Sermon: “The Author of Life” (April 19, 2015)

Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“The Author of Life” (Acts 3:12-15)
April 19, 2015
Dave Johnson

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

When I was in grade school one of my favorite TV shows was the musical variety show Sha Na Na, which ran from 1977 to 1981 and starred the group of the same name. It interspersed comedy sketches with covers of many doo-wop hits from the 1950’s. In one episode they covered the classic 1957 hit by The Monotones entitled “The Book of Love.” Some of you may remember this one…

I wonder, wonder, who-oo-ooh, WHO, who wrote the Book of Love?
Tell me, tell me, tell me, oh, who wrote the Book of Love?
I’ve got to know the answer
Was it someone from above?
I wonder, wonder, who-oo-ooh, WHO, who wrote the Book of Love?

I love you darlin’
Baby you know I do
But I’ve got to see this Book of Love
Find out why it’s true
I wonder, wonder, who-oo-ooh, WHO, who wrote the Book of Love?

Chapter One says to love her
You love her with all your heart
Chapter Two you tell her
You’re never, never, never, never, never gonna part
In Chapter Three remember the meaning of romance
In Chapter Four you break up
But you give her just one more chance
I wonder, wonder, who-oo-ooh, WHO, who wrote the Book of Love?

Who wrote the Book of Love? That’s a great question—because romantic love can be the most exhilarating experience on this planet, and yet as Neil Young sings on his 1970 album After the Gold Rush, “Only love can break your heart.”

In the Book of Acts Luke records how on one occasion Peter and John miraculously healed a lame man in the Name of Jesus. The surrounding crowd was stunned with amazement, and in today’s passage Peter boldly proclaims to this same crowd the heart of the gospel:

“Why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors, has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses’” (Acts 3:12-15).

Today I am peaching on the Risen Jesus Christ—the One Peter refers to as the Author of Life.

I recently drove to Oxford, Mississippi and visited several sites related to one of my all-time favorite earthly authors, William Faulkner (1897-1962). On the way I stopped in New Albany, where he was born in a little house at the corner of Cleveland Street and Jefferson Avenue. In Oxford I stopped by St. Peter’s Episcopal Church where he worshipped on occasion with his wife Estelle, who worshipped there regularly.

I also wandered around Rowan Oak, his beautiful home where he wrote so many of his classic novels. I lingered in his library, taking in the portraits hanging over bookshelves that he had built himself. I later stood for a while in his humble study and saw his small typewriter—and on the walls of this study I perused the outlines for his 1954 novel, A Fable, outlines that he had literally scribbled on the walls. It was surreal.

Like all of us, Faulkner was flawed—like all of us, his personal life was riddled with blemishes and weaknesses—but he had keen insight into the human condition—and he could articulate how life actually is, how people actually think and speak and act, how it actually feels when love breaks your heart. As he put it, he wrote about “the problem of the human heart at conflict with itself.”

In his 1929 masterpiece, The Sound and the Fury, one of the main characters, Quentin Compson, a brilliant but depressed freshman at Harvard, experiences a flashback while glancing at the watch his nihilistic father had given him:

“When the shadow of the sash appeared on the curtains it was between seven and eight o’clock and then I was in time again, hearing the watch. It was Grandfather’s and when Father gave it to me he said I give you the mausoleum of all hope and desire; it’s rather excruciatingly apt that you will use it to gain the reducto absurdum of all human experience which can fit your individual needs no better than it fitted his or his father’s. I give it to you not that you may remember time, but that you might forget it now and then for a moment and not spend all your breath trying to conquer it. Because no battle is ever won he said. They are not even fought. The field only reveals to man his own folly and despair, and victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools” (Faulkner: Novels 1926-1929, 935).

Jesus Christ, the Author of Life, ministers life to us where we actually need it—where we actually think and speak and act, in the places of our “own folly and despair,” in the places where love has broken our heart.

When I was in high school I struggled with the lab projects in chemistry class. You could say that chemistry lab projects were not in my “gift cluster.” One time the teacher asked me to stay after class to discuss a lab project I had submitted the day before. When the classroom was completely empty except for the two of us she said, “Dave, I looked at your lab results again and again, and I cannot figure out how in the world you came up with the numbers you did. How did you come up with those numbers?” I had no idea. I just did not get it.

But there was one chemistry lab project that I understood. It involved litmus tests, during which you poured various fluids onto litmus paper to measure their acidity. The paper would turn different colors depending on the acidity of the liquid.

And as you know a “litmus test” also refers to the idea in which a single factor is decisive in forming an opinion or making a decision.

Jesus, the Author of Life, tells us what the litmus test is regarding the gospel—“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy,” Jesus says, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). In other words, the litmus test of the gospel is that it ministers life, period.

If you hear messages filled with convoluted directions about how to develop a relationship with God that leave you even more lost and anxious and frustrated than you were before, then chances are you are not hearing the gospel.

If you hear messages that add more burdens to your already burdened heart, more guilt to your already guilt-ridden conscience, more heaviness to your already heavy spirit, then chances are you are not hearing the gospel.

But if you hear a message about the Author of Life, a message that gives you life, that encourages you, comforts you, that lifts up your head, that reassures you that God is in control and that everything eventually will be okay, that speaks to you in the deepest places where your heart has been broken, that gives water to the places where you thirst on the inside, then chances are you are hearing the gospel.

If you hear a message about the Author of Life that sounds too good to be true, but that in your heart of hearts, as crazy as it seems, you suspect somehow is true, then chances are you are hearing the gospel.

The gospel is a message that gives life—that is the litmus test—and the heart of this gospel is of course, love…unconditional love from the Author of Life.

In the gritty 2013 film American Hustle Irv Rosenfeld (played by Christian Bale) is a con artist who falls in love with Sydney Prosser (played by Amy Adams). Early in the film Irv reveals in a voice-over what it was like to feel truly loved by Sydney:

“I felt like we had a secret—just the two of us. You know like that thing where you want to just be with the one person the whole time. You feel like the two of you understand something that nobody else gets. I could just tell her everything about myself. And I never had anybody like that in my life before. I felt like finally, I can truly be myself without being ashamed, without being embarrassed.”

Sydney did not love Irv as he should have been but as he actually was—and the Author of Life loves you like that.

And because of Jesus’ death on the cross for you, when it comes to the litmus test of the acidity of the sin in your life—well, the paper is perfectly clear because of the blood Jesus shed for you. You are completely loved, completely forgiven.

On December 10, 1950 William Faulkner accepted the Nobel Prize for Literature in Stockholm, Sweden. In his acceptance speech he said:

“It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things” (William Faulkner: Essays, Speeches & Public Letters, 120).

The good news of the gospel is that Jesus Christ, the Author of Life, whose “compassion and sacrifice and endurance,” whose unimaginable love for you led him to write the “Book of Love”—a book written not with ink on paper, but with blood on a cross.

And when the Author of life rose from the grave, he conquered death—the universal “mausoleum of all hope and desire”—and this same Author of Life has written your name in another book as well, the Book of Life.

Faulkner is buried beneath a tree in a quiet corner of a cemetery in Oxford, Mississippi. On his tombstone there is no mention of his achievements, no mention of his winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, none of that. Instead, it simply has his name and dates with four additional words beneath. Do you know what those four words are? “Beloved. Go with God.”

You too are beloved by the Author of Life, who even when you have not gone with God, has always gone with you, who fully understands the conflict within your heart, and who is “never, never, never, never, never gonna part.”

Amen.