THE REV. ROBERTO DESANDOLI
6th Sunday after the Epiphany / Heritage Sunday
Jeremiah 17: 5-10
1 Corinthians 15: 12-20
Luke 6: 17-26
Luke 6: 17-26
17 He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. 18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19 And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.
20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you[a] on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
24 “But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
25 “Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
“Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.
26 “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
If you’re like me, you probably spend a fair amount of your free time browsing through the various Creeds and Confessions of the Christian church; documents like the Westminster Confession of 1646, the Apostle’s Creed, Living Faith, Declaration of Faith Concerning Church and Nation – you know, the usual – and looking at the various Creeds and Confessions of our church, you may have noticed that Christ’s earthly church puts a great deal of emphasis on the resurrection of the body.
On the subject of resurrection, The Westminster Confession of 1646 (one of three “subordinate standards” of the Presbyterian Church in Canada) states that:
All the dead shall be raised up, with the selfsame bodies, and none other (although with different qualities), which shall be united again to their souls forever (Ch. 32, II)
Elsewhere, The Apostle’s Creed says of Jesus and of us:
One the third day he rose again…
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 every lasting. Amen.
And in today’s reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, we hear the Apostle state the case strongly:
12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.
17 If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have died[a] in Christ have perished. 19 If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.
Responding to a church in Greece, influenced by the Greek thinking around them, Paul took the time to put to rest the idea that Christ’s resurrection (and ours) constitutes anything other than a bodily resurrection.
Why this matters, then and now, is that while the church has—through its long history—carried various opinions about the importance or the sinfulness of the human body; it has maintained that resurrection (both Christ’s and ours) is a bodily resurrection.
This means two important things for us:
- That we should trust by faith in the promise that: we and those we love will share in Christ’s bodily resurrection on the last day
- That when we interact with a culture that makes idols out of materiality and utility, and has nothing of comfort to say at the end of life (other than perhaps to say that we are “free” to choose our day and time of departure), we have been equipped by the saints to offer something better; and that is the resurrection promise of Jesus Christ
If nothing else this morning, I (and Paul and the communion of saints gathered here today, and through all times and places) will offer you the answer to one of life’s great questions: what is the purpose of death, and is there life after it? And I hope that will have made getting up early on this Sunday morning worthwhile J
While the culture around us has a strange relationship with death: both celebrating it as “natural” and trying with all its might to pretend death itself does not exist, the church has made up its mind about death:
Death. Is. The. Enemy.
Death takes what is beautiful and whole and God-created and turns it into decay and mourning.
Death takes vibrancy and light and beauty and turns it into ugliness and sadness.
However, in Christ’s glorious resurrection (the event we celebrate every Sunday morning, all year long), we are equipped with the faith to say that even death, even the last enemy, has been conquered.
But what exactly does that mean?
What happens after death?
Where do we go?
As a young Christian, one of the most surprising things I found when I began to read the Bible seriously is that “heaven” is not in it.
At least, not the heaven I was used to seeing in movies:
Harps, angels, clouds, St. Peter and his golden gate, the lawyer, the priest, and the rabbi, all set to tell their jokes. J
There is simply no harp-and-cloud heaven in the Bible, it’s not there!
Sure there are harps, David’s for instance, and there are clouds, like the ones obscuring God’s face in Ezekiel’s vision, but they’re not laid out like all those movies; where the characters die and then suddenly “wake up” to find they have gained wings, a harp, and white pajamas.
The cloud-and-harp heaven just isn’t in the scriptures.
So what is?
The promise of bodily resurrection.
Something even more mysterious than the heaven of TV and movies: there is the resurrection of the body, not just Christ’s (though He is the “first fruit” the forebearer of the great resurrection) but also ours. The promise is not that we will go “up to heaven” but that we will rise from our graves to inherit a “new heaven and new earth,” one that fits “over top” of the world we know, where there will be no longer be a distinction between heaven and earth.
In his first letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul took time to raise issue with some early Christ-followers who were preaching against the reality of Christ’s bodily resurrection.
1st Century Corinth, a city and culture a mere 80 kilometers away from Athens, was heavily influenced by the Greek way of thinking (what scholars today call the Neo-Platonic and Neo-Gnostic movements); both of which placed high value on the “mind” and the “inner soul” and low value on “the body.”
To these Greek Christ-followers, to the Greek Corinthians who had inherited the Gospel of Christ from Paul and his letters, there was a struggle to adapt their existing Greek way of thinking about the body and the soul with the new Christian way
How could, for instance, these Corinthian believers reconcile their cultural understanding that the body was weak, that the body was dirty, that the body was unimportant (next to the mind), with a story about God’s Only Begotten Son rising from the dead in his body.
As these two stories, these two worldviews rubbed up against one another, several solutions and compromises were considered; and one was to simply stand pat on the Greek philosophy: yes, Jesus has raised from the dead, but not in his old, earthly, dirty body; it is more of a spiritual resurrection.
