Sunday, April 16, 2017

Sermon for the Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord - 1 Cor 15:1-11

                                                                                                1 Cor 15:1-11

            Recently when I was in the grocery store checkout line I saw the cover of the current Women’s Health magazine.  On the cover there is a picture of actress Gwenyth Paltrow in a red bikini showing off her incredible abs.  The cover says, “Gwenyth! Get Her Abs. Just 3 Moves.”
            Now to begin with, we must question how much the picture has been digitally altered to improve Gwenyth’s appearance. This happens all the time. Although for the record, pictures of me and my trains posted on Facebook are never digitally altered – what you see is what you get.
            But let us grant that Gwenyth’s abs probably are amazing.  I highly doubt that you or I can get them with just three moves. First of all, Gwenyth’s looks and body are her job. It’s part of the package that gets her movie roles.  Gwenyth doesn’t have to fit in working out around her nine to five work schedule. Her workouts are part of her work schedule.
            Eating right to get and maintain that body is not an issue for Gwenyth.  I wouldn’t be surprised if she has a personal chef who prepares things for her.  If not, eating really healthy food is more expensive. But with a net worth of $60 million I think Gwenyth can get by while doing it.  And no doubt, Gwenyth has a personal trainer who crafts a workout regimen for her and works her out through it.
            Items like this magazine cover of Gwenyth Paltrow hold up before us unrealistic expectations about what our bodies should or could be like.  But even if we have a healthy outlook, very few of us are probably satisfied with our bodies. We all think that they could be better in some way.  If you are young person and an athlete you probably wish that your body was taller, stronger and faster. If you are a little older you may be unhappy about back trouble, arthritis, or high blood pressure.
            The people in Corinth weren’t satisfied with their bodies either.  However their complaint was rather different.  Apparently, they didn’t want to have a body at all.  They viewed their body as something they needed to escape.  Or they thought that the body didn’t matter at all because it would be left behind, and therefore they could do whatever they wanted with it.  There’s was some kind of spiritualized view of the Christian faith in which they thought they already had everything Christ was going to give them. They were baptized and were receiving the Sacrament of the Altar and so were protected from all spiritual harm.  They were free to do as they wished.
            We see evidence of this in chapter six where Paul writes, “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!”
            Now I have never heard a pastor tell Christians that they shouldn’t be using prostitutes.  Certainly we face great challenges when it comes to the Sixth Commandment. The world says that sex is part of dating and that living together before marriage is normal, while God say it is sin.  But I have never heard pastors actually have to address the topic of prostitutes.
            Part of this difference is cultural.  In the Roman world prostitution was not only legal, but the use of prostitutes was considered to be absolutely normal. In fact the Roman government provided bordellos for the use of the poor and lower class. The use of prostitutes was viewed very much as our world today views people having sex outside of marriage – it was completely normal.
            But in Paul’s reference to the resurrection we see that part of the difference is also the Corinthians’ false view about their bodies. As Paul goes on to say, “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”
            And so it is that in many ways, the entire letter drives toward our text – towards chapter fifteen.  Paul begins with the one thing that matters – the Gospel.  He says, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you--unless you believed in vain.  For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”
            In a succinct way Paul summarizes the faith.  He is probably using something that was already present in the Church and we see here the beginning of the Creed’s formation.  The first thing of importance is that Jesus Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.  That’s what we focused upon on Friday night.  In thought, word and deed you are a sinner.  You do not fear, love and trust in God above all things.  You do not love your neighbor as yourself.  But as God’s word had promised, Jesus Christ received God’s judgment against your sin, and so by faith in Jesus and what he promises in his Means of Grace you receive forgiveness.
            And the second thing is that after the dead body of Jesus was buried, he was raised on the third day.  This too was what God had promised in his word. And when it came to the resurrection the Church was very clear about who had seen the risen Lord.  Paul goes on to say, “and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”
            This was the faith Paul had proclaimed. And so he asks in the verse after our text, “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?”  How could some of the Corinthians be denying that God raised dead bodies when the resurrection of Jesus’ body was at the heart of the Gospel?
            After all, everything about the Christian faith is grounded in the resurrection. That is why that list of witnesses in our text is so important.  It really did happen.  Because if it didn’t … well Paul leaves no doubt about what that would mean.  He says, “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.”
            Paul says that if Christ was not raised then the Church is telling a lie about God. Then he adds, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”
            The resurrection of Jesus Christ is everything for us.  Without it everything here this morning is a fraud.  It is worse than nothing because it is a lie about God.  But because of what he can say in our text – because of his own experience and because of what the witnesses had experienced – Paul goes on to say, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.
For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.”
            Through Adam came sin and death.  Through Christ the second Adam carem forgiveness and resurrection of the dead.  Notice that Paul doesn’t just say “life.”  He says “resurrection from the dead.”  You cannot have life as God intended without your body.   The Son of God became incarnate – conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary – in order to redeem you, body and soul. 
            Paul describes Jesus as the “firstfruits.”  He is the first part of the resurrection that guarantees your resurrection will follow. The resurrection of Jesus on Easter is the beginning of your resurrection!  Your body may not be what you want.  Your body may be breaking down. But in the resurrection of Jesus Christ you have the guarantee that your body will be changed.  Paul told the Philippians that, “we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”  Your body will be changed by the risen Lord to be like his – perfect, immortal and never against subject to sin and death.
            The Christian faith does not claim to provide the answer to every question.  The Scriptures teach us that God is God, and we are not.  We are fallen people who do not and cannot understand all that God is doing.  This is true for the great events of the world that impact the Church, and also for the events of your life.  Often our perspective is trapped at 5:00 in the afternoon of Good Friday when they were taking the dead Jesus down from the cross and burying him in a tomb. We may see nothing in the present except failure, defeat, suffering and death.
            But God’s answer to this is that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. God has defeated sin and death in Christ.  That’s what he is telling you today.  And because you know this, none of the other questions matter. They don’t.  Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. Because he has, you will too. When he does, none of the questions will matter.        
            And because the resurrection has already started in Jesus, it means that none of them matter now. God has already given you the answer. The answer is the Gospel.  As Paul says this morning, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you--unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”





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