This is my 13th Easter at Aldersgate. I arrived here from a church in Rockbridge, Virginia 13 years ago- right around Dennis’ 60th birthday. It’s true. Dennis Perry been putting the senior in senior pastor longer than Fox News has been obsessed with Hillary Clinton. He’s so old now that whenever he stops moving people start to throw dirt on him.
13 Easters- that’s a lot of years of me making Dennis look like a competent contributor to the staff. I mean, really, Dennis manages to put in less time than a Trump cabinet appointee. 13 Easters- that’s a lot of years of me showing Dennis how to login to his computer. Seriously, he chose his password so you’d think he’d remember that Hasselhoff has 2 f’s at the end.
Our bishop is foisting me on unsuspecting strangers come summer, and to help prepare them, because I’m what Karla Kincannon calls “an acquired taste,” Dennis Perry suggested I take the Enneagram personality assessment- it’s like the Meyers Briggs for naval gazers.
According to Russ Hudson, who is the President of the Enneagram Institute (dot com), the Enneagram:
“is one of the world’s most powerful and insightful tools for understanding ourselves and others. At its core, the Enneagram helps us see ourselves and others at a deeper, more objective level and be of invaluable assistance on our path to self-knowledge.”
After forking over $11.99 for the privilege of looking more deeply and objectively into my innards, I took the Russ Hudson Enneagram Type Indicator test (version 2.5), answering a series of binary questions such as:
Others should do: A) What’s right B) What I tell them
Upon finishing, with the authority of the Sorting Hat at Hogwarts, the RHETI 2.5 told me that out of 9 Enneagram Types I’m an 8.
Why not a 9? I wondered to myself as I clicked open my report.
“The Challenger” it said at the top of my instantaneous report.
Okay, the Challenger, I thought to myself, I like the sound of the Challenger. According to the Enneagram Inventory, 8’s are powerful (obviously), decisive (goes without saying), and self-confident (yep).
This is a good tool, I thought to myself, already starting to cut and paste it to send to Dennis.
Of course, I should’ve known that ever since Sally Ride “The Challenger is something of a bad omen.
I clicked the “Learn More” tab and the next page it called up communicated that as an 8 I’m also willful, confrontational, impatient, sarcastic, and argumentative.
“I am not argumentative,” I shouted at the laptop screen, “This test is stupid.”
No doubt Russ Hudson would roll his eyes and say my response was predictable considering that 8’s allegedly also believe they know better than everyone else, suspect they’re always the smartest person in the room, and where you have opinions I have facts.
After taking RHETI 2.5 5 more times to the total tune of $60.00 and rolling a hard 8 every time, I showed it my wife, Ali, who read the rap sheet of an 8 and replied: “BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.”
She actually snorted boogery ice-water out through her nose.
Then she took the laptop from me and read a loud, as if for an audience:
“Don’t flatter an 8. It will only inflate their already large ego. When an 8 curses and uses inappropriate humor just remember that’s the way they are. An 8 doesn’t mean to overwhelm you with bluntness they just get restless when they perceive incompetence.”
Then she patted me on my sulking head, and said “Don’t you see sweetie, this is why so many people think you’re a @#$!@#.”
Which is why for my 13th Ash Wednesday here at Aldersgate, I gave up Ali for Lent and told her she can return to our bed sometime around Arbor Day.
After spending $72.00 more dollars and taking the RHTI 2.5 6 more times to no variance in results, I decided to email Russ Hudson and ask if I could get a refund from his fortune-cookie, tarot card reading racket.
“Dear President Hudson,
According to Wikipedia,” I typed, “your scratch-n-sniff personality assessment tool was later disavowed by its original developer. As I write this, the Ides of March are upon us. Perhaps you should expand your little ponzi scheme empire and start selling divining rods too. This might not strike you as a good business venture, but I don’t really care, as an 8, I think you should just do what I tell you to do.
Reverend Jason Micheli.”
After I clicked send, I read a little more of my report which told me that some of the other Enneagram 8’s in history are Mahatma Ghandi, Albert Einstein, Abraham Lincoln, the guy from the Dos Equis commercials, and Jesus Christ.
Russ Hudson the personality test president with the porn star name apparently has it out for me. His report told me that among Enneagram 8’s there are names like General George Patton, Richard Nixon, Homer Simpson, Donald Trump and- I’m not joking- St. Paul.
I’m still contesting my RHTI 2.5 results with Russ, but I bet his read on St. Paul is right-on. Paul’s an 8 with a capital E because, when it comes to Easter Paul doesn’t talk about his feelings or his personal experience.
