17th February 2019
Readings: 1 Corinthians 15.12-20 Luke 6.17-26
Since we spent a deal of time last year on the Beatitudes, I thought that today I would focus on Pauls seeming frustration with the church at Corinth. Pauls writing has to be seen in context, and he is great at setting out an argument.
Winter is coming to an end – the days are getting longer – it is still light at 5 o’clock and all around us are signs of new life – catkins and sticky buds on trees, spring flowers – snowdrops are everywhere, crocus, daffodils, grass growing again. Spring is around the corner, the scaffolding on the church is down and Christ Church building is looking better and better it does seem to be a good time to consider resurrection.
I was encouraged to see passionate young people out on the street this week, striking for action to be taken to impact on climate change and I was ashamed to hear our leaders in government not supporting them.
And we are all gripped in a moral dilemma over whether a young woman who went to Syria should be allowed back into the country with her new baby (yet to be born).
It is in this context we come to the text today….
Let us just for a moment consider the context in which Paul was speaking. In New Testament times, some Jews (such as the Sadducees) denied any possibility of resurrection or life after death, while other Jews (such as the Pharisees) did believe in the resurrection of the dead (Matthew 22:23; Mark 12:18).
Corinth was/is a Greek city, and Greeks have been heavily influenced by Platonic dualism. Circle of life. Plato taught his followers that our physical bodies are imperfect copies of ideal forms that exist in a spiritual realm. He taught that our bodies are mortal but our souls existed prior to our life on earth—and will continue to exist beyond this life. The Greeks found it difficult to believe in the resurrection of the body. For them, the body was something to leave behind gladly—good riddance. Their focus was the preservation of the soul.
Judaism, emphasized a more linear process and the wholeness of the person—body and soul.
I think it is useful to ask ourselves – do I believe in the resurrection and if so then how is this impacting upon my life… how does it impact on my moral values? Are they transformed to Jesus values – to Kingdom values?
One of the strongest images for me of resurrection is the transformation of crawling caterpillar things – shuffling off their body to emerge from a chrysalis as a beautiful butterfly – or moth or dragonfly – that process is such an image of new life as I ever knew. A butterflys body is visually very different to a that of a caterpillar; they live for short time but their task is to mate to create of new life – and so the cycle continues… Jesus did not speak of a circle of life – he spoke of the transformation of all things.
C. S. Lewis, Oxford scholar, who once had even doubted Jesus’ existence, was persuaded by the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. He writes, “Something perfectly new in the history of the Universe had happened. Christ had defeated death. The door which had always been locked had for the very first time been forced open.”
Paul wanted the Christians at Corinth to know that resurrection— to understand the shift in the universe. He writes of Christ’s resurrection and the general resurrection of all believers in the last days. And I get that, but Jesus teaching was about changes in the way we live now.
I wonder how you feel about that – one of the commentaries I read asserted that we need to acknowledge that there are benefits to be gained in this life by faith in Christ. We know what the resurrection means to us – it means we are part of the kingdom of God, which is about wealth and lack of it, possessions, power and vulnerability, sex, violence and security, how we treat our neighbour, and how we treat our enemy. We sang between our readings about the what happens when we are not proactive in our faith – when we don’t follow Jesus commandment to love one another as we love ourselves. Heaven will not wait…
And, Paul says, there is another side to it. If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christians are “most pitiable,” because they have staked their lives on a lie.
Lots of clever people have tried to disprove the resurrection of Jesus, some have become followers in the process and whilst may not possible to scientifically prove Jesus rose from the dead this is part of our faith and we can learn to recognize the impact of his resurrection.
When Paul says that the resurrected Christ is “the first fruits of those who are asleep,” he is telling these Corinthian Christians that Christ’s resurrection is just the beginning. His resurrection signals the abundance of resurrections yet to come—the resurrection of all those who have placed their faith in Christ. I believe that we can look this in another way – resurrection happens over and over again, through the seasons, through our relationships with each other, through our relationship with God and through our relationship with the wider world. Flowers growing through a crack in the pavement are a sign of resurrection. Good news to the poor, feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. Breakfast and lunch in holiday times for children in families with little resources to manage when school is closed.
Jesus resurrection imbued the disciples with great courage. Another theologian J. N. D. Anderson wrote, “Think of the psychological absurdity of picturing a little band of defeated cowards cowering in an upper room one day and a few days later transformed into a company that no persecution could silence – and then attempting to attribute this dramatic change to nothing more convincing than a miserable fabrication … That simply wouldn’t make sense.”
The disciples came face to face with the living, risen Christ and it impacted on them in a profound way – they became proactive and courageous …
The impact of Jesus resurrection for us is that God was showing us a new and radical way of living, and gifted us with the Spirit which enables us to see the world and everything in it in that new way…which Jesus talked about in the Sermon on the Mount.
Luke writes of blessings and woes that Jesus pronounced to the crowd on the mountain. Last year we considered the Beatitudes from Matthew’s gospel which gave us nine blessings, Luke has carefully paired four blessings with four woes, even using the same words in corresponding pairs. Luke draws the contrast in the pairs between groups of people: (1) poor-rich, (2) hungry-full, (3) those who weep-those who laugh, and (4) those who are hated-those of whom people speak well.
