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“God’s Will for the New Creation”

Date: April 1, 2018 Speaker:


“God’s Will for the New Creation”

1st Corinthians 15:1-6, 12-26

 Easter Sunday: April 1, 2018

St. Matthew Lutheran Church, Houston, Texas

[Adapted from sermon by Rev. Justin Rossow, © 2018 Creative Communications for the Parish]

     Dear friends in Christ, Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed! Alleluia!)


Today, as we celebrate the physical resurrection of the crucified Body of Jesus, the apostle Paul points us to the End of the resurrection story, to the fulfillment of God’s ultimate will and purpose for his creation:

“In Christ all will be made alive, but each in turn: Christ,

     the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.

     Then the End will come …”


So along with our traditional Easter greeting, we add another acclamation of the Church: “Christ has died; Christ is risen; and Christ will come again!


That’s how the resurrection story ends; that’s my future; that’s your future; that’s what’s in store for all who belong to Jesus. Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again!


But we’re not there yet. Oh, Jesus has already won the victory; the sting of sin and the power of the law have been removed. The grave no longer holds terror for those who are baptized into the death of Jesus, and therefore have also been united to the physical resurrection of Jesus.


And yet, the final, ultimate victory has not happened, at least not fully. People who belong to Jesus still struggle with sin. People who belong to Jesus still get sick. People who belong to Jesus still die.


And if there is one thing Paul wants to make perfectly clear to the Church, it’s this: as long as even a single human body is still in a grave, Jesus isn’t finished yet.


Only when every gravestone is obsolete and every Christian corpse stands redeemed and restored, joined again with a redeemed and restored soul – body and soul together, the way God intended it to be – only then will we see God’s ultimate will for his creation. Only then will the resurrection story of Jesus reach its crowning chapter. Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again!


But we’re not there yet; so while we wait, Paul wants to clear up a couple of misunderstandings about the resurrection. In our Epistle reading, Paul was writing to the church in the Greek city of Corinth. According to Greek mythology, everyone believed that once you die, only your soul makes the trip across the River Styx into the underworld. No bodies allowed.


So it’s likely that the culture in the greater metropolitan Corinth area would have been very skeptical of the idea of resurrection. Dead is dead. Period. End of the story. Even if some thought the soul lived on in a kind of vague afterlife, no one but no one thought something as vulgar as a corpse had a promising future. If you offered a Greek ghost a body, they’d probably turn you down. They wouldn’t have any need for it.


This narrow hope for a vague kind of life after death did not include your body. And some Greek philosophers suggested there was no hope for your soul, either: when you died, there was no resurrection, no afterworld, no existence: nothing at all. Their skepticism led to the nagging doubt that this life is all there is, and there ain’t no more.


So it’s no wonder that the church in Corinth has drifted a bit from Paul’s original message. The Corinthians combined narrow hope and nagging doubt with the message of Jesus. They were bringing the basic presuppositions of their culture, their theater, their philosophy and entertainment with them into the Church.


And the result? It sounds like some Corinthian Christians were suggesting that we should be content with the life we have in the here and now, rather than imagining some mythological life beyond death. Others seem to have looked forward to a happy future for their souls without regard for their rather embarrassingly physical bodies.


And Paul says, that kind of thinking is just not compatible with faith in Jesus. What at least some of the Corinthians Christians believed, Paul says, isn’t the Gospel anymore; it’s fake news, fake news about our bodies, fake news about our future, fake news about the Good News.


It might make sense in the story our culture tells, but that kind of thinking does not make sense in the resurrection story of Jesus. So Paul takes us through a series of IF-THEN statements, laying out their false logic in order to later tear it apart.


▪   IF physical bodies aren’t raised THEN Christ is not raised.

▪   IF Christ is not raised THEN your faith is worthless.

▪   IF your faith is worthless THEN you are stuck with your sins, and the dead people you love are just dead.

▪   IF you are stuck with your sins, and the dead people you love are just dead THEN this religion is a lie, we have no hope, and followers of Jesus are pitiful, disillusioned suckers.

▪   IF you don’t have the actual resurrection of the body, (Paul completes the false logic) THEN you don’t have Jesus.


But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead! That is Paul’s basic message in 1st Corinthians 15! Your faith is NOT worthless; you are NOT stuck in sin; the people you love, even if they are dead, are MORE than corpses; YOU have a strong and powerful HOPE.


Because Christ IS risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! And more than that, Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again!


In fact, you have a concrete, tangible sign of that coming again. You have many eyewitnesses of the resurrected body of Jesus, what Paul calls the “firstfruits” of those who have fallen asleep. Firstfruits are the first evidence of more to come. They are like blossoms in spring. We are experiencing that right now with spring, aren’t we? The air gets warmer. The sun is out more. One day just the first of the flowers are beginning to open, and by the next morning, everywhere you look trees and flowers are in full bloom. (along with a few “pollen showers)


Firstfruits are also part of the whole that is still coming. Like the first installment of an inheritance payment, or a solo performance that begins a symphony, the firstfruits come first but belong to the rest that is coming after. To experience the firstfruits is to already experience what the whole harvest will be like. Maybe you like to plant tomatoes, so you eagerly anticipate that first fruit as it ripens on the vine; hoping for the harvest before birds or other critters can get to it.


