I’m asking the ushers to come forward again, but this time it’s not to put something in the plate. This time, in fact, I’d like you to take something out. This is what we call a reverse offering. The plate is coming down, and what I’d like you to take out is one of those packets that’s in there. We’ll just give a chance for everyone to do that before I start. As this basket comes forward, make sure you get one of these [packet of flowers seeds].
All right. We’re about halfway back, so I’m going to start to talk just a little bit. If you’ve got this [holds up flower seeds], you want to do this [shakes it], so just go ahead. Let’s just get that out of our system. There’s something in there, right?
The question of, “What is in there?” it’s not a secret, they’re seeds, but it is more than seeds. What’s really in there is this.
This is a picture of wild flowers in California. You may have seen them this year. Everything that is in those flowers is in here. Now, there’s not as many, but basically, there’s nothing that’s up there that isn’t already in here, which is amazing. You would never know it by looking at it, that everything that makes for that kind of beauty and that kind of grandeur is right in there.
What is in there, in a sense, is a sort of a miracle, because in California, where I got to grow up, in the deserts particularly, wild flowers grow, but only once in a while; only when the conditions are right. It will go years and years, a decade or two, and if the conditions aren’t right, you won’t see them and you won’t think that in the desert anything is there. But you get the right conditions; you get the right amount of water in the right time and place, and it explodes. It’s a miracle, that how something that couldn’t be there, all of a sudden takes a desert and transforms it.
What you have is something here that people will come from miles around, just to be in the beauty of it. That’s what you have in here. You’ve got something in here that can transform a desert, you’ve got something that can open up a vista, you got something for which people will drive miles and miles. That’s what’s in here.
All of that is a bit of an introduction, because as the last of these packets are being given out, I want you to know that when Paul was trying to explain what Easter is about, when he was trying to explain what you and I are about, he said, “Seeds, think seeds.” He has this wonderful passage in 1 Corinthians 15, he decides that the seed and the life of a seed is a metaphor that we should pay attention to, not just on Easter, but for every day of our life.
It’s in your bulletin. I’m going to read excerpts of it -- excerpts of it will be on the screen. Paul is saying, “Some skeptic,” as he’s trying to explain the resurrection and the fear that people have about what’s next and how do you live your life. He says, “Some skeptics are going to say,
‘Show me how the resurrection works. Give me a diagram, draw me a picture, what does this resurrection body actually look like?’”
If you look at this question closely, you realize how absurd it is. There are no diagrams for this kind of thing. By the way, that’s not the real question anyway, is it? It’s amazing how many times that we will use a theological question as a way of dragging our feet into doing something or going someplace we don’t want to go. Paul continues. He says,
“We do have a parallel experience in gardening.
You plant the dead seed, soon there’s a flourishing plant.”
Now, there’s no visual likeness between the seed and the plant. You could never guess what a tomato would look like by looking at a tomato seed.
What we plant in the soil and what grows out of it don’t look anything alike. The dead body that we bury in the ground
and the resurrection body that comes from it
will be dramatically different.
How do you know what’s in here? How will you possibly know? There’s only one way to find out, and that’s to put it in the ground.
This week, I’m inviting you to take this with you, put this in the ground, put it in a pot, put it in a strip of your garden, throw it across the hillside, because that’s the only way that you really find out what’s in here.
Now, I want you to imagine something. Just play along with me. I know this is a silly scene, kind of ridiculous. I want you to imagine that you, in fact, are going and you take and you rip open, you’ve found the place, you rip open the seed and you shake it out and nothing comes. It’s not because there’s nothing in here, it’s because you find out the seeds don’t want to go. You find out that they’re just hanging on to each other and they’re staying inside.
Just imagine, since we’re being silly about it, let’s just imagine a conversation that you would have with the seeds of, “So, what’s up guys? Why aren’t you coming out?” You might hear something like this, you might hear, they might say something like, “Well, because right now I’m comfortable. It’s cool. It’s dry in here. We’re with our own. We’re in control. It’s safe in here.”
Let’s extend this scenario just a little bit further, and I want you to imagine, how would you convince seed to come out? What would you tell it? What argument would you give of why it should come out of this packet? You might show it pictures and say, “See, this is what’s in front of you. This is what you’ve got.” You might say, “Look at the possibilities out there.” If you really want to help them with their fear, you might even describe a little bit of the process, talk them through so it’s not so scary.
