I Corinthians 15:1-10
First Lesson: I Corinthians 1:1-9
Children’s story: Acts 9:1-22
Sunday, January 24, 2016
You might remember that little church in Corinth. We talked about them a couple of weeks ago. They were a very diverse mixture of wealthy business men and wealthy business women, and their families AND the slaves and free servants who lived with them.
They were a small church. They were a few people who met for worship every week in the home of Titius Justis. They were the only Christians for miles and miles around. Paul had been their pastor in the years 52 and 53 for about eighteen months, but after that they hadn’t had any kind of a regular pastor. They had nobody to ask their questions of: about who Jesus was and what he had done and how a Christian Church was supposed to believe and behave. There was a Jewish synagogue very nearby but they had Rabbis and they kept all the Jewish holidays and all the Jewish laws and of course they didn’t know Jesus, so they were no help when it came to knowing how Christians should behave and in fact they made trouble for that small Christian Church.
So you remember that about five years after Pastor Paul left, in about 57, the folks in that little church in Corinth wrote a letter to him, asking him a lot of their questions, and three trusted men of the church hand-carried it to him in over in Ephesus. And apparently brought the answer back - the letter we have in front of us.
It’s a beautiful letter. It’s warm and loving from beginning to end. Paul’s love for them shines out of every word. It’s a very personal letter. He talks about coming to them soon and what his itinerary will be on the way to them, and how he doesn’t want his visit to be painful to them. He writes in the first person and calls them “my beloved.” He calls them, “My brothers,” and I’m sure he also means the sisters as well. He talks about what he said and did when he was with them. He apparently has their letter in front of them as he writes and he answers their questions point by point in order. And he signs his letter, “My love be with you in Christ Jesus.”
He gives them the core of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Which certainly they weren’t hearing from any of the Jews in the synagogue. He lays out for them again the heart of our Christian faith – that Jesus died, that he was buried, but that he was raised on the third day after his death – which apparently some of them were having trouble believing. So he lists for them all the people who saw Jesus alive after his death: Peter, and the other twelve disciples, and James, the brother of Jesus, and then five hundred people, most of whom were still living and could be called as witnesses to that event.
And then Paul says, Jesus appeared to me, also. I met Jesus also. Which is the story that we told the children a few minutes ago. And he reminds them how he hated Jesus and how he had hated all those who loved Jesus. He would write letters to the Jewish priests and Rabbis in places like Damascus, for instance, and they would report to him if any of the members of their synagogue were beginning to believe in Jesus. And he would go and find them in their hiding places and round them up and handcuff them and haul them off to jail. And he reminds them of how very energetic he was about all that. He gave his days and his nights and in fact his whole life to terrorizing people who loved Jesus.
Now you remember who Paul was. He was a model Jew if there ever was one. He was from an upper class family – an elite family, in fact. He had the equivalent of a Harvard Law degree and a PhD in Theology and had studied under maybe the most brilliant Jewish theologian of the time – Gamaliel. He came from a highly religious family and he could trace his religious background in Judaism back to the very best.
So here’s the picture: one day we have Paul traveling all up and down two countries, searching out people who believed in Jesus and hauling them away to jail to be tortured. Collaborating with the leaders in the Jewish Synagogues. And the next thing we hear about Paul is that he is hauled into court himself, and forced to testify. He’s in prison himself, in chains, and being beaten and whipped and left for dead. Because he was now preaching and teaching about Jesus himself in so many places. Mostly put there in prison by the leaders in the Jewish Synagogues. And he gave his days and his nights and his whole life to telling others about Jesus.
And what brought about this drastic turnaround in his life? He had met Jesus. One day on his way to torture and terrorize people who loved Jesus, he had met Jesus himself. Jesus spoke to him, clearly, in words he could not misunderstand. And once Paul had met Jesus, he took Jesus with him everywhere he went – to small and large cities all over Greece and Turkey and Syria. Wherever he went through that Mediterranean region, he told people about Jesus for the very first time in their lives. He built relationships, and started up brand new churches and wrote letters and made tents and testified in court about Jesus, and sat in cold, damp prison cells and healed people who were disabled and rescued little girls from slavery and preached sermons and had conversations with the most unlikely people. All because he had met Jesus. And he brought Jesus with him wherever he went.
Today is a beautiful day in the life of North Kent Presbyterian Church. We have participated with a dear man of this church in his baptism and we have welcomed Ron and Deb and Kathi, publically, into membership in this church. And maybe you are remembering the day when you stood, maybe in this church, or maybe in some other church someplace and you announced, also, that you loved Jesus and you promised to be his disciple and serve him. Some of you have even told me that you have heard Jesus speak to you, in your ear, in English. In words you could not misunderstand.
So here’s hat that looks like. Once we have made those promises. Once we understand that we are followers of Jesus in the most basic kind of way. Here’s what that looks like.
We wake up on the morning and while our head is still on the pillow, we think over the day ahead of us. We think over what we’ll be doing and the people we’ll be seeing and the tasks in front of us. We picture our classroom, or our cubicle or our office at work, or the bank, or grocery store we’ll be going to, or the restaurant where we’ll be having lunch with a friend, or the spot where we’ll be playing disc golf or the roads we’ll be driving and the rooms of our home. And we think about the people we’ll be seeing and what their circumstances are, as we know them, and what their needs might be. And we’ll plan what we can say and how we can behave to meet the needs of the people whom we will see that day. And how we will bring Jesus to them. Because we are the hands and feet and arms and legs and mind and voice of Jesus in this world. While our head is still on the pillow we think of all that.
And then we’ll step into the shower, and the water will wash us clean from the top of our heads to the bottoms of our feet and we’ll remember and relive our baptisms. As the water comes flowing down on us, we’ll remember our baptisms all over again. And we’ll be reminded how a few drops of water in our baptisms have washed us clean in God’s sight. And how God has named and claimed us in our baptisms. And we’ll step into the world clean - washed clean before God, and ready to take Jesus with us wherever we go that day.
So we’ll take care of our families. We’ll do mundane, loving, little chores for our families. And some of us will drop off food and at the North Kent Community Center. Or we’ll write generous checks to this church for the work we do for God here. Or some of us will plan the lesson that we’re going to teach our Sunday School children, or the lesson for the adult Bible studies we’ll be attending. Or some of us will be visiting some of our dear shut ins. Or helping people trouble-shoot their computers. Or teaching in a classroom. Or serving on a committee in this community. Or helping people learn to walk again. Or shoveling snow. Or having important and unimportant conversations with a neighbor. Or going to the hospital with a family member. Or taking out the recycling. And at least one of us will be spending the next several days writing a sermon in her head, and finally on paper. And she’ll also be doing the laundry and cleaning the toilet. And all through the day, and at night when our weary bodies are too tired for anything else – we will sit in front of God in silence and pray.
Many years ago my Uncle John and Aunt Sylvia were missionaries in what was then called Ceylon. (now Sri Lanka) Uncle John was a huge man – in every way, well over six feet tall, probably close to three hundred pounds, and I swear he never stopped talking and exuding positive energy. They would come back to Grand Rapids with their family for brief periods and when they did that they lived not far from us. One day I stopped in at their home and Uncle John was very quiet. We chatted for a short time about nothing much in particular and then I got up to leave. He said to me, “Paula, I was wondering who would bring Jesus to me today, and it was you. Thank you.”
So that in the end, everything we do, we do for God. Because we are followers of Jesus. Because we have met him on the road and he has changed our lives. Because we are learning every day, all over again, what it means that we have given our days and our nights and our whole lives to Jesus.