FOR THE LORD’S DAY
May 17, 2020
Sixth Sunday of Easter
WORDS OF WORSHIP 2 Corinthians 5:17, NCV
If anyone belongs to Christ, there is a new creation.
The old things have gone; everything is made new!
Lord Jesus Christ, we long for all things to be made new. As we rededicate ourselves to you this day in worship, may you continue to recreate us in your image and may that in turn help to reshape the world around us. We give ourselves to you.
CONFESSION AND PARDON
Psalm 139 tells us:
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Point out anything in me that offends you,
and lead me along the path of everlasting life.
Let us make our confession to God.
Jesus, we admit that it is difficult to fully dedicate ourselves to you.
There is so much in our world that we want you to make new,
but there are things within each one of us
that we don’t really want to surrender.
Every time we are asked to give ourselves to you,
we may unconsciously hesitate
or secretly be thinking “except for this one thing.”
But Lord, you cannot renew the world
if we are unwilling to be renewed ourselves,
so help us surrender whatever within us we still need to let go.
Forgive our hesitation to be fully yours in body, mind, and spirit. Amen.
For the sake of Jesus’ name, our sins are forgiven.
Thanks be to God!
PASSING THE PEACE
May the peace of Christ be with you.
PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION
Lord Jesus, as we hear of your resurrection through the words and faith of your Apostle Paul, may we be filled with faith and hope for our own resurrection and renewal.
SCRIPTURE LESSONS 1 Corinthians 15, selected verses, NLT
15:1 Let me now remind you, dear brothers and sisters, of the Good News I preached to you before. You welcomed it then, and you still stand firm in it. 2 It is this Good News that saves you if you continue to believe the message I told you—unless, of course, you believed something that was never true in the first place.
3 I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. 4 He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. …
12 But tell me this—since we preach that Christ rose from the dead, why are some of you saying there will be no resurrection of the dead? 13 For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. …
20 But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.
21 So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. 22 Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. 23 But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back. …
35 But someone may ask, “How will the dead be raised? What kind of bodies will they have?” 36 What a foolish question! When you put a seed into the ground, it doesn’t grow into a plant unless it dies first. 37 And what you put in the ground is not the plant that will grow, but only a bare seed of wheat or whatever you are planting. 38 Then God gives it the new body he wants it to have. A different plant grows from each kind of seed. 39 Similarly there are different kinds of flesh—one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish.
40 There are also bodies in the heavens and bodies on the earth. The glory of the heavenly bodies is different from the glory of the earthly bodies. 41 The sun has one kind of glory, while the moon and stars each have another kind. And even the stars differ from each other in their glory.
42 It is the same way with the resurrection of the dead. Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live forever. 43 Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. 44 They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies. For just as there are natural bodies, there are also spiritual bodies.
51 But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! 52 It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. 53 For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.
54 Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.
55 O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
56 For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. 57 But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.
58 So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.
SERMON The Resurrection According to Paul
I have shared words from 1 Corinthians 15 at many memorial services and gravesides. I will likely have some of it in my own service someday. While it is certainly not the only place Paul talks about his resurrection faith, it contains a good summary of what Paul believes. I have also heard in a lecture on the New Testament, that in terms of the resurrection, Christian doctrine is based primarily on these and other teachings from Paul. Paula Gooder writes in the introduction to this chapter in This Risen Existence, “Paul was the first – and probably greatest – writer of the earliest Christian period who attempted not just to describe what happened but what it meant (and in fact what it continues to mean).” (p. 65)
It seems that among the many concerns and questions Paul is addressing in this letter, some of the Christians at Corinth are wondering about what happens after death. Gooder shares, “In the first century there was a wide variety of views about what happened after you died, ranging from belief in nothing at all to the idea of the transmigration of the soul (that is, the body died but the soul lived on and, after spending time in Hades, entered another human body). Resurrection – the idea that at some point in the future your body would be raised to life and transformed so that you would live for ever – was a peculiarly Jewish idea and would have been alien to anyone of Graeco-Roman heritage…the most likely scenario here is that the Corinthians accepted Jesus’ death and resurrection but held to their own previous, Graeco-Roman-inspired beliefs about what would happen to them after death.” (p. 71)
That’s a long quote but gives us some important background.
