Scripture: 1Corinthians 15:1-11
Have you ever forgotten something really important?
A doctor’s appointment?
A meet-up with a friend?
A school project or paper?
There is something ubiquitous about forgetting important things. We’ve all done it. And we all know that panic that comes with remembering and realizing this failure and its gravity in our life and relationships.
Busyness & Forgetfulness
I’d like to blame it on our addiction to busyness. Various researchers have concluded that we now have more irons in the fire than perhaps ever before. And that constant activity—that constant engagement—that constant busyness has far-reaching and negative health and wellness consequences.
But the reality is that we did not only recently begin to forget important things. I believe that we have been created by God to live in the present, and that our forgetfulness comes from our attempts to live rather in the future or to remain in the past.
It may in fact be the biggest and most important things in our life that we are most likely to “forget”—or at least neglect.
How many marriages have atrophied because of pressing concerns that took away from the spouses’ investment in each other?
How many children have stunted relationships with a parent because of that parent’s focus on work, getting ahead, and providing a better life for their family?
How much of our relationship with Jesus takes a backseat to the more mundane concerns of life in this world?
There’s an expression we sometimes use—we “forget ourselves,” we say—meaning that we have lost track of our core priorities…… of the things that matter most to us.
We can recognize—at least cognitively—that things like our marriage and family relationships and our relationship with Christ are among the most important realities in our lives, and yet…… Yet they are among the first that are neglected.
It may be they are neglected because they are obvious.
It may be they are neglected because our closeness leads us to believe that these relationships can survive a level of inattention.
It may be that we just get distracted and deceived into priorities that are vastly different than the ones we would cognitively set—or that were demonstrated for us by Jesus.
Sometimes, we just need that gentle nudge—that reminder of what we already know and believe and think. That reminder of what we have, perhaps, forgotten at some functional level.
To the Scripture Text
That’s where Paul begins with the Corinthian church in today’s scripture lesson. There is nothing new here. If anything, Paul is taking them back to their elementary-age Sunday School class. He’s giving the children’s sermon, knowing (then as now) that it is often the adults that get as much or more out of it than do the kids themselves.
“Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters,
of the good news that I proclaimed to you,
which you in turn received,
in which also you stand,
through which also you are being saved”
(1Corinthians 15:1–2 NRSV)
What Paul—that great speaker, that master of rhetoric and debate, that dynamic catalyst of the missionary movement of the early church, that rhetorician able to stand toe to toe with anyone of his age—what Paul effectively does in the verses that follow is simply tell “the old, old story of Jesus and his love.”
Long ago, in ways that are both obvious to us and mysterious to us, God entered the world.
God didn’t look like we expected……
didn’t appear where we expected……
didn’t do what we expected……
The reality of God’s heart and being was more accurately portrayed than anything we could have expected.
I am talking about Jesus, of course.
From the perspectives of culture and philosophy and sociology and psychology and even the more truthy perspectives that drive so much human behavior, it was all wrong.
But the scriptures say that Jesus entered the world “at the right time” (1Timothy 2:6). Or to quote Paul as he writes to the church at Galatia:
“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.” (Galatians 4:4–5 NRSV)
In more grown-up terms, Paul speaks this old, old story in Colossians, where we read:
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” (Colossians 1:15–20 NRSV)
Or still again: as the reality of Christ is described in the old creeds:
“I believe… in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only-begotten Son of God,
begotten of the Father before all worlds;
God of God, Light of Light,
very God of very God;
begotten, not made,
being of one substance with the Father,
by whom all things were made.” (Nicene Creed)
All of this, of course, is mysterious to us—in the sense that we cannot comprehend how the God who created the world actually entered it, and chose to do so with such humility. We can only confess this reality—and recognize that if God chose to do it this way, it must be the only way it could be done if God’s purposes for creation are to be fulfilled.
But more to the point for Paul in 1Corinthians 15 is the historical reality of Jesus’ death and resurrection. That’s why all these eyewitnesses are invoked.
Jesus—as Paul tells the Corinthians—was really real. And among the incredible things he has done for us, Jesus died for our sins, thereby opening up new possibilities for life with God in the here and now, as well as the ever-after.
Though Jesus did die and was buried—like any other human being—he (quite unlike any other human being!) did not stay dead, because there is nothing (not even death!) that can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39).
There is no obstacle that can appear in this mortal life that the God who brought all things into being cannot overcome.
There is no brokenness or death that cannot be reconciled through the power of the Kingdom that Jesus announces is available to us right now.
But the story doesn’t stop there…… because this isn’t just a fairy tale. It is true reality.
Can I Have a Witness?
This resurrected Jesus—fully and newly enlivened in the Kingdom of God—was seen by…… well… everybody it seems.
To Peter (and of course to the women at the tomb even before then!)
To the Twelve, the group we call the “disciples,” even though Jesus clearly had disciples numbering far in excess of this inner-circle.
Then there was that time when Jesus appeared to more than 500 people at once—a story which, despite being noteworthy enough that Paul heard about it, apparently wasn’t included in any of the four gospels.
Then to James, and then to the rest of the apostles, which Paul certainly intends to be a larger (and seemingly altogether different) group than the Twelve.
Finally, in a post-Ascension appearance, Jesus was witnessed by Paul himself.
Now in some ways, we could easily gloss over this list of witnesses, much as we often do the 2000 intervening years between them and us. After all, unlike Paul’s immediate hearers we cannot chase these sources down and hear their stories—not anymore.
But there remains something of great importance here for us too, as we consider the old, old story that Paul tells and that we confess. We should not miss the fact that Paul was offering verifiable proof of the reality of Jesus’ resurrection.
We human beings have trouble believing in invisible things. I don’t think that was always the case, but it certainly is in these post-enlightenment, post-modern, post-Christian, (to-often) post-traumatic times.
It’s hard to accept as real something that our normal five senses cannot help us grasp. Especially something like: God’s present Kingdom, for instance.
After all, that is really what’s being testified to by these people. In experiencing the resurrected Jesus, what they actually offer is factual evidence for what Jesus called the Kingdom of the Heavens—that invisible-yet-very-real reign of God which is available to us through Jesus, and which enables a life of blessedness and meaning and value beginning right now.
Their testimony matters because they were able to experience with their five senses something that most of us cannot.
They were able to experience as real something that most of us struggle to see as reality.
And so even though we cannot interview them and fact-check their testimonies personally, what they offer demonstrates to those who believe (all over again) the reality of the old, old story of Jesus and his love.
While most-if-not-all-of-us have not had an identical experience to that of these witnesses, we disciples of Jesus today do believe because we have had experiences of our own.
We do offer testimony of a living Christ and a loving God and an active Spirit that has brought us into the Kingdom rule—at times (perhaps) despite our apparent attempts to avoid such things.
Though our experiences may not be able to be verified in the same sorts of ways as these early witnesses:
Our experiences too testify to the very real reality of Christ’s Kingdom and its power.
They too bear witness of the invisible things in which we struggle to believe.
They too reinforce and nurture that mustard seed of faith that has begun to grow in each of our lives.
It is the old, old story…… lived all over again.
That, after all, is the task of those who would be disciples of Jesus: to live the life of Christ in our present setting—to the best of our abilities and as empowered and transformed by the love of God and the Kingdom of Christ.
By recounting the old, old story and our place in it, we remember together that the life of Christ really is that easy. As Jesus beckoned two thousand years ago, so he beckons still:
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest… For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28, 30 NRSV)