Sermon: “I will tell you a mystery: that which sends us forth”
I Corinthians 15: 50-58
50 What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 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.
54When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:
‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’
55 ‘Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?’
56The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
57But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
58 Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
May the peace of Christ be with you! Dear sisters and brothers, I am glad to be here with you this afternoon. I pray God has spoken to you, transformed you and made you anew during these McCormick days! I pray you will leave this place different because you have seen God.
During these two days we have been talking about “the prophetic: that which keeps us alive.” As we finish our time together, I want to talk a little bit more about the prophetic.
The prophetic is that mystery that hovers around our lives. We can’t figure it out fully, but we can understand parts of it. The prophetic comes with a clear sense of call and demands, but it comes from places we don’t know or can’t anticipate.
The prophetic breaks our certainties, challenges our assurances, scare us with demands and calls us to check our own faith and our ways of living. The prophetic can only keep us alive once it destroys the falsities of our lives, once it calls us to live what we believe and do what we say. In this way the prophetic makes our lives both hell and heaven. It makes it hell because it gives us no rest, it keeps on challenging us day and night. But it also makes it heaven when we live according to the message of God. There is no better place to be rather than in God’s presence. When we hear the prophetic, we gain the strength of the very source of life. We can’t live without the prophetic, it is like a sound of a heartbeat that never ends.
DRUMMER STARTS WITH THE SOUND OF HEART BEAT AND STAYS UNTIL THE END OF THE SERMON.
The prophetic is about the undoing of the fake mysteries of our time. In our text, I believe Paul is dealing with the prophetic, in a way that the prophetic here is the unpacking of lies, it is the telling of truth and the reasoning of ways we should understand life so we can live better. Paul says: “Listen!” I will tell you a mystery!” We will get to this mystery later but for now let us stay with the word mystery:
Mystery is that which is not easily given. It does not come by advice but springs forth from wisdom, and wisdom here is walking, learning, listening, feeling, pursuing something greater than ourselves. Mystery is a wonder. Philosophy begins with wonder, the knowledge of God begins with wonder.
Abraham Heschel says “Awareness of the divine begins with wonder.” So one way of dealing with the mysteries of God is to wonder… It is unfortunate when theological education does not make us wonder. It is a disaster when Christian ministry does not make us wonder. It is sad when relationships don’t make us wonder. It is a sign of immense limitation when we don’t live in this constant wonder. Every morning we wake up and say: Oh my God I am alive! Uuaaaaa!!!! I am alive! How is that even possible? At every worship service we wonder: How is it even possible to be a Christian? It has too many demands on us…
How is it that I ended up being right here with you all these days? I wonder…
But wonder begs for constant hard questions and difficult answers.
As theologians and pastors, workers, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, we must beware of easy answers to the mysteries of life and the mysteries of God.
Our society responds to the mysteries of life with such easy answers. Let me give you a couple of examples:
Self Help! Our world is making us dizzy and lost. We don’t know where to turn or what to do. So our virtual and real bookstores are flooded with easy answers to life. Often using bad and cheap psychology we are told that to access our deepest selves, our inner strength, our happiness we need 7 steps towards a life lived in fullness. 4 steps towards financial heath; 9 steps towards a full life with God;
5 and a half steps towards a life without anger; 13 steps to encounter your innermost child; 28 steps to have a life lived in full light.
This is the easiest way out…
* Nobody wants to walk the hard road to deal with our own selves and God…
* Nobody wants to stay in the dark night of the soul. Everybody wants to run away from our shadows.
* Nobody wants to linger with uncertainty but instead cover ourselves with self made truths! Whatever is truth!
* Nobody wants to listen to the still small voice. Instead we all want to hear the voice in the thunder, in the clear open spaces.
* Nobody wants to fight this economic system that is killing us. Instead, we take over Eastern Religions and thorugh the lenses of our capitalist society we turn it into our own needs. So we take yoga and say: do more yoga so you will feel better! Do more meditation and continue to buy things without guilt! No my brothers and sister, no yoga alone will make you feel better while this economic system is devouring your life!
It is only the mysteries of God and the prophetic that have the power to shake our foundations, to use Paul Tillich’s language.
But still, we cannot deal with anything that does not mirror our own image and our own limits.
Now as a father, I am dealing with issues around school and I am listening to friends talking about issues at school. Just last night my friend and pastor, a wonderful mother, had to stay at the school because her son got in trouble with his friend. Children wrestling with each other, nothing else. But instead of saying don’t do that and move on, she was called into the counselor’s office and her son was threatened to be severely penalized. She stayed until 8 pm to talk to him and after a long conversation the only thing she was asked to do was to write a ridiculous letter of apology.
We want the easy way out: discipline and punishment. If we can’t control these kids, we put them on drugs! The growth of depression drugs is growing immensely because we are drugging our kids! We are drugging them because we don’t know what to do with them, because we are afraid they might use their own mind, that they might resist the system that is pushing them down! God have mercy on our kids!
Marc Ellis, another Jewish thinker says: “We cannot turn away from the prophetic one nor can we turn away from the depth that forces a reckoning with our own collective history and within ourselves. The prophetic voice places us right at our center, which we would like to turn away from, too, and can’t. Until we no longer want to run away but rather embrace the moment before us. Such is the prophetic voice, so singular and, against the grain, now shared.”
Marc Ellis challenges any theological easy accordance, any easy way of living of Christian and Jewish institutions. No wonder nobody likes to invite him to speak. He doesn’t give rest to any of us.
