Sermon for February 10th, 2019
When the Apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Church in Corinth, he was writing to a church that was in the midst of a lot of division. There was quarreling and fighting over a number of issues. There was disagreement about the leadership of the Church and which apostles were the greatest; there were (as there always are) arguments about sex; there were arguments about food; there were arguments about which spiritual gifts were the greatest. And one by one, Paul tries to address each one of these divisions and every time he does so he points the church back to Jesus. What does the Good News or the gospel of Jesus Christ have to say about this issue? How important is this issue in the light of the good news of Jesus? Is it worth beating each other up over? Is it worth killing over? Are these issues that you are so preoccupied with, are they more important than the central message that we have been called to proclaim? Paul has to constantly redirect them to the message.
And part of his message you heard last week, the most famous part, and that was Paul’s conclusion that the most important thing we can do or show as Christians is love. Love is our greatest gift, love is our strongest power. Pursue love, that is what Paul tells the church. Pursue love is his conclusion, and he argues that it is to be the Church’s overriding principle: love. Love for God and love for each other. “Walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God” that is what Paul said to the church in Ephesus. Love is the conclusion that Paul comes to, it is where the gospel leads him, BUT it is not the gospel. Love is not the good news that Paul has been sent to proclaim. Love is where the good news should lead us; love is Paul’s conclusion; love should be our response to the good news, but it’s not the news. So what is the actual good news, or gospel that Paul proclaims?
Well fortunately Paul is not shy about reminding us:
I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which you are being saved….
are you ready for it, cause here it comes, and this is simultaneously the most simple and the most bizarre thing you will ever hear…
That Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died.
That, my friends, is the gospel. That is the good news. That simple, short little statement is the most important thing Paul ever has to say, because that statement is the power behind everything Paul does. It is the reason why. If love is the life-blood of Christians, then this little message is the beating heart that pushes that love out into the world. It is the force behind it. But this statement unsettles people, it can make us uncomfortable, because it is weird.
A man died for our sake, for our sins, because of our failures, someone died. He didn’t just get really tired or really sick. He was dead. Cold dead. They buried him. He was in the grave for days…and he came back to life again. Not in some mystical vision, not in a fantasy or hallucination, but in flesh and blood real life. And people saw him, not just a couple people, but hundreds. And when Paul was writing, some of those people were still alive. And weirder still, part of the message is that this was all in the scriptures before it happened. Meaning that this wasn’t just something that happened, but that it was a part of a divine plan.
That is a weird story. It makes people uncomfortable. We are twenty-first century people, we know that dead bodies don’t come back to life. You might be able to resuscitate someone with the right equipment, under the right circumstances, but once they are really dead, there is no bringing them back. It’s crazy. We don’t want people to think we are crazy, or foolish. So we try to focus on other things. Jesus was a great teacher, so we will talk about his lessons, or his ethics, or his morals and we will try and steer clear of this weird stuff.
And you get people that argue, that maybe we should cut some of this weird stuff in our scriptures out: Let’s cut out the bizarre miracle stories, and this stuff about a dead body coming back to life, and all these supernatural visions. Let’s just focus on the practical advice that Jesus gave and his role as a teacher, and not worry so much about what did or didn’t happen in the grave a couple thousand years ago. Well guess what, that is not a new argument. People have always found the story of Jesus being raised from the dead to be unsettling. People in the church in Corinth were making that exact same argument and Paul’s words to them was this:
If Christ has not been raised from the dead, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
Those are some tough words right there, but hear what Paul is saying: the message that Jesus died and rose again is THE message. That’s the good news, the gospel, the proclamation. That is the force behind everything we do, say or think. That is our power and without that this faith of ours is futile and we are to be pitied.
What does it mean when a dead man comes back to life in a world where that does not happen? That is the question that Christians are always forced to struggle with. If Jesus of Nazareth actually died and came back to life, as Paul and so many others say he did, if this story is true, then what does that mean for me, and how I live my life and the hope that I have for the future?
Well the conclusion that Paul came to, was that death, which seems to have the final say in this world, which seems to have the power to separate us from God and from each other, actually doesn’t. Paul’s conclusion is that God’s love for his creation is stronger than the power of death.
Death has been swallowed up in victory, he says. Where O death, is your victory? Where O death, is your sting?
If the son of God was crucified and died and rose again to give us victory over death, then what does that say about how we are to live as Christians and followers of this man Jesus? That I think is the question that Paul continually puts to the churches he is writing to and it is a question we must continually ask ourselves. It is a deep question. It is a difficult question. It is a question that pushes us to ponder the meaning of our existence. As followers of Jesus, we are called to view everything in this world in the light of the resurrection. If we can do that, then we might just see that the things we argue about and invest huge amounts of energy in, those divisions really don’t matter that much…in fact nothing matters more than the love that God has shown us by giving us a life that death can not conquer.
Make no mistake, Jesus can and will meet you where you are. God can burst into your life at any time and in any place. You may encounter him as you go about your daily business, and he has some important things to say about how you live in this world. Listen to him, but also know that when he calls you to follow him, he is likely to call you to places away from the shore where you feel safe and secure. Don’t be afraid to go there. If you really want to be a follower of Christ, you can’t be afraid of fishing in deep waters.