Today is the last week of our Faithfully Asked Questions sermon series. It's been fun to hear what’s on your heads and hearts, and to follow your lead on topics. Thank you for submitting your questions. If you liked this series, let us know, and share the videos with your friends and neighbors of Facebook or YouTube.
We didn’t get to answer all your questions. But there will be some great study groups starting back or starting up the Fall, and you could join one of those to talk through whatever else is on your heart. Maybe Caitlan and I will do this series again next summer.
For today, here is the last question for this series.
Will we meet our loved ones who die again?
To help us with this, we are going to read more of 1st Corinthians 15 than we just read with the children. Let’s pray…
Scripture 1 Corinthians 15
15:1 Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which in turn you received, in which also you stand, 2 through which you also are being saved, as you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you all have started to believe in vain.
3 For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as if to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 See, I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and God’s grace towards me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not me, just the grace of God that is within me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we are all proclaiming, and so you all have come to believe.
12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how then can some of us say there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that God raised Christ—whom God did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 Then, if the dead are not raised, Christ has not been raised. 17 If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you all are still stuck under your sins. 18 Then also those who have died in Christ have (simply) perished. 19 If, for this life only, we have hoped in Christ, we of all people are most to be pitied.
20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, (as) the first fruits of (all) those who have died. 21 See, since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; 22 Just as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. 23 each in their own time: Christ (is) the first fruits, then at Christ’s coming, all those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the (great) end, when Christ hands back the (whole) kingdom to God the Father, after Christ has subdued every other ruler and authority and power. 25 For Christ will lead until he has put all opponents under his feet. 26 (and) The last enemy to be destroyed is death…
Verse 35… Now someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” 36 (it’s a foolish question) What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that will be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. 38 Then God gives it a body as God has chosen, and to each kind of seed (God gives) its own body. 39 Not all flesh is alike, but there is one flesh for human beings, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. 40 There are both heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, and the glory of the heavenly is one thing, and the glory of the earthly is another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; indeed, some stars differ from other stars in glory.
42 So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, and what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in lowly estate, it is raised into glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 44 It is sown as a physical body, it is raised as a spiritual body. And If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body…
Verse 50… What I am saying, brothers and sisters,[l] is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We may not all die, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will all be changed. 53 For these perishable bodies must put on imperishability, and these mortal bodies must put on immortality. 54 When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:
“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
55 “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
58 Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the works of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord, your labor is not in vain.
The Christians in Corinth had written to Paul. Paul loved them, deeply, as one of their founders. I’m assuming they loved Paul as well, wrote to him about their issues, questions, arguments, and waited for Paul’s response by letter, or if he could arrange it, by personal visit. They weren’t a young church, brand new at all the Jesus stuff. The shine and new car smell of their community were wearing off, and they were starting to uncover some issues that the excitement and enthusiasm of younger faith couldn’t absorb any more.
The church members themselves came from many different backgrounds, not unlike the gathering we have today. I imagine in their one church they had people from many different faiths, as well as people of no official faith, not unlike the gathering we have today. Of those who did believe, there were different leanings, traditions, denominations represented, not unlike the gathering we have today. In their time, there were Jews from different previous sects, and Gentiles of different faith traditions. Among the Jews, there were probably devout law-obedient believers all the way to those who were merely born into the faith of their parents but themselves could not call it home, and everything in between. Among the devout Jews in that time and in that early Christian church, there were Pharisees who believed in the eventual resurrection of the dead and the afterlife (by the way, Paul was a Pharisee), and Sadducees who denied the resurrection and the afterlife. Among the Gentiles of the church, there might have been people who considered themselves deeply spiritual but had never joined any organized religion or faith community before, others who were constantly seeking and moving between spiritual communities searching for the one with the best answers, and some who had been amazed by the good news of God’s community in Christ when Paul spoke about it. There were probably even some there that didn’t believe, didn’t know what they believed. They just liked the way it felt to be a part of something. Perhaps, we have a similar spectrum of people gathered here today.
These different people, from different backgrounds, were trying to enjoy one another and learn something, and feel like life has a good purpose. SO they worshipped God, and made the world a little bit better by giving and sharing and serving others, in hopes one day everyone would have enough and would feel connected to the whole and loved. That is the promise of this God we know in Jesus.
I’m guessing there were moments when it was easier, moments of joy at marriages, births, baptisms. Early on, there was fun at festival days, feast days, high holy days. On those days, God’s grace feels possible and believable. But, over time, there are enough of the other days, especially in a diverse community, when people argue about what we did or didn’t need to do, when people said things too quickly in anger or defensiveness, and hurt each other or themselves.
Earlier, when things were still new, everyone was so generous! But as everyone got a bit older and the new feel wore off, people got a bit more worried, a bit less generous, a bit more protective or even selfish or self-righteous. Someone in the church must have written to Paul about this, and Paul had written a letter, a sermon back to them.