Just imagine the seed thinking, “Well, that sounds intriguing. We will study it. We’ll talk amongst ourselves, we’ll get back to you.” When they did get back to you, they go, “So, we have one question. Why would we want to change? We’re happy, we’re good right where we are. If you are really a good gardener, if you really love this, why would you want this to go out where it is wet, it is crazy, it is uncontrollable, it is messy? Things happen out there. Why would you send us out there?”
“We’re good right where we are. We can stay close. In fact, we’ll make a deal. You let us stay in here, and we’ll just hang out in here. We’ll just be cool together. If you’ll do that, as our gardener we’ll sing songs for you, we’ll write prayers about you, we’ll start our own church about you, we’ll call it the First Church of the Holy Packet, right here. Right here.”
“We’ll be good. We will make rules. No bad seed, nothing in there. No good, bad seed. No dirt. We’ll talk about purity, and we will hang together and we won’t cause any problems, and we’re going to keep our packet clean. We won’t allow any heresy in here, including the heresy that the good gardener will actually send us out to some place where it’s dangerous, messy, and where we have no control, because if you were really a good gardener, you wouldn’t ask us to do that, you’d want us to be safe, cool, dry, and comfortable.”
A silly scene. Ridiculous. The only thing more ridiculous is when it comes from people. It would be ridiculous if weren’t tragic. Tragic in the idea that at some time, we all, all of us want to stay where it’s safe, it’s dry. Ridiculous and tragic that Easter after Easter, week after week, we would come to a church and we would sing about the resurrection, we’d sing about the power of God, we’d sing songs, we’d pray prayers, and then we would go right back to staying very safe, warm, and dry, in our controlled environment with seeds just like us and think that’s all we were being asked to do.
Ridiculous and tragic, because it would mean that we are neglecting something that’s inside of us. There is something inside of you, and you know it. There’s something inside of you that knows there’s more to you than that. You know it and I know it. There’s something inside of us that longs for something bigger, that’s greater, that yearns for larger meaning and purpose, that senses that there’s something more to us. There’s something about more love, there’s something about more creativity, there’s something about more purpose, and it’s all in here, and how will we know?
I think, sometimes, the problem is the way we talk in church, the way we talk about Easter. Let me give you two scenarios about the way we talk about Easter. One of them is the one that I grew up with, I bet some of you grew up with, at least a version of this, that Easter is an event in history that Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday, whether the first Sunday after the first full moon, or -- there was a day when Jesus rose from the dead, and it changed everything. It’s an amazing event. Having pulled off this incredible event, God is now stepping back just to see who’s going to believe in it.
The idea is that you, if you and I will believe that Jesus died on Friday for our sins and rose on Sunday, then when we die then we get to go to heaven; some version of that, somewhere in that.
Now there’s a problem. Well, actually, there are several problems. The first problem is it’s really not in the Bible. A lot of words that are similar, but it’s not. That’s not the story that’s in the Bible. Second, it makes for a God who’s transactional, “You do this for me, and I will do this for you. You scratch my back I will scratch yours. You believe in me, and then I will let you in. If you don’t, well, then we have a different conversation.” There’s always that edge to it, right?
What we have done is we have created a faith that is just propositional. You assent to an idea, “Okay. That’s what I have to do. That’s what faith is.” Worse than that, we have created a God that is small, and boring, and a story that’s too small and too boring. Think about the God we have just created by telling that story. We’ve created a God that’s narcissistic, we’ve created a God that is unbelievably cranky, we’ve created a God who is this raging codependent person, and we’ve created a God who is kind of a jerk. Think about that. That’s what we have created when we tell that story.
Think about it. Would that kind of God do this kind of a thing? Would that kind of God create that kind of gratuitous beauty across the desert for no apparent reason other than just for the joy of creation, that kind of generosity, that kind of creativity. Then, of course, it means that we created a packet where we give all the power to the people who are in charge of the packet. “As long as you behave, you get to stay in the packet. If you ask too many questions, you’re out of the packet.”
Some of you have experienced that. I know that’s why you are here, is that you ask too many questions, or you were wondering about things and you got kicked out of your packet. What a terrible thing to do in the name of God, to do that to somebody.
Then Easter just gets weird. Not only do we make it about fear and guilt, but now on Easter, we don’t even know what to do with ourselves anymore, so it just gets weirder and weirder.