The church at Corinth was a mix of Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ. Some of those Jewish Christians may have brought with them a belief in a general resurrection at some future point, as we have referred to Martha’s belief noted in the conversation she had with Jesus before Jesus raised Lazarus from death to life. (John 11) The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible states, “Resurrection was a holistic Jewish hope that the dead (or at least the righteous dead) would be raised to a new bodily existence of some sort at a future time. Future physical hope was rooted in God’s covenant promises to Israel, but came to be applied as a physical hope for individuals most clearly during the Persian period.” (Study tools available online, Bible Gateway Plus) But others whose beliefs were influenced by Graeco-Roman culture had other ideas. “Many Gentile intellectuals affirmed the soul’s immortality without a future for the body; some others denied any afterlife at all.” (NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible)
A wide range of beliefs is still in the world today from a variety of religious traditions to non-religious philosophies. Some believe in a bodily resurrection, but some are unsure exactly what that means. Some believe in reincarnation, that a person is reborn as someone or something new. Some believe in a waiting time after death, in a Sheol or purgatory or some other semi-existence. Some do not believe there is life after death at all, that when we die our body decays, and that is it. Others have described the afterlife they witnessed in near death experiences. The world still holds a variety of ideas and reactions to the concept of resurrection.
Paul’s concern for the Corinthians was the inconsistency of accepting Christ’s resurrection without anticipating one’s own. Hence verse 13, “For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either.” (1 Cor. 15:13)
The Orthodox Study Bible asks, “What is Christianity without the resurrection—both Christ's and ours? His death does us no good without it. What use is forgiveness if we remain dead?” (Study tools available online, Bible Gateway Plus) In these and following verses “Paul gives 6 disastrous consequences if there were no resurrection: 1) preaching Christ would be senseless (v. 14); 2) faith in Christ would be useless (v. 14); 3) all the witnesses and preachers of the resurrection would be liars (v. 15); 4) no one would be redeemed from sin (v. 17); 5) all former believers would have perished (v. 18); and 6) Christians would be the most pitiable people on earth (v. 19).” This according to John MacArthur’s summary of Paul’s words. (Study tools available online, Bible Gateway Plus)
Gooder expresses the consequences this way, “Without resurrection of any kind, our faith changes: resurrection affects the doctrine of hope, of Christian identity, of baptism, of life after death, and also of God. Resurrection is the thread that is woven right through the centre of many of our Christian beliefs.” (p. 72) Let’s think about that for a minute. Belief in Christ’s resurrection is what makes Christians an Easter people. It defines our faith in a living leader who is still with us in spirit. Without faith that Christ was raised from the dead, I’m not sure we would hold the same faith that Christ is one with God. Belief in our own resurrection is key to our hope of heaven, our hope that death is not the end, our hope of a reward for faithful living, and especially our hope of reuniting with loved ones. It is our hope of one day meeting God ourselves, face to face. The power to bring life out of death is one of the defining expressions of the power, authority, and sovereignty of our God.
So, belief in both Christ’s resurrection and our own is essential to Christian faith. It is part of what we recite each week in the Apostle’s Creed; we believe “in the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” Paul goes on then to address what kind of body that resurrected form will be. I like the contrast between the physical body and spiritual body. I don’t expect our resurrected body to have exactly the same properties as our physical bodies do now.
What Paul actually says is this, “Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live forever. 43 Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. 44 They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies.” (1 Corinthians 15:42b-44a, NLT) Later Paul writes about this in his second letter to Corinth, “2 We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing... 4 While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life.” (2 Corinthians 5:2-4, NLT) I can relate to that, looking forward to a new spiritual body, especially on the days this body is uncooperative.
