Sermon 6 Epiphany, Yr C

6 Epiphany Yr C, 11/02/2007

1 Cor 15:12-20

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 

“Paul on the Resurrection”

 

The sceptic and cynic looks for a coffin whenever he or she smells flowers. Believes life is a car wash and he or she is riding a bike. Looks at the land of milk and honey and sees nothing but calories and cholesterol. Stays up on New Year’s Eve to make sure the old year leaves. Looks both ways before crossing a one-way street.

In today’s second lesson, the apostle Paul is speaking to some folks of the Corinthian church who have a similar sceptical and cynical outlook on life. They are putting forth the view that there is no resurrection. Christ was not raised from the dead, and neither shall we be raised from the dead. There is only one life, it is right here, now in this world. It is interesting how Paul answers their scepticism and cynicism. He sounds here like a philosophy professor in a university classroom engaged in a vigorous debate. He says, “Okay, let’s explore in the form of logical syllogisms what the implications are for us if there really is no resurrection, and if Christ actually was not raised from the dead.”

Professor and pastor, Eugene Peterson, in his contemporary paraphrase of the text in The Message, states it like this: “Now, let me ask you something profound yet troubling. If you became believers because you trusted the proclamation that Christ is alive, risen from the dead, how can you let people say that there is no such thing as a resurrection? If there’s no resurrection for Christ, everything we’ve told you is smoke and mirrors, and everything you’ve staked your life on is smoke and mirrors. Not only that, but we would be guilty of telling a string of barefaced lies about God, all these affidavits we passed on to you verifying that God raised up Christ—sheer fabrications, if there’s no resurrection.”

“If corpses can’t be raised, then Christ wasn’t, because he was indeed dead. And if Christ wasn’t raised, then all you’re doing is wandering about in the dark, as lost as ever. It’s even worse for those who died hoping in Christ and resurrection, because they’re already in their graves. If all we get out of Christ is a little inspiration for a few short years, we’re a pretty sorry lot. But the truth is that Christ has been raised up, the first in a long legacy of those who are going to leave the cemeteries.”1

As you can perhaps see from this passage in 1 Corinthians, there is much intensity in what Paul is saying. He writes, and likely spoke as if his life depended on him being able to win this debate against his opponents. He comes across as trying to prove the resurrection. For Paul, Christianity stands or falls on the resurrection. Now, today, unlike Paul, I don’t think we can actually prove the resurrection some two thousand plus years after the event. We, unlike Paul and the first apostles, have not actually seen the risen Christ. Yet, we trust, we have faith in, their witness to us through the Bible. For us too, then, Christianity stands or falls on the resurrection. Is that not why our choice day of meeting to worship is on a Sunday, the day when Christ was raised from the dead? Thus, every Sunday serves as a reminder to us of the resurrection. Celebration of the resurrection is not limited to Easter Sunday or the Easter season, it is a year round truth and reality, if we but have the eyes of faith to see.

There are other pointers or signs or realities in life today that point us to the truth of the resurrection.

An old legend tells of a parish priest who found a branch of a thorn tree twisted around so that it resembled a crown of thorns. Thinking it a symbol of the crucifixion of Christ, he took it into his chapel and placed it on the altar on Good Friday. Early on Easter morning he remembered what he had done. Feeling it was not appropriate for Easter Sunday, he hurried into the church to clear it away before the congregation came. But when he came into the church, he found the thorn branches blossoming with beautiful roses.2 Where there is no life, God is able to work and produce new life. There are resurrections that surprise us in many different places and experiences of life.

When the world seems a defeat for God and you are sick with the disorder, the violence, the terror, the war on the streets; when the earth seems to be chaos, say to yourself, “Jesus died and rose again on purpose to save, and his salvation is already with us.”

Every newly-opened leper-hospital is an act of faith in the resurrection. Every peace treaty is an act of faith in the resurrection. Every agreed commitment is an act of faith in the resurrection. When you forgive your enemy; when you feed the hungry; when you defend the weak you believe in the resurrection. When you have the courage to marry; when you welcome the newly-born child; when you build your home, you believe in the resurrection. When you wake at peace in the morning; when you sing to the rising sun; when you go to work with joy, you believe in the resurrection.3 Yes, there are many small resurrections in life, in the Church, and in the world—all of which point us to and remind us of the big resurrection of Easter morning, and eventually, we shall share in a resurrection like Christ’s.

In Paul’s rigorously reasoned defence of the resurrection, he concludes in verse 19 that: “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” How true Paul is, for life in this world is very short. Indeed, for the majority of the world’s people, it is way too short, and full of misery and suffering, without any hope for improving their quality of life. Even for those who are blessed with wealth and a higher quality of life, they shall not be able to take what they value in this world with them when they die, so what hope is there for them if there is no life beyond this one—if there is no resurrection? Moreover, what quality is their life really, if they live with an underlying fear of death and nothing beyond death? One’s hope is useless if it is only for this life.

However, Paul goes on to conclude that there is more than hope for this life only. In verse 20, he says: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.”

Paul is thinking in terms of a picture which every Jew would recognize. The Feast of the Passover had more than one significance. It commemorated the deliverance of the children of Israel from Egypt. But was also a great harvest festival. It fell just at the time when the barely harvest was due to be ingathered. The law laid it down, “You shall bring the sheaf of the first-fruits of your harvest to the priest; and he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, that you may find acceptance; on the morrow after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it.” (Leviticus 23:10, 11). Some sheaves of barely must be reaped from a common field. They must not be taken from a garden or an orchard or from specially prepared soil. They must come from a typical field. When the barely was cut, it was brought to the Temple. There it was threshed with soft canes so as not to bruise it. It was then parched over the fire in a perforated pan so that every grain was touched by the fire. It was then ground in a barely mill and its flour was offered to God. That was the first-fruits.

It is significant to note that not until after that was done could the new barley be bought and sold in the shops and bread be made from the new flour. The first-fruits were a sign of the harvest to come; and the Resurrection of Jesus was a sign of the resurrection of all believers which was to come. Just as the new barley could not be used until the first-fruits had been duly offered, so the new harvest of life could not come until Jesus had been raised from the dead.4

It was poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge who once said: “Work without hope draws nectar in a sieve, and hope without an object cannot live.” We Christians have been given every reason to work and hope, for our nectar, our object of work and hope is the saving power of God who raised Jesus from the dead. One day we too shall be raised from the dead. Therefore we can work, hope and live with the confidence of our Christian faith that Christ’s resurrection has made all the difference in this world and the next for us. Amen.

 

1 Eugene H. Peterson, The Message (Colorado Springs, Colorado: NavPress, 1993), p. 318.

2 Albert P. Stauderman, Let Me Illustrate (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1983), p. 101.

3 Carlo Caretto, citation in “Lent,” by Megan McKenna.

4 Wm. Barclay, The Letters to the Corinthians (Burlington, ON: G.R. Welch Co. Ltd., 1975), pp. 149-150.

 

 

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About dimlamp
I am, among other things, a sojourner, a sinner-saint, a baptized, life-long learner and follower of Jesus, and Lutheran pastor. Dim Lamp: dimlamp.wordpress.com gwh photos: gwhphotos.wordpress.com

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