A Sermon for Epiphany 6; Jeremiah 17:5-10, Psalm 1, 1 Corinthians 15:12-20, Luke 6:17-26
Very early in my working life, Jim was a mentor to me, as I struggled to understand who I was in relationship to work. Later he became in mentor in understanding faith. He developed cancer, struggled through many grueling treatments, which did not yield the best of results. I will always remember hearing him say I now understand that God will heal me through death. It took another decade or so to begin to really understand. At his funeral his family became a mentor to me; they all appeared dressed in their finest white; explaining later, This is an Easter celebration.
After the funeral in a church parking lot conversation, mom said to me If we really believe what we say, what are we afraid of? What we say comes from our Christian creeds or statements of faith. From the Nicene Creed, we say at Eucharist, we say
On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
From the Apostles’ Creed, we say at morning prayer and Baptism we say
the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.
And so we come to today’s reading from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.
In biblical times resurrection was not a widespread idea. Most thought resurrection was impossible, you died and that was that. There may be an occasional miraculous event, but they were few, and no one knew anyone had. (1st and 2nd Kings make a few references (1 Kgs 17:17; 2 Kgs 4:18) to resurrection. Some prophetic writings expect a general resurrection at some time in the future Isa 26:19; Dan 12:2; cf. Job 19:25-27; Ezek 37:1-14) (Sampley).
In the 1st century, there were many thoughts about the resurrection. The was a Greek idea of immortality without a body (Gaventa and Petersen). Epicureans rejected any notion of an afterlife, Others denied resurrection of corpses (Gaventa and Petersen). Both fit with the general Greek thought that the body was corrupt, better to be done with it. Some thought that the body and spirit separated at death, the body stays on the earth, and the spirit goes to the atmosphere. Some strands of Jewish thought hoped for resurrection, others longed for a bodily resurrection (2 Maccabees 7), while some Hellenistic Jewish expressed hope for a redeemed and renewed world (Works). Many Jews in the Holy Land affirmed the importance of physical creation and the body which shaped their thoughts on resurrection (Keener and Walton).
Into this collection of wildly varying thoughts of resurrection comes Paul with his teaching of Christ’s bodily resurrection and the resurrection of bodies of all who have faith, who believe in Jesus, God’s Christ. The gospel, the good news, Paul preaches is grounded in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. If Christ is dead, Paul is a liar or a fool, the gospel is empty, nothing but hot air. If Christ is dead, there is no faith, there is no forgiveness, there is no hope (Bratt). And this is true because Paul believes that God cares for the physical stuff of creation, all of it, including us, including our bodies. God’s caring is revealed in conquering sin, through conquering death, through the resurrection of Jesus (Works). For Paul Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of the end of time, the beginning of the resurrection of all things, not of a selected group of individuals. Jesus’ resurrection is the cosmic expression of divine victory over death; it is the transformative event of history God’s culminating but not yet finished purposes in all of creation. (Gaventa and Petersen; Sampley) So, to deny the resurrection of the dead means there is no victory over death, that we are still captive to our sins; without recourse, without hope (Sampley).
Paul’s calling Jesus first fruits draws on the Exodus sacrifice of giving the first of the harvest to God which assures the rest of the harvest will be as abundant, (Ex23:16-19). So, if Christ, the first fruit of humanity, is resurrected, the resurrection of all humanity is assured (Works; Sampley).
A sidebar here. In Greek, the noun ‘faith’ has a verb equivalent. English does not so we cannot say ‘faithing,’ like we can say ‘believing’ as the verb form of ‘belief.’ The result is translators use ‘believing’ when ‘faithing’ is what was written. And in English ‘faith’ and ‘believe’ are slightly different, so ‘believing’ has a different inference than ‘faithing’ would have. Thus we have to be diligent in our reading, in our hearing, and in our thinking.
Now ~ why does all this matter? Some Corinthian believers bragged that they had already arrived at the fullness of the life of faith. Therefore, they boast that they have advanced beyond others their faith (Sampley). As we know such boasting never ends well; it is one of the sources of controversy that Paul’s letters address.
But what about today? Why does all this matter today? Bruce Epperly suggests that survival after death is relational and connected to the realities of this life. Resurrection is this-worldly as well as beyond this life (Epperly). And that brings me back to my mom’s parking lot question If we really believe what we say, what are we afraid of? At one level she was saying we don’t have to be afraid of death, and that is true enough. And yet I’ve come to understand a deeper meaning; we don’t have to be afraid of anything, because the worst anyone can do is introduce us to death; but so, what! when bodily resurrection in the glory of God’s presence greets us. I’ll admit, the place and time of that greeting is unknown, and this was a central question for the Corinthians (Sampley). But even after all these years, unknown does not mean untrue.
Today, faithing in bodily resurrection taps into the power of the culminating transformative event of history; it is the source: of the glory, of empowering agency, by which Paul, following Jesus’ example, confounds popular wisdom (Kesselus). It is the strength by which we
- can begin religious discussion from a place of vulnerability and humility (Pankey)
- be calm in the face of a rebellious teen
- know peace in the moment of existential challenge
- have the courage to run into dangerous situations to save others
- will confront a despot proclaiming a fake truth
- can stand between a bully and their victim
- give voice of outrage for killer denied their spiritual guide at the time of their death
- proclaim that a bill outlawing abortion when Roe v Wade is overturned is not a stand for life, but the further oppression of women,
- because it does not hold men accountable for their part in creating a fetus,
- does not take into account the physical or mental health of the mother, or the father for that matter,
- does not provide medical care, loving support, education and all other needs for all children regardless of race, creed, color, social or economic status,
- does not provide equal access to birth control, which would prevent most unwanted pregnancies;
- It ignores John 9(3-4) when Jesus says,
no one sinned, this man was born blind. Let the Glory, let the work of God be known (my paraphrase).
It is the strength that flows from belief in bodily resurrection that empowers us
- to speak the hard truth to a friend and/or loved one
- to sit with a loved one, friend or stranger as they receive devastating news
- to be with another as they die.
It is the strength that flows from belief in bodily resurrection that empowers us
- to acknowledge that yes, the 3 in 1; 1 in 3 God we proclaim does not make any sense, but is nonetheless true
- to acknowledge that yes, there is no perceivable evidence that bodily resurrection occurs, nonetheless we trust the promise of our God.
It is the strength that flows from belief in bodily resurrection that empowers us to gather in worship week after week in a time when belief in such practice is precipitously falling; that gives meaning to our voice as together, using the form beginning on page 358 we reaffirm our faith as set forth in the Nicene Creed …
The Nicene Creed
We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified
under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son
he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic
and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism
for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come (BCP 358).
Bratt, Doug. Epiphany 6 1 Corinthians 15:12-20. 17 2 2019. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.
Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 17 2 2019. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly>.
Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.
Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.
Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.
Kesselus, Ken. “Joining the Saints Epiphany 6.” 17 2 2019. Sermons that Work. <episcopalchurch.org/library/sermon>.
Pankey, Steve. Paul’s Logic. 17 2 2019. <wordpress.com/read/feeds/333491/posts/1312346053>.
Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.
Sampley, J. Paul. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The First Letter to The Corinthians. Ed. Leander E. Keck. Vol. IX. Nashville: Abingdon, 2015. X vols.
The Episcopal Church. The Book of Common Prayer. New York: Church Publishing, 1979.
Works, Carla. Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15:12-20. 17 2 2019. <workingpreacher.org>.