Paula Gooder writes, “Christian tradition has been, for a long time, at best ambivalent about bodies and, at worst, antagonistic towards them and everything that they represent…The person often blamed for this negativity towards bodies is Paul, who so often seems to contrast the things of the flesh with the things of the spirit.” (p. 73) As I read Paul’s passages above, I agree with Gooder that blaming Paul is to misunderstand him. For Paul both our earthly bodies and our spiritual bodies are gifts of God and serve the purpose for which God created them. Neither are bad; they are simply, by necessity, different. Gooder sums it up this way, “Paul does not say that our current bodies are evil, as some might expect him to, simply that they are to our resurrection bodies what the moon is to the sun. They are not to be despised, but are to be replaced by something far, far more glorious than before.” (p. 74) For the record, the notion that what is physical is evil and only what is spiritual is good comes from certain Graeco-Roman philosophies and other religions that Paul considered heresy and sought to counteract in many of his letters.
I was once asked by a parishioner about having a particular surgery; would it affect his future body? This scripture that we receive a new body after death gave me an answer for his concern. It also is my answer to any who have concerns about cremation which has become more common over my years in ministry. I also choose to be cremated when the time comes. I have used these two passages in memorial services and gravesides as I said earlier. I particularly think of them when someone has suffered physically over time. I used the new body passages from Paul for my grandmother’s funeral, because I loved the image that the woman who could barely walk from the living room to the kitchen my whole life, who was bedridden with Parkinson’s at the end, could now dance or run in heaven as much as she wanted. I’m not happy with the consequences of those years I didn’t take proper care of my own body, but I look forward to a body better suited to the next life. These are my own thoughts from Paul’s teaching on our present and future bodies.
All of this is offered to us through Jesus’ resurrection. His is the first of many. Because Jesus lives, we too will live. Paul phrased it as first fruits of the harvest, that Jesus was raised first, but we will all be gathered into God’s kingdom. Remember that the first part of any harvest always belongs to God. The NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible notes, “Jesus is the firstfruits of those who have died in the sense that his resurrection signals the beginning of the new creation promised in Isaiah…Jesus’ resurrection from the dead marks the beginning of the general resurrection of the dead.” (Study tools available online, Bible Gateway Plus)
Paul often contrasts that death came through Adam, and new life comes through Christ. Biblically Adam represents not only the first creation of humanity, but Adam also represents the fall of humanity into sin by the choices he made to disobey God, then to hide from God. When Paul wrote to the Romans “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23, NLT), Paul was referring to this same concept. In Genesis, when God handed out the consequences of that disobedience, God said to Adam, “You will sweat and work hard for your food. Later you will return to the ground, because you were taken from it. You are dust, and when you die, you will return to the dust.” (Genesis 3:19, NCV) So, like Adam, we also have the consequence of death, because of sin.
By contrast Jesus offers us life, having forgiven our sins at the cross. Jesus’ resurrection completes that turn around to make new life possible for us beyond death. The NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible expresses it this way, “Jesus’ resurrection establishes the reality of the future resurrection of all believers. As Adam represented the human race, his sin affecting all his descendants, so Jesus Christ represents the new “race,” his death and resurrection affecting all who believe in him.”
All of this theology is well and good, but what does it mean for us? In an earlier reflection on Paul’s letter to the Romans, Gooder writes, “Jesus’ death frees us ‘from’ and his resurrection frees us ’for’: from our sins, for a life in Christ; from our old way of being, for new creation and so on.” (p. 68) This comes from Romans 4:25, “25 Jesus was given to die for our sins, and he was raised from the dead to make us right with God.” (NCV)
Living “This Risen Existence” as Gooder titled her book is about what we do with the redeemed life we have been granted. If Jesus died to forgive us and rose to promise us new life, how are we living that life Jesus gave everything to offer us? I have often said that we don’t try to please God in order to earn our salvation; that was a gift, and that is how Paul teaches it. However, having been forgiven, we can offer to God a life of obedience, of doing our best to serve and please God. We do it out of gratitude for what we have already received. We do it out of love for the God who so loved us.
