Our Defining Moment.

Defining Moment

Easter is the defining moment for people of faith.   “Defining Moment”?    What exactly does that mean?

As I worked through the preparation of my Easter Message this past week, I found myself thinking how one would define or explain that term.       After thinking about it and going back and forth on it, I turned to the premier source of all of this world’s wisdom for insight.   I turned to Google and as is always the case, Google didn’t disappoint.   From that launch point, I could find millions of websites that referenced the term, tried to define it, or even used it as an advertising campaign.    In the end, one website caught my attention.   It was a website called 127defininingmoments.com.

This website was a promotion for the book and movie 127 Hours, which I am sure most of us are familiar with.   

If you are not, it’s the story of Aaron Ralston.  In 2003 Aron Ralston was hiking in the Canyonlands National Park in Utah.    As he hikes alone, he finds himself in a small area with boulders wedged between two ridges of rock.   As he crosses this narrow passage, a boulder becomes dislodged and he falls to the canyon floor, and horrifically the rock pins his arm.

At first he screams, but soon realizes that he is alone.   No one knows where he is, and he is not expected anywhere.   He realizes in that moment that he is in a horrible situation.

Realizing that he is on his own, he decides that he is going to use the small leatherman pocket tool to chip away at the giant boulder.    He begins to ration what little food and water he has on his possession.  He also begins to create a video diary of his attempt to chip that rock away, with the small pocket camera that he had with him.

The video reveals a man who grows more and more desperate, as he realizes that chipping away at the rock is futile.   As food and water supplies start to run out, he realizes that he has to do the unthinkable and cut himself free.   The video proceeds to show his near surrender to a delusional madness as he comes to this incredibly harsh and dark moment.

Finally after five days, he manages the unthinkable.  He is finally free.

Right before the moment, there is a telling portion of the video where he says the following:

I chose this,”  He says of his horrible situation. “I chose all of this. This rock…this rock has been waiting for me my entire life. It’s entire life. Ever since it was a bit of meteorite a million, billion years ago. There in space. It’s been waiting, to come here.   Right, right here. I’ve been moving towards it my whole life. The minute I was born, every breath I’ve taken, every action has been leading me to this crack on the out surface.”


He realized, while helplessly wedged between a literal rock and a hard place, that his entire life had led up to that moment.   It led up to the moment where he could chose to die there alone, or chose to live.    It was his defining moment.

In the end, we only know of Aron Ralston because he survived.  

127 Hours Book Cover

When we hear of his story, we cant help but wonder if we can do the same.    Many people have brushed him off as a freak of nature.   Sadly, the general consensus is that his act was something that none of us could ever copy if we were in the same spot.   

In retrospect, that was not the message Ralston wanted to relay.   He wanted his story to be told.  His story was that of an ordinary guy doing something extraordinary.    Extraordinary, but not something that is not beyond any of us.

Partly to stress the reality, and arguably to market his book, Ralston teamed with Outside magazine and 127defininingmoments.com was started.    Visitors to the website were invited to submit their own defining, rock and hard place moment, and the top 127 would selected and promoted on the website.    Each was awarded prizes.    In the end, this website has some of the most inspirational stories one could ever imagine.  Each one of them has that unifying characteristic of one moment being trapped with death, fear, anger, and hopelessness attacking from all directions.   

Yet, like Aron, each found themselves in a  “defining moment” that changed everything.

On the website there is a quote from Aron that puts it very simply.

“I came to rest very snugly in that crack of rock.   Today there is a life lived before the crack and a life experienced after it”

As I think about Aron story, I can’t help but acknowledge my own defining moments.   We all have them.    Some are moments of incredible pain and hurt, like Aron’s, and others are moments of complete and utter joy.   As a matter of fact, I imagine that we all have an uncountable number of each.    Simply put, These are moments that hold incredible power over each of us.  In looking back at those moments, it is almost as if there was one life before, and another life after.

They are our defining moments, and they are tattooed on our psyche, forever.

Do you remember when you met your wife or your husband for the first time?

Do you remember your first kiss.

Do you remember the day you held your child for the first time.

Or that moment when you realized that your child had become a person all of there own.