And I am challenged by the readings today because I am not hungry – are you hungry? Well not physically hungry, I laugh – often, and people have sometimes been saying nice things about me so I am worried, how does Jesus resurrection impact on my life?
Theologian John Robinson says the church is meant to be the construction hut on God’s building site which is the world. This is a great analogy in the situation we have recently been through – We are the construction workers and our tools then could be seen as a hard hat, high viz jacket and steel toed boots – and maybe shin pads… a more modern version of the helmet, sword and shield…
There are many people in our society who have little understanding of the Gospel, young people are no longer taught about the bible in school, nevertheless they are touched by and may see the impact of the resurrection.
Thomas Merton – Franciscan Monk said “Life is this simple. We are living in a world that is absolutely transparent, and God is shining through it all the time. This is not just a fable or a nice story. It is true. If we abandon ourselves to God and forget ourselves, we see it sometimes, and we see it maybe frequently. God shows Him/herself everywhere, in everything — in people and in things and in nature and in events. It becomes very obvious that God is everywhere and in everything and we cannot be without God. It’s impossible. The only thing is that we don’t see it.”
My take on this is from the poet Leonard Cohen, “there is a crack, a crack in everything – that is where the light gets in.
I was saddened last week to hear of the death of Jeremy Hardy. He did not profess to be a Christian but he was a great commentator and was invited to speak at Greenbelt a few years ago. Afterwards he made a utube video, which was reposted after his death. He said “young people here look normal – unlike in my university days when people in the Christian Union were ugly – they looked strange and were very couplie (quite promiscuous – but that is another story) – he said I am impressed with how normal young Christians ‘here’ look”.
He said he was impressed with the moral and ethical awareness not so much about the self-importance that sometimes comes with people of faith (oh I am such a wonderful person look at me) or the ecstatic side of it…”what I do admire”, he said, is people having a very clear moral position on things…which is humane, moral, compassionate and principled. He said, “Christians in my experience say, ‘what is right and wrong here’ – not who is right and wrong, but what are the issues here” (he did recognise a range of political views among Christians)
After Jesus resurrection Mary was the first person he spoke to, at first she did not recognise him – only when he spoke to her and she was able to listen and hear his voice – then she knew – she believed and was the first apostle as she went to tell the other disciples the good news. If you remember the disciples on the road to Emmaus they didn’t recognise Jesus either until he broke bread with them. This would suggest that the risen Jesus was ‘different’.
John Pritchard in his book Living Jesus says the evidence suggests that most people cherish a precious moment in their lives when they felt God was close to them – often that is when they come to ask for prayer to the church, to the cross, to Jesus? Mary probably had her closest encounter with Jesus at that moment. And she listens as Jesus tells her what she must do.
Martin Percy focusses his theology on human experience and culture – he says “Resurrection impacts on every area of our lives – for it entails resistance to deadly powers, powers that would have us destroy each other, as much as resistance to the futility of death. Martin Luther King says we have a choice in the world – to love or to hate, he said “I choose Love, Hate is too great a responsibility to bear”.
In the same way we light candles these can be both a sign that Jesus is present and as a declaration of dissent – saying to the darkness – I disagree. And whatever else we want them to be.
I have been a follower of Jesus for a long time, over the years my thinking and the way I behave has been transformed – I am still learning but I now understand how Jesus is at work in me and the way to share the hope of the resurrection is to begin by welcoming people, listening carefully, helping people to articulate what the issues are for them and then alongside them looking for signs of hope, help, and a way to change or move on or live with whatever it is . In my office I used to have a poster – What children need is a good listening to – and another that said don’t just do something – sit there.
Martin Percy says Resurrection should be imagined as an earthly and a heavenly reality. Our experience of the divinity of God is limited and often obscure and the experience of God is not the same as knowledge of God.
The task of the church is to find Christ in the community; to begin we need to get to know and listen in to those around us…
How is the spirit – the resurrected Christ working in you, in us in our community – where do we see signs of the deep pulsing of the spirit… where do you see signs of resurrection.
I think we are good at looking after those in need, we need as well to look to God/Jesus within us to give us courage and compassion to equip us to show people the unconditional love and superabundant grace of God… now there is a challenge…
Last week I went to the baptism preparation at St Michael’s – the church offers ways for people to engage, weddings, funerals and communion – the sacraments are among the most tangible and practical thing that the church offers yet often they are hidden. We regularly meet to consider the word of God and for communion, which is a key sacrament, sharing in bread and wine – where everyone is equal – one sip of wine and one bite of bread/wafer even one gluten free wafer… no one is given more or less.
At a conference at St Dunstan’s recently I heard the phrase, “We are the kin dom of God” we are all relational we all have a responsibility to serve others, in the church and in the world.
We are called to share the good news of the gospel – and for me the focus is less on individual salvation and more for the healing of all creation – the restoration of all things. Which takes us right back to the beatitudes …