Sermon - 6 Epiphany
In the Name...
Did anyone get an urgent e-mail, this week, from the widow of an African missionary? Well, she told me that she had ten million dollars of his in a savings account over there and she'd give me a million for the ministry here if I gave her my bank account number so she could transfer the funds out of that country.
Ah, the Internet. I think it was supposed to enhance our lives by improving communication and increasing productivity. Alas, the information highway is jammed with rush-hour traffic - ads, pornography, and get-rich-quick schemes, unwanted e-mail, spam.
And, it's not just that spam is irritating and offensive, it can also carry harmful viruses. So, companies have spent large amounts of money and time designing software that can detect spam e-mail while not filtering out legitimate e-mail. It's not that easy. Spammers are increasingly sophisticated.
Filtering unwanted messages, that's a problem in the church, as well. One can't begin to count the stuff that's been written that qualifies as theological spam. A popular book says that the disciples drugged Jesus to make him appear dead and then revived him in the cool of the tomb. Another fellow has evidence that Moses was an alien. And, of course, “The DaVinci Code” made a lot of people rich with its own version of alternative history.
As with the spam in our mailboxes, each new generation of theological spam becomes more elaborate and for the average person the arguments may appear quite plausible. It's easy to buy in to these creative new ideas and focus on the surface without asking important in-depth questions, like, to take our example, wait a minute, how could a missionary get his hands on ten million dollars in the first place. I'm putting in for a transfer.
So, we have to develop theological filters that sort through the theological spam. And, surprisingly, even though it was written two thousand years ago, our lesson from 1st Corinthians provides us with some software.
The world of the 1st Century was a free market of ideas, just like today in many ways. Lots of religions, lots of ideas. Some people believed that the soul died when the body died. Others firmly believed in the eternal existence of the soul, but, dismissed the body as irrelevant. Others believed in reincarnation as other people or even as animals. Hardly anybody accepted the Christian claim of a personal soul and a personal body. Even, it appears, some Christians.
As we read St. Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, it seems that there were some spamming ideas about resurrection going around. One speculated that even though Jesus rose from the dead that might have been just because he was God. Maybe, we'd be reincarnated for a second chance at life, or maybe we would have eternal life as spirits without bodies.
So, Paul sets his spam filter. He states that if all that is true then we must draw certain conclusions. If the dead are not raised at all, then why would we think that Christ was raised? You see, for Paul, the two events are inseparably linked. You can't have one without the other. If God is not able to resurrect one person, then he is not able to resurrect anyone. Or to reverse the argument, if God isn't going to resurrect all of us, why would he bother to resurrect Jesus?
You notice it's all by logic. Paul doesn't provide scientific or historical evidence to make his point. The Corinthians accept the historical event. They would have joined Paul in defending the resurrection of Jesus. They just didn’t see how the spam, the philosophy of the culture, had influenced their overall thinking. They had taken one statement of truth and combined it with a variety of untruths and Paul shows that those things simply cannot coexist. They are logical opposites. And that's a lesson for us.
Before we accept a new idea, we should compare the logic of its premise to what we already know to be true. Like the missionary with his millions. Doesn't make sense to start with.
Paul then uses another filter to reinforce his point. It's not just a matter of logic, he says, it's a matter of life. If we don't have a personal resurrection, what does that mean to me in my day-to-day living? Paul tells them that it means quite a lot because without a personal resurrection our lives have no meaning. We are, in his words, still in our sins. Living without hope, without direction, without purpose.
When it comes to gardening, far from having a green thumb, I have two left thumbs. But, one thing I do realize is that there are seasons when things grow and seasons when they do not. Long ago, the Anglo-Saxon pagans who heard the first Christian missionaries also understood this and they named the resurrection event after their god of the spring - Easter. The resurrection of Christ is our personal spring. His resurrection breathes life into us just as the change in weather brings plants to sprout and bare branches to flourish. The resurrection, then, is more than an historical event about one person in the past. It's a source of strength in the present. It defines us. It gives us direction.
In the Gospel today, Jesus said something strange to his disciples. He told them that as long as they were close to him in their words and deeds they would be blessed. Well, o.k., that doesn't sound very strange, but, there are two words in Greek which we translate as “blessed.” One is “eulogetus” which means "favoured by the gods". It's a very spiritual word and means that a person has a good relationship with higher powers. The other word is “makarios” which also means "comfortable", or "at ease", "living free from care", and this is a very earthly word. The strange thing is that this is the word Jesus used.
So many people are not at ease, not comfortable with who they are and what they're doing. They're full of cares and woes. Not “makarios” in how they live in the slightest. And why? Very often because their lives have no direction, no meaning beyond the here and now. St. Paul said that if we live for this life only, we are to be pitied. I think we've all seen the bumper sticker which reads, "He who dies with the most toys, wins." I've never been sure if that's a joke, or not; if that's the triumph of the self-satisfied or the cry of a desperate man seeking something more. Either way, it's not a very hopeful way to live.
Jesus takes it for granted that if we're close to him in word and deed we're eulogetus, we're in good standing with God. Of greater concern to him is that we should also be makarios, filled with peace of mind and free from worry.
That's why we need to filter out the theological spam so we can know what messages we're supposed to be getting about who Jesus is and what He's done for us and what that means for who we are and what we should do for others. After all, if Christians only have immortal souls, why bother to do good works? Why not just think good thoughts? Why get our hands dirty unless those hands are going to be part of our future?
The hope of the resurrection is a source of strength for the present. It defines us. It gives us direction. It impacts our attitudes to others. The resurrection is about who we are and who we are going to be. It’s about what we should do today because of what we will be doing tomorrow.
There's a story you may have heard about a man who falls into a pit. A Pharisee says "Only bad people fall into pits". A Buddhist says, "You only think you're in a pit." A Muslim says "It was your fate to fall into the pit." A Realist says, "Someone was bound to fall into that pit" An Optimist says, "Things could be worse." A Pessimist says, "Things will get worse!" But, a Christian, seeing the man, says nothing. He just takes him by the hand and lifts him out of the pit.
In the Name...