Monday, March 5, 2018

Easter Earthquake - Choosing Madness

This is a sermon that was preached at United Presbyterian Church on Sunday, March 4, 2018.  
Listen to the audio here.
Read 1 Corinthians 15:12-22, Psalm 19:1-6 here.  

A common perception is that dead people stay dead.  We are afraid of death, and fascinated with the idea of resurrection. Often we deal with our fear and fascination through humor.  Lots of humor.  I know this because I found tons of it on the internet this week.
I was googling because I wanted to make sure that I didn’t make the same mistake twice.  Last Wednesday I preached at the college chapel, and afterward Christian Dashiel, Andy Giorgetti and Brett Callan accused me of plagiarizing my sermon.  They said I couldn’t have written it myself because there were no puns in it.  I think they were making much ado about nothing.  Rest assured, from now on there will be puns. So…….

Old ministers never die, they just get put out to pastor….


What did the dead person say to the pineapple?  

Nothing.  Dead people can’t talk.[2]

The Bible reinforces our view of death as an enemy[3] that Jesus conquered when he was raised by God from the dead.
The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
--1 Corinthians 15:26

We toy with the idea of being able to conquer death ourselves, but try as we might, and lord we have tried, we cannot conquer it ourselves. The good news of the resurrection is that God is stronger than death.[4]

Friday night I went to see the play Romeo & Juliet at Sterling College.  A wonderful production!  It’s fun and funny in parts, but there’s also lots of death in it.  Some of the most dramatic moments in the play are when characters find that their friends or family members have died and are overwrought with sadness and disbelief.  In the midst of their feud with the Montagues, the Capulets (played by Amy & Larry Brownlee) are determined to arrange an appropriate marriage for their daughter Juliet, but Juliet foils their plans by faking her death. Romeo thinks she’s dead, and takes poison so that he can join her in death.  We want to yell out to him, “Don’t do it! She’s not really dead.” Shakespeare plays with the idea of resurrection in 14 of his plays, usually by having characters reappear after someone thought they were dead.[5] 

The reality is that only God can raise the deadGod is the one who created us and gave us life. Our psalm reading for today says the heavens are constantly telling us about God’s glory…..
There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard;
 yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
    and their words to the end of the world. (Psalm 18:3-4)
The power of God is displayed in the rising and setting of the sun each day, and that same power raised Jesus from death, but it is power that only God has.

We ourselves cannot raise the dead, so instead we work hard to prolong life and cheat death.  There have been countless studies to determine what kinds of exercise, food, or herbal supplements are most effective at retaining youth and prolonging life.

There is an old legend that the Spanish explorer Ponce De Leon discovered Florida while he was searching for the fountain of youth.  Although that is only a legend, the city of St. Augustine in Florida has a statue of Ponce De Leon and a fountain of youth that is a popular tourist attraction.[6]  Tens of thousands of people go every year to St. Augustine to drink water from that fountain that is only commemorating the fountain of youth.[7]

Although people have tried throughout the ages to thwart death, we see in Genesis that from the beginning God knew that that would be a bad idea.
Genesis 3 22 Then the Lord God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— 23 therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.
Death came through Adam & Eve, but God brought us life through Jesus, as Paul explains in 1 Cor 15:21-22:
For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.  For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Cor 15:21-22)
This letter to the church in Corinth was written only 30 years after Jesus died and was resurrected, which means that this was written earlier than the gospels.  They didn’t have the Bible we have to refer to for help with theological questions yet.  Christianity was very young, and churches were already having issues.  Paul writes to the church in Corinth to address some of these issues, one of which is that some are saying that there is no resurrection of the dead.  And in typical Pauline fashion, he presents us with a very logical argument.
If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. (1 Cor 15:13-14)
The reason we make such a big deal about celebrating Easter, celebrating the resurrection, is that it is the foundation of our faith.  We would not celebrate Jesus at all if there had been no resurrection.  Paul continues his argument by showing what this means for us personally:
For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. (1 Cor 15:16-17)
If there is no resurrection and Christ has not been raised, then there is no forgiveness of sins, no grace, no basis for our hope. But, as we profess every time we recite the Apostle’s Creed together, we do believe that Jesus was raised from the dead, and we state our belief “…in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Amen.”

