Awakening Services -- Tuesday April 9, 2019
Text: I Corinthians 15:12-32 -- Title: Resurrection Faith
Speaker: Daniel Rudy
In speaking of resurrection for two evenings, we have built to this point Sisters and Brothers. We have come to the topic that is at the heart of our hope and trust in Christ. As I listen to the discussions of Christians today, there is a part of me that wonders do we really believe what we say we believe? When so many of the public representatives of the Christian faith are more fearful of federal court decisions than the actual persecution of fellow Christians around the world, do we truly believe in the resurrection of Christ? When so many Christians are indistinguishable from those around us in the pursuit of money, power, status and earthly pleasure, have we truly been touched by the resurrection of Christ? When we are so fearful that we cannot practice our faith outside of the comfortable cultural trappings that so many of us grew up with, is the resurrection of Christ Jesus a lived reality for us, or just something that we pay lip service to every Easter before returning to a world where the power that is really active is death?
These are not the questions of pleasant table conversation, but they reveal the true crossroads that individual believers and the church as a community of faith find ourselves standing at. We live in a culture where death surrounds us, but we are numb to it. One of the few guarantees that we all experience, rich and poor alike short of the return of Christ is that we will all face death. But in the last fifty to a hundred years, we have become further removed from the reality of death. Death has been moved from the home to the hospital, wrapped in the sanitary glow of medical science and removed from the experience of most human beings. And yet, with all of the advances in medical science, doctors and medicine can only prolong life; they cannot stop death. While we have removed death from our experiences on a personal level as much as possible, we have become numb to death on a communal level. The twentieth century was the most violent century in recorded human history and eighteen years in, the twenty first is shaping up to be almost as bad. And yet when we hear news reports from areas of war or natural disasters, far from receiving them as tragedies, most of us treat the numbers as mere statistics. In the time that I have been pastor at Ninth Street, we have seen mass casualty shootings in elementary schools, high schools, colleges, night clubs, churches, synagogues, other houses of worship, music concerts and workplaces. They happen so frequently that I confess that while I often respond with personal compassion, just as often I am numb to it all. And these are just the shootings that make our news headlines. There are hot wars going on in Africa and the Middle East that we barely even notice. And that is just the physical deaths. We have yet to mention the countless emotional and spiritual deaths caused by women and men who cannot find work that will support a family. We have yet to encounter the human suffering caused by those who endure broken relationships. All of these things are the individual and social expressions of a culture of death. And because we have seen the images over and over on television, video games and the internet, we are numb to it.
The problem of death is as old as human beings themselves dating to the exit of Adam and Eve from the garden. Most of the things that we identify as sin, the symptoms of our larger separation from God, have their origins in the human encounter with death. They represent human attempts to deal with the problem of death apart from God. The origin of human violence is in the competition for resources and power. To prevent or hold at bay our own death, human beings inflict pain and suffering on our fellows. The origin of the human pursuit of pleasure which has led many to addictions to drugs, sex, gambling and other vices, has its origins in the need to numb ourselves to the very reality that our existence is fleeting. These personal and social problems are symptomatic of the larger spiritual problem, an attempt to deal with death apart from God.
The Apostle Paul confronted the same issues when he brought the message of Christ to the church in Corinth. As a major port city, Corinth was a commercial center with a wide gap between those with access to resources and those without them. It also was a crossroads for religious and philosophical ideas. Like the major metropolitan centers of Europe and North America today, Corinth was a melting pot of ideas from all over the world. As Paul began to speak to the Corinthians, he said he resolved to know nothing among them “except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” Because of nearly twenty centuries of Christian teaching, we do not think much of the sheer audacity of this comment. Paul knew nothing among the Corinthians except the proclamation of a man who was executed by the Roman Empire as a criminal. Here you have the human culture of death laid most bare. Death by capital punishment is the ultimate sense of the state’s attempt to control human power. But Christ’s death is not the end of the story. For Christ did not stay in the tomb, laying bare the illusion of human power over life and death.
So as we enter this evening’s scripture passage, Paul confronts the Corinthians with the power of the resurrection of Christ. Beginning in verse twelve, he exclaims, “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead?” Many of us like to think of denial of the resurrection as a modern intellectual problem, but human experience has told us over the years that the dead do not rise. Crucified criminals stay buried where they can no longer bother polite society. And yet the heart of the Christian proclamation is that Jesus was really dead and really came back to life. While many of us are quite comfortable using this passage to bash non-religious folks, I believe that there is another audience who much more needs to hear this. Paul says that if Christ has not been raised from the dead our faith is futile and we are still in our sins. So why are so many who proclaim Christ’s resurrection with our lips so caught up in living as if he stayed in the grave? The more dangerous deniers of the resurrection are not those who raise intellectual problems with the doctrine, the more dangerous resurrection deniers are those who proclaim it with their lips while denying it with their lives. When we live as if earthly power is the only thing that enables us to live as people of faith, we deny the resurrection of Christ. When we are more interested in amassing wealth than serving those at the margins of society, we deny the resurrection of Christ. When we seek the advancement of the interest of self, of nation, of economy and dare I say of the Church, above the dignity of all human beings, we deny the resurrection of Christ and proclaim our allegiance to the very powers that crucified him.
Up until this point, Paul’s exclamations have all been conditional statements phrased in if then form. But in verse twenty, he stops asking questions and gets real. He says, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead also came through a human being.” This coming resurrection has tremendous impact on our lives in the here and now. Jesus Christ has been raised as the first born of the dead. And the gospel proclaims that all things will one day be subjugated to him, with the last enemy to be defeated being death itself. This is the central proclamation of the Christian faith, that in Christ Jesus death itself will be no more and God will make all things new.
Paul ends his appeal to the resurrection by asking if the dead are not raised, why he and the apostles are sacrificing so much for this message. If the dead stay dead, why not eat, drink and be merry, pretending that death will go away because this is what everyone else does? Paul’s questions should ring with a tremendous amount of seriousness in our ears. If Christians, those who proclaim that the resurrection and Lordship of Christ are of seminal importance, insist on living just like everyone else, how can those who do not already believe take the resurrection of Jesus take it seriously? If Christians, who say that we believe that Jesus has defeated the powers of sin and death forever, act as if the Church is about to end every time something remotely challenging happens, whether inside or outside of the church, how can anyone else take the power of the resurrection seriously?
All of the preaching and study regarding resurrection has built to this point. In the resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has reconciled the world to himself. In the resurrection of Jesus, God has proclaimed that the old world enslaved to death and sin is passing away, replaced by a new world characterized by resurrection. This is the faith that we proclaim every year on Easter morning. But more than that, this hoped for resurrection is the force that drives everything that we do as individual believers, as congregations, as a district and as a denomination. All of our social justice ministries have their origin in the proclamation that God intends for the world to be free from the power of death. All of our ministries of personal transformation, the things that we do help people to hear the Holy Spirit and no longer be enslaved to sin, have their root in the triumph of Christ over death and sin. Brothers and Sisters, the resurrection of Jesus is a game changer, for if the grave cannot hold its dead, then we are free in God to live transformed lives. As recipients of the power of Christ’s resurrection, I implore you to go out from this place of worship, not only proclaiming the resurrection of Christ with your lips, but also with your lives. For if we have truly been touched by the resurrection of Jesus, we both can and should live lives freed from fear. Amen.
 I Corinthians 2:2
 I Corinthians 15:12
 I Corinthians 15:17-19
 I Corinthians 15:20-21
 I Corinthians 15:23-26
 I Corinthians 15:30
 I Corinthians 15:32