Jesus is Risen! Alleluia?

A couple of weeks ago was Easter, and I was back preaching at my home congregation for their sunrise service.  This is the sermon I preached.

I must admit that I was pretty busy in the weeks before and after Easter.  I probably shouldn’t have agreed to preach for logistical reasons, but I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to proclaim the good news of the Resurrection. I pray that this is what happened through my sermon.

I realize that posting sermons on the internet involves a certain kind of vanity and opens one up to a world of criticism. This is especially true for a young preacher such as myself.  Thus I feel the need to make a couple of disclaimers about this and any other sermons I might post in the future. First, I hope that the reason I’m posting sermons, my motivation, is that I believe it will be helpful for someone else – either in hearing the Gospel or in themselves proclaiming the Gospel. If that ends up not being the case, please forgive me.  Second, the sermons that I post are snapshots of my proclamation for a particular place at a particular time.  Please read them as such.  I hope to always be getting better at preaching as I go along, and so any comments and constructive criticism are welcomed.

And now, without further ado, my sermon from this past Easter in PDF format: Jesus is Risen! Alleluia? (Easter 2011)

(“Preacherman” pic from the “Sinfest” webcomic by Tatsuya Ishida)

And Now a Quote from Jürgen Moltmann

“Faith is fearful and defensive when it begins to decline inwardly, struggling to maintain itself and reaching out for security and guarantees. In so doing, it removes itself from the hand of the one who has promised to maintain it, and its own manipulations bring it to ruin. This pusillanimous faith usually occurs in the form of an orthodoxy which feels threatened and is therefore more rigid than ever…. Such a faith tries to protect its ‘most sacred things’, God, Christ, doctrine and morality, because it clearly no longer believes that these are sufficiently powerful to maintain themselves. When the ‘religion of fear’ finds its way into the Christian church, those who regard themselves as the most vigilant guardians of the faith do violence to the faith and smother it.”

– Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God.

I’m not generally a fan of Moltmann (ironically, I think he does generally play too fast and loose with Scripture and theology), but I think he’s on to something here. What does the church look like who forgets the reality that Jesus is Lord? I wonder how closely such a church resembles my own? Something to ponder.

If you hadn’t guessed, the last few weeks have been pretty crazy between work, school, and Easter. I hope in the next few days to post the sermon I preached for Easter sunrise at my home congregation and then to begin posting a little more regularly again. Thanks for bearing with me!

The Theological Reason Why Minecraft is so Addictive

Minecraft IconI set out today to write a paper for one of the classes I’m taking.  Instead, I played Minecraft.  Reflecting back on why this happened, I came up with a number of reasons: the engaging gameplay, the open-ended ultimate “sandbox” feel, the awesomely retro look.

But there’s a theological reason, too.

If you go back and read Genesis 1-2, you discover something interesting.  When God created Adam and Eve and put them in the Garden of Eden, it doesn’t say it was perfect in the “this is so good, it can never change because to change would be to lessen its goodness” way (i.e., the typical Greek philosophical way of looking at “perfection”).  Instead, it was “good”, even “very good”!  But even at the beginning, before the fall, human beings were given a job to do.

They were to care for creation.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28 ESV)

Adam and Eve were given a task by their maker: subdue the earth and have dominion over it.  Now, this is not a “lording it over, I’ll do what I want with it when I want” kind of dominion.  Instead, it’s ruling it as a wise and just leader.  In short, we are to act as God to the rest of creation around us.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  We’re not God.  We’re created, not the Creator.  We have limits.  But working within those limits, we are wired to find joy in caring for, structuring, and interacting with the world around us.

And this is what Minecraft lets me do.

Think about it.  In Minecraft, there is no developer-defined goal.  You simply take the raw materials you find (mine) and reorganize them, re-form them (craft), into something new and fun and cool.  You can’t create something out of nothing.  Instead, you work within the limits of the game (unless you inventory hack … cheaters), and it’s a joyful experience.  I play it because in some way, I’m getting to do what I’ve been wired by my Creator to do.

