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Message for 4-20-14 REALITY QUEST

“REALITY QUEST”
2 Peter 1:16-21

 

            In a scene from the movie Galaxy Quest, a team of former TV science-fiction superheroes gets beamed up onto an alien spaceship.  The aliens have been watching the Galaxy Quest TV show, and they think the show is a collection of historical documents about the human race.  The aliens have copied every detail of their spaceship precisely from the vessel used by the Galaxy Quest team on their old TV show.  Now, these aliens want help defending themselves against attack.

            The Galaxy Quest team can’t believe their eyes.  These aliens have built their entire ship around a fabrication – a spaceship that doesn’t even exist!  It was all just a story, and these aliens took it 100% seriously, believing that it was real.  Now what??  Will such a spacecraft truly perform?  The cast of the old TV show can only hope it does.

            As I first watched this story unfold, I can remember thinking to myself, Have we invented a God and a scripture out of thin air, like these aliens invented their spacecraft, based on an original that doesn’t even exist?  Is it all just a story, made up by us, never to be taken seriously?  And on top of the question “Is it real?” is the question “Does it work?”  Do the teachings of our faith match the reality we find around us?

            In the recent Lego Movie, all attention gets focused on an ordinary Lego named Emmet. Because he’s the one who found the fabled missing part (the so-called “Piece of Resistance”), he becomes the fulfillment of the great prophecy.  He becomes The Special, “the greatest, most talented, most interesting, most important person of all times.”  When the whole Lego world is about to cave in, the Lego who predicted the coming of The Special confesses to Emmet, “I made the prophecy up.”  At the end of the movie, we find that every one of us becomes The Special when we believe those words to be true: “You are the Special.  And so am I.”  Friends, I need more to live for, I need more to stake my life on, than words made up out of someone’s imagination.

            A famous Roman said before he died, “Ah, wretched virtue!  So you were just a name!  And I followed you as if you were real!”  You can hear the disillusionment in this guy’s voice.  This guy (Brutus) believed in freedom so passionately that he led the assassination of Julius Caesar, because Caesar had become a dictator.  But now he could see that his efforts to defend Roman freedom had failed, and now he had only 2 options, a humiliating death or an honorable suicide.  None of us wants to come to the end of our lives and find that we were victims of an elaborate scheme to feed us baloney.  None of us wants to die and find that we built our whole lives around a master fabrication.

            If you’ve ever had your doubts about what we believe, you are not alone.  I myself have wrestled with the question whether Jesus’ resurrection was just a story that got out of hand when some people started to take it too seriously.  I have wrestled with the modern theory that truth is just a creation of the powerful, designed to keep everyone else in line, a game of who has the power to force their beliefs on whom.  I have wrestled with the question whether there is any truth that is higher than our own human opinions, or whether we are all alone to face survival and extinction under an empty sky, comforted only by wishful thinking and fairy tales.

            In today’s scripture, Peter writes in his second letter that he did not bring them “cleverly devised myths” when he announced to them the truth of Jesus Christ.  He says that he and his buddies were “eyewitnesses of His majesty”.  He was there when Jesus was glorified on the mountain.  He saw Jesus risen from His tomb.  He saw it with his own 2 eyes.  Peter says that none of this happened “once upon a time”.

            Some folks today will ask the question, Does it really matter, whether any of the events narrated in Scripture really and truly happened?  Does the Easter story lose any value if Jesus is still in the ground, and the risen Jesus turns out to be no different than sightings of Elvis?  Can’t a pious legend be just as faith-inspiring, regardless of its literal truth?  Isn’t the resurrection of Star Trek’s Mr Spock just as good a symbol of new life as Jesus’ resurrection?

            Why does it matter?  Some stories lose their value if they are found to be fiction.  In 1981, a journalist named Janet Cooke was stripped of a Pulitzer Prize for a feature story about an 8-year-old heroin addict after the story was found to be fabricated.  The value of her story plummeted.  The same goes for the urban legend of the homeless boy who carried his mother’s ashes in a paint can.  The story never happened!  Heads roll at the news department when news reports are found to be fiction.

            What’s the difference between the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, and the resurrection of Mr Spock of the Starship Enterprise?  Fiction lacks the compelling note of realism that meaningful faith requires.  Who wants to stake both their life and their eternal future on some piece of fiction, no matter how well it was written?  How many suicide bombers would we have today, if these guys believed that Paradise and the 72 virgins were just faith-promoting fiction?

