Saturday, April 30, 2016

What cracks you up?

When you think about your best feature, what is it? Your wavy hair? Your scintillating sense of humour? Your dazzling smile? Your rapier sharp wit? We all have one.  We all have something about ourselves that makes us feel special… a chocolate egg if you will…something we protect and feel pride over… my personal chocolate egg is my intelligence…my book smarts.  I did well at school (getting into my first choice uni course easily) and reasonably well at uni (studying all sorts of fun courses in English and History).  I was even so brainy that I did honours in two subjects.  Honours in English went off without a hitch, and honours in History was also looking good.  I spent months writing a thesis… reading articles, forming ideas, polishing arguments. I handed it in.  I thought it was good.  I thought I might scrape a Distinction.

But then some cracks began to form in my egg…  I found myself sitting in a meeting with my supervisor and the head of the department trying to explain why my thesis should not fail.  The mistakes were everywhere.  I thought I had been doing it right.  They couldn’t pass it.  I was devastated. Months of work down the drain.
My egg was broken.  I had failed. 

We live in a society that is terrified of failure. 
We send our kids to extra maths tutoring, music lessons, sports practices…sometimes we sacrifice holidays and bigger houses in order to send them to private schools…anything to give them a chance to succeed. 
We have an “everyone’s a winner” culture.  At the end of soccer season every kid gets a trophy.  At the end of the year, every kid gets a certificate listing their achievements or failing achievements, their best personal traits.
We work hard to look successful (whatever that means)…the big house, the flashy car, the nice clothes, the high flying job
Every year the bar for success is higher.  We have to work harder to look successful...

We work so hard to please our bosses. Our parents. Our kids. Ourselves.  We hold ourselves to high standards but we fall short all the time…we collect our chocolate eggs and hoard them… but they crack and break.  We are late to work having forgotten to bring that important presentation; crack.  We forget a family dinner that we have known about for weeks; crack.  We forget to go to that important soccer game.  The one where our kid is the one who scores two goals; crack.  We pick yet another fight with our spouse because we just can’t hold it together after such a big weekend packed with events; crack.

We can paper over these cracks though.  Apologies to colleagues.  Gifts for your disappointed parents.  Contrite letters to grandma.  A special day out for the soccer player to “make it all better”.  We think we get a pass.  We think all is forgotten.  Until the next time.  And the next.  And the next.  More apologies.  More gifts. More evidence that we are not as successful as we seem to be.  More evidence that all is not right with our “successful life”.  More cracks in our perfect chocolate egg life.
It’s not as if we have a monopoly on making mistakes in the 21st century.  In the time before Jesus, mankind wasn’t that successful at keeping their chocolate eggs from cracking and breaking either… they cheated, they lied, they stole, they slept around, they ran after other Gods… they basically did the exact opposite of what God told them to do.  In fact there was not one person who lived completely the way God wanted them to… no one could stop their chocolate eggs from cracking.  “ALL HAD SINNED AND FALLEN SHORT OF THE GLORY OF GOD”( Romans 3:23). Not some.  It’s not like some could live up to God’s high standards and others just weren’t trying hard enough.  NONE of them could live up to God’s standard. 

ALL of us fail.  All of our eggs crack.

Of course the ultimate failure in life is death. Death. The great leveller. The end of living.  The end of all things.  All people die.  We can take all the medicine we want… swallow all the health supplements… do all the exercise … eat all the right foods… have all the operations… do all the meditations … avoid all the high risk activities like sky diving without a parachute, or riding motor cycles while drunk and high in the rain at night without a helmet… all the care we take is futile. Death is inevitable for all of us sooner or later. 

When Jesus died on the cross on that first Good Friday, it looked an awful lot like failure.  The man who called himself the Son of God who was going to usher in a new way for humankind to relate to God and to be right with God.  Beaten. Bloodied. Dead. Buried. Sealed into the tomb.  Death had won.  The Son of God could not avoid death… just like us his Egg broke.

But then. 

The empty tomb was found by Jesus’s followers.  His body was missing.  They couldn’t explain it.  The Roman guards on duty could not explain it.  The body could not be found. 

He was seen by his followers alive.  Alive and Eating with them… touched by them.  Alive and teaching them.
He was no longer dead.  Death could not hold him down.  He was risen from the grave.
His death, the ultimate failure, has become the ultimate victory. 

We can paper over the failures in our own lives. But eventually we have to face these failures.  All of them.  Sometimes we get lucky.  Sometimes we get a second chance. A “do-over” if you will. 
You remember me?  Sitting there in the office at the university? Being told that my thesis had failed?  I talked to them.  I pleaded.  I cried.  I asked them if I could possibly, maybe, please pretty please with sugar on top, please rewrite and re-submit?  It would mean totally re-writing a 20,000 word thesis.  I could have just written it off as a failure, chalked it up to experience and walked away, with pride dented and intelligence forever questionable.  But I chose to ask.  I asked for a new chocolate egg to start over with.
I was very lucky.  I received a moment of Grace.  I was allowed to rewrite and resubmit my thesis.  One year, 20,000 words and lots of stress later, I handed it in secure in the knowledge that I had worked harder, written better, polished shinier than I thought was possible.  A new egg with no cracks in it yet.
The second attempt passed.  I got a second chance.  A do-over.  Success!
But does this success affect my eternal failings?  Does it make me right with God? 
NO.  I could write 10 theses and get 100% in all of them, and still not be right with God.   My eternal failings… trying to live my own way, trying to avoid death under my own steam… these are not effected by thesis do-overs.  They need a much bigger fix.  The ultimate fix.

By rising from the Dead, Jesus gave us a way to be right with God… a new and better way to engage with God.    With Jesus we don’t need a second chance. We don’t need to rewrite the thesis.  He has wiped out the need for second chances. He has taken the failed thesis and made it a 100% thesis.   He has taken our broken lives full of all our failures, and made them perfect.  Our broken lives are like broken chocolate eggs…smashed beyond repair.  And yet through Jesus our egg is no longer smashed. It is whole and perfect once more.
So when we eat our chocolate eggs this Easter, we can remember that because of Jesus, our lives can be made whole again, and we can be right with God.

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