Resurrection – In the Here and Now
The second in a series of three sermons preached by the Reverend Trevor Jamison at Saint Columba’s United Reformed Church, North Shields
So, here’s the story so far. Last week, I preached a sermon on 1 Corinthians 15:1-11. It was about the Christian message about Jesus Christ. I said this message was reliable. It was agreed by those who had gone about with Jesus. It was agreed even before the Apostle Paul became a follower of Jesus; he was passing it on when he wrote his letter to the Christians in Corinthians; it was not his own invention. This reliable message had a content: Christ died for our sins, was buried, and then raised on the third day. There were a large number of witnesses to resurrection appearances, many of them still alive when Paul wrote.
I then pointed out that this statement about Christ’s death for our sins – however we chose to define ‘sins’ – showed that God was a gracious God; we are saved because God is generous, not because we are deserving. But although I spoke quite a bit about the significance of Jesus’s death I did not say so much about his resurrection. Still, it was time to stop preaching. As one church member said, ‘well, Trevor, you gave us a lot to think about there.’ Better then, to wait until this week and bring you part two of this sermon; this time on the importance of the resurrection for life in the here and now, and for the future.
Let’s begin with a conversation that I have a number of times during my twenty-seven-plus years in ministry. When people have got to know me, and realise that I’m seldom shocked or angered by the things people believe or not, someone tells me something like this: ‘Trevor, I believe in God, I believe in the teaching of Jesus Christ, and am in awe of his willingness to face death on the cross. I’m not so convinced that there is life after death, however, and I’m not worried about either. I’ve had a good innings and don’t expect or wish for more.
If that’s how you feel, that doesn’t make you a bad person. It doesn’t disqualify you from being a Christian as far as I am concerned. However, it’s not something that I can square with what we know about God as it has been revealed to us through Jesus Christ. Let me explain what I mean about that, and today’s Gospel reading is a good place to start.
In Luke’s Gospel we have a version of Jesus’s teaching in the beatitudes, which is very clearly about living material life in the here and now: ‘Blessed are you who are poor … blessed are you who are hungry … blessed are you who weep … blessed are you when people hate you … exclude you, revile you, and defame you.’ (6:21, 22, 23) I am sure we all recognise poverty, hunger, tears and exclusion, either as we have experienced them, or as others have. These, and other bad experiences, are very much part of living in this imperfect world.
In the version of the beatitudes in Luke’s Gospel, as well as announcing blessing for those who suffer, Jesus proclaims woes upon the rich, the replete, carelessly joyful, and those who enjoy high reputations. You could almost mistake it for a popular view, that in this world God rewards the good and punishes the evil doers; all this despite large amounts of evidence to the contrary. As those of us who took part in last Sunday evening’s service on Zoom will know, that’s the question with which the Old Testament Book of Job wrestles: how come bad things happen to good people.
And that’s what concerns me most when someone tells me that they think that this life is all that there is. What then, I wonder, about all those unresolved situations of suffering and injustice. What about lives that are short, brutal and nasty? What about all those villains who get away with it? If this life is all there is, then there are countless situations of suffering and injustice that are never resolved.
And in part at least, I think that’s why the Apostle Paul is so ticked off with some of the members of the church in Corinth: ‘how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain, and your faith has been in vain.’ (15:12-14) As far as Paul is concerned if you take away resurrection, then we Christians are the saddest of cases. Not only are we deluding ourselves we are also misleading others, for Paul says, ‘we are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ – whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.’ (15:15)
An unpalatable truth is that if this life is all there is, then human suffering and injustice remains unresolved. These are things that you have to put up with; to face in a stoic or heroic manner, to struggle against, or to despair. Seen within the context of an existence which is lived out only in this life, things are not fair. Viewed from such a perspective, God is an unfair God who doles out to some lives which are brutal, nasty or short, and with no obvious connection to whether a person lived that life well or not. If this is how life is, then either God does not care about such situations or God is unable to do anything about them. We might hate such a God, we might feel sorry for such a God, but we are unlikely to worship such a God.
If this life is all that there is. If there is no resurrection …
But, Paul says, ‘I handed on to you as of the first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared’ to others. (15:3-5)
View human existence from that perspective and your understanding of life and the nature of God is upended. Those who know poverty, hunger, weeping, exclusion and defamation, plus a host of other bad human experiences not mentioned in the beatitudes, know them in this world, but this world is not all that there is to existence. In an existence that includes God’s act of resurrection, these things – real as they are – are not the whole story. Seen in the light of resurrection, God is nether uncaring about injustice nor incapable of making riches, sustenance, joy, and inclusion the ultimate story of our lives.
So, we from a resurrection perspective we are presented with hope for this world, even in the midst of the suffering experienced by others and ourselves. From a resurrection perspective, we are putting our faith in a God who is both loving and all-powerful. As Paul puts it, ‘but in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.’ (15:20)
‘First fruits of those who have died’ – that suggested something more to come. That suggests that resurrection not only transforms how we understand this world, but also has something to say about our future. That’s why near the beginning of this sermon I said I would talk about the ‘importance of the resurrection for life in the here and now, and for the future.’ But, you know, I’ve only really covered the here and now. So what resurrection and the future.
Well, unlike at the conclusion of last week’s sermon, I’m not going to tell you come back next week to hear me preach further about that … because I won’t be here next week. I’ll be leading worship at Horsley Village Church. Here, at St Columba’s, North Shields, a team from this congregation will be leading a service marking the beginning of Fairtrade Fortnight.
So, concerning resurrection and our future, you can find out more two weeks from now: same time, same place, same preacher, same sermon – part 3 (But make sure you’re here next Sunday as well!!)