I rather like the story Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick once related from his own childhood days. His father had said to his mother, upon leaving the house one Saturday in the morning hours: “Tell Harry that he can cut the grass today, if he feels like it.”
Then, halfway down the walk, his father turned once more to add: “And tell Harry that he had better feel like it.”
Well, in its own rather humorous way, there is something essential about life wrapped up in that. For there is a difference between knowing we are supposed to do something, and ‘feeling like” doing it. There is a difference between a sense of obligation and a sense of generosity. There is a difference between obedience and desire. And the one of those weighs us down, while the other lifts us up.
Christianity says to us, you do not know God, if you know Him only as a sense of authority over your life. Furthermore, you do not know God, if you merely believe intellectually that God is a God who cares and loves.
You do not know God somehow at all, unless the same spirit of His authority and His love captivates you from within, so that you live knowing the spirit of it for yourself. You do not know God, unless all this that we have been saying about Him becomes for you your own way of life and not an obligation imposed on you by the Church, or by the fear of death, or by anything else.
Easter Sunday is past, but the story remains. The mystical story of life over death gives us hope and victory and rests our souls.
Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed!
Harry Emerson Fosdick tells this story: Some years ago a little church on the coast of England was ruined in a hurricane. The congregation thought themselves unable to rebuild. Then one day a representative of the British Admiralty came to the clergyman to ask if they intended to reconstruct the church. The clergyman explained why they could not do it. “Well,” said the representative of the British navy, “if you do not rebuild the church we will. That spire is on all our charts and maps. It is the landmark by which the ships of the seven seas steer their course.” A true parable, that! Never more than now, when the souls of men need divine help, stable and secure, strong, sustaining, and empowering, is the church’s message needed.
Though the hurricane of hell brought the sins of the world down upon the body of Christ, crushing the life from Him, that body was rebuilt on Easter. Today, the spire of the cross stands as our chart and map. Calvary’s cross is the landmark by which the church and its followers steer their course.
Harry Emerson Fosdick, the minister of the Riverside Church, was making a tour of Palestine and other countries of the Middle East. He was invited to give an address at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon, where the student body comprised citizens of many countries and representatives from sixteen different religions. What could he say that would be relevant or of interest to so mixed and varied a group? This is how Fosdick began: “I do not ask anyone here to change his religion; but I do ask all of you to face up to this question: What is your religion doing to your character?”
This was a call to consider one of the great issues of human belief. He was asking them to consider: religion and life, Christianity and character, word and spirit. Emerson once said, “What you are speaks so loudly I cannot hear a word you say.”
The historical traditions of the world all have their goals. The Greeks were in search of a formula for life, a slogan by which to perform, but this never claimed to change the heart. The Jews had their Law, demanding obedience to every detail as the prerequisite to the good life, but Christianity discovered that a set of rules could never provide salvation nor solve the deadly problem of sin and moral failure. Jesus, however, came with a new key to true life: accept His spirit, surrender to Him, and allow him to be a part of your everyday life.