Paul doesn’t tell us a story about the empty tomb he gives us an argument.
“By this Gospel you are saved…for what I received I passed on as of chief importance: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures.”
And Paul continues for 30 more verses:
“If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is in vain and your faith is a waste of time…for if Christ has not been raised we are all liars and you are still in your sins.”
The oldest sustained Easter account doesn’t come from Matthew, Mark, Luke or John but from St. Paul, and what St. Paul gives us isn’t a story with angels and an empty tomb.
He gives us an argument.
Evidently, you all aren’t the only ones who think Easter is a day for fools because when the Apostle Paul writes to the church in Corinth he doesn’t spin an inspiring story. He doesn’t muddle it with metaphors about butterflies or springtime renewal. He doesn’t contort it into cliches about hope beyond the grave or love being stronger than death.
No, he mounts an argument that the grave really is empty. He marshals evidence that Jesus Christ IN FACT has been raised from the dead.
Maybe it’s because he’s an Enneagram 8, but when it comes to Easter, Paul doesn’t think what you need is spiritual uplift or subjective inspiration. At Easter, Paul doesn’t offer advice. He insists on an argument because Paul believes that what you really need isn’t spiritual uplift or practical advice about how to live your best life now.
What you truly need is a God who is real.
Because if God is real, if Christ is Risen indeed, then nothing else matters- certainly not your problems.
And if God is not real, then nothing matters.
Every year we send out an Easter mailer to the community, and every year we receive a stack of them sent back to us with words like MYTH, FICTION, FAKE NEWS scrawled all over them.
Look, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, by definition, is beyond reason, but belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is NOT unreasonable.
And, for those in the church at Corinth who crossed their fingers and their toes at Easter, the Apostle Paul makes an argument.
Christ was buried, Paul reminds them.
As Paul puts it in the Book of Acts, “these things didn’t happen in a corner.”
In other words, Christ’s empty tomb first was proclaimed to the very people who had seen him die and who could have gone to his grave with a wheel-barrow and brought back for themselves his nail-scarred bones. Had they been there.
Christianity is the only movement in history that began after the death of its leader. Riddle that.
It’s because, Paul tells the Corinthians, after he was raised from the dead, Christ appeared to over 500 people- actually, more than 500 people because, according to Jewish counting custom, Paul only mentions the men.
And among those 500 plus people encountered by the Risen Christ, Paul writes, was James, the half-brother of Jesus who had not been a disciple of Jesus and who thought his brother Jesus was a total nut job while Jesus was alive.
But we know, even from Roman historians, that after Jesus’ death James testified to his resurrection and was eventually condemned by the same chief priests who had condemned his brother.
James was condemned, just like his brother, for confessing that his brother Jesus was the Christ.
The resurrection is beyond reason, but it is NOT unreasonable, Paul argues.
How else do you explain me, Paul says to the Corinthians. After appearing to over 500, finally as to “an aborted fetus” (is how he puts it in the Greek) Christ appeared to me.
Why is the burden of proof always on the believer?
If you’re going to dismiss Easter as a fool’s day, fine, but then you have to explain how it is that, right after the resurrection, an Ivy League fundamentalist about God’s Law, a Pharisee, began to willfully break the first and most important commandment by worshipping a man- a dead man at that- as God.
You also have to account for how else it could’ve happened that Paul was not only forgiven by the first Christians, whom he had persecuted, he was given authority by them. They made him an Apostle. The Apostle Peter even referred to Paul’s writing as scripture, the Word of God.
Look, I’m not an idiot. In fact, as an Enneagram 8, I’m convinced I’m smarter than all of you. I’m not a moron.
I know modern medicine and science cannot explain the resurrection of Jesus, but it’s intellectually dishonest to turn the resurrection message into a metaphor.
You don’t have to believe it.
But you owe it to the first Christians to take their testimony or leave it.
Do not turn it into something else entirely.
They didn’t believe the resurrection message was a metaphor or a myth.
They didn’t think Easter was really about timeless truths.
They thought it was the truth.
That it actually happened.
At Jerusalem, under Pontius Pilate, during the reign of Caesar Augustus, on the Sunday morning after the Passover when he died between noon and 3 in 33AD. Around tea time, as Monty Python’s Life of Brian puts it.
All the little details, they’re there to reinforce to you that it happened. In history.
And if it didn’t happen, all the butterflies and sentimentalities in the world can’t mask over the fact that not only are we wasting our time here every Sunday, we are worse than liars.
We’re still in our sins.