Upon hearing about this, Paul set to work writing his letter to the Church in Corinth to correct them on this point, as we have heard this morning:
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. (v. 12-14)
Paul does not mince words here:
To those promoting a Gospel of spiritual as opposed to bodily resurrection Paul makes the case very clear;
If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain.
Paul tells us not to compromise on this, not to dilute the Gospel with our own cultural understandings (Greek or otherwise):
The resurrection has not really taken place.
The miracle of Christ’s victory over the grave has not really taken place.
If Christ did not come back in his same earthly body.
The resurrection of Christ is not a “ghost story,” it is something much more wonderful.
This is the whole point of “Doubting” Thomas at John 20: 24 – Thomas may have doubted whether it was truly Christ’s body that he was standing before him three days after the crucifixion, but that doubt was put to bed when the disciple put his hand into the wound in Christ’s side. A wound that was made by a centurion’s spear when this same body was on the cross three days earlier.
Paul is passionate on this point for good reason. He says to the Corinthians: NO! You must believe that the resurrection is of the body, because if you don’t then it’s no real resurrection, and if Christ’s resurrection is not real then ours cannot be real either and we have proclaimed the Gospel for nothing.
Where we should find this helpful in our own lives and in our own world is when we consider what our faith is “for.”
And to live in an era where people ask (questions like) what faith in Jesus Christ is “for” is a rather new and unique thing.
An era where people ask what “faith is for” or what “religion is for” (and by extension, whether “we” really need it) goes to show that, like the Greek Corinthians before us, there is another, non-Christian way of looking at the world; one that is pushing against Christian imagination and Christian faith.
These days, we are free to ask what “faith is for?” or what “church is for?” or what “religion is for?” because we live in a world of utility. A world where everything around us from churches to schools to hospitals to food to nature to even death and dying are here for our own “use” (human “utlility”):
-A school is “for” educating us so we can get jobs and make money
-Food is “for” fueling our bodies so we can work and be healthy
-Nature is “for” maintaining the population and the economy
-The church is “for” making some people feel better about dying (at least according to our secular culture)
And I am betting a few of you have had that conversation once or twice with friends and relatives:
-Why do you go to church?
-Are you afraid of dying?
-What is it you “get out of going to church”?
These questions are interesting because they reveal a massive assumption which is held by our secular culture:
The assumption that “some people” are afraid to die and want to “believe” that there is a God and a Heaven, and everyone else simply isn’t bothered by it.
What is so interesting and so tragic about this assumption is that it is flat out wrong and flat out harmful.
Every single person eventually comes to an understanding of their own mortality.
Every single person who reaches an age of self-awareness, no matter how young or how fit or how vibrant will one day find themselves looking in the mirror and admitting “one day I am going to die,” and on that day, our culture of utility has nothing of comfort or of value to say in response.
“One day I am going to die, but at least I contributed to the economy”
“One day I am going to die, but at least I had some fun”
“One day I am going to die, and there’s no ‘but’ that comforts me”
If you’ve ever pastored or witnessed to someone who is going through that dark night of the soul, you know that it is not a pleasant experience, nor one you will ever forget.
And in that moment, in that moment where you are given an opportunity to share your faith, your faith in Christ, your faith in the resurrection, your faith in the Kingdom to Come, you will know that even the small amount of faith God has put in your heart to believe in the resurrection is enough to turn on a light in the darkness.
It is enough to say with love: “I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting” even if you have doubts; even if you don’t always believe; even if you struggle to keep believing, because even though it’s a mystery, and even though it’s difficult to hang on to, and even though we don’t know fully what will happen when the trumpet finally sounds on the last day, we know that God has given us this faith to keep the light on in our lives and in the lives of others.
Paul concludes his remarks about the resurrection to the Christ-followers in Corinth by saying:
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. (v. 20)
And even though we are in the middle (at least, we hope) of a very cold and icy winter, and even though the signs of Spring are now few and far between, there are a few first fruits of Spring:
-There are a few birds singing in the trees
-There are a few Canada Geese returning home
-There are a few rays of sunlight that are higher and warmer than the others
And just as these things herald the Spring that is to come when the whole world will be in the bloom of green grass and colorful flowers and rich sunlight, there is also a single resurrection that heralds the Spring of resurrection that will occur for all who call on the name of Jesus.
Friends, this Sunday (as on every Sunday), this day (as on every day), we are called upon by God to celebrate the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ and the bodily resurrection of our own future, that we will share in in the New Heaven and New Earth.
Though death is a reality of life. It is not the final reality.
Though there is pain and suffering in this life, these are not the final reality either.
Though our faith can struggle and falter in this life, we have been assured that our faith is not in vain, because on the day of resurrection, we will know—in our very bodies—that God loves us and cares for us; so much so that He sent his Only Begotten Son to show us the way.
The same Son who shows us the way to resurrection is the same Son who encourages us every day, and prays blessings upon us:
Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.