If only

In the last few weeks, Pittsburgh paid last respects to two of its great leaders and philanthropists, Steeler’s Chairman Dan Rooney, and businessman Henry Hillman. Both men were wealthy, yet unassuming. They were men of stature and grace who used their gifts to make a difference in the community.

This week we paid last respects to Ryan Cenk, someone a bit less well known, but who used his gifts to make a difference as well. Ryan lost a long battle to cancer last Saturday. On Tuesday, while Ryan’s family and friends lined up around the funeral home and down the street for the first of three viewings, the people Ryan served and volunteered with prayed and sang and ate a meal together in our church. Just the week before, Ryan was serving them himself.

We sometimes make the mistake of dreaming of the things we could do “if only” we had this or that advantage. Ryan was small and looked younger than his 22 years. Even on good days, he needed help to walk; cancer at age 10 months had taken some of his mobility and sight.

But Ryan had the advantage of being wealthy in Spirit. He was certain of his stature as a child of God. He had the gift of a loving family and friends who, instead of keeping Ryan for themselves, helped him use his gifts out in the world. Ryan became an Eagle Scout, an advocate for the physically challenged, and a volunteer for many causes that mattered to him. He served food to the homeless for the last two years in our church.

Think of the difference we could make “if only….”

But wait a minute.

Have we not all been gifted, just as Ryan was? Aren’t we all children of the Living God?

What other advantage do we really need?

Easter as a verb

The commercial shows a neighborhood full of kids on the wildest Easter-egg hunt ever. They rip off their Easter ties and hair bows, and go at it, running to snatch eggs out of the air, diving to find them at the bottom of swimming pools, and even searching for them with drones. All the while, the 1970’s rock anthem, “One Way or Another” blasts in the background. Inside, parents prepare for the Easter meal in relative peace and quiet, equipped with everything they need, from Wal-Mart.

The commercial ends with the line, “Easter like you mean it.”

It’s too bad that Wal-Mart so blatantly commercializes Easter. But at least the commercial points to a greater truth: If we really understood what Easter was about, we’d live with joy and abandon, like those kids in the commercial.

We’d all “Easter like we mean it.”

The first example of “Easter like you mean it” was Mary Magdalene. On the first Easter, she ventured to the tomb in the dark. Finding the stone rolled away, she ran to tell Peter and the disciple Jesus loved.

Then the two disciples raced to the tomb. Peter barged right in. Hesitating for a moment, the disciple Jesus loved saw the folded grave clothes and believed.

That’s “Easter like you mean it.”

Later, when the Risen Jesus met the bewildered disciples, he commissioned them to “Easter” the whole world. Infused with Easter power, they did just that.

Easter is proof that death and the dark forces that want to control us have been defeated. We can live with joy and abandon, knowing that everything Jesus followers do is part of renewing God’s creation.

Nothing could stop Jesus from rising from the tomb, and nothing can ultimately stop Easter people like us.

Live with joy and abandon. “Easter like you mean it.”


Winning the argument

Sure there are lots of people who say it never happened, but some things are undeniable:

  • The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most important event in human history.
  • Jesus Christ is the most influential person in history. No other figure in history even comes close. His followers today number about 2.6 billion.
  • The Bible is the most widely read book in history.

And so as we come to the Sunday before Easter, known both as Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday, it makes sense to reflect on the events that catapulted Jesus to unparalleled significance.

We hear every day about conflict in our public discourse—one side shouting down the other. It’s almost seems that each of us thinks our cause is the most important thing going.

And so it should give us pause when we consider the way Jesus handled what really was the most important thing going.

On trial for his life, he did nothing, said almost nothing.

“If you say so,” is all he said to the Roman governor, the one who had the power of set him free.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” were his last words.

On the greatest stage in history, the greatest actor in history chose to say nothing.

Maybe we need to consider the silence of Jesus the next time we’re in an argument with a friend or a loved one. What’s the cost of “winning” our point? What do we gain by ripping someone on social media? The next time we find ourselves insisting on our own way, perhaps we ought to consider whether our position is really all that righteous.

The only righteous person who ever lived was silent in the face of his accusers.

Compared to Jesus, almost no one remembers the words of other famous people.

But the silence of Jesus, not to mention his word, still stands.