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Epistles

Still Pitied?

15-Mar-20

1 Corinthians 15:19-26

All around us, in every corner of our lives, are people who may or may not be telling us that we have gone off our rockers when it comes to our belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. While very few seriously doubt that Jesus existed, most will gladly tell us that he did not rise rise from the dead. The resurrection of our Lord lacks complete credibility in the hearts and minds of most of our contemporaries. It is, at the outset, a concept that is both foolish and laughable. And yet, the resurrection of our Lord is the very reason, the only reason that the church of Jesus Christ survives today.

From time to time, I find myself asking myself some pretty difficult questions. And then, later on, I feel compelled to share them with all of you. The resurrection of Jesus has propelled the followers of Jesus into the twenty-first century. There is no doubt in my mind about that. If not for the presence of the living Lord in our midst, the Christian Church would have fizzled out and folded up long ago; perhaps even as early as the 2nd or 3rd century. But it made it this far because the followers of Jesus not only believed that Jesus rose from the dead, but somehow, they also experienced the presence and the power of the living Lord in their daily lives. And not only that, but they also believed that they were part of a movement, driven by the Holy Spirit, that was emerging and growing in this world that had the power to transform the world. That’s pretty awesome when we think about it.

So, here comes the hard question. How are we doing today? Where does resurrection fit into our church and into our lives? How is the church doing as a whole? Why do I fear that the Christian Church has evolved into the place where it is only popular if it is busy proclaiming a kind of self-help gospel, intended to help us achieve a smooth and rewarding passage through this life only, with no thought or attention given to sacrificing ourselves for the cause of the gospel and the healing of our broken world? Have we forgotten that the man who sacrificed himself for the forgiveness of our sins, also invited those who would become his followers to take up their own crosses, and to follow him in death?

In our passage this morning, we start out in the same place that we left off last week. We hear the Apostle Paul say once again, “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” I am convinced that the Apostle Paul was rather intuitive. I suspect that he imagined that we would one day prefer the comfort of the pew, and all that it entails, over the pain of death on a cross. And so he begins by reminding us that we are already dead. Oh, we may breathe, and we may have done well in this world, as the world defines well, and we may enjoy the comforts of relative success and prosperity, but we are all dead, as dead as dead can be, and in desperate need of resurrection. And we are dead in great measure because of the sin of our father, Adam, but we are also dead because we choose to be dead, and because we choose to continue in our life of sin.

Our father Adam failed to comprehend the glory and the majesty and the beauty of all that his creator had bestowed upon him. Instead, he listened to the destroyer who managed to convince him that somehow God had kept him from the good life; that somehow God had cheated him and short-changed him, and prevented him from becoming all that he could be. Sound familiar? The destroyer still tempts us with those subtle words of death: “here, try this, go here, take this, all of it leads to something better; something that you have earned, something that will make you happy, something that will take the edge off. Something that until just now has been kept from you.” Adam listened, and he died. And when he died, he passed the curse of death on to us. And so like Adam, by nature, by sinful nature, we are all questers, constantly on the lookout for a way of life that is more satisfying and more rewarding than the life that God has already given us. Like Adam, we fail to comprehend the glory and the majesty and the beauty that God has bestowed upon us.

And so, because of our affinity for the way of Adam, we read these words of the Apostle Paul: “For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.” The dying part we get. We understand death. The Apostle reminds us that death is our enemy, but he was also painfully aware, as we are, that death is also our companion. Death is never far from us. It seems always to be at our side, stepping in at horrible and uninvited moments, always impeding our way. And that’s why we must heed the words of our Lord when he said, to his disciple, Thomas, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me.” When Jesus said that to Thomas, he wanted him to understand that no one must be bound to the way of Adam permanently. While we are all born into the way of Adam, and while we walk often in the way of Adam, we are not trapped there. We can walk in the way of the one who is the way and the truth and the life. Walking in the way of Adam is death, now. In this moment. Walking in the way of Christ is life now, resurrection now, even in this moment. Followers of Jesus do not fear death in the way that those who walk in the way of Adam fear it, for as Paul has said, “If for in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” If we do not walk in the way of Adam, we have a hope in Christ that goes far beyond the grave.

So then, what does that mean in real life? It means that we live now as if we have already been resurrected from the dead. We do not have to wait for that great and final moment to experience the power of the resurrection. Resurrection is not solely some future hope that cannot be understood or apprehended until it occurs. In the Apostle’s letter to the church at Philippi, Paul has this to say to his readers: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” *

There have been those who have accused the Apostle Paul of becoming a bit wishy-washy about resurrection. And, quite frankly, it could, technically, sound just a little bit wishy-washy, non-committal, pie-in-the-sky, maybe, some day, I hope so, but maybe not after all, something or rather.

But that cannot be. It is not the case at all. Throughout the New Testament, the Apostle Paul is the champion of assured resurrection. Resurrection is never something that the Apostle would ever be waffling over or wishy-washy about.

What the Apostle is hoping for is that somehow, by fully participating in his Lord’s death, that he might also, somehow, fully participate in his Lord’s resurrection, and he hopes for all of this to occur long before he stops breathing. He wants to walk so much in the way of Christ, that the effects of the way of Adam are obliterated from his life. And that is a noble goal for all of us. Will we achieve it? Probably not. The ways of Adam are deeply etched into our souls. Those ways of Adam also make complete sense in the world around us. The first thing that Adam did when he was caught, was to shift the focus away from himself and on to others. He first blamed his wife, and then, when that gained no traction, he blamed God. The way of Adam is to refuse to take responsibility for ourselves and for our own actions, and to blame someone or something else, for the difficulties we are experiencing. “If it wasn’t for…” How many times have we used that as an excuse to defend our sinful behaviors? I was amazed this week at how much blaming of others has worked its way into the news. Now, of course, one cannot have an election without blame; it would not work. But one ought to be able to have a disease without blame.

The way of Christ, on the other hand, is pure foolishness. Instead of blame, it is forgiveness, instead of hate, it is love, instead of self aggrandizement, it is self sacrifice, instead of despair, it is hope, instead of brokenness, it is healing, instead of death, it is life.

And so this morning, let us ponder the sensible ways of Adam that still lurk within our souls. And let us begin to put those sensible ways of Adam to death in our lives. And then, let us consider the foolish ways of our Lord, and bring them to life and to action in our souls. Let us live as if Christ is alive in us. Let us yearn to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.

*Philippians 3:10,11 NRSV

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