Here is the text for the sermon I delivered this morning at First United Methodist Church-Andover Campus in Lexington. The text is from 1 Corinthians 15:35-49. It was a blessing to speak today, as it has been to be a part of the community at Andover for two years now. Who I am today – as a Christian, as a pastor-to-be, and as a leader – is in part because of their love and support. We have been blessed, and will take that love with us wherever we may go.
The Resurrected Life
Ever take a moment to hear the words?
The words are powerful. They offer depth. They offer hope. When we recite the Apostle’s Creed, we join with Christians throughout the world and stake our claim in the truth of the Christian faith. We stand on the shoulders of 17 centuries of Christians who have recited these words in times of praise, in times of persecution, and in times of doubt.
Sometimes, we can run through the Apostle’s Creed like a check list of what we believe and have confidence in. Yes, I believe in God the Father. I believe in Christ. I believe in the Holy Spirit.
If you’re like me, when we get to the end the words become mumbled a little bit. Maybe we are tired of standing and just want to sit down. Maybe we get lost in the lines. Or maybe we struggle to grasp what it is we are claiming. Especially when it comes to this line: “I believe … in the resurrection of the body.”
Each Sunday, we stake our claim and our hope in the resurrection of the body. We place our confidence that one day, when Christ returns, we will be resurrected and join with God in everlasting life. We say in one loud and united voice that God has a promise for us, and we will be raised as Christ Jesus was raised.
What does it mean for us to be resurrected? What are we saying when we claim that we believe in the resurrection of the body? Will we be resurrected as angels living in a Heaven that exists out in the clouds? Will we be bodies that are ghostly versions of our current physical selves? Or is there something else God has in store for us, something that is more beautiful than we can imagine? Does this promise of a resurrected body have anything to say for us, today, as we live our lives in this world?
We have to wrestle with these questions and what it means to believe in the resurrection of the body, because it is what the truth of Easter requires. For the resurrection of Jesus Christ is not something that we just discuss once a year, on Easter morning, and disregard it for the remaining 51 weeks of the year. The resurrection is the hope above all hopes. It is the reality that Jesus Christ has broken the chains of sin and death, won the victory, and inaugurated the kingdom of God. The resurrection of Christ gives us hope and inspires us to live transformative lives. If we are going to live resurrected lives, then we must understand what it means to hold this belief.
To do so, we’re going to take a deep look at 1 Corinthians 15 – not just today, but for the next few weeks. In this chapter, Paul speaks to the importance of the resurrection and how it impacts our lives.
In order to understand Paul, we need to understand some of the predominant views of the day and how they may have understood the idea of the resurrection of the body. This will help us understand why Paul felt the need to address the resurrection.
One thing to keep in mind, we’ve had 2,000 years to wrestle with the meaning of the resurrection. For the Sadducees and Pharisees of Jesus’ time, this was a new concept. It was brought forth from the understanding of passages such as Daniel 12:13 where the prophet says we will rest, but “at the end of the days, you will rise again to receive the inheritance set aside for you.” In one camp, we have the Sadducees, the aristocratic elites of the Jewish faith, who did not believe in a resurrection. They claimed they could not find it in the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament, so they denied the resurrection. In the other camp, you have the Pharisees, who were the protectors of the law, claiming there is an immortality of the soul, but even a bodily resurrection would have been difficult for them.
It is within this debate that the Sadducees and Pharisees attempt to engage Jesus, especially in Mark 12:27. Jesus tells the Sadducees that God is the God of the living, and not the dead. This is the debate Paul has engaged in with the Corinthians.
Paul begins with a theoretical exchange in verse 15:35. “But someone may ask, “How will the dead be raised? What kind of bodies will they have?” We may think that the people of Corinth are trying to understand the resurrection of the body, but Paul knows what lies behind these questions. Paul calls the people foolish. He knows that in asking the question, the people of Corinth do not really believe in the resurrection and God’s ability to bring it into reality.
How does Paul proceed? He says there are signs of the resurrection all around, and tells them to look at a seed. What they plant in the ground is not what sprouts. God brings forth a new creation out of the seed. What begins as seed, God transforms into something more beautiful.
But, let’s not get too caught up in this image of a seed. His purpose is to focus us on this idea of a natural and a spiritual body. We have our natural body, and then we are to inherit this spiritual body at the resurrection.
When we think of our natural bodies, our first reaction is to think of our physical bodies. We can see how our bodies are not as God intended. Our bodies break down as we get older. We suffer from various ailments. We even lose our hair at a ridiculously young age.
We can see this in Paul’s words. Our bodies are broken. They are weak.
None of this is what God desired. When sin entered into creation, our bodies were changed and corrupted. We were originally created in God’s image. We were made for eternal existence.
There is a deeper reality in Paul’s words. He is not speaking of just our physical body, but he is also talking about our soul. When sin entered into the world, not only was our physical body corrupted, but so was our soul. Our soul is marred by brokenness. We are powerless on our own.
