(Significant Scriptures: Matthew 27:1-10, Psalm 13, John 21:1-10, 15-19)
Three men were talking about what they would like said at their funerals. One said, “That I was a good worker.” The second said, “that I was a good husband and father.” The third said, “Look, he’s moving!”
Easter Sunday has come and gone, but what does the Resurrection of Jesus mean for us on the other 364 days of the year? Perhaps we understand that it means the promise of life after we die? But what does Easter mean for me in my everyday life right now? I invite you to reflect on these questions with me.
March 18, 2009 was a big day for Steve Nash. He along with his partners-Greg Kerfoot (current owner of the USL Vancouver Whitecaps), Steve Luzco (President & CEO of Seagate Industries), and Jeff Mallet (former President and COO of Yahoo Inc. and owner of the San Francisco Giants)-were awarded a Major League Soccer franchise for Vancouver which will begin playing in a renovated BC Place Stadium in 2011. In a radio interview on the Team 1040, the President of the Vancouver Whitecaps, Bob Lenarduzzi, said that one of the issues that they need to work out with the MLS is that the Whitecaps have a soccer residency program. No other MLS team has such a program. The other teams rely on college programs to develop players. But the Whitecaps have their own in-house system for developing elite young soccer players. And they want to somehow keep their residency system as they move into the MLS. As former Whitecaps coach Bob Lilley put it, “We want to provide young players in our club with an environment where they can prosper as individual players, and contribute to the success of the men’s team.” The Whitecaps have developed their own system because they realized while there is another system at work out in the world, this other system is inadequate for effectively identifying and producing elite young soccer players.
This idea is not new. Before the entry draft, NHL teams used to have farm team systems from the junior hockey level on up to develop their players. In Ancient Greece, the Spartans had a system that began military training for boys when they were seven years old. In each case where a special system arises, there is a recognition by the originators of that system that there is another system already in place, but it fails so miserably that a new system must be built to do what the original system fails to do.
Long before the Vancouver Whitecaps started their player development system, Jesus was starting a new system of his own. You see, Jesus knew that there was another system already in place in the world. It was a system of action and consequences. It showed itself in the society of the time through the Pax Romana , the Roman peace, that was enforced at the point of a bloody Roman sword. This Law system also included the Jewish religion which had rules for every aspect of human life, and if a person would only keep 613 laws, everything would be okay.
But Jesus knew that the Law system failed to do what needed to be done for the whole human race. The Law system will not transform a human heart. It will not change us from a self-centred people with hearts of stone into selfless people with hearts full of love. So Jesus gathered 12 men around him and spent three years with them travelling and teaching them along the way. Maybe he saw some birds flying through the air one day when he said, Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? (Matthew 6:26-27) Perhaps some flowers along the path then caught Jesus attention, prompting him to say, “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.” (Matthew 6:28-29) Maybe, on another day, Jesus and his disciples noticed a shepherd herding his flock of sheep, and Jesus, seeing this as a teachable moment, turned and said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (John 10:11) This led to a discussion with some other Jews later on in the temple courtyard when Jesus expanded his earlier statements by saying, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:27-28)
Do you see the difference between the old system of the world and the new system of Jesus? The old system of the world looks like this. It is:
- Based on what we do
- I stand alone
- You need to earn everything
- You need to pay for everything
- It is always the other person’s fault
Is this sound familiar to any of you?
But the new system of Jesus says something quite different. It says, “God does, therefore__________.” God looks after the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. God will also look after you. Therefore, do not worry. Jesus gives you eternal life and you will never perish, therefore do not be concerned. You are forever safe with him! It is a radically different way of looking at the world. And it is a much different way for us to live. It does not come naturally to us. It is hard for us to change the way that we think and live. But it is this new grace system that will transform us into the people God wants us to be. And as we live in this new grace system, God can work through our lives to begin to transform the lives of those around us. And the circle of people in this new system has the opportunity to continue to grow and grow.
Jesus’ disciples had trouble making the transition from the old system to the new. Sometimes they seemed to get it. Most of the time they didn’t. And this question of the “We do” system and the “God does” system becomes critically important when a crisis arises. One of Jesus’ disciples, Judas, betrays him, and Jesus is arrested, beaten and sentenced to die. Another disciple, Peter, lies and denies being a follower of Jesus three times. Both of them later realize what they have done. Both of them are overwhelmed by remorse and guilt. But the system each lives in has life-and-death consequences for these two men.
Judas goes the chief priests and the elders, returns the money he received for betraying Jesus, and says, “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.” “What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.” (Matthew 27:4) Which system is this, the “We do” system or the “God does” system? It is the “We do” system! And here’s the thing about the “We do” system: when you are broken and hurting, when you’ve lost your job, when you are filled with guilt and shame, when you are staring death in the face-there is no hope for you in the Law system. And Judas, confronted with his own failures, with no hope of forgiveness or redemption in sight, got a good stout rope and hung himself in despair. This is the end result of living in the Law system.
Peter’s crime was just as great, but his end result was far different! Guilty as he was, Peter stayed with the rest of Jesus’ followers, and he was there on that first Easter Sunday night when Jesus appeared in the Upper Room and said, Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27) A few days later while fishing, when Peter realized it was Jesus standing on the seashore, he jumped off the boat and began swimming towards the originator of the whole grace system. And there on that seashore, Jesus reinstated Peter as one of his followers! That’s the grace system at work. And Peter became a prominent leader in this new movement of Jesus People. Touched by grace, Peter became a person of grace, and because of that, thousands of people experienced the grace and the life that only Jesus can give.
The Grace system is based on what God does but it is also more than that. We could say that the Grace System is
- Based on what God does
- Being part of a community of faith – we instead of me
- Willing to receive grace
- Willing to give grace
- Willing to say, “It’s my fault, I’m sorry!”
Living in a system based on what God does takes all of the pressure off of us and opens up the possibility that great and wonderful things can happen because God can do anything. You have already heard of the difference being part of a community of faith made to Peter-it saved his life. Being willing to receive grace was a hard lesson for me, but I couldn’t have completed the education process of becoming a church worker without the generous gifts given to us by others. Being willing to say “I’m sorry” is never easy, but that is what helps me to have healthy relationships with others. And when we are willing to give grace to others, we can touch their hearts with a love that is like God’s love for us.
Last week, Morgan had three final exams in three days. And he was really anxious over the second of those three exams, which was Hebrew. There was a long take-home exam which had to be handed in when he wrote the final. He didn’t have the take-home exam complete and he didn’t feel properly prepared for the final. I couldn’t write the exam for him, but I could extend grace to him. I said, “Let’s pray.” So I prayed for Morgan, and then I gave him a hug and I said, “You know what son? I love you, your mom and your family loves you, and God loves you. And that isn’t going to change with this exam. Even if you fail this exam and flunk this course, we will still love you and you are still a child of God. The really important things in life are not in play here.”
You and I, we live in two systems at the same time. Whether it is finances or trying to lose weight or going to school, there are big parts of our lives that are part of the Law system. And we need the Law system to give order and structure to our lives and the society in which we live. But the Law system is insufficient. It is not enough. Only the grace system tells us that the tomb is empty. Only the grace system gives us life and hope and joy and peace. So let us live in the Grace System, let us live a Resurrection Life, let’s Live Like Peter in a Judas World! Amen.
(Shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, Langley BC on 19 April 2009.)
 “Vancouver Ownership,” Vancouver 2011 MLS; Internet; available at: http://www.vancouvermls2011.com/about/vancouver-ownership.aspx; downloaded 18 April 2009.