Sunday, May 1, 2016

I Believe in the Resurrection of the Flesh and Life Everlasting

This is what I’m saying, brothers and sisters: Flesh and blood can’t inherit God’s kingdom. Something that rots can’t inherit something that doesn’t decay. Listen, I’m telling you a secret: All of us won’t die, but we will all be changed— in an instant, in the blink of an eye, at the final trumpet. The trumpet will blast, and the dead will be raised with bodies that won’t decay, and we will be changed. It’s necessary for this rotting body to be clothed with what can’t decay, and for the body that is dying to be clothed in what can’t die. And when the rotting body has been clothed in what can’t decay, and the dying body has been clothed in what can’t die, then this statement in scripture will happen: Death has been swallowed up by a victory. Where is your victory, Death? Where is your sting, Death? ( Death’s sting is sin, and the power of sin is the Law.) Thanks be to God, who gives us this victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! As a result of all this, my loved brothers and sisters, you must stand firm, unshakable, excelling in the work of the Lord as always, because you know that your labor isn’t going to be for nothing in the Lord. (I Corinthians 15:50–58 CEB)
As Paul wrote these words, he was wrapping up his letter to the Corinthians. You remember we studied I Corinthians together last fall. So, you know that Paul covered a lot of topics in this letter: spiritual gifts, church unity, worship. But toward the end of that lengthy letter, Paul devoted a considerable amount of space to the resurrection. In fact, this section of the letter is longer than any other. Why do you suppose Paul spent so much time and space writing about the resurrection? Not the Resurrection of Jesus, but our resurrection! Why did Paul have so much to say about what would happen to us at the end of time?

It could be that he was answering their questions. Remember from our study of I Corinthians that much of the letter is devoted to Paul’s responses to their questions. We know that in the early church, there were a lot of questions about the end time. When Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, for example, this was his primary concern. Jesus said He would return soon. But years passed. Decades passed. People were dying and families were worried! What would happen to mom and dad if they died before Jesus returned? Paul wrote to them in order to answer that question. It could be that is why Paul devotes so much space to that topic here. Or, it could also be for another reason. If we know anything about the Corinthians it is this: They were a struggling church. There were divisions, there was false teaching, there was racism and prejudice, and they were situated inside a busy, corrupt, and morally bankrupt city. Times were tough for the church in Corinth! And it could be that Paul knew this struggling church desperately needed to be reminded about the resurrection. Because the best remedy for difficult times is hope!

Could anyone use a little hope? Josh Ridsdel was one of four hostages taken by the militant terrorist group, Abu Sayyaf, in September. This past Monday, after their demands were not met, Josh Ridsdel was killed. He was tortured and killed in a gruesome way as a message from the terrorists: “Give us what we want or else.” This latest episode is only a reminder to us of the kind of world we live in. A world of suicide bombers, a world of ISIS and the Taliban, a world where people driven by hate do horrible things. In a world like this, we could all use a little hope.

A few nights ago, many of us were startled out of our sleep in the middle of the night. Another series of violent East Texas storms tore through our region. A devastating tornado hit the Lindale area, and people lost their homes. Flood waters hit the Palestine area, and five people lost their lives, a grandmother and her four grandchildren. These latest storms are only reminders to us of the kind of world we live in. A world of earthquakes, a world of wildfires, a world of hurricanes, a world of house fires. In a world like this, we could all use a little hope.

We also live in a world of epidemics. In our generation, we’ve witnessed the devastating effects of AIDS. We’ve struggled with moms and dads and spouses who have been taken from us by Alzheimer’s. And probably everyone in this room has been touched in some way by cancer. As a minister, I’ve sat with countless families in hospital rooms and funeral homes. And no matter the specific circumstances there is something that each of those families needs. They all need hope.

Yes, our world has problems, but there is nothing really unique about our time. All people from every age have needed hope. That’s why Paul wrote I Corinthians 15. That’s why we have the book of Revelation! Each of these biblical writers were inspired by God to give us hope in this fallen world. Just a few years after these books were written, a group of Christians attempted to make a list of the core Christian beliefs. What is most important? Is it any surprise that they ended their list of “I believe” statements with a proclamation about hope? The last line they wrote was this:

I believe in the resurrection of the flesh and the life everlasting. Amen.

From the earliest days of the church, our fathers and mothers in the faith have looked forward to the day when we will be with God forever. This church gives us a taste of what it will be like with God one day. This family is meant to be a glimpse of life with God. But one day, we will fully experience the glory and honor of God’s throne room. What a day that will be when we all see Jesus! But until then, what would God have us do? Do you remember the last words of I Corinthians 15?
Thanks be to God through our LORD Jesus Christ! As a result of all of this, my loved brothers and sisters, you must stand firm, unshakable, excelling in the work of the LORD as always, because you know that your labor isn’t going to be for nothing in the LORD.
Until that day, God would have us continue His mission, and part of that mission, to bring hope into this seemingly hopeless world. Where there is fear of terrorism, Christians shouldn’t join in the piling on of fear! Christians should remind folks of the good in the world. Christians should point the world to an even better time in the future. Christians should replace the message of terror with a message of hope.

Where there are natural disasters, Christians should show up with food, Christians should show up with medicine, Christians should be there with hope.

When disease shows up in our world, Christians should be in hospital rooms, Christians should be there in the funeral homes, Christians should go to all of those places and help turn mourning into dancing, reminding the world that this is not all there is, gifting this world with a real, genuine hope for the days ahead.

Until we all see Jesus, may we be a people emboldened and empowered with a message of hope for this world.

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