For the first 14 chapters, Paul writes to them about many of their concerns, and pleads with them to treat each other with great love, to be kind and faithful to one another, to settle disputes quickly and calmly inside the family, to avoid bad habits or temptations that can unravel relationships, to be sensitive to the beliefs of others, to wait for and include others in communal worship and meals rather than ignore or exclude, and to receive and appreciate the various different gifts different people bring. All this advice from Paul was laid out in this letter, almost as if Paul was directly responding to his own list of Faithfully Asked Questions from the congregation.
Then, he gets to the last FAQ of the letter. Some of the believers are dying. I imagine the people saying, “They seem to die in waves. It feels like it always happens in threes,” the people might superstitiously say. The great promise for them, in giving up some of their old ways, their other former ways of doing life and community, was the promise that in Christ, the new, beautiful, fair, just, loving community was near, and possible, and coming. They even began to believe it was so close, it would get here in all its fullness any minute now.
The problem became Christ isn’t back yet, and people are still hoarding, and fighting, cheating, lying, and dying. Christ’s return and delivery of the promised community were taking too long. Some of the people they love were dying.
Death causes a rush of feelings and emotions. There is a cavity, a void left in our lives where our parent, our sibling, our partner, our friend used to be. We see them living, alive. Then we hear they are dead, see them dead. Then we see them buried. It feels like an end, and it doesn’t feel like the end God promised. The Corinthians were feeling that.
I wonder if any of you know that feeling. I wonder if each year on a birthday or anniversary or holiday you feel that void. I wonder if this year, after COVID, when we didn’t get to sit beside someone when they died or didn’t get to see them buried, if any of us are feeling that void.
For this church alone, just since I’ve been here, we’ve seen quite a number die. Helen Sanderson, Pat Ferguson, Bill and Ellie Bayne, Elizabeth Wise, Jan Taylor, Bobbie Rambauch, Ginny Bruenniger, Jules Schiedel, Tom Parker, Ted Hornady, Barbara Brillhart, Leon Wise, Bob Hewes, Wayne Bedwell, Charlotte Bode, Sally Reidinger, Tom Fulton, Hilda McCleary…
The great challenge of faith is believing God’s promised kingdom is very near, and is coming, and will be true, on earth and in the heavens, for the living as well and the dead. All around us, we see plenty of evidence God’s community is not yet here. And when someone dies, we see so little evidence God’s community is somehow true beyond here.
Those in Corinth were feeling that same impatience and doubt… Their friends were dying, and they were going to the funerals, and they were beginning to count the years between their own age and the age of the one they just buried. On the heels of those deaths and feelings came the ever-convenient temptation to doubt God’s promised kingdom was possible, would ever come.
There are religions, denominations, pastors who decide to attack that doubt, who try to shout or scare us back to Christ. Notice, not Paul. Paul is gentle with us, careful, loving as he had asked them to be with one another. Paul’s words are something like, “Maybe… maybe they are right. Maybe there isn’t a resurrection. Maybe we only get one chance, and once it’s gone. If that’s the way it works, then Christ is not raised, is dead, is never coming back. The world will never be just, fair, and loving. If Christ did not defeat the last enemy, death, then all the enemies including death still have us. And if that’s the case, we really are a pitiful bunch.”
Paul doesn’t attack that option. He just lays it there for everyone to consider with him. It’s a sad, depressing possibility, and yet he invites the Corinthians and us to imagine that for a moment.
Then Paul turns our eyes minds and hearts to another possibility. “OR, Christ did die, but did rise again, freed us from the sins that cause suffering. And new life, new community is possible, and is God’s promise.” Between the options of hopelessness and hope, Paul does all a pastor can do. Paul steps himself fully into the option he trusts. Given the choice between grief and fear and endless pointless suffering, versus hope and confidence that God is with us and loves us, will remain with us always, and will reunite us as one great community, Paul chooses hope. Paul believes for them Christ has been raised from the dead, and commits to live every day approaching death as if death is just another tiny moment on the way to the great Omega.
If you grieve or ache, worry or wonder, cry or doubt, I wouldn’t dare ask you not to. There are pains of this world that need healing. There are injustices of this world that need cries. There are deaths and they deserve our griefs. But like Paul, I invite you to look at the options. Maybe he isn’t raised, and if so, his teachings mean nothing, his promises are hollow, and his death was the end. Or maybe, he was raised from death, and God’s promised community is near, is coming. All injustices will be resolved. All enemies will be reconciled. All fights and resentments will be brought to peace. And in Christ, through Christ, death itself is defeated.
As for me, I choose the latter.
Blessing, Laughter, and Loving be yours,
Rev. Joel L. Tolbert