The following is a sermon I preached on Easter at Clackamas United Church of Christ, near Portland, Oregon. The text was John 1:1-5 and John 20:1-18. The video recording of the sermon is below, along with the text.
I love that today is both Easter Sunday and April Fool’s Day. There’s something utterly foolish about believing in the resurrection.
I’m not talking about the debate about whether Jesus literally rose from the dead in bodily form. For some, if you believe that, you are foolish because we know that people don’t rise from the dead. For them, it’s a metaphor. But for others, if you don’t believe Jesus literally resurrected then you just don’t have enough faith and you need to try harder.
Fortunately for you, I have the answer to this debate and I’m going to convince you of the right answer in the next 10-15 minutes!
No, I won’t do that. But I am going to tell you that whether you believe the resurrection is a metaphor or you believe it literally happened, either way, you are foolish.
The Gospel passage from this morning is from the end of John’s Gospel. It’s part of the resurrection account. But I’d like to set the stage by reading the beginning of John’s Gospel. They are some of my favorite verses in the Bible but I’m going to read these familiar words with a slight twist.
In the beginning was the logos, and the logos was with God, and the logos was God. The logos was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through the logos, and without the logos not one thing came into being.
We usually hear this passage as “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.”
But the word in the original Greek that we usually translate as word is the Greek word logos.
I love the word logos because it means so much more than simply word. It means reason. It where we get the word logic. Logos is the root of wisdom. It’s connected to our words philosophy, theology, psychology, anthropology, and all of the other -ologies that people study to gain wisdom.
In the ancient Greco-Roman world where the Gospels were written, logos wasn’t just about the human quest for wisdom and knowledge. The logos had a transcendent, divine-like quality. It was the underlying principle of reality that holds everything together. Logos was the reason that gives birth and forms creation. Everyone in the Greco-Roman world knew that the logos mattered and there was primarily one way of understanding the logos in the Greco-Roman world.
There was a famous Greek philosopher named Heraclitus who described the dominant way of understanding the logos. Heraclitus claimed that the logos, the fundamental reality of the universe, is violence, strife, and war. He wrote that, “all things happen according to strife and necessity.” And that, “War is father of all and king of all.”
For Heraclitus, the logos, the fundamental reality of the universe, is connected with violence and war.
And then came the Gospel according to John. From beginning to end, John subverts the logos of violence. When John wrote that the logos was in the beginning and all things came into being through the logos and that the logos was concretely seen in Jesus, he was subverting the logos of Heraclitus.
John’s Gospel is an insurrection of how things are. What’s the logos really like? It’s not like Heraclitus. Rather, it’s like Jesus of Nazareth, the one who loved and forgave his enemies. It’s like Jesus, the one who implored his disciples to put their swords back in its place. It’s like Jesus, the one who prayed for the Father to forgive those who threw him up on a cross. It’s like Jesus, the one whom God resurrected not to seek revenge against those who betrayed and abandoned him, but to offer peace and reconciliation.
Jesus is the logos. He reveals that the fundamental reality of the universe is love. The flow of the universe is love. What structures and gives birth to creation? Not violence and war, but Love.
Right from the very beginning of his Gospel, John subverts common human wisdom that justifies violence.
But unfortunately, most Christians today have more faith in Heraclitus than they do in Jesus. Oh sure, many Christians will proclaim faith in Jesus, but they don’t really believe in the way of nonviolent love that Jesus revealed. They believe in war. They believe in violence. They believe in Heraclitus.
Any Christian nation that believes war and violence is the way to peace is not a Christian nation. It’s a Heraclitan nation.
Any president that scapegoats Muslims and immigrants and black NFL players and manages to rejuvenate white supremacy believes in Heraclitus, not Jesus.
Any Congress where Republicans and Democrats increase a military budget that is already the highest military budget in the world believes in Heraclitus, not Jesus.
Anyone who thinks that building walls is the way to peace and security believes in Heraclitus, not Jesus.
But, you see, I can’t entirely blame a president or Congress for having more faith in Heraclitus than in Jesus. Violence and war is the common wisdom of the world. It claims that if you hit me, I get to hit you back. Only I’m going to hit you back even harder so that you won’t hit me again. But that wisdom doesn’t work because eventually you will hit me back harder than I hit you. And soon we are in an imitative cycle of violence that will only lead to our mutual death.
And the cycle will continue until a different kind of wisdom enters our lives. This different kind of wisdom is the wisdom of the resurrection. When Mary met the resurrected Jesus, she calls him rabbi, or teacher. She doesn’t call him savior or God or even Messiah, although those titles would have been appropriate. She calls him teacher. Why? Because we have some wisdom we need to learn from the resurrected Christ.
We need to unlearn the ways of Heraclitus so that we can learn the ways of the resurrected Christ. For in Christ we learn that the true logos, the true wisdom of God that structures everything and holds the universe together, is nonviolent love and forgiveness.
And those who are seduced by the wisdom of Heraclitus will call those who follow the wisdom of the resurrected Christ foolish. So be it.
Like high schoolers labeled foolish because they march in the streets proclaiming “Enough” to gun violence, Christians must start marching in the streets to proclaim that we’ve had enough of the “wisdom” of Heraclitus. We’ve had enough of violence and war and strife. For we know that violence and war and strife are not the fundamental structures of the universe. Because of the resurrection we know that the fundamental structure of the universe is Christ’s nonviolent love and forgiveness and reconciliation.
And here’s the deal: Once we start living into the resurrected Christ, people from the right, people from the left, and people in between will call us foolish. Again, so be it. We know that they are under the myth of Heraclitus. And we know the world doesn’t need us to respond to them with more hate and violence. So we will respond to them with Christ’s resurrected spirit of love and forgiveness and reconciliation.
But we will also respond with the truth revealed in Christ. The truth of Christ doesn’t just sit back and let violence and evil run their course. No. The truth of Christ comes face to face with the forces of evil and death. That’s what Good Friday was about. Jesus wasn’t killed because he passively taught his followers to love everyone. No, he was killed because he said “No” to violent and greedy political and religious institutions. He said “No” to those institutions because he had already said “Yes” to the God of love and justice for all people, but especially for the oppressed.
You see, friends, because of the resurrection, the false wisdom that claims violence and war are the primary ways to peace is coming to an end. For the true way to peace is seen through the logos of Jesus, not the logos of Heraclitus.
And yes, there are a lot of problems in our world. We have work to do, but we will not fall into despair or cynicism. For we know that even as we walk through the darkness and violence and death of Good Friday, they do not have the last word.
Hope has the last word.
Love has the last word.
Resurrection has the last word.
So this Easter season, as we celebrate the resurrection, may we be fools in the eyes of the world.
May we know the difference between the logos of Heraclitus and the logos of Christ, and may we proclaim the logos of Christ.
And may we rise up as we journey together into God’s future of universal love, justice, and reconciliation. Amen.