Our Place in Word(s), A Sermon

3 04 2015

A sermon I wrote last year. I’ve grown since then; I would change some things, but I hope the message still proves impactful as much as it can today.

Our Place in Word(s)

Passage: 1 Corinthians 15:12-28 (NRSV)

10/05/2014

 The Power of Environment: An Introduction

It can be quite easy to become lost in an environment, to become forgotten.

As far as I know, none of us particularly enjoy being forgotten – so we do the only thing we know how to do: we start changing in order to be noticed, to become found.

Whether intentional or not, change finds us. After a while we catch ourselves doing something differently from our normal ways that we promised ourselves we never would.

Our environments demand conformity, demand to be obeyed.

We become lured in, drawn into a life that might recognize our uniqueness a little, but for the most part asks, demands, us to be ourselves in this way or that.

So, slowly but surely we start to look, act, and feel more and more like what and who’s around us.

If I can give a Durham specific example: after a while, people who are not from Durham or the South encounter that slip of the tongue that dooms them to the reality of their conformity: “y’all.”

Our environments require our devotion. They demand not only our appearances and intellects – but also our tongues.

We start to think in the ways that we have changed, and we start to talk how we think.

The Problem of Belief in Corinth

Today’s passage alerts us to a danger in this union, where thinking affects talking.

In the city of Corinth, Paul wrestles openly with how thought and belief are beginning to effect the church in a major way.

A lot of speaking about whether Christ’s resurrection even happened begins to float around the city in intellectual circles. It starts to seep its way into the church.

It starts to seep its way into the church’s beliefs, into their speech.

“Was Christ really raised from the dead?”

Word Locations

Today, our relationship with words are in a similar place.

Our words have the responsibility of carrying truth.

But we let our environments so deeply affect us that they begin to affect our speech to the point where our beliefs are not so easily discerned, not so easily heard, anymore.

Given how desperate we can become to make sure that we are seen, that we are found, that we are known, our truth can start to become altered – altered ever so slightly that we can begin to justify that “it pretty much sounds the same as it did before…”

“Christ is raised from the dead.” and “Is Christ raised from the dead?” are technically the same words. But they offer different takes on how deeply Christ’s witness has been received within us.

Our words are betraying our location. If we listen closely, our words tell us where we are.

Overturning Disbelief: An Exercise in Reversal Repetition as Faith Re-enforcing

Just as he reminds the church in Corinth, Paul has to remind us that where we are (geographically) should have little effect on who we are.

As far as Paul is concerned, we rest in Christ. We live in the assurance of his saving work. He and others have preached and witnessed this.

Christ is raised from the dead.

We do not claim this truth. We do not even proclaim this truth – We let this truth claim us.

Christ is raised from the dead. The dead are raised in Christ.

We let this truth announce us.

Christ is raised from the dead. The dead are raised in Christ. Our faith rests in this truth.

We let this truth tell us who we are.

Christ is raised from the dead. The dead are raised in Christ. Our faith rests in this truth. This truth testifies God.

We let this truth proclaim us.

Christ is raised from the dead. The dead are raised in Christ. Our faith rests in this truth. This truth testifies God.

Uselessness, depravity, and shame are not true for us.

To say that our faith becomes uselessness, we live in depravity and exist in shame means that something has gone deeply wrong.

It is a sign that something didn’t quite take root within us, that we are misunderstanding God and that we are misunderstanding what Jesus’ resurrection is.

Residence in Resurrection

Paul’s passion and his repetition make evident that the preached word of Christ’s resurrection truth is supposed to steer us clear of this danger of believing wrong things.

The proclamations of Paul and others before, with and after him, proclamations that Christ is raised from the dead, are supposed to directly join to our belief now, even direct our belief now.

He is almost offended that the preached word about Christ has not anchored itself as foundational in our identities as he imagined it should have.

He is upset at the church’s missed opportunity to allow the proclaimed words about Christ to become their environment, become the place in which we live.

To understand the truth of Christ as the place in which we live will then affect our appearances and intellect. It will shape how we think and it will shape what we say.

It will shape our questions away from “Is Christ raised from the dead?” towards “How do I faithfully live as an environment, an ecosystem, of Christ’s life?”

Like in Corinth, Paul is directing us to best understand what it means to be a disciple of Jesus in a geographically, politically, sexually, ethnically and racially complicated environment.