This also means we live not for ourselves, but we live for God, so that Christ’s light can shine through us. The example we set, the gifts we share, the choices we make, we offer them to Christ. Even the setbacks we endure, the trials we face, the things we suffer, even these we offer to Christ. Paul talked about this in the second letter to Corinth. “16 So we do not give up. Our physical body is becoming older and weaker, but our spirit inside us is made new every day. 17 We have small troubles for a while now, but they are helping us gain an eternal glory that is much greater than the troubles. 18 We set our eyes not on what we see but on what we cannot see. What we see will last only a short time, but what we cannot see will last forever.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, NCV) Gooder explains, “Paul sees his own sufferings as the way in which Christ’s resurrection life can shine forth…He will, at some point, receive his own glorious resurrected body, but for now he is content for Christ’s resurrection life to shine from him.” (p. 76)
While we are stuck in the troubles of this life, we cannot dwell only on the suffering, we must find ways to look beyond it, to offer hope and help to others in whatever ways we can, to look toward the future God promises, to search for the good God will bring out of our troubles. That is not to blame God for what we are going through; it is to trust that God will wrestle something good out of it. (Romans 8:28) In choosing to live beyond ourselves and our own circumstances, we allow the light of Christ to come through.
Paul wrote of this earlier in the same chapter, “7 We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.
8 We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. 9 We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. 10 Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.” (2 Corinthians 4:7-10, NLT) Though our lives are broken, it is through that brokenness that the grace and mercy of Jesus the Christ can shine. Gooder writes, “Learning to live a true risen existence involves also learning to live fully and joyfully as cracked and crumbling clay jars.” (p. 77)
Where is your life cracked right now? All of us are dealing with the changes forced upon us by COVID-19, though we do not all experience those changes in the same way. Some of you have chronic pain or diseases that affect your lives on a daily basis, and you have to deal with the brokenness of this earthly mind or body. Some of you have circumstances in your lives that are a real struggle for you. They may be the consequences of your own choices or the fallout you suffer from the choices of others without any control over that for yourself. For every one of us, this life is indeed a fragile clay pot, often it feels like one cracked or chipped or broken in some way, and yet to God we are still beautiful and have value. Through these broken lives Christ can still shine.
What Paul taught to new Christian believers in the churches, Paul also lived. His own life was marked by suffering, physical hardships, misunderstandings, persecution and abuse, a past he regretted, disagreements, goals that were difficult to attain. But Paul did not give up. It was his nature to go full steam ahead anyway, but once he accepted that Jesus was indeed the Christ and indeed alive, he gave everything to serve his risen Lord. Paul’s words and example encourage us to be an Easter people who give our best everywhere and always to serve our risen Christ. Let me repeat Paul’s closing verse on this topic, “So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)
AFFIRMATION Apostle’s Creed, Ecumenical Version p. 14
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
Gracious God, all honor and glory and praise to you!
We continue to life to your throne of mercy and grace
The many who are suffering from the coronavirus
And from other diseases of body, mind, or spirit.
We pray for those grieving a loss
And for the loses we experience as a society.
We pray for those in transition,
For those graduating, retiring, or moving.
We pray for those giving of themselves for our benefit
In hospitals, stores, food industries,
warehouses and delivery services.
We pray for those struggling to work from home
Or just to stay home, when their personality type
Would prefer to be out and about every day.
We pray for those who feel disconnected,
And especially those who live alone.
We pray for those making difficult decisions in difficult times.
We pray for wisdom as decisions are made about re-openings.
We pray for common sense to remember safety precautions
We pray for those affected financially, for relief and help where needed.
We pray for hope and help and increased faith for all.
PRAYER OF THANKSGIVING
We thank you for the reminders that you are still with us
As the sun rises and sets,
As the grass grows and flowers bloom.
We thank you for the food we have, the homes that protect us,
The friends and family we love, and the means to still communicate with them.
We thank you for the many working to help us
And for those whose words encourage us.
We thank you for music and stories and art to inspire us.
We thank you for these physical bodies such as they are now
And for the many things possible because of them.
We thank you for the promise of life beyond death
And the spiritual bodies we will enjoy in that new realm.
We thank you that both in this life and the next, we live with you.
THE LORD'S PRAYER
CHARGE & BLESSING
May you know the grace and peace and joy of our Lord.
May hope and love of God flow through you.
May you find God’s patience growing within you.
May you know God’s blessings surround you this and every day.
Messages this season are based on This Risen Existence by Paula Gooder.
For the Easter Season video will be available of Kolleen leading worship, reading scripture, and sharing a message based on the resurrection passages throughout the New Testament, based on the devotional book This Risen Existence by Paula Gooder. Thanks to our tech, Mike, for setting up recording and editing to video.