eggs in the large wicker basket on Miss Miller’s desk. After they completed their math lesson, it was time to open the eggs. In the first egg, Doris found a flower. “Oh, yes, a flower is certainly a sign of new life,” she said. “When plants peek through the ground we know that spring is here.” A small girl in the first row waved her arm. “That’s my egg, Miss Miller,” she called out.
The next egg contained a plastic butterfly, which looked very real. Doris held it up. “We all know that a caterpillar changes and grows into a beautiful butterfly. Yes, that is new life, too.” Little Judy smiled proudly and said, “Miss Miller, that one is mine!” Next, Doris found a rock with moss on it. She explained that moss, too, showed life. Billy spoke up from the back of the classroom, “My daddy helped me!”
Then Doris opened the fourth egg. She gasped. The egg was empty! Surely it must be Jeremy’s, she thought, and of course, he did not understand her instruction. If only she had not forgotten to phone his parents! Because she did not want to embarrass him, she quietly set the egg aside and reached for another.
Suddenly Jeremy spoke up. “Miss Miller, aren’t you going to talk about my egg?” Flustered, Doris replied, “But Jeremy—your egg is empty!” He looked into her eyes and said, softly, “Yes, but Jesus’ tomb was empty, too!”
Time stopped. When she could speak again, Doris asked him, “Do you know why the tomb was empty?”
“Oh, yes!” Jeremy said. “Jesus was killed and put in there. Then his Father raised him up!” The recess bell rang. While the children excitedly ran out to the school yard, Doris cried. The cold inside her melted completely away.
Three months later, Jeremy died. Those who paid their respects at the mortuary were surprised to see 19 eggs on top of his casket, all of them empty.
That’s what I call “putting the Good News in a nutshell!”
Prayer: God, help us to receive your kingdom simply, like a child. Help us to receive the good news without worrying about whether or not we deserve it. Thank you for the life you give us in Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.