He makes us wonder and ask hard questions, even questions that makes is impossible for us to answer. When talking about liturgy, he troubles my own liturgical thinking when he demands: “Let us not have any worship until justice comes.” Imagine if justice was the demand for worship to happen? He thinks with those who are in the pit of humanity. He cries out loud on behalf of the Palestinians who have been massacred and exterminated right now.
We have our sister Palestinian here and of course she cannot do anything else but cry for her people. We are called to cry with her!
But friends, Marc Ellis is not far from the Biblical prophets. Remember what the Prophet Amos said (Amos 5:21-30):
21 I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
22 Even though you offer me your burnt-offerings and grain-offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
I will not look upon.
23 Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
24 But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
When our worship is disconnected from our work for justice we turn God’s power into congratulatory self-aggrandizing, we confuse God’s glory with self-deception, God’s might with bad psychology, God’s demands with rationalized excuses and demands to take care of our neighbors as self-pitied individualism. When justice is not in the horizon of our prayers, when peace is not a struggle on the streets, when the glory of God is not the bashing of racism, male dominance, sexism and any form of human degradation, our offerings of worship will be empty.
The words of our prayers will be nothing more than embellished words of distancing, avoidance and paralyzing fear. When we substitute the mystery of God for our own formulations, then we might be actually joining a private club, we might be self-congratulating ourselves for the wonderful things we do. But if we are away from the poor, this gathering can be called anything but worship!
The prophetic always issues a call to ourselves and beyond ourselves. It is a call into ourselves because there is a need for an ongoing change of mind and heart that needs to happen within us. Metanoia, conversion, change of paths, methodologies, meta-hodos, changes that will turn us back to one another and God. When we are transformed, we can find a place of trust within ourselves to trust God and God in ourselves. But the prophetic always issues a call outwards, moving us towards the direction of somebody else. Moving ourselves into somebody else’s lives, especially those in need, shows that we are again transformed by the power of God and we are closer to the mystery of God.
Paul is reminding us, as the prophets do, that the mysteries of God demand our life! He said a little earlier in that same chapter, “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.” Unless we die to our securities and assurances and assume that as long as some of our people are in danger we are all in danger, we are not safe. Until we get rid of our superficial answers and go deep into the root of things, As long as some of us are hurting financially, we are all hurting, as long as somebody’s kids cannot make it to college none of our kids should go to college.
So we die first, we die to our ways of living so we can live each others’ ways of living.
In our text, I believe Paul is dealing with the prophetic, in a way that the prophetic here is the unpacking of lies, it is the telling of truth and the reasoning of the ways we should understand so we can live.
In the text, Paul goes on with the belief of the early church that Jesus was coming soon and some of them would not die before they would see Jesus coming. And here is the beauty of this text. Paul writes:
“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.”
Our lives change so much and in so many ways. We gain and we lose, we celebrate and we mourn. There is so much in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. Are you paying attention? The trumpets are blasting everywhere! Calling us to pay attention to the ways God is changing us. God is calling us to see how our bodies are gaining imperishability!
Everyday God is putting on our perishable body, imperishability. Yes, I am taking off of the text now…
This imperishability happens when we carry the memory of God’s wonders in our bodies! When our history can be described through our bodiography, that is, the presence of God in the history of our bodies: healing, marking, missing, hurting, losing, hoping, breathing, feeling, touching, smelling, seeing… This movement of the Spirit in our bodies is the work of imperishability.
Ahh my sisters and brothers, when our mortal bodies received the immortality of God’s wonders, then… and only then, we will be able to say:
55 ‘Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?’
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Through the prophetic, the mystery of God gains a very material sense: our bodies, become the house of God! Enfleshed into each other’s stories, our bodies tell the stories of a people, the people on the way. So we count ourselves by the mystery of God in our skins and we embody the heart of this faith: Emmanuel: God with us!
Concluding, we carry two precious fleshed mysteries of God in our Christian faith: the sacraments of the baptism and eucharist, among many others. The mystery ones we are celebrating today are bread/wine and water. These mysteries can sustain us and send us forth. Sri Lanka We will celebrate it now. Take it as mysteries of God to you, unfathomable mysteries! Simple mysteries! Mysteries that will sustain you though the complexities of your life and will send you forth, back into those weary days.
May God bless us all.
My Student Gregg Hunter wrote this poem:
We are the ones who beat the
Drums that sound the signal to
March on streets paraded by murder,
Wading through rivers of children’s
tears as they weep over their fallen
Father’s frozen form. We thump
Through swampy summer nights and
Windy winter days, through sweet
Spring rains and fall’s crisp breezes,
Breaking through silence with the sound of the
Soul’s beat, the heart’s pulsating rhythm that
Pumps blood through the course of your veins and
Rushes to your head to feul your thirsty
Imagination with images of theatre and dance, the
Swinging of hips and locking of lips to the
Rat-a-tat-tat of the snare’s cadence as the day
Falls and the night breaks through the navy
Blue sku as the band begins the dreamer’s battle cry:
“No mo’ guns in our neighborhood!”
We will go back to our weary days. But now, we will go empowered by the heartbeat of the prophetic, the mystery of God through the voices of the Spirit in our hearts, minds, bodies and souls! We will do mission that will prepare us for a new day! We will be the presence of a new day!
Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
Que a graça do senhor Jesus Cristo e o amor de Deus e a comunhão do Espírito Santo sejam com todos vós!