Do you remember?
Do you remember the moment the doctor gave you the news that you would have done anything to avoid hearing.

Do you remember the moment your child missed their  first curfew?

Do you remember the moment when you watched your kids heart break for the first time?

Do you remember when you lost the person you loved the most in this world?

Do you remember when that person chose to walk away?

Do you remember when your prayers went unanswered?

These are the moments that change everything.  Nothing is ever the same after these moments.    The perspective on everything changes.     We are changed and our world is changed.   These are moments that our whole lives, have led up to, and they are moments where we had one life before, and a different life after.  

As I worked toward crafting an Easter message, I guess that’s the definition that I was searching for.

Finally, with that definition in hand, I can remind you that The Easter Moment, is our defining moment.

Easter is the big show.   It doesn’t get any bigger than this.    I have been preaching for the last 50 days or more, that this moment is the pinnacle of all we are, and all we believe.    Everything takes a second place to this moment.   

Without the empty tomb of Easter, there is no Christmas.   

Without this morning, there is no Christianity for that matter.   This is our faith. This is our defining moment. 

Despite this (or perhaps because of it) I find the creation of my Easter Message the hardest of the year.  This past week, I have asked myself repeatedly, just how do I craft some message which stresses the importance of this moment?   How can I speak to how things are changed because of that empty tomb long ago?   With a blank sheet of paper in front of me, I found myself asking how do I convince a sanctuary full of people of just how important and how radically life changing this moment can be?   How do I convince them to choose what we sell?

I know, and I acknowledge, that each of us comes to this place from incredibly different points.    Some of us go to church because that’s what we are supposed to do; especially on days like Easter.    Some of us go because we always go on Sundays.     Yet, some of us go, week in and week out, and fight with serious doubt about what is taught in this place.   Some of us go without thinking at all.    Even worse, some of us have tweaked or twisted our definition, our understanding, or our vision of God and faith that it would be hard to recognize.   

As I thought on this,  I thought that the best way to build an Easter message was simply to offer a well thought out reasoning of faith, resurrection, and Easter from the viewpoint of my life.    Simple.   I need to just introduce others to this life I have come to know.  I must only introduce you to this Jesus character in such a way that everything changes in your life, just as it has in my life.     Well, in the end,  I’m not sure I can.

Truth be told, if you come to church on Easter Sunday, or on any given Sunday, and you struggle with doubt or questions;  one sermon isn’t going to make a whole heck of a lot of difference.    Odds are you will be like the 50% that show up once or twice a year.    Jim Davidson, a professor of Philosophy and Religion at Purdue, suggests that protestant church attendance increases by 35% on Easter Sunday. 

(Note:   Asbury Church saw a 170% increase over our average attendance this past Easter – Prompting the annual question:   Why can we get them on Easter and Christian, and in times of great pain, but not on any average Sunday?)

For those who struggle with, all I can suggest is that you keep coming back.   As Christian leaders we cannot be focused on the numbers in the Pews on Easter Sunday, but rather be focused on convincing them to come back.    On Easter morning, we need to encourage the visitor to take the church, and all that it offers, with an open mind, and keep returning, and keep listening.    We need to encourage those them to allow themselves the opportunity to reason through this faith thing together with others, to ask the tough questions, and not to sell themselves short.

We cant be a place that is about hiding one’s doubt, but rather the place where you come face to face with it.   We need to ask the questions that our doubt drives. 

If you go to a church and you are met with people who think that faith makes all things all gumdrops and lollipops, or that as a follower of Jesus you don’t worry, doubt or question you are in the wrong place.    Rise up from your pew and run from that place as quickly as you can.   There is no hiding it; Faith is hard.  Faith is sometimes overwhelming.   There are things taught in the church that from time to time are hard to wrap your arms around.     Each of us struggle to make sense of it all.   We all struggle.     We all have questions to be asked, and in the end, the Church should be the place to do just that.   

Although We don’t have all the answers at Asbury Church, we are full of people who are willing to, out of love and respect, take the journey with you.

