We are a nation of drunk drivers. I myself have driven drunk or under the influence of drugs on more than one occasion. I’m not proud of that fact, but it’s the plain truth. I used to steal, too—nothing really major; magazines from a grocery store. I’d start reading them for a couple minutes, and then I’d walk right out the door—broad daylight—no one would ever say a word. “Maybe he brought them in with him,” they probably thought. I think we are probably a nation of thieves, too. I read somewhere that 95 percent of all businesses in the U.S. experience employee theft.
While I’m at it, I should tell you that I’ve lied. I’ve actually lied a lot. You could technically call me a professional liar. I’ve made up all kinds of stories and excuses for all kinds of different reasons: to get jobs, to get out of jobs, to get into trouble, to stay out of trouble.
Lies, and deceit generally, kind of lay a foundation for a house of immorality. Jesus Christ talked about some idiot who built His house on sand, and if we’re going to pick the story apart in a literary way like it was 12th grade English, I’d guess that I’d have to raise my hand and say that that man’s house was built on lies. My house is built on mostly lies, too. Some days I feel like the guys who have to deal with the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Someone told me they have to pump concrete underneath the thing to keep it from falling over. Shoddy craftsmanship will get you every time. Jesus Christ knew that. He was a carpenter so He probably dealt with that stuff every day. I’m not a carpenter though, so I don’t really know.
I do know about houses of immorality. I lived in one of those in college. You know the place, four guys pay the rent, but 20 people live there. If you never hung out at that place, I’m putting a gold star next to your name right now. Of course, I don’t think that place was built on lies necessarily; it was just kind of an ongoing social experiment really. One where teenagers with newfound freedom did things like getting really drunk and finding someone to hang onto for a night. Looking back, there was probably a lot of drunk driving going on from that house.
Now, some of you are thinking I’m entirely calloused about this whole drinking and driving thing and that it’s awful and I shouldn’t go on about it like I am. And you’re right on both accounts, I am as calloused as a steelworker’s hands, and I really shouldn’t go on about it. Plenty of people in this country have lost brothers and sisters and uncles and friends in horrible wrecks. I have, too. I lost a friend to it a few years back; he was driving back home from a bar at 120 miles per hour and the steering wheel went straight through his chest, and that’s the truth; I’m not lying.
I also had a friend who wasn’t drunk, but he fell asleep at the wheel and when he woke up the car was flipping down the highway. The three other kids in the car with him died, and somehow he made it out alive. I remember sitting in the front room of his apartment as he stared out the big picture window, out beyond the old neighborhood he lived in, out into oblivion. He had scars that crawled up his arms like snakes. But he didn’t hide them, and I couldn’t keep from staring. His eyes were so filled up with hurt, and I didn’t have anything to say to him that might change that. Somebody called him on the phone while I was there, and I remember turning and looking at the white curtains as they rippled in the wind of his apartment’s open windows. His phone conversation was really serious and really long, so I left in the middle of it, and I never went back over there, and I haven’t talked to him since. I wish that was a lie, but it’s as plain of a truth as me driving drunk.
So here I am, coming clean to you and the whole, worldwide web. It’s Easter season, and everything’s opening up: the cherry blossoms and the dogwoods and the redbuds. The birds are back in town. Unpacking their bags, they’ve been down south all the way down the panhandle of Florida and some of them down to Guadalajara and San Juan. And they’re all pretty, and the flowers also got dressed up all pretty for Easter. And here I am like a bad hangover, telling you how I’ve been a drunk and a thief and a liar.
Let me let you in a little secret: that’s exactly what God’s whole deal is about. Whatever Easter is besides a clever marketing ploy for chocolate companies and basket weavers, it’s not all clean and pretty and neat. It’s really about drunks and liars and thieves and all of us in the same house, looking out the windows into oblivion, and the only hope we’ve got in the world is Jesus Christ. It’s about how we’ve gotten used to lying like red-faced politicians, trying to plead our case to everyone around us—trying to cover up our tracks, and now we got to get it all out in the open so it’s got no hold on us anymore.
Maybe you’re no liar or thief or drunkard, but maybe you got broke down places in your heart or somebody’s blood on your hands, and that’s exactly what Easter is about. It’s about Jesus Christ who was no liar, no thief and He only just looked like a drunkard (he did hang out with some) to some people, and He got what we deserved, so we could be free.
Now I know I’m starting to sound like Billy Graham or some old-time religionist, and I’ve read about how it’s kind of all wrong to talk like this these days. I should be talking about having a dialogue or a conversation or a latte in community. But man, I’m a thief and a liar and a drunkard, and what I need right now is some old-time resurrection power where Jesus weeps over me and then calls me right out from my tomb.
So if you’re anyway near as screwed up as I am, I invite you to come down to the front while the organist plays a couple more stanzas of "Just as I Am" (I see you there in the back, sister). No, I’m joking right there. It’s not about old-time religion or new-time religion; it’s about the power of God. The same power of God that brought you Easter Sunday, and resurrections can bring you out of your own specific grave, whatever grave you may be in. Like Jesus said in all those Gospel pages, the kingdom of heaven is right here at arm’s length, and it’s breaking in on all of us, a nation of drunks and thieves and liars.