According to Russ Hudson, Enneagram 8’s can be blunt and the “How to Get Along with Me” section of my results suggests that you not take my to-the-point-ness personally. So don’t get offended when I tell you that you can chalk up Easter to a fool’s day and be about your brunch and your bunnies, that’s fine.
You don’t have to believe it.
But you do have to understand that the New Testament understands the resurrection of Jesus Christ not as a myth or a metaphor but as an event in history.
You have to understand that the first Christians understood the resurrection of Christ as a happening because only then will you be able to distinguish what Christianity is from what Christianity is not.
And that’s a distinction most people don’t understand. A lot of Christians and a lot of churches even get it muddled.
Christianity is not a worldview. Christianity is not a philosophy. It’s not a social program or a political agenda. Christianity is not advice or a way of life or helpful lessons for your kids. Christianity is not a tradition of teachings or a set of spiritual practices.
It is not a morality.
That’s why Paul uses the word “Gospel” to describe what is our non-negotiable, chief concern.
In ancient Rome, that word “Gospel” referred to the announcement that Caesar had conquered you and now he was not just your salad he was your god and now you had the privilege of paying taxes to cover the cost of his having colonized you.
The Gospel was the announcement of what someone done that impacted your life.
Without you having done anything.
You see, properly understood, Christianity is not a religion.
It’s a report.
It’s not a religion of what we must do for God and others. It’s a report of what God has done for us and others.
Every religion tells you what you must do for God and every religion tells you you should love your neighbor. That’s not unique; that’s moralism.
But only Christianity has the Gospel- this news, this announcement, of what God has done for you despite all your failures to love God or love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.
Only Christianity has the Gospel, which means, Christianity is the only religion that is potentially disprovable. Tomorrow if someone finds a thorn-scarred skull buried in Jerusalem somewhere, then we’ll close up shop and we will refund whatever you put in the offering plate. Dennis’ retirement fund be damned.
Only Christianity has this report of a happening in history, the Gospel.
But sometimes it seems like the Gospel is the only thing we don’t want to talk about as Christians.
In the Church-
You’ll hear people tell you which candidate or what values to vote for- that’s not the Gospel.
You’ll hear how to be a better you or build a better world- that’s not the Gospel.
You’ll hear the latest issue you should advocate- that’s not the Gospel.
You’ll hear people tell you who you’re allowed to love or sleep with- that’s not the Gospel either.
Scripture says the Gospel, not your politics; the Gospel, not service projects; the Gospel, not your spirituality, is of chief importance.
The Gospel is our most urgent endeavor.
This good news is the one gift, unique to the Church, that God has given us to offer the world.
And it is- good news.
Because of what Jesus did by his cross and resurrection, all your failures to do what Jesus would do are forgiven. One-way, once-for-all forgiveness for you.
That’s what Jesus did.
The tomb is empty so that you will remember that all your sins in his death are forgotten.
Christ didn’t come to improve your life.
Christ came to end it.
End it in him on the cross and raise it to a newness where there is now and forever no condemnation.
That’s what Jesus did.
St. Paul says in another letter that Jesus Christ rose from the dead for your justification. In Christ, you were crucified with him. Your sin and your old self- it’s been left behind. Buried with him in his death. That’s what he did.
And by his resurrection your rap sheet is now as empty as his grave. And instead of your rap sheet, you’ve been handed his righteousness.
His perfect record. His perfect righteousness has become your permanent record. That’s the best news because it means it doesn’t matter if you’re an argumentative 8 like me or a security-seeking 6 or a pretense-keeping 3.
It doesn’t matter- now- you are not who you are or what you do. And you are not what you have done.
Because this Gospel, this report, announces:
You are now who Jesus is.
You are what he has done.
Despite all evidence to the contrary, he’s made you perfect by God’s way of reckoning.
According to the report the Enneagram Institute sent me, as an 8, I’m prone to putting too much pressure on myself.
I’m prone to taking charge and not trusting others to do their part.
So because he won’t refund my sixty bucks, I’m going to prove Russ Hudson and his RHETI 2.5 is a crock.
I’m going to go against type. I’m not going to try and do it all myself today. I’m not going to close this sermon with some awesome, uplifting story. I’m not going to conclude with any irrefutable practical takeaway for your daily life.
No, I’m going to stick it to Russ Hudson.
And I’m going to trust Jesus Christ, who is not dead, to keep his promise that, when we break this bread and drink from this cup, the news of what he has done for us in history gets into us and it changes us from the inside out.
So there, Russ Hudson.
No doing-it-all-on-my-own inspiration.
Just an invitation:
Come to the table of our Risen Lord.
Eat. Drink. Be merry.
For you have already died.
And tomorrow, you live.