As I reflect on all of this, and having acknowledged that doubt is part of our faith journeys, a great theological Easter sermon was probably out of the mix for Asbury’s Easter morning.   By the middle of Holy Week, I found myself  with a bit of writers block.    I wasn’t sure how to stress just how important the Easter  moment is, while making my message as cut and dry as possible.   As Good Friday approached that writer’s block turned into panic.  As a matter of fact, I spent the Good Friday Prayer Vigil, asking the same questions over and over again in prayer.    How do I help others catch a glimpse of just how life changing, or how important this moment is?   How can I show this moment, as our defining moment, and worthy, in and of itself, to keep each of you coming back for more?  How do I help others see how greatly I was changed, and how incredible this gift is?   How do I do that?

The best answer to that question comes in the story of a young boy, supposedly written about in a book on Leadership, which I have taken great liberties with below.

The boy was 13.   That is the age, when kids start becoming real people all their own.   As a parent of a thirteen year old, I can tell you that it truly is an awesome time.    Its neat to be a witness to this neat unique life that is developing and taking its final form right before your eyes.   At the same time, 13 years old are not known for being perfect.     This young boy had all that 13 stereotypically brought with it.

The book tells of a Saturday morning, when the boy wanted to go to a local park to hang with a group of his friends.    When Dad heard of his son’s plans, he was having none of it.   There was a lawn to mow, a garden to weed, and a garage to be cleaned.   Add to that, the reality that any group of 13 year old boys unattended is a nightmare, and there was no chance of that boy hitting the park.

As you can imagine a fight between father and so ensued.   Finally the boy screamed at his dad, saying “I HATE YOU DAD!”.    He swore that he would never grow up to be a father like him.   He would be different.    He slammed the door to his bedroom and the house grew quiet.

Dad stood speechless, there in his wake for a few minutes.   Eventually he grabbed his car keys, and heartbroken, he sat in his car about to make the trip to a local hardware store.    Although he was sure that a group of un-chaperoned 13 year olds was a recipe for disaster, he was really hoping that the boy would chose to spend the time with him.   He missed the 6 year old who thought Dad was superman.   He missed the time they spent being silly and doing odd chores together.    He missed him.

Dad decided to make the trip to the hardware store alone.

A few hours later, a policeman came to their home.   Apparently a delivery truck ran a red light and t-boned the father’s car.    Dad died almost instantly, just a few minutes from his house.

In that moment everything changed.   The boy broke.   He hurt beyond hurt.   He started drinking.   He started to hate himself.    Barely a moment went by, when he didn’t think about those last words he threw at his father.    He decided that he was worthless as a person, and worthless as a son.

He lived this broken life for years, until a kindly old, neighborhood priest confronted him and called him out on his now very self destructive grief.   In desperation the old priest grabbed the now young man by the shoulders, and shaking him, asked him the following question:

“If your Dad came back today, and heard you, and could see how you hated yourself, all because of what happened that afternoon…What would he say to you?   If you had five minutes with him, what would he say to you.”

Several minutes of silence followed.   The silence was broken by tears.

“He would tell me all that didn’t matter…  He would tell me its okay….  He would tell me to stop worrying…”

With a reassuring smile, the priest said simply;  “Why don’t you listen to him?”  

I have no clue how real, true to life this story is, or whether it was written to maximize tearing up impact, but I heard this story many years ago, and it has stuck.   When I was reminded of it this past week, I knew this was it.   For me, this is what Easter is all about.

I was broken, but because of the empty tomb, I’m on way to being fixed.

Where once  in me there was darkness, light and healing is now taking its place.

Where there was once in me anger, greed, jealousy, envy, anxiety, prejudice, apathy, you name it…

The Empty Tomb has made it a clean slate.

In some cosmic sense that has taken me what seems like a lifetime to figure out, Easter is the time that the father comes to me, grabs my shoulders and says….

It doesn’t matter.    Its okay.    Stop worrying.

There is a new birth…  a fresh slate… A do over…  a new chapter…  And a new life… a new hope,…and a new man waiting on the other side.

In this moment, if I am willing to get out of my own rock and a hard place, and if I am willing to claim this gift, this can be a moment that can change everything.

This Easter Season, and the many days that follow, I pray that you claim this fresh start, this resurrection, this defining moment as your own.  Thanks be to God, amen

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