We are to let the truth of Christ become our location, to become our foundation and direction. This weighs us down in a great way – this grounds us.

We are to let Christ’s resurrection work in us first as it is the foundation of what we say we believe.

But I already see a potential problem on the horizon of hearing this: I want to be careful to remind us that I am not pushing for some type of missional or evangelistic response. This is not what Paul is urging nor what I am saying.

Paul is urging immersion in the basic truth that Christ died, Christ is raised, and that because of this impossible, magnificent truth, we too have life.

That is it.

He wants us not to run to accomplish anything, but to sit right here in this holy accomplishment that turned death into life for us, an accomplishment that is not our own.

We must sit, rest even, in this life called grace, and in sitting, we must allow our environment to overwhelm and to humble us.

We cannot rush past this. We cannot say, “I know that Christ is alive, therefore I am empowered or called to X, Y and Z.”

No, let’s not go there yet.

The only thing that Paul wants us to do, the only thing Paul wants us to proclaim, is that we actually know the depth of what resurrection means.

I mean, what power is released when we believe, let alone say: Christ — is — raised?

How often we forget the importance of this declaration!

Outside of Easter (and maybe theological conferences like the one myself and a few friends have been immerse in this weekend): When do we marvel at the power that these words have already done and continue to do at the same time?

When do we realize that “Christ is raised,” this statement that our faith is built on, is only something that we slightly understand, but something that has already saved us?

How big are those words, is that truth that there is room for all of us to live in it?

“Christ is raised” is our environment, our house. We live in it.

And like I named before, our environment starts to have an effect on us.

We will start changing not in order to be noticed or found though – but because we have been noticed, we have been found.

Paul’s Disbelief in Our Disbelief

God sees us. God notices us. We have been found.

This is why the resurrection is true for us.

Being seen, noticed and found reminds us that we are severely loved – loved so much that Christ died with the weight of the crushing sin and despair that we feel every day, on and in his body.

But the Lord offers us even more. Jesus defeats death and its cohorts in order to allow us space and chance to realize our being seen, noticed, and found in the Lord, but especially through each other, through the body of Christ on earth.

I like to imagine that Paul is not mad at the church in Corinth – how helpful can angry preaching be?

What I imagine is Paul in shock, in disbelief.

I imagine him gesturing in hope that they will hear him, gesturing in desperation and disbelief while wildly proclaiming, “But resurrection is the house we live in! Why abandon it for another place?!”

Maybe my imagination is too gracious, but that is okay. Grace is the house we live in, too.

 

Faith for the Present and Future

I am sure that at least a few of you are wondering, as I often wonder: but what does this mean for today?

In Christ we hope for so much more than to merely skate by in this life – I’ll say that again: In Christ we hope for so much more than to merely skate by in this life.

We allow the power of the proclamation and the sturdy foundation of the house that we live in, of resurrection, to guide how we see the future.

If Christ can turn death into life, shouldn’t this be our hope now and in the future?

Can’t Christ make us alive now? Can’t we make our home in his resurrection truth, right now?

I would say so as our faith is always both a now thing and a later thing.

Jesus being God messes up how time is supposed to fit into this whole thing we thought we understood was our life. We reside in resurrection now, but we also will later. Our faith is predicated in a death to life story; it will summon our lives back from our deaths.

So where is today’s “life”? Sometimes that’s all we are yearning to know: where to look for life, what that environment looks like, where our house is.

Paul is not super great at emphasizing where I believe this life is. He seems a bit caught up in his feelings. His concerns can easily translate into language of separation: “Why don’t you Corinthians believe what we have preached to you? Now we preachers look like fools, like we do not know God. If you don’t believe in the resurrection of Christ, all is lost concerning your faith.”

The opportunity that Paul misses in his “excitement” is to join himself with the Corinthian disciples as imperfect. The Corinthians might be doubtful and easily swayed, Paul was murderous.

This moment in scripture provides a great chance for Paul to remember how hard his faith journey was, how much he had to overcome to see the truth about Jesus. He had to be confronted with his own theological blindness.[1]

He missed a great chance to say “we” – and to remind himself that he himself has never lived his faith perfectly.

But we forgive Paul. Clearly, he makes lots and lots and lots of mistakes! 🙂 Just like us.

There is life in saying “we,” there is life in saying “our” and knowing that it is true.