In the Old Testament, firstfruits are part of the prescribed offering to God. When the first grain was ripe, on the first day after the first Sabbath after Passover… so that would be today, the Sunday of the Resurrection! On the day Jesus rose from the dead, God’s Old Testament people would bring in the first of the harvest of grain to God’s house as an offering.


To set aside the firstfruits as holy to the Lord acknowledges the God from whom this harvest came. But it is also a statement of trust: hail or lightning or locusts or war could destroy the harvest at any minute. To bring in the firstfruits is to express your dependence on God for the rest of the harvest.


The image of firstfruits puts all of those thoughts together. And Paul says, Jesus is like that. He is the first evidence of more to come. His bodily resurrection is the first permanent, physical, New Creation resurrection in history, but it is not going to be the last!


Jesus is the first installment, the opening solo of the New Creation: His resurrected body is part of the New Creation even now, ahead of time. And if you want to know what the New Creation is like, then look to Jesus and his living body that eats and walks and talks and loves and shares with those he loves. The New Creation looks, feels, smells and tastes like Jesus.


He is the firstfruits offering, set aside as holy to God even as we, God’s people, depend on God for the rest of the harvest that is still to come.

     “In Christ all will be made alive, but each in turn: Christ,

     the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.

     Then the End will come …”


It’s clear what Paul wants us to believe, to believe firmly, without a doubt. And it’s also clear that believing firmly, without a doubt, isn’t any easier for us than it was for the Corinthians. Like them, we bring the presuppositions of our own culture, our theater, our philosophy and entertainment with us into the Church.


We tend to imagine our souls after death like the life force of Obi-Wan Kenobi or Yoda after they die, a kind of glowing version of our physical selves. Remember how neither Obi-Wan or Yoda left an embarrassing corpse behind when they died? In fact, in entertainment for young and old, we Americans seem to be content with the soul living on without a body (if it’s a family movie), or undead bodies living on without souls (if it’s a zombie movie). But we don’t imagine something as vulgar as a corpse has much of a future.


Offer an American ghost a body and they’d probably turn you down, too… we don’t need a resurrection of physical bodies in our culture. And that kind of narrow hope for a vague kind of life-after-death-without-your-body has affected the Church. There are children’s books written by good, Christian people, intended to be read by good, Christian parents to their good, Christian children, that describe going to heaven when you die. You get wings like the angels, you get to run and play, all is perfect and peaceful. And there is absolutely no hint, no hope, no need for a bodily resurrection from the dead. The soul’s spiritual existence apart from the body is mistakenly thought to be good enough for our children. And the soul’s spiritual existence apart from the body is good enough for much of our American Christian experience.


If the narrow hope typical of our culture has infiltrated the Church, then so has a nagging doubt that this life is all there is, and there ain’t no more. That doubt naturally arises from the skepticism that seems to characterize our age like no other. One of the basic tenets of Postmodernism, the dominant philosophy in the air we breathe, is the idea that there is no perspective-free access to ultimate truth. There is no unbiased vantage point from which you can objectively observe the universe. All of our understanding of Truth is shaped by our human culture, our human language, the way our human brains work in our human bodies.


And you know something? I think Postmoderns are right, up to a point. I can’t think about the world apart from the way my human brain thinks. I can only use the tools I have available to me, and whether it’s reason or emotion or faith or imagination, I have no direct, disembodied access to objective truth.


That fundamental principle – that I am undeniably shaped by my human culture, human language, and human body – that basic premise CAN lead to the nagging doubt that all religious claims about absolute spiritual truths are the product of my own human brain, just doing what human brains do.


But here’s the thing. Paul doesn’t ask skeptics to trust in some abstract, objective truth. You aren’t supposed to readily accept the concept of a disembodied access to ultimate reality. Quite the contrary! God knows we have no unmediated access to ultimate truth, so Jesus Christ who is the Ultimate Truth enters into our human culture, where he can be seen and heard and touched; where he can be mocked and tortured and crucified; where he can be raised, and embraced, and held onto; where you can put your finger in his nail marks and your hand in his side.


Jesus speaks God’s eternal Word in human language, with all the beauty and difficulty that entails. The foundation of the faith Paul wants you to cling to today is not an abstract principle, but a human body: the human Body of Jesus, that once was a corpse, and now is alive forevermore. Jesus, the battlefield champion, placing his resurrected foot on the neck of the final enemy, Death, and declaring total victory forever and ever. That, Paul says, is the End of the resurrection story. That is God’s ultimate will for his creation!


In the name of the Father, and of the Son +, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

EPISTLE – 1st Corinthians 15:1-6, 12-26


      1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you – unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.


      12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But IF there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And IF Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.


16 For IF the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised.

17 And IF Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.


20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

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