We each struggle with life. It’s part of being human in a fallen world. Maybe you struggle with doubt. Maybe you struggle with a sin that keeps returning. Maybe you struggle with worry or fear, and the list can go on. Eve though we know what is right, we often struggle in doing it. We are not alone in our struggles. We are in this together.
In the midst of our lives, in the struggles that we face, in the fears we have, there is the hope in the resurrected life. We can place our trust in this resurrected life, because the tomb is empty. Jesus Christ lives. He sits at the right hand of God the Father.
The promise of the resurrection is this: To those who place their trust in the risen Lord, to those who believe in Christ Jesus as Savior, death is not the end. Our bodies will be resurrected. We will experience the fullness of life as God intended.
What will our resurrected bodies look like? What will this resurrected life entail?
Words are simply not strong enough to describe this glorious body. It is a physical body. We will have a living physical body that is in the fullness of what God originally created. Our bodies will be what he desired for Adam and Even at the Garden of Eden. It is a spiritual body where our inner being – our soul – is in perfect union and connection with God. Nothing will stand between us and relationship with God ever again.
Where there was once brokenness, there will be glory and wholeness. Where there was once weakness, there will be strength. Our lives will be pure. There will be no more tears. No more death. No more suffering. No longer will we our bodies be corrupted by the cost of sin. Our entire body will be resurrected.
We will experience life in a new way that had once seemed unimaginable.
This is not a separate existence. The resurrected life is the continuation of the life we experience today. Like the seed, God will transform us out of our natural existence, what we live into today, and shape us for lives suitable for entry and eternal residence in the kingdom of God.
Where will we live this resurrected life? Will it be in the clouds of heaven or will it exist somewhere else? Revelation 21 gives us an idea of where we will live this resurrected life: Heaven will be here on earth. Heaven will be in located in the valleys of Kentucky, and throughout the world. Heaven will not be some place in the clouds, but will be here on earth. When we are resurrected, we will live here in God’s kingdom. We will participate in all God has in store for us. There will be work for us to do, and we will worship the Lord in the presence of the risen Lord.
We can place our trust in this. But, we would miss something if we only think of the resurrected life taking place after we have died. As Christians, we are called to live into this promise and prepare the way for the kingdom of God, here on earth, today.
We experience a brief taste of the resurrection when we put our full trust in Jesus, not just as Savior, but as Lord. We are called to grow and be transformed into the image of God.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Christ calls us to “be perfect, even as your father in heaven is perfect.” Christ calls us to continuous growth in our relationship with God. To abide in the love of Christ, as Christ abides in the depths of our soul. We are called to be transformed by the Holy Spirit, to allow God’s grace to touch us in the deepest parts of our soul, and grow into the person God desires us to be.
It is about allowing God to touch our hurts, our weaknesses, and our sins, and transform us into a new creation. God can take the deepest and darkest parts of our lives and reshape them into something more glorious than we can imagine, if we are willing to step aside and allow God to work in our hearts.
We can experience this resurrected life today, if only just a fraction of the fullness of a resurrected life. We can see this life all around us.
The resurrected life can be seen in the drug addict who found Christ and is now clean. The resurrected life can be seen in the husband who is more patient and loving to his wife and children.
The resurrected life can be seen in the child who was neglected by his step-father, who listened to society’s rules to seek friends and approval but ultimately failed, and who found God again and now stands before you today proclaiming God’s Word.
Because Christ Jesus lives and we have the promise of an eternal resurrected life, we can be confident that God will transform us, through the Holy Spirit, into a new person.
This isn’t just personal growth. As we grow in Christ, as we place our trust in the resurrection, we are called to go out and live this life in our world. We are called to have a faith that expresses itself in love and seeks to transform the world around us, because this is the world our resurrected bodies will inherit. As N.T. Wright says “what is done in the present in the body, by the power of the Spirit, will be reaffirmed in the eventual future.”
This life matters.
It matters how we interact with the world. It matters how we care for our environment. It matters how we seek justice and care for the poor among us. It matters that we help those struggling to put life back together after the tornadoes in Alabama. It matters how we live this life, and the decisions we make, because our resurrected bodies will live here on earth. This is our eternal home.
In a moment, we will come to the table and celebrate communion as a community. I invite you to take a moment here at the altar in prayer. Seek the face of God, find yourself at the tomb and the presence of the risen Lord. Maybe there is something you are struggling with – give it over to God. Maybe there is something that has been weighing on your heart in how to prepare this world for our resurrected lives – spend time with God here.
My prayer is that we will leave today and hear the words in a new way. Our bodies, we proclaim, will be resurrected. Let us take the hope of our resurrection and live into the reality of Christ’s resurrection and engage our communities in a new way. This is our home. If we believe in the words we say each week, and we believe in the hope of a resurrected life and a resurrected body, let us go out and make a difference and transform this world through living the Christian life both personally and socially. Let us take care of the home we will live our resurrected lives.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen!