Imagine two brothers, aged 11 and 12, living in the Cultural Revolution of Communist China. It is a time when the books that you and I grew up with are strictly forbidden. But one day, these two brothers happen upon a cache of such books, marked for destruction. Thrilled by their find, they begin smuggling them away, one by one. But lest someone should notice the pile getting smaller, they return each book after finishing it, then exchange it for another. In the nights they talk and compare the stories they’re reading, until one evening, one of them asks a question…
“Hey Shi, are you awake?” Liu whispered toward his brother, lying on the mat next to him. Shi shifted, then muttered, “Yes, what is it?”
“If you could make one of our books real, which one would it be?”
Shi turned and raised himself up on one elbow. “I don’t know, there have been so many.” He looked up at the window, dark and frosted. “There was The Odyssey by Homer; if that were real, we could sail from island to island, outsmart the Cyclops, and collect riches from foreign kings. Or 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea; if that were real, we could travel beneath the ocean in our submarine, and no one would ever catch us…” He glanced at Liu. “But then there’s Peter Pan.” He smiled. “Yes, I would choose that—Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie. If that one were real, we could cover ourselves in fairy dust and fly out of this place to Neverland. We could have all the lost boys as our friends and never grow up and never step foot in a factory again. That’s what I would choose—Peter Pan.”
The silence closed in on them, until Shi broke it by asking, “Well you brought it up, brother; what about you?”
Liu remained silent for a while, until finally Shi asked, “Liu? You awake?”
“Yes. I was just thinking how to explain it. I would choose The Four Gospels by Penguin Classics.”
“I haven’t finished yet, but it’s a story from long ago, when the Supreme Deity sent his son to become a person like us. One of his names was “he who is with us.”
“Huh. But everyone knows the Supreme Deity is too far away to even receive the devotion of mortals.”
“I know. Maybe that’s why this book has been banned. But if it were real, it would would mean that not only does the Supreme Deity receive our devotion, but that he… is devoted to us. It would mean that he came to us. That he became one of us.”
“Woah. I can see why they banned that.”
“And yet…” Liu felt for the book beside his mat. “What if it were real? Wouldn’t that be something?”
It sure would. As we heard in our teaching time this past Sunday, it would mean that we live in a world that has what philosopher Alvin Plantinga calls, the greatest great-making property—a world in which incarnation and atonement happen. As Christians, we believe this is indeed such a world. But often we become estranged from this reality, and we forget what it means. Thus, our homework for the week, given at the end of our teaching time: to write 500 words on what it would mean for your everyday life if the things described in the Gospels really did happen. What implications would this have for your life and your world?
If you take up this assignment, bring it with you this Sunday. As I said last week, I’m not going to grade it; but I am going to read it. There’s no reason why we should stop developing and learning when we stop going to school. We are Jesus’ disciples. We are his students.
With you for Jesus,
Pastor Daren Redekopp