What are we actually professing when we say that?  One of our confessions, the Heidelberg Catechism, gives us a brief explanation:
Question 57: How does “the resurrection of the body” comfort you?  
Not only my soul will be taken immediately after this life to Christ its head, but even my very flesh, raised by the power of Christ, will be reunited with my soul and made like Christ’s glorious body.[8]
That answer helps, but still leaves us with questions, so let’s consider why we hope for the resurrection of the body, what it means, and when it will happen?[9]

Why hope for bodily resurrection?
·      Paul tells us why in 1 Cor 15:20: But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
·      We hope for it because we believe that it has happened: a dead man actually lived again!  Not just a man (so that the event could be considered a freak exception to the rule that dead people stay dead), but one in whom we believe God’s plan for the future of all human beings is revealed.[10]
·      Paul also explains this in his letter to the Romans.  Romans 8:11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.
So we hope for the bodily resurrection because Jesus was raised.

What does bodily resurrection mean?
If we were to go dig up some of the bodies in the cemetery, we wouldn’t find bodies that looked like they did when the people were alive.  They’d be in various states of decay.  This is what we see in all the zombie movies.  There’s a very funny scene in a book by Christopher Moore called The Stupidest Angel.[11]  In this story, somebody’s accidentally killed Santa Claus, and a little boy who witnessed the killing has prayed for someone to resurrect Santa.  Luckily there’s an angel waiting in the wings (get it?) and he comes to help.  Unfortunately, he’s not very good at his job, and in one of his attempts to resurrect Santa, he resurrects one whole section of the graveyard.  Some have been dead so long that they’re just skeletons, others are quite recent and look almost normal, and some are in between.  It’s a big, hilarious mess.
·      So although we don’t know really how this works, we do know that the resurrection of the body means the resurrection of a person.  Both body and soul.
·      1 John 3:2 We do not know what we will be, but we know that we will be “like him” (Jesus)
·      This is based on what we see in Jesus’ post resurrection appearances as described in the gospels.[12] They show us that Jesus was recognizable but transformed. He had a body that still bore the scars of the crucifixion.  He walked, talked, ate, drank, and could be touched. But he did appear suddenly inside locked rooms.  And also disappeared.
·      Paul describes it this way in 1 Cor 15:42-44 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.
·      We don’t know what Paul meant exactly by spiritual body, but it’s fun to speculate, and I think that’s one of the reasons we have such a variety of ideas in books and movies and art.

When will it happen?
·      Immediately upon death we will be with Christ.  Jesus told the thief on the cross being crucified next to him, “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:42).
·      And at the end of time
·      1 Cor 15:51-52  Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.
·      1 Thess 4:16-17 For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. 
·      Jesus tells us this in Mark 13:26-27  Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
·      So it’s kind of a both now and later thing.[13]  We meet God immediately, and our bodies are resurrected when Jesus comes again.

The bottom line is that resurrection is something only God can do, and only God can fully comprehend.  We cannot do anything to affect it, other than trusting that what the Bible tells us, what Jesus tells us, is true. He came so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16).

As the monk Thomas Merton puts it, “The final step on the way to holiness in Christ is then to completely abandon ourselves with confident joy to the apparent madness of the cross.”[14]

In Shakespeare’s play, Juliet cannot imagine life without Romeo, so much so that the horrors of death are acceptable because life without Romeo is worse:[15] 
Or, if I live, is it not very like,
The horrible conceit of death and night. . .

Whether or not we have known that kind of love with another human, we have a love that is even stronger with our savior Jesus.  I cannot imagine a life without God’s constant loving presence, a life in which there is no cross of salvation, no grace and forgiveness through faith, no resurrection of the dead and eternal life with God.

Let’s enjoy the fun that we have with the mystery of the resurrection in our cultural expressions, and enjoy the assurance we have through our faith in Jesus Christ that there is a resurrection that is already at work in us and in the world around us, and that there is the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting.

[1] By Rev. Melissa Krabbe, preached on March 4, 2018 at United Presbyterian Church, Sterling, KS
[3] Randall Working, From Rebellion to Redemption, 128
[4] Shirley Guthrie, Christian Doctrine, 274
[8] Luke 23:43, Phil 1:21-23, 1 Cor 15:20,42-46,54; Phil 3:21, 1 John 3:2
[9] Shirley Guthrie, Christian Doctrine, 392-395
[10] Shirley Guthrie, Christian Doctrine, 392
[11] Christopher Moore, The Stupidest Angel: A heartwarming tale of Christmas Terror, Kindle edition 2006
[12] Matt 28:9-10; Luke 24:13-50; John 20:11-29, 21:1-13
[13] Shirley Guthrie, Christian Doctrine, 395
[14] Thomas Merton, Life & Holiness, 1963 (Also quoted in Easter Earthquake)
[15] William Shakespeare, Romeo & Juliet, Act 4: Scene 3

No comments:

Post a Comment