Now, Minecraft is just a simulation – a simulacra, as my more-educated friends might say; it’s not the real thing.  It’s giving me a quick and easy way to experience caring for creation without actually caring for creation.  This said, we ought to be careful not to sacrifice the real thing for an emulation.  Yet, the sheer fun and joy and addictiveness of this kind of game can serve to remind us of what it means to be human – what God our Maker has made us to be.

Note: I’ll be honest, some of these ideas about what it means to be human – what it means to delight in our creatureliness – I got from interactions over the last couple years with Dr. Charles Arand, a prof at the Seminary who penned the amazing CTCR document Together With All Creatures. If you’re interested in learning more about a theology of creation, check out his document or head on over to his blog, listed in the sidebar.

C. S. Lewis, Platonism, and the Creation

The Last Battle by C. S. LewisOne of the classes I’m taking this quarter as part of my STM program is entitled “The Gospel in C. S. Lewis.”  Far and away, it’s been a wonderful course thus far (any excuse to read C. S. Lewis is good in my book).  However, the last two books we’ve looked at and discussed have … troubled me a bit, especially with regards to Lewis’ use of Platonism and the way he describes “Heaven.”

Let me explain.

Platonism, briefly, is the sort of metaphysics put forward by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato.  There are, for Plato, two realms: the realm of forms and the realm of matter.  The realm of matter is what you and I experience every day; it’s the realm of the material world.  The realm of forms, however, is the true realm of reality.  All things which exist in the realm of matter are mere shadows or imitations of the things in the realm of forms.  The proverbial chair of the material world is just a shadow of the real, ideal chair found in the realm of forms. If you’ve ever read the allegory of the cave from Plato’s Republic, you know what I’m talking about.

This way of looking at the world has been rather resilient in Western thought down through the ages.  It shows up a lot in C. S. Lewis – especially when it comes time for him to describe “Heaven.”

Lewis’ description of Heaven – whether it’s in The Last Battle or in his The Great Divorce – is that Heaven is vastly more “real” than the world in which we live.  When the Narnians arrive in that world’s Heaven, they notice that it at once looks like the world they had just left, but it’s more spacious, more colorful, smells sweeter, etc.  In short, it’s more real; it shows the previous world to be a mere shadow of the new.  Likewise, in The Great Divorce, the ghosts of the deceased are so immaterial that they cannot interact with the environment of Heaven until such time as they, too, are made more “real.”  Poetically, it paints a fantastic image of the joys and pleasures of heaven.  Philosophically, it draws heavily from Platonism.

Biblically, though, it’s just not right.

The Bible – contrary to the way most Western Christians read it these days – does not subscribe to Platonism.  Rather, the world of the Bible is centered in creation.  There is no “more real” realm of forms.  God created the material world and said, “It is good.” What’s promised from the get-go is not that believers will be whisked away to some “Heaven.”  Instead, the promise is that the creation – broken as it is by sin – will be restored to its full created goodness. (This is why I have been using quotes around the word Heaven – the eternal destination of those who follow Christ is not Heaven but a renewed creation!)

What Platonism does – what a view like that of C. S. Lewis (poetic though it may be) does – is de-value the creation.  By treating this world as a world of shadows that will be forsaken for a “more real” Heaven, such a view rejects God’s declaration over creation: “It is good.”  Care for creation goes by the wayside – after all, why care for something which will be preempted by a more-real reality?  Lewis’ language elevates the joy of the eschaton, but at the expense of this world, a world made by God.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love C. S. Lewis.  His works are amazing and teach a TON of great stuff about Christianity in an extremely accessible way.  But C. S. Lewis is not infallible.  Nor, for that matter, is Plato.  Something to keep in mind the next time you read one of this man’s brilliant works of literature.