There is a church today, true, there is a church today that is going to be giving a car away to someone who comes to their church service. How desperate do you have to be? How bored do you have to be to go, “What can we do to get people excited?” “I know. Let’s give a car,” because what could be better as a big reveal on Easter than, “Here’s a Chevy Tahoe.” You roll away the stone and there’s a Corvette waiting for you.” That’s the big story? We laugh about that. I know some of you are already going, “Where is that church?”
“I got seeds. Who’s giving out a Camaro, man?” It’s in North Carolina. It’s too late. Sorry. Do you get the sense of that, that is what you have to do to gen up people’s enthusiasm after a while, because you have created such a boring story because you come in one day and then you leave, then you come back the next year, and nothing changes because you don’t change? Yes, you can drive home in an amazing Corvette, but it’s still the same old seed that’s on the inside that is unchanged.
That is a terrible story, and it’s not the one that’s in the Bible. The one that’s in the Bible is so much better, that Jesus, in fact, did rise from the dead, and it is an event in history. It was the culmination of a life and a ministry where Jesus overcame sin, sickness, and as Paul said, and now fighting the final enemy, which is death.
It changes not just what happens on the hours just before we die in a sense of hope, it changes every hour of our life from beginning to end. It is a way of living completely differently, that Jesus has launched a new era where death no longer has the grip on people. The fear of death is no longer there. It is real, but it is not ultimate. It is real and that we grieve in it, but death no longer gets the last word.
Even death has been swallowed up in the story of life, and now God uses even death for God’s purposes. The last chapter of our life isn’t just about having to grieve now that life has come to an end. The last chapter has to do with life, has to do with celebration. That’s the story that we get to live into. That’s where we get to give ourselves to, that even death isn’t the end of our story because it’s not the end of God’s story, and so that even death becomes just the soil out of which new life emerges, and we are invited into that.
Paul is talking about Jesus, and he’s saying, “This Easter thing, let me show you. Just think about this. What I’m telling you is this, is that Easter is not just an event about what Jesus does so that afterwards when you die, you get to go to heaven. When you die, you get to live.” Easter is a template for the way that we live. Easter is an invitation to live before you die, because there’s some stuff in here, in each one of us, that God has given. The God-given gifts, talents, passions, the God-given calling that’s in each of our lives, and it’s in there, and it’s waiting. It’s waiting. It’s waiting for us to get out of the packet.
This is not a transactional God. This isn’t, “Well, if you believe in me now, then, okay, they will let you in,” this is transformational. This is the reality that we get to live in. Now we get to change the way we live, breathe, play, work, and, yes, even the way we die. It’s a template that’s found all through the Bible. Once you begin to see this, you can’t unsee it anymore.
Once you begin to see that there’s this template all through Scripture that has been leading up to this, giving hints, not just the ones in nature, but in every major person in the Bible, there is this dream, there is this yearning, there is this hope that somebody has. It dies, but that’s not the end because of who God is, that something new emerges. There’s a resurrection of that hope. There’s a new dream that’s bigger, and that is better and is grander. You’ll see it in Abraham. If you know some of these stories in the Bible, you’ll recall them.
You’ll see it in Abraham. You’ll see it in Isaac. You’ll see it in Jacob. You’ll see it in Moses. Oh, my goodness, do you see it in Moses? You see it in the children of Israel going across the desert. You see it in David. You see it in every major character. Once you see it, it becomes a pattern. Then Jesus culminates in it. It becomes the template of Jesus’ mission and ministry, and it becomes the invitation to a new way to live. You see it in Peter, you see it in you, and you see it in me.
Suddenly, life gets a lot more interesting, that death is not, is not the final negation of who you are. Death becomes just a part of the story, and it becomes the soil, it becomes the nursery if you will, for what God is trying to grow. Yes, this gives absolute comfort when we’re facing those kind of tragedies. When we face someone who we’ve lost, when we face a loved one who’s lost a friend.
I know for most of us that’s happened, if not recently, in most of our lives. We get to grieve because that’s what love does. That’s the impact we let love have on us. Of course, we grieve. We get to, beyond ourselves, we get to open the paper and we get to listen to the news and hear about Sri Lanka, a bomb going off on an Easter service this morning and 200 people were killed plus and 400 more were injured.
We get to grieve because it’s real, but at the same time, we get to do more than that. We get to also say, “And death isn’t going to get the last word.” We’re going to live differently even in the face of tragedy, even in the face of death. We get this comfort, but then, it’s also this challenge.
