Death Swallowed in Life (Easter VII) – May 8, 2016 (NL Week 35)

Sunday’s Reading:
1 Corinthians 15:1-26, 51-57

+ Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +

On a day when we have so much going on in worship, we’re fortunate that our appointed reading is all about the basics. After fourteen chapters of dissecting the problems going on with the church at Corinth – problems, that as we’ve seen over the past couple of weeks, are certainly not foreign to our experience as Christians in the twenty-first century – Paul is ready to do a bit of review, and to remind the Corinthians (and us) of what’s really important. In good Lutheran Christian fashion – Paul was a Lutheran, right? – we are being taken back to the ground of our faith, the good news about Jesus that establishes our relationship with God and forms the foundation of our community.

That good news, of course, is that God became one of us in Jesus, who gave his life for us and for the salvation of the whole world, and who rose again to conquer sin and death. It’s the same good news we’ve been talking about throughout this Easter season, the gospel message that permeates the life of the Christian community in all kinds of ways. Just look at how the apostle talks about the gospel message: it’s good news that he first received from someone else, it’s good news that the Corinthians received and staked their lives on, and it’s good news that continues to save them. That’s just as true of us, of course, as it was for those first-century Christians. This gospel message about Jesus touches our past, our present, and our future. It’s good news with a history, a continuing significance, and a future that is still unfolding around us. That’s an especially important thing for us to remember on a day when we celebrate with Alexis, Helen, Josey, Macy, and Perry, who have completed confirmation instruction and are preparing to publically affirm their faith in Jesus Christ, and when we bless Maggy as she prepares to embark on a new adventure this summer and fall after her graduation.

Both confirmation and graduation have a lot in common. They represent the culmination of a period of preparation; they are meaningful milestones in themselves; they set those who participate in them on a new path with new possibilities. All three of those things need to be held in balance, or it’s easy to miss something of the significance of the events we’re celebrating today. If you get caught up in the struggle to reach the goal, you lose the joy of the journey that brings you to that goal and the future that awaits on the other side. If you get caught up in the moment and forget where you’ve been or where you’re going, your celebration will lack the perspective you need to appreciate it fully. If you lose sight of what you’ve accomplished, you might lose heart when you face your next challenge. It’s difficult to hold our past, our present, and our future together, but when we’re able to do it, it makes moments like this that much deeper and more fulfilling.

The same, I think, is true of the life of faith that Paul describes in First Corinthians. As Christians, we are part of a community that has a past, a present, and a future, and we are called to live as people who understand the significance of what God has done for us, what God is doing among us now, and what God is promising to do in the future. That’s why Paul talks about the good news as something that we received, something that we stand in today, and something that continues to grant us the gift of salvation. All of these aspects of our life together are important, because they keep us from becoming trapped in our past, overwhelmed by our present, or frightened of our future. I’ve talked about all of these dangers before. When we idealize our past, we measure everything against a false picture that may never have existed, and set ourselves up to experience disappointment and failure when our present doesn’t match up with our expectations. When we succumb to the tyranny of now, we imagine that we are going through uniquely challenging circumstances and we wonder if we’ll ever be capable of making it through those challenges. When we look to the future with dread, we keep ourselves from moving forward because we’re afraid that we’ll encounter difficulties that might be too much for us.

Scripture presents us with a picture of life with God that is wider and deeper than our past, our present, or our future alone can contain. Remembering the saving love of God in our past – especially as that love comes to us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus – gives us confidence as we face a troubled world and an uncertain path forward. Knowing the presence of God – especially by the gift of the promised Holy Spirit – reminds of God’s faithfulness in the past and strengthens us to step forward in faith. Living with hope in God’s promised future – a future which has already begun in Jesus and which will be brought to fulfillment in God’s time – gives meaning to our present and helps make sense of where we’ve been together.

All of this is good news, brothers and sisters! Wherever you’ve been, wherever you are today, and wherever you might be going, Scripture proclaims that God has been there, is there now, and will be there ahead of you. The story of our lives – as individuals and as a community – is the story of God’s never-failing love, a love that unites us with Christ, binds us together as one, and beckons us to reach out to a broken and beautiful world in the name of Jesus. That is true of all of us, whatever our age, whatever our calling, whatever our station in life, whatever our background, and whatever our future might look like at the moment. Today, dear friends, I invite you to ponder anew how God’s presence has transformed your yesterday, your today, and your tomorrow, so that we might all be strengthened for the work that God is calling us to do. To our confirmands and our graduate – congratulations! Remember where you’ve been. Remember who you are. Remember who has promised to be with you as you step into the future that God is preparing for you. We thank God for all of you, and we look forward to seeing how God will continue to use you and your gifts to bring blessing to our world. Amen!

 

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