24 February 2019
As Epiphany draws to a close, and we near the Lenten season, the Lectionary gives us a prophecy of what lies on the other end of Holy Week – resurrection. But, this is not just a once off resurrection that happen to one human being in the past after he died. This is a resurrection that is available to every human being this side of the grave. It is a resurrection that is constantly at work in every facet of our lives and our world. It is a resurrection that is much bigger, more powerful, and all-encompassing than we usually imagine.
And it it this resurrection that we celebrate in our worship this week.
Genesis 45:3-11,15: The dreamer Joseph, who has been toying with his brothers, now reveals himself to them, asks about his father, and assures them that what they intended for evil God has used for good. Their family would be saved from the famine, because of what has happened to Joseph. He sends them back with a message inviting his father to come to Egypt. And then he kisses and weeps over his brothers.
Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40: Do not worry about the wicked or envy them for they will fade away. But God gives to those who trust God the desires of their hearts. Commit to the Lord and trust him, wait patiently for God to act, and don’t be angry. The wicked will disappear but the lowly will posses the land. God rescues the godly and saves them.
1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50: People ask what kind of bodies people will have when they are raised. Like a seed planted into the ground, resurrected bodies are something totally different, heavenly bodies, not earthly. Earthly bodies are planted in the ground, but they are raised as heavenly, eternal bodies. Now we are like the earthly Adam, then we will be like the heavenly Christ.
Luke 6:27-38: Jesus teaches that his followers must love their enemies, for it does no good to only love those who love back – even sinners do that. But, loving enemies and treating them well is acting like children of God, and is compassionate as God is compassionate. This also means we must not judge others, but must forgive, and give generously, for then we will be forgiven and will receive abundance back.
REFLECTIONS ON THEME:
There is a sense in which the theme of today’s readings could be viewed as resurrection – but in a different, more expanded sense than we would usually think of resurrection. While Paul’s discourse in 1 Corinthians 15 does deal with the resurrection of our bodies – the transformation of a “physical” mortal body into a “spiritual” immortal one, the danger is to make resurrection about nothing more than what happens to our current bodies after we die. When we think that Paul referred to his Damascus Road experience as a resurrection appearance of Jesus, we have to admit that Paul sees resurrection as more than just a transformation of the physical body. Even the distinction between a “physical” body and a “spiritual” one is not the best way to describe the New Testament idea of resurrection. In the light of this, we can view Joseph’s transformed relationship with his brothers – whom he could have treated with the same disdain and cruelty with which they had treated him – as a resurrection, both for them as they were rescued from death, and for Joseph as he discovered the life-giving power of forgiveness and love. In Psalm 37 the contrast between the wicked who fade away and the godly who are saved points to a resurrection in which we learn not to be destroyed or overcome by evil and those who perpetuate it, but rather find life and peace as we wait patiently for God’s resurrection life to infiltrate and be revealed in our world. In the Gospel reading, Jesus’ call for his followers to reject the way of death – loving only those who love us back, and giving evil for evil with those who don’t – is an invitation into a different kind of life that can also be thought of as a resurrection. It is the way of life in which we believe that love ultimately wins over hate, forgiveness over division, and life over death, and in which we live this resurrection life here and now, even in the face of death and evil. Continuing the theme of call from the last few weeks, today’s call is to live resurrection now, to die to our “earthly” selves which follow the ways of human self-protection and fear and bury them in the ground like a seed, and then allow God to raise us again into a new life of godly self-giving and love where we become (using last week’s metaphor) trees of righteousness.
CONNECTING WITH LIFE:
There is a general spirit in so much of our world today that everything is getting worse. It is a constant refrain in the global Church (as least in so far as I am able to connect with global trends in the Church) that the evil in the world is a sign of the end times and that the world is getting more evil than ever. However, this view flows from two convictions that, I believe, are unhelpful and deny the resurrection life of God at work in the world . The first conviction is that what is seen as signs of the growth of evil are in fact the opposite – the growing acceptance of diversity and difference in our world, in terms of religious conviction, gender, race, sexual orientation, economic circumstance, or nationality. While there are many forces that work against this movement of acceptance, labelling it as nothing more than “political correctness” or permissiveness, it is actually a sign of resurrection, raising the consciousness of humanity, and opening our global heart to love. The second conviction that is unhelpful is the one that sees resurrection as nothing more than what happens to our bodies at some future point after we die. From this perspective, we cannot know resurrection unless we die physically, and resurrection therefore has no relevance to, or impact on, our lives in this life and in this world. However, when we expand our view to where we recognise any sign of God’s healing, loving, restoring life as resurrection, then resurrection is an invitation to die daily to anything that opposes God’s life in the world, and to allow God to raise us into a new life of love, inclusiveness, understanding, and grace. In this sense resurrection is both available to us now, and already at work in our world, if we will just see it and work with it (See this TED talk by Steven Pinker as an example: https://www.ted.com/talks/steven_pinker_is_the_world_getting_better_or_worse_a_look_at_the_numbers?language=en). This week it could be helpful to explore the signs of resurrection that can be seen in our world now, while also seeking to respond to God’s call to die to what perpetuates death, and to be raised into this new, Christ-like, resurrected life.
If resurrection is to be revealed and experienced in our world globally, then it must be nurtured and made available to people locally. This is the task of the local church, and of any community that seeks to oppose the forces of death and evil, and nurture and share whatever brings life, beauty, truth, and goodness into the world. When we claim that certain people are evil and beyond God’s love and salvation simply for who they are, in terms of their religion, race, gender, sexual orientation, or political views, then we are not the church of resurrection. God calls us to die to this very human, “mortal” way of living. But, when we proclaim that God’s love is available to all, that God welcomes and accepts all for who they are, we become a church of the resurrection. But, another significant characteristic of a resurrection community is that they constantly facilitate the process of dying to our human “mortal” way of living that brings death and decay into our world and our relationships, and when they invite people to allow God to raise them to a new godly, “immortal” way of living and being that brings life and joy and goodness. When, in our worship and preaching, we invite people into a constant process of dying and rising we are a true resurrection community. Those who participate in such communities, discover a life that is not quenched by death, and they contribute to an eternal reality of life and love that is experienced now, but continues into the future when all creation knows resurrection in fullness. This week our call to resurrection can include such simple things as learning patience with ourselves, and others, and God as we wait for healing or restoration to happen. It can include forgiving others instead of allowing our hatred and pain to lead us into a death of our souls. It can include releasing the values and material wealth of human society in order to share what we have and bring life to those in need. And it can include loving ourselves enough to do what feeds and nurtures our souls, what brings life to our bodies, and what deepens and strengthens our relationships. In these ways we can experience our future hope of resurrection right here and right now.
RESOURCES FOR WORSHIP:
Celebration Song (Tune: Battle Hymn of the Republic. The only source I can find for the lyrics is here: . This is not the complete lyric, but gives the heart)