Aftershock


A sermon delivered by Joel Snider, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Rome, Ga., on April 8, 2012.

Matthew 28:1-7

Meditation Text:

If faith were merely learning about Jesus as a dead person in the past, there could at some point be an end to it.  But since faith is a response to the living Lord who presses upon us at every moment, there is no time at which we can quit without betraying the entire process in which we have been engaged.

                --Luke Timothy Johnson in Living Jesus: Learning the Heart of the Gospel

About 20 years ago, a term came into the culture that describes a situation where a product did not exist before.  People did not know they wanted it, but all of a sudden, this product comes into awareness and everybody has to have it.  We will do whatever it takes to be among the first to get it or get it as soon as we can afford it.  It changes the way we do something.  The term is disruptive innovation or sometimes called disruptive technology.  A product that we would not have even conceived of or bought a year or two before, all of a sudden we see it and think, Oh, that’s so cool.  I’ve just got to have it.

Illustrations would be just about anything that Apple makes.   The iPod changed the way that we buy and listen to music.  The CD is dead.  I have two really nice CD players that I will sell cheap.  We just don’t need them anymore.   Overnight, we went to where the term Smartphone is redundant.  All phones are smart.  The cell phone went from being to what was primarily a telephone to being a mobile device and we had no idea how badly we wanted one of those until we saw someone’s iPhone.   The iPad has changed the way people compute. 

If you are the parent or the grandparent of someone between the ages of 6 and 30,  try to estimate how many iPods, iPhones, or iPads your children or grandchildren have.  Then go ask them how many they have, and I guarantee you will have underestimated the number.  We did not know that we wanted them, but they came and disrupted the way we compute, the way we use the phones, and the way we listen to music.  It is a disruptive innovation. 

The resurrection of Jesus would not be described as an innovation but it certainly is disruptive, isn’t it?  In the world we live in, and in particular the world before Christ, death is always the last word.  Death is very final.  Death is so permanent.  Death is dark.  When somebody is taken from us, it is as gut-wrenching an experience as we would want to have. 

The only things we think are real are the things we can smell, eat, touch, buy, wear, and possess.  Only those things that are concrete and things that we can really own are all that seem to be real.  The old Greek phrase, “Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we may die,” is the perfect marriage of the expressions of how the world looked at things before.  Then comes what theologian Paul Minear calls the Golgotha earthquake.  The Golgotha earthquake comes in and everything is changed.  The foundations of life are shaken.  All of a sudden there is a new vision of what is possible, and everything is disrupted and everything is changed.  Or is it?

If we read the Gospels with our eyes wide open, we find that, yes, the women come to the tomb.  Yes, there is an earthquake.  Yes, the stone is rolled back.  Yes, the angel is there and says, “See he is not here, for he has risen, just as he has told you.”  But if you also read the Gospels a little further, resurrection gets mixed reviewed.  Don’t think me unfaithful here because if we really do pay attention while we are reading, we find out that it is mixed. 

The women are excited, but in one of the Gospels it says that the disciples dismissed it as an idle tale.  Later, in Matthew’s Gospel he appears to 500 and some doubt it.  Mary was convinced, but we also find out that some of the disciples were locked in a room, probably trying to hide from Roman and Jewish authorities for fear they are going to come and stamp out the rest of Jesus’ followers and make sure it is all over with.  Some ran to the tomb to see what had happened when they heard, but there is always Thomas who said, “I will not believe it unless I can stick my fingers in his wounds.”

By faith we do believe that the resurrection is true, but if we are honest, at first among the people who were closest to Jesus, it was only marginally disruptive.  But then the aftershocks start to come. 

Have you ever been in an earthquake?  Have you ever watched reports about earthquakes on the news?  First comes the earthquake and it shutters, shakes, and tears down, depending on the culture and how sound the buildings are, etc., and then you see some reporters saying, “People are living in fear of the aftershocks.  They are out in the streets.  They don’t want to be in a building.  They are trying to protect themselves from the aftershocks.”

The disciples are locked in a room but Jesus comes through anyway.  He looks at Thomas and says, “Put your fingers here.”  In an aftershock, Thomas says, “My Lord and my God,” and falls down to worship.

Two unnamed disciples are walking along a dusty road and they are despairing.  They meet a stranger and they say to him, “We thought this Jesus was the one who would redeem Israel, but now he is dead and we don’t know.”  They go and sit down and take a meal together and when Jesus blessed the bread and broke it, they recognized him.  He disappeared from their sight and it was an aftershock.  They looked at each and said, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us when we talked to him along the road?” 

This group that had been fishers of men had gone back to doing nothing more than just fishing.  Jesus appeared to them there beside the Sea of Galilee and said, “Children, have you caught any fish?”  They recognized him and Peter jumped out of the boat and swam to shore.  They had a conversation, and at the end of the conversation in an aftershock, Peter agreed to feed his sheep.

