Feb 25, 2019
Focus readings: 1 Corinthians 15:12–20, Luke 6:17–26
There is a temptation to see today’s readings as being about life beyond this life, or about what happens in some far but glorious future. The Corinthians reading is focussed on the future and the resurrection of the dead at the end of time. Jesus’ words about the hungry being fed and about how those who weep will laugh sounds like something in the future. I want to argue that they are also about how we live now. The poor are blessed and Jesus says “yours is the kingdom of God”. Paul is talking about how Jesus has already been raised as the “first fruits” (1 Cor 15:20). If there is no resurrection then our life and faith has been in vain but if there is a resurrection then our life and faith takes on eternal significance. Just as our gospel reading begins with the power of God in Jesus healing all who would come, so Paul begins his argument with the risen life of Jesus at work in us. I shared with Bob recently that I am a glass half full person, a bit of a pessimist, but I am also a believer the the resurrection. I see all the problems but I know that God brings new life, laughter for tears, and satisfaction for hunger. Yes we do have a hope for the future but we have a hope for the here and now as well, because by the Spirit, Jesus raised from the dead is with us.
*****************************************FULL SERMON TEXT:
On Wednesday this week I made a confession to Bob out new Church Council chairperson that I am a glass half full person. I tend to expect the worst in almost everything. When I was a teenager about 14-15 constantly facing bullying this tuned into paranoia. If a school mate said to me “how are you?” or hello, I would respond with “what do you want!” I am currently very depressed about the state of the world. I shared with you about my views on climate change and said some weeks back that I am not a skeptic. I don’t know if the worst predictions about climate change are correct, because I do not understand the science enough to know, but I fear the worst and wonder if my children will have a future. I was listening recently to radio panel discussion on the rise of Chinese power and how the USA was resolved to confront that and the panel seemed to be saying there could be a real risk of war. This would be a return to the fears of the cold war with a possible nuclear conflagration descrying us all even before global warming poisons our oceans and makes our planet incompatible with human life.On Wednesday this week I made a confession to Bob out new Church Council chairperson that I am a glass half full person. I tend to expect the worst in almost everything. When I was a teenager about 14-15 constantly facing bullying this tuned into paranoia. If a school mate said to me “how are you?” or hello, I would respond with “what do you want!” I am currently very depressed about the state of the world. I shared with you about my views on climate change and said some weeks back that I am not a skeptic. I don’t know if the worst predictions about climate change are correct, because I do not understand the science enough to know, but I fear the worst and wonder if my children will have a future. I was listening recently to radio panel discussion on the rise of Chinese power and how the USA was resolved to confront that and the panel seemed to be saying there could be a real risk of war. This would be a return to the fears of the cold war with a possible nuclear conflagration descrying us all even before global warming poisons our oceans and makes our planet incompatible with human life.
Yet I do not lose hope and I do not give in to fear although hopelessness and fear very often haunt me. Why? How is it that I can keep going? It is because with Paul I believe in the resurrection. I believe that Jesus was raised from the dead. I believe the tomb was empty and that even now Jesus is both with us by the Holy Spirit and also bodily in the presence of God the Father. He is the first fruit, the advanced sample, of the resurrection. He is the sign that God is indeed creating a new Heaven and a new Earth. A time is coming when just as the body of Jesus was recreated so too will heaven and earth be recreated, and joined together as one. As part of that, we too, will be recreated. The old creation will not be done away with. It will be remade. Just as the body of Jesus was recreated and so the tomb was found empty, the same will happen with all creation including ourselves.
At first this may sound very impractical, pie in the sky when you die, but I think there are two immensely practical outcomes of a belief in the resurrection. First, it says there is a future and so even when things seem bleak we can go on, we can put one foot in front of the other. All may seem lost but even in this life even before the new creation comes in its fullness.
Like the children’s story, it may be that the last tree has been chopped down, but there is a green shoot that has popped up, a sign that there is a future, that everything has not been in vain. That shoot is the risen Jesus, the first fruit, of the new creation. So we have a future hope. And that hope enables us to go on. That in part is what Jesus is getting at when he says those who weep will laugh and those who hunger will be filled. When the cosmos is made new and all the dead are raised every tear will be wiped away. If that is so there is hope!!!
I will have to have yet another one of my rotten teeth extracted soon, and apologies to Warwick (a dentist in our congregation) but I am not looking forward to that visit to the dentist, for two of the last three extractions I have had I have gone into shock, become faint and nearly passed out. Yet I know that my future will be better without that rotten tooth. Firstly I believe that when the new creation comes and I am raised from death I will have a mouth full of perfect teeth, but I know that even in this life I will be better off without that tooth. There will be no more discomfort. I will not become ill because the infection from the abscess starts to affect the rest of my body. I will have a fuller, richer life.
It is like that with the resurrection of Jesus too. If he has been rased then his risen life is at work in the world now. In at least some ways the world is more like heaven more like eternal life than it once was. World wide far fewer women die in child birth and far fewer children die in infancy. Slavery in many parts of the world has been abolished. There is greater equality between women and men, people of different races and classes. Paul’s words from Galatians that there is neither Jew nor Gentile, Slave nor free, male nor female, is not true just in heaven with Jesus, it is becoming true here and now. The percentage of the world in abject poverty is actually declining. Polio has been eradicated world wide. As we speak, a disaster recovery team is hard at work in Townsville. It lrgely staffd and co-ordinated by Lifeline which is an agency of the Uniting church, throgh counselling, distribution of money and goods, and information, they are literally saving lives. Making that hell just a tiny bit more like heaven.
So in many, many cases the Christian church ha played a leading role in these causes. Why have we played this role? It is because we have a vision of the world in which the hungry are fed, those who weep are transformed into those who laugh, the Kingdom of God belongs to the poor and the dead are raised. This is a future thing, but it is not only a future thing. It is also a here and now thing. Notice Jesus says blessed are the poor for theirs is the kingdom of God. He does not say the poor will be blessed for theirs will be the kingdom of God. It is a here and now thing as well as a future thing.
One of the signs of this is seen in the start of the Gospel passage today. Be fore we hear Jesus say “blessed are” we hear that those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured and that he healed all the sick who were brought to him. In other words the poor received the Kingdom of God and in just under three chapters the hungry will be fed in the feeding of the 5, 000. The Resurrection of Jesus is the greatest sign of this blessing being at work now. He is as we have already heard the first fruit of the new creation.
If we think of our experience of life, and faith and God at work, we know that this is true for us too. I have not heard all the stories in this church and I probably never will but I know there will be stories of healing, of light breaking into a darkened situation, of new beginnings in work, in marriages, in families. Sories of hope and strength in the midst of grief. I know that this has been your experience. If you are going though some darkness, or even if you are just like me and have a bit of a pessimistic turn of mind. Let me remind you, Christ is risen! The Hungry will be and are being fed, those who weep have had their weeping turn to laughing, and the Kingdom of God, even now, as well as in the future belongs to the poor.
So like me, put one foot in front of the other, do as Christians have done for 2, 000 years, live out the hope of the resurrection even in the darkest of times by engaging with the needs of our community. Share stories of the hope you have within you, do your bit to fed the hungry and bring laughter to those who weep. You won’t be able to do it all, but the risen Jesus is alive in you by the power of the Spirit and so the Kingdom of God is coming but it is also among us and in us. Amen.