The Seventh Sunday After the Epiphany
Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:12-21, 35-44, 50-58
The Resurrection of the Dead
12 But tell me this—since we preach that Christ rose from the dead, why are some of you saying there will be no resurrection of the dead? 13 For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. 15 And we apostles would all be lying about God—for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave. But that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead. 16 And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. 18 In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! 19 And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.
20 But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.
21 So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man.
The Resurrection Body
35 But someone may ask, “How will the dead be raised? What kind of bodies will they have?” 36 What a foolish question! When you put a seed into the ground, it doesn’t grow into a plant unless it dies first. 37 And what you put in the ground is not the plant that will grow, but only a bare seed of wheat or whatever you are planting. 38 Then God gives it the new body he wants it to have. A different plant grows from each kind of seed. 39 Similarly there are different kinds of flesh—one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish.
40 There are also bodies in the heavens and bodies on the earth. The glory of the heavenly bodies is different from the glory of the earthly bodies. 41 The sun has one kind of glory, while the moon and stars each have another kind. And even the stars differ from each other in their glory.
42 It is the same way with the resurrection of the dead. Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live forever. 43 Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. 44 They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies. For just as there are natural bodies, there are also spiritual bodies.
50 What I am saying, dear brothers and sisters, is that our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever.
51 But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! 52 It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. 53 For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.
54 Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die,[a] this Scripture will be fulfilled:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.[b]
55 O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?[c]”
56 For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. 57 But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.
58 So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.
- 15:54a Some manuscripts add and our mortal bodies have been transformed into immortal bodies.
- 15:54b Isa 25:8.
- 15:55 Hos 13:14 (Greek version).
Sermon: “A Smaller God”
Let’s start this morning with a little quiz for all you gardeners and gardener wannabes. I’ll show you the seed; you tell me what grows from it.
Just looking at them, it’s almost impossible to match seed and plant. Still, they go together. One comes from the other.
That was Paul’s point.
When you sow, you don’t sow the full-blown plant, but a kernel of wheat or some other grain. Then it’s given the body God designed for it―with each kind of seed getting its own kind of body.
So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What’s sown is a perishable body; what’s raised is incorruptible. What’s sown is shameful; what’s raised is glorious. Weakness is sown; strength is raised up. A natural body is sown; and a spiritual body is raised up.
Though the wheat stalk isn’t the same as the wheat seed, they’re both wheat. Though a person’s spiritual body isn’t the same as that person’s physical body, they’re both the same person.
God made different bodies for different situations, Paul said. No one argues that fish don’t exist because people can’t breathe underwater. In the same way, no one should deny the reality of resurrection just because it doesn’t fit into the way we think the world works.
Some of the Corinthians were doing just that. They could believe Christ rose as a one-time miracle…maybe. As for everyone else? It was flat out impossible. Paul would have none of that.
We solemnly swore that God raised Christ from the dead―which didn’t happen if, in fact, the dead aren’t raised. Because if the dead aren’t raised, then Christ isn’t raised, and if Christ isn’t raised, your faith is worthless. You’re still in your sins, and those who’ve fallen asleep in Christ are the deadest of the dead. If our hopes in Christ are limited to this life only, we’re the most pitiable of the human race.
Something happened that first Easter, something beyond the capacity of human minds to understand. There is no doubt, though, that the disciples were convinced they’d seen their resurrected Lord.
Otherwise, the community in Jerusalem and the church that grew from it were built on lies. How could Jesus’ disciples proclaim his resurrection if all anyone had to do to prove them wrong was go to the grave where Jesus’ body still lay?
Paul’s message, simple and yet profound, is that death won’t have the last word. God will. That he can’t be very clear about just how that happens or what it will be like is understandable. That he sees it as the bedrock of the Christian faith is beyond dispute.
“God is giving us the victory,” Paul wrote, using a Greek verb form that speaks to ongoing action in the present. Faith is an active, two-way relationship with God that calls for patience and perseverance―the right kind of perseverance, mind you. The wrong kind of perseverance just makes things worse, as this clip shows.
The coyote always fails. Still, he stubbornly keeps scheming. That’s the wayward perseverance of selfishness and sin. No matter how many times things blow up in our face, or anvils fall on our head, or the road runner stays two steps ahead of us, we keep doing the very things that don’t work, things that separate us from God and from one other.
A patient, persevering faith is nothing like that. Here’s how Paul described it, writing to the Galatians.
Let’s not grow weary in doing what’s right, for we’ll reap at harvest time, if we don’t give up. Whenever we have an opportunity, let’s work for the good of all, especially for those of the family of faith. (Galatians 6:9—10)
Paul would have liked George Matheson, the Scottish pastor who wrote the hymn, “O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go.” Here’s contemporary Christian artist Chris Rice’s version of it.
George Matheson was born March 27, 1842, in Glasgow, Scotland. George had poor eyesight from birth, and, at age 15, learned that he was going blind. Doctors were helpless to stop it.
George was nothing if not determined, though. He enrolled in the University of Glasgow, graduating at age 19. He then began studying theology. It was during those studies that he lost his sight completely.
Matheson’s three sisters tutored him through his classes, even learning Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. Thanks to them, Matheson graduated.
He went on to lead a church in Innellan, Scotland. It was there, alone in the parsonage on the evening of June 6, 1882, that Matheson wrote, “O Love, That Wilt Not Let Me Go.”
“It was the day of my sister’s marriage,” he later noted, “and the rest of my family were staying overnight in Glasgow.”
Something had happened to me which was known only to myself, and which caused me the most severe mental suffering. The hymn was the fruit of that suffering. I had the impression of having it dictated to me by some inward voice than of working it out myself. I am quite sure that the whole work was completed in five minutes, and equally sure that it never received at my hands any retouching or correction.
Matheson’s “severe mental suffering” probably went back to the day when his fiancée broke off her engagement to him, saying she couldn’t go through life married to a blind man. George’s sister’s wedding brought that heartbreak crashing in again.
Matheson famously said, “We conquer by continuing.” That’s what persevering in the faith is all about. As Matheson’s hymn sings, while we often struggle to stay faithful, God’s love never lets us go. It perseveres even in the face of death itself.
The world isn’t always a kind or easy place to be. God hears our cries and promises never to forsake us. Not only that, God leads us toward a new life that, while it grows from the one we now know, will be completely and wonderfully different.
One day, Revelation promises, wickedness and evil, heartbreak and death, will be no more.
I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”
For that hope and for that promise, thanks be to God.