“How are you going to live your life now?” Paul says to the Church in Corinth. Jesus says to his disciples, Jesus is asking us, “How are we going to live differently because of this?” You know this isn’t just a commemoration of one day, this is an invitation to a different way to live. This is the death of death.
You might try one more way. You might try one last argument with your seeds. You might finally just come clean and say, “You know what? You’re right. It is scary out there. Everything you believe is true. It’s fearful. There’s a reason for it. You’re right. It’s uncomfortable, it’s uncontrolled, and there is great safety in your packet. It is cruel, it is dry, and you don’t have to worry about anything except one thing, that you will never find out what’s in here as long as you stay in here. You’ll never find that God-given talent, that God-given passion, that God-given life, you’ll never find that deep reason for being, as long as you stay in the safety of this.”
You’re right. It is crazy, and it is scary, and you are out of control, and there are things that will scare you to death, but what they will really do is they will bring you to life. If you give yourself to those things, if you sacrifice for the things that make for love, if you give yourself away in service for the things that are right, something happens. You’re right. There’s a price to pay for coming out of this envelope, but make no mistake, there is a price to pay for staying in it as well.
That’s why I love this quote from Brené Brown, I think this is a great Easter day quote,
“You can choose courage or you can choose comfort,
but you cannot choose both.”
If I had to say there was one message for Easter, year in year out, it’s, “Choose courage, live differently.” Every day we wake up, we can choose courage or we can choose comfort but we cannot choose both. We can choose to give ourselves away, but it is a choice; give away our self in love, in service. We will lose our life, Jesus says, and in losing our life, losing our comfort, losing our control, we’ll find what our life is really about.
I could give a lot easier of a message today. There is a part that wouldn’t it be great to say, “And you get a car, and you get a car,” it’s been done, but there’s a harder and better message, and it says, “You have a life, and you have a life, and you have a life, and you have a life. You, you, you, you, and everyone here has a life that’s been given by God. There’s a reason for it, and there’s a purpose for it, and there’s something that’s being called in it. If you will give it back to God to do what God wants to do, you will find why you are here, you will find what you were made for.” That is a much better message.
It means you have to live a life that is vulnerable, that is courageous, that is authentic. It means that we get to become the seeds of hope. We get to become the seeds of rebellion at the same time. We get to live in the midst of a desert and bloom, and that’s a sign. More than that, we get to stand in protest of the things that make for deserts, and we get to create a different thing. We get to be God’s representation in all kinds of places; in places of death, in places of life. You and I, we have that choice.
Now, I’m inviting you this week, take this packet, plant it somewhere. Take one seed today if you want to just as our daily reminder. Throw the whole thing into a box if you want, find this place in your yard if you want, make a hillside. Maybe this isn’t something that’s resonating with you and you already known what you need to do, and that’s fine. If you do, just drop this in the bucket on the way back, but here’s what I’m asking you not to do.
Please, please, please don’t take this home, stick it in a drawer where it is cool, where it is dry, where it is dark, and where it is comfortable, and nothing will change. More than that, please don’t put yourself in that place. Please don’t go from here and put yourself on a shelf. Please don’t put yourself in a surrounding that’s cool, and dry, and comfortable, where you are in control and everything is safe, because there’s way too much at stake and there’s way too much that can happen.
I started by asking, “What’s in here?” I want to finish by asking, “What’s in here? What’s in there?” I want to invite you to what I believe is the message of Easter, which is to get out of our packet this week to do the daring thing, to do the hard thing, to do the uncomfortable thing, to do the messy thing, to do the thing where we’re out of control, to give ourselves away, to forgive when we don’t want to forgive, to dare at something we made and fail at, to do something that may break your heart but you’re going to do it anyway, to love even if it’s not going to come back, to serve even if nobody’s going to notice, to give even though somebody may reject you, to do it anyway.
To do the scary thing, because even more scary than going out and being rejected and even dying a death there, even scarier is to hold back and to play safe, and to live, and to come to the end of your life with regrets because you never got to find out who you were meant to be.
The message of Easter is everything is already in there. The message of Easter is that today is a day of new beginning. Every day is a day of new beginning. Every day is a day that culminates. Everything you’ve done and everything you’ve been is up to this day, and now this day, what will you do with your one and only God-given life? What will you do with it? Christ is risen.
It’s not just a message. It’s not just a message that so that when you die you get to live. It is even better news that you get to live before you die; and in that experience, you know who God is and you understand that Easter is a template for life, and that invitation is here today. As our passage says that is the message.