May 24: 1 Corinthians 15

Part I

PreludeDown a Country Lane
A. Copland
Chris Johansen, piano
Welcome
Confession
Prayer
Pastor Linda
Psalm 23Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
Reading1 Corinthians 15:1-26, 51-57Pastor Linda

Part II

SermonPastor Linda
Prayers of IntercessionBarb Kass
BlessingPastor Linda
HymnHealer of Our Every Ill
Hymn #612 (text below)
Chris Johansen, piano

Healer of Our Every Ill

Refrain
Healer of our every ill,
light of each tomorrow,
give us peace beyond our fer,
and hope beyond our sorrow

You who know our fears and sadness,
grace us with your peace and gladness;
Spirit of all comfort, fill our hearts.
Refrain

In the pain and joy beholding
how your grace is still unfolding,
give us all your vision, God of love.
Refrain

Give us strength to love each other,
ev’ry sister, ev’ry brother;
Spirit of all kindness, be our guide.
Refrain

You who know each thought and feeling,
teach us all your way of healing;
Spirit of compassion, fill each heart.
Refrain

Text & Music: Marty Haugen

Sermon

Linda Rozumalski

Kids of every era are interested in superpowers. Maybe X-ray vision, invisibility, the ability to leap tall buildings with a single bound, flying faster than a speeding bullet, having super stretchy arms and legs and the other powers of cartoon life give kids a sense of power in the big adult world where they are small. Super-powered characters instill pride (or hope) for bodies struggling through the awkward transformations of youth when control of form, movement, growth – even voice – seems beyond them. 

The adult world sends many adults back to those dreams of superpowers (video games, not comic books or cartoons) as we realize how little in this life we actually can control. Maybe that is what’s behind all the hero talk. Not every muscle-bound sports star or military personnel is a hero, despite the label they’re given. Superpowers are revealed in times of need.

The teenaged environmental activist Greta Thunberg, holds up under intense public pressure and criticism. She wrote: “When haters go after your looks and differences, it means they have nowhere left to go. And then you know you’re winning! I have Aspergers and that means I’m sometimes a bit different from the norm.  And – given the right circumstances – being different is a superpower.” She inspires and empowers others with her passionate and eloquent devotion to climate care.

Health care workers and critical personnel who cook and clean and transport COVID-19 patients are deemed heroes, with superpowers of perseverance, self-less service on behalf of those who are likely passing along the virus which they in turn have first received.  Not quite the exchange Paul was writing about to the Corinthians, but we did talk about the similarities between the spread of COVID-19 and Christianity. Superpowers of cartoon and video-game heroes transform and protect their body. We would wish the same for ours.

Paul received his superpower along the road to Damascus. He had an encounter with the risen Christ that blinded him temporarily and transformed him through and through. From a Pharisee charged with reigning in Jews who believed in Jesus as the Messiah, he became the primary proclaimer of the good news of God: Christ died for our sins, was buried, was raised on the third day, and appeared to his disciples – alive, risen from the power of sin and death.

This letter of Paul to the church at Corinth is one of the earliest Christian writings. It predates the writing of the Gospels, Acts, and Revelation by decades. It follows Jesus’ death and resurrection by some twenty to twenty-five years.  But those 25 years were transformative in the lives of his original disciples and others – like Paul – who somehow got caught up by the Holy Spirit and flung into a future and a life they could never have imagined.

In this chapter, Paul is working out the case for belief in Christ. As your ear can tell you, his writing is dense; thick with contingent clauses (if this, and if this, then this, but not this). He employs more commas per square inch than any other biblical writer – a sentence diagrammer’s nightmare. This epistle to newbie Christians in Corinth is a well planned argument laying out the case for Jesus as the Christ and, in today’s reading, in the necessity of the resurrection. Paul was creating the foundation for the Christian faith. Parables or narratives are easier for us to grasp. Maybe a particular image or question caught your interest in the swirling words.  

The thing that landed in my imagination this week was the bit about bodies.

“Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.  For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality…”

It’s a passage usually read at the graveside as a word of promise and comfort, but seeing it away from that setting, and with COVID on my mind, I had some new thoughts.

Not many of us are really comfortable in our skin, our physiques, our form. And then, to add insult to injury, we age or weaken, or get sick.  And our bodies lose grace and power and vigor and form and become something else, something other than what we expect to see when we catch our reflected image in a mirror. Bodies are embarrassing. 

The early Greeks certainly thought so. They believed that bodies were so beneath us as a species that we are really only a soul imprisoned in flesh. The part of us that really matters is imperishable, the rest we throw away at death like a dragonfly leaving its exoskeleton on a log.

But that is not the gospel truth, and Paul is belaboring the point. The witness of scripture is that matter matters to God. God formed matter – trees, plants critters, beasts, elements, stars – and us, our bodies – carefully formed, carefully mated, carefully clothed, cared-for  … and to prove it, God became us, a particular body in Jesus, became our matter to insist that we matter, that we – frail, fragile, incredible in our bodies – are beloved and cherished. We are not bodiless souls waiting to shed this mortality, we are whole people, intensionally whole, integrated, marvelously and miraculously made.

Paul is making the case for the resurrection of this body – a transformation, transfiguration, metamorphosis, if you will, from earthly glory – just a little lower than the angles, psalm 8 says of us – into some other glory – the joy of God. And of course we don’t know how it happens or – to be completely honest, if it happens, but we take it on trust, that if there is God, and if Jesus was the son of God in a unique and mysterious way, and if Jesus was raised out of death, then we too share that future with God. For She would not abandon the child of Her womb.

“We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.”  When this “perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality…..”

Wait a minute. We will not all die, but this mortal body will put on immortality… This doesn’t apply to all of us, but think of the implications! We will not all die, but this mortal body will slip into something comfortable.… We will swath ourselves in sacred skin…. don the divine like Clark Kent putting on Superman.  

Matter matters: creation is so beloved by God that it will be reworked, not wasted, or discarded or destroyed. In the conservation of matter nothing is lost, no one is lost, no body.  The Law of Conservation of Mass says that mass is neither created nor destroyed in chemical reactions. In other words, the mass of any one element (any body) at the beginning of a reaction will equal the mass of that element at the end of the reaction. 

The Law of Conservation of Energy states that the total energy of an isolated system remains constant— conserved over time. Energy can neither be created nor destroyed; rather, it transforms from one form to another.  Mass and energy remain. That’s science… it’s also God’s way with us. 

I don’t know what resurrection is, or even that it is, but I hope that the witness of scripture is true and real and part of the promise of God to remake everything as real and tangible and alive as She formed it in the first place.

“Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;”   begins John Updike’s poem, Seven Stanzas at Easter.
“if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that–pierced–died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.”

The reality of bodies is that God  has taken your shape, your form, your body as a matter of infinite worth and beauty – and went to all ends to give it immortality, in becoming a body among us, in our image. Let us not be embarrassed by this miracle …………….