            Fact trumps even the most exciting fiction.  A real-life cure for AIDS means more than even the most inspiring tale that never happened.  A real-life Wall Street means more than a fabled El Dorado.  A real-life space shuttle is worth more than all the inter-galactic space flight in Star Wars.  Narnia is worthless unless there is a real Heaven to which it points.  A fictional Esther has much less power to inspire us than a real Persian queen who really did take her life in her hands to save her nation from genocide.

            The same is true for the notion of a mythical resurrection.  The resurrection can only be of value as a symbol if there is a compelling reality to which it points.  Symbols must be rooted in historical reality.  A purely mythical resurrection has no more power to inspire us than the old Greek myth of the dying and rising Phoenix.  Friends, we have so much more to build our faith on than some mythical resurrection!

            For me, mythology is not an option.  The resurrection of Jesus Christ was either fact or fiction.  As fiction, it loses its value completely.  Without the truth of Jesus’ resurrection, all of our talk of personal resurrection loses its power.  All of our flowery talk of butterflies and Easter eggs becomes so much well-meaning nonsense.  If Jesus did not truly rise from the dead, we are all as hopeless as a hog in the stockyards. But if Jesus did rise from his tomb, then my faith and your faith becomes far from a master fabrication. It’s been said before: If Jesus was not God, then he deserved an Oscar. And if the Gospel writers were not telling the truth, then they deserve a Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

            During the whole period of my classwork at Concordia, as we looked at the Gospels through a microscope, one fact that was reinforced for me is that the story of Jesus as we have it in our Gospels is NOT a piece of fiction.  It’s not just the Resurrection I’m talking about, it’s the whole life and teachings of Jesus.  These words were NOT invented out of thin air.  They are reliable.  You can bet your life on them.  And out of all the ancient Gospels ever written, ours are the only ones that get it right.

            Friends, we can rejoice that we can point to that supposed “Lost Tomb of Jesus” and say, “He is not here!”  The Gospel accounts have withstood the assault of 2000 years of acid criticism.  The story checks out, down to the finest detail.  If it was a lie, then how do you explain how 11 terrified, devastated men could steal his body and then die for that lie?  You say the appearances of Jesus were just visions?  Then how do you explain the empty tomb?  You say it was the wrong tomb?  Joseph of Arimathea could point them to the right tomb, a tomb that had never been used before.  There is more evidence to support Jesus’ resurrection than for any other event of ancient history.  It takes more faith not to believe.  Even Jewish scholars interviewed on CBS who studied the evidence have conceded that this event cannot be reduced to a mythical or natural explanation.

            Friends, life is one huge gamble of faith.  We are betting our lives that what we believe is true, whatever we believe.  Those who believe that this life is all there is, are betting their lives that they’re right, that heaven and hell do not exist.  As we who trust in Jesus Christ take the ultimate plunge to see for ourselves the truth about what we have believed, I am betting my life that it’s real.  As we take the plunge, I believe we will find that none of it was made up out of thin air.  I believe we will find a reality that matches in every detail the facsimile we have constructed on earth.

            Friends, in our quest for ultimate reality, as our lives come under attack on this earth, and our vessel of faith gets pounded by enemy fire, let me assure you that we have not staked our lives on “cleverly devised myths”.  We have not staked our lives on a faith based on an original that doesn’t even exist, or delusions fabricated out of our own minds.  What we have is a faith that matches the reality that we will one day see with our eyes in heaven.

            The question is, What will we do with the truth of Jesus’ resurrection?  What will you do with the truth of Jesus’ resurrection?  We can’t blow it off.  We can’t just set it aside and ignore it.  Jesus’ resurrection demands a response.  The fact that Jesus Christ has risen proves that he has paid the price to take away our sin forever.  None of us can save ourselves by our own goodness.  All we can do is say Yes to what Christ has done for us to put us right with God, and let him come in and take control of our lives.  You’ll be eternally glad you did.

            Let us pray.  Lord, we thank you for giving us reason to believe that our faith is far from a fabrication or a fairy tale.  Help us to hold on to the truth of Jesus’ resurrection in those moments when our faith is under fire.  We ask for Jesus’ sake.  Amen. 

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