We read on, and there is the command to go, preach, and teach.  The Golgotha earthquake started it, but it wasn’t until the aftershocks hit and each of these people began to have their own personal encounter with the Living Lord, Jesus Christ, that the cumulative power of the Golgotha earthquake and all of its aftershocks began to take effect and disrupt the way the world looked at life, death, what’s important and what’s not, how we relate and what we believe about God.  All of a sudden the disruption is taking place.

If we are 100% candid, we are not far from where the disciples were.  They heard the message.  A few went to see and believed.  Some of them were very excited about it and others reserved judgment.  Others were entirely skeptical.  We come and Easter is a wonderful Sunday.  How disrupted have our lives been because of the Golgotha earthquake?  What has happened to the disciples is perhaps happening in our lives as well.  We have encounters.  We have flashes.  We have moments where, all of a sudden, we realize that this is not just a story about long ago but it really is about a presence that is alive and well on the earth and invested in all of our lives.  The aftershocks begin to have an impact.

Why do we not open ourselves up more to the aftershocks?  Just like people who have been caught in an earthquake, why are we so prone to protect ourselves, to seek shelter, and make sure we are not damaged by it?  Why do we treat the Golgotha earthquake the same way that most people treat a real earthquake?  Why do we try to save ourselves from it?

William Willimon, a great Methodist preacher and Bishop in Alabama, tells this story.  He says, “I am still haunted by a long conversation I had with a man who was a member of one of my early congregations.  He told me that one evening, while returning from a night of poker with pals, he had a stunning vision of the presence of the risen Christ.  Christ appeared to him, undeniably vividly.  Yet, though this event shook him and stirred him deeply, in ten years he had never told anyone about it before he told me.  I pressed him on his silence.  Was he embarrassed?  Was he fearful that others would mock him or fail to believe that this had happened to him?  ‘No,’ he explained.  ‘The reason why I have never told anyone was I was too afraid that it was true, and if it was true that Jesus was really real and that he had come personally to me, what then?  I would have to change my whole life.  I would have to become some kind of radical or something.  I love my wife and my family, and I was scared I would have to change to be somebody else and that it might destroy my family if the vision was real.’” [1]

What he understood from the vision was how disruptive it really is when the living Jesus Christ comes into our lives.  It is an aftershock of mega-proportions and nothing is really the same.  Why do we protect ourselves?  We can see his point of view.  I think it is because we have such little spiritual imagination for what the far side of disruption looks like.  Jesus comes and talks about a new order, a new way, a new kingdom, and a new day.  We think, Do I really want that?  I kind of have the old way nailed.  I have figured out how to pretend like I am in control.  I have figured out how to manipulate things.  Life is going pretty well for me.  I have a good living.  Why do I want this disrupted?  It is because we don’t have enough spiritual imagination to understand what the far side of this disruption could look like.

Of all the things that you possess, own or have accumulated, what would you give for real peace?  Would you give it all?  Maybe we won’t have to, but maybe we will.  Would it be worth it to be on the far side of disruption and to know peace? 

What about relationships in your life?  What do you possess or what have you accumulated that you would give up if, on the far side of disruption, your relationships could somehow be made whole? 

What about that hunger and thirst for God?  What about the desire for the holy that sometimes we cannot put words to?  We think, If I try to describe this, people are going to think that I have gone radical.  People are going to think that I have become a holy roller.  But you know in your own heart that the need for God is so deep.  What would you give up to be able to have that on the far side?  We protect ourselves from the aftershock disruption because we know it is going to change things, but what we don’t have is the spiritual imagination to understand and to see how wonderful it could be on the far side.

I was talking with someone this week about the different ways that people live and how much energy it takes to chase things of this world, how much energy it takes to bear a grudge for a lifetime, and how much energy it takes to always have to be right and never be able to say, “I’m sorry.”  All of these things are in the old order and Jesus came to disrupt that.  The Golgotha earthquake starts it, and when the aftershocks of Christ come to us real and powerfully, hopefully it can disrupt our lives and we can begin to move forward so that we can spend our lives on much easier things like forgiving, loving, building up treasure in heaven, being with God, being at peace with God, and knowing that God loves us.  What a disruption!

On the front end, it looks like the end of everything.  We go through the disruption and get on the far side, and we realize it is just the beginning of everything.  It is an aftershock from the Golgotha earthquake, an aftershock when the present Christ, the Living Lord, the one that God did raise from the dead comes to us, and in that powerful moment, it is not about a story in the Bible, it is not about a sermon that someone preached, it is about the presence that we cannot deny.  When we experience Christ in that way, we begin to say, “Ah, I see it now.  This is where it all started.  This must be true because I know that I have met him.” 

There are still aftershocks after 2,000 years, still aftershocks waiting for each of us when the present Christ can shape and disrupt what we have been involved in to give us something so much greater.  This is the promise of Easter.  I pray for an earthquake, an aftershock, for each of us today.


            [1] William H. Willimon, Undone by Easter (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2009) 40-41

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