And we enter into this life on one common truth: that we live in the same place together, we live in the life that Christ arisen gives us.

And we give ourselves to each other with no hesitation.

Those of us who have had it hard are expected to give us much of our lives away as those of us who have had it relatively easy.

We do not only take life from others, nor do we do only keep our lives to ourselves or give it to the people we choose.

We imitate Christ. We pray for God’s guidance and have honest conversation moments with ourselves where we ask every single day, “What is it that I want and where is my want coming from?”

We should want to do God’s will.

But God’s will overshadowed by things that we think we want, make life-sharing and life-giving messy.

We must be very aware of this: any life, any good thing that we give away to and share with each other is tainted with our insecurities, with our lack, with our privilege, and frankly with our jerkiness.

We are the ones who serve a God who is okay with our life-giving and life-sharing, with our attempts to be community with one another being jerk-y.

Conclusion: Re-thinking Neighborhoods

But — our imperfections should never become our excuses. This is too easy to let slide.

The life of Christ is our environment, our house, but sometimes we have trouble figuring out how Christ fits with us.

Since day one, race and gender have always been locations for me too; they have been neighborhoods that I have had to live within. These distinctions are neighborhoods that you have had to live within as well.

So here me clearly, none of us will ever, ever move out of these neighborhoods. Unfortunately we all will always be assigned to race, gender, sexuality, or class categories.

We run into a dilemma now. All of a suddenly what I’m saying is making less and less sense  (if it hasn’t already) – if Christ arisen is our environment, is our house, then how can we live in separate neighborhoods?

Yes! It makes little sense indeed, and am I glad for it!

Christ is so much bigger than our understandings! He is present, even in our imperfections, and lovingly encourages us stop making excuses, to be aware of how much our neighborhoods have shaped who we are.

He is our house amidst of the difficult landscapes of race, gender, sexuality, and class – but we take heart in knowing that Jesus travels! He is present in both house and neighborhood!

Jesus is a God in flesh who in Capernaum at Simon Peter’s house can heal a paralytic’s sins first and his body as an afterthought.[2] He makes that space His house.

Christ can raise a twelve year old from death and cure a twelve year illness in a woman all in one journey from house to house. [3]

Christ is God with us who does not have to enter into a centurion’s house in order to heal this servant, but somehow makes that house His own.[4]

The Lord sits in a tax collector’s house and eats with other tax collectors and sinners and calls them to follow Him. That is His house.[5]

Jesus can be in Bethany sitting in Simon the Leper’s house and have a woman offer her possessions and her devotion to him – He makes that house his own.[6]

Jesus – has – houses! Jesus and the life he gives is our house – yes, even in different neighborhoods, and among different peoples.

Jesus is the one who can have a final dinner with some of His followers: His friends and an enemy, in a stranger’s house christening this house with an event of love and remembrance that lives on in many houses on Sundays and otherwise, including this one.[7]

But Christ works outside of houses too! His life-giving and life-sharing happens in cities, in fields, on boats, on walks, at wells.

His life giving, our opportunities to be community to one another in this room, shows up more often than we think.

Are we attuned to each other to discern together how Christ is healing in this house? How Christ wants to heal in this house?

We must remember that even in neighborhoods prone to oppression and oppressors, neighborhoods of categories we grew up in, Jesus has houses. Jesus’s life overtakes and overwhelms and creates houses for us to live in.

We must keep in mind that in churches whose best will only look like “we hope we’re doing something right,” Christ takes residence.

Now it is our turn – in turning to one another in real, actual, awkward and genuine efforts – to be community to one another.

Let us share together in the life that Christ has given us with as much devotion as we share in the table together.

Let us channel our passion for practices and rituals that are familiar to us towards creating new ones together.

Let us ask another, how can I share life with you?

It is not our own in the first place – but by God’s grace, it is has been given to us abundantly.

God sees us, God knows us, God notices us – may we challenge ourselves to do the same for each other.

Amen.

[1] Shout out to my UVA colleague, Gillian Breckenridge, for honing in on this point in her amazing Barth paper at this weekend’s Duke Graduate Conference in Theology! J

[2] Mark 2:1-12, NRSV.

[3] Matthew 9:18-26, NRSV.

[4] Matthew 8:5-13, NRSV.

[5] Matthew 9:9-13, NRSV.

[6] Matthew 26:6-13, NRSV.

[7] Luke 22:14-23, NRSV.

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