Sermon, February 20, 2022 – Epiphany VII

A Mystery

          First of all, I want to thank everyone for your prayers and support these past several weeks.  I especially want to thank Mother Diane Reeves for filling in on the past two Sundays – I needed the break.

          This morning our Epistle reading continues to explore St. Paul’s understanding of the resurrection as the core belief in the Christian faith.  He has made it perfectly clear in his letter to the Corinthians that if there is no resurrection – if the Christ has not been raised, then everything we do, say, believe, pray and act is meaningless.  For us, as Christians, the whole thing revolves around the resurrection.

          While Paul proclaims the centrality of the resurrection, he makes no attempt to explain the “how” of the resurrection.  He is content to leave that in the realm of mystery (15: 51ff).  Paul uses an illustration from agriculture. A seed that is sown must disintegrate before the life it contains can grow into something new and greater. Only by dying is it able to live again. Yet there is continuity; for if wheat is planted, more wheat, not another grain, will grow. “But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body” (1 Cor. 15:38). Similarly, the physical body that is perishable will be raised in a state that is imperishable.

Just as death came into the world by one person (Adam), the Resurrection also came into the world through one person (Jesus). As we live in a body like that of earthly Adam, so we will have a body like that of heavenly Jesus. Thus, “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven” (v. 49).

          Christ is the first fruits of eternal life, and in due course, those who are in Christ will also inherit the realm to which he has become heir. The existence of the physical body hints of the reality of what the spiritual body will someday be —like a full-grown plant that rises from a seed.

          “So, it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable” (15:42). We begin to grasp the reality of this hope as we contemplate the Risen Jesus. The good news for us is that we, made one with Christ, may look to him as our strength and our redemption, now and forever.

          This text is not simply about resurrection, it is about redemption. God will take the brokenness and perishability of the creation and will redeem it into a new creation, seed to plant, earth to heaven. The first part is required for the second part — God does not make a new creation out of nothing but redeems the current creation from its beginnings and its temporality into a new eternal creation. The concept of recapitulation is what is being done here, and again in the Joseph story — by Joseph’s brothers came the death of the father’s favorite, by God, through Joseph, came the redemption of the whole family.

          The other thing that Paul’s writing to the Corinthians does is put to rest the idea of the immortality of the soul, a popular heresy among the churches.  We believe in the resurrection of the body.  It is not that we have some eternal aspect which is preserved from death, rather the whole of us, body and all, will be redeemed, resurrected, transformed, by the power of the living God.  If we hope only for our souls, why do we bother trying to stay healthy, or avoid pain? Immortality of the soul is for Stoics; resurrection is for Christians.

          So, what does this have to do with us on the Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany?  Simply this, we are called, invited, and encouraged to live a life of abundant love and grace because we live within the assurance of the resurrection – meaning that death will NEVER ever have the final word in our lives.  We have been redeemed and raised to new life in Jesus the Christ, and for that, we give thanks to God. Amen.

Hymns sung this Sunday (Episcopal Hymnal 1982)

  • Praise To The Lord, The Almighty #390
  • In The Cross of Christ I Glory #441
  • Lord, Make Us Servants Of Your Peace #593
  • I Come With Joy #304
  • Love Divine All Loves Excelling #657

Sermon, January 30, 2022 – Epiphany IV

Our Calling

This is the sermon that Father George would have preached on January 30. He was unable to be at the service. In place of a regular service we had a Morning Prayer service.

Today we pick up the theme of calling, or vocation, and we will be spending the next couple of Sundays looking at how God calls us to his purpose and work.  The idea of vocation, or calling, is misunderstood by many people of faith – especially some Christians.  The common misconception is that vocation is limited to persons being called to a religious life (as a monk or nun) or to become a part of the clergy.  When I was in the ordination process, I was often asked to describe my “call” to become a priest.  This limited view of vocation diminishes the holiness of the lay or “secular” callings.  Doing this attempts to place limits on the work of the Holy Spirit in fulfilling the whole purpose of God’s work in the world.

Jeremiah was wrapped in God’s love. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you …” God tells the prophet. Even before he ever drew a breath, God knew Jeremiah — even before we took a breath, God knew us, God loved us. God didn’t let Jeremiah diminish himself in God’s eyes. “Do not say, ‘I am only …” says God to the prophet.

Can we hear God say the same to us? That’s love — speaking words that uplift; words that don’t allow the diminishment of the other; words that build confidence and trust.

Paul goes into great depth in a description of love. His Corinthian congregation had begun falling out with each other, the community fracturing, losing relationship. He reminds them of the very earthly laws and expectations of that day; but then he pours out the binding, rebuilding, sustaining power of love. Love rejoices, bears all things, believes, hopes, endures. We learn to love this way by remembering it’s how God loves us.

When we lose sight of the inclusiveness and the giftedness of love, we join those who’d throw Jesus off the cliff because: “Isn’t this only Joseph’s son?” Today we might hear: It’s only a woman; it’s only an immigrant; it’s only a group of teenaged students. Those words diminish our grasp of love — devalue our relationship with each other. God knows each of us. God consecrates each of us. God offers us words of love to share. None of us is only in God’s eyes; all of us are called to proclaim love.

The Good News Jesus was proclaiming was the gracious announcement that a whole new narrative of God’s dealing with us is breaking into our world.  Jesus was reminding his listeners, and us, that God was still at work in the world unfolding new narratives – new stories – intended to draw us more deeply into the larger story of God’s unconditional love for us.

All of us, by virtue of our baptism, have a vocation – a calling to live fully and deeply into God’s love for humanity.  Our Baptismal Covenant outlines our common vocation.  How we live out that vocation is a reflection of how we have individually heard that call.

What is at the heart of our common vocation?  Our Presiding Bishop would put it this way, that we are called to live into and reflect the unconditional love of God in every aspect of our lives.  In other words, we are called to love and in that love we, and all others, catch a glimpse of God’s love.