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Sermon Briefs: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 Part 3

As one might expect, this text from 1 Corinthians on the Resurrection has been used as the text for a great number of sermons. In fact, if you are looking at just the 15th chapter the total number of sermons is even more helpful. The more other sermons one can find on a text, the better the final sermon. Most of the sermons on this text have been preached at Holy Week and Easter worship or at funeral services. Most of the sermons available in print are sermons primarily concerning the subject of the Resurrection.
John A. Huffman, Jr, pastor of the St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, California, published a sermon in Preaching, February-April 1990 on the 1 Corinthian 15:1-11 called History’s Greatest Event: The Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Huffman began by noting that the Washington Post ran an article critical of the historical knowledge of American school children. They did not know history. Huffman claimed the same is true about religious and spiritual realities. “The most important event of all human history is the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” That is the thesis of this sermon. Huffman supports it by quoting the text. But not everybody believes it. There are three ways of looking at the Resurrection: claim it never happened; claim it happened in the hearts and minds of the disciples—Spiritually; or accept that it did actually happen. Then Huffman reviews and sums up and gives a personal testimony to his faith in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
John D. Duncan in the January-February, 1997 issue of Preaching gives an outline of a sermon on this text. The Witness of Resurrection: 1) The Facts of the Resurrection; 2) The Witness of the Resurrection; and 3) Power of Resurrection.
Charles Partee, Professor of Church History, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, in Pittsburgh, PA, published a sermon in Pulpit Digest, February-April, 1990 called The Little Players Around the Cross. It is a sermon for Good Friday. Partee suggests that on a day like Good Friday with folks who know the full, great story of the faith, one can take a moment and look at some of the “bit” players in the drama. There are a whole host of minor characters in this story. There are always minor characters in the drama of death and resurrection, betrayal and redemption. Take a look at all the little people in the story and see where you could find a part. There are women—the High Priest’s maid, Pilate’s wife, and lots of others. There are lots of men’s roles: the disciple who ran out of his clothing, those who yelled “crucify him”; guards in the prison, Simon of Cyrene, and one last Centurion named Longinus who made the affirmation, truly this was the Son of God.
George Thompson, pastor, Christ United Methodist Church in Greensboro, NC, in Pulpit Digest, February-April 1998, used this text for a sermon called: God, the Promise Keeper (for Easter). George reminds us of the strange events of the Heaven’s Gate suicides. There were so many smart, intelligent people, who got caught up in sad hope. The major question of life is not do you believe in God, but what kind of God do you believe in and what does the God you worship intend for the future.
The biblical hope is “a declaration which announces the coming of a reality that does not yet exist….The promise binds man to a future and gives him a sense of history.” Rev. Thompson provides some background for this biblical hope from Moltmann with whom George has studied. In Jesus, God has promised us a future and promised us a place. God is a promise keeper. There is a story about an Armenian father who saved his son from the earthquake because he had promised his son, he would always be there for him. The Resurrection is God keeping his promise to be there for Jesus.
But the promise we follow does not always lead us to happy places and by easy roads. The Rev. Thompson uses the movie, Jesus of Montreal, to demonstrate how Jesus takes hold of our lives, gives us the promise of a future, links us with a great vision from the past, and leads us right into conflict with the world around us. The sermon concludes with a story Halford Luccock told of a small village in Maine that died because “Where there is no faith in the future, there is no power in the present.” The Resurrection is God keeping his promise to give us faith in the future and power in the present.
With all of the previous sermons going with the Resurrection theme, it makes the sermon by H. Louis Patrick, pastor of the Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC, given on the Protestant Hour, later published in the book Whispers of Light, all the more unique. Patrick was, without doubt one of the most moving and profound preachers in the 1970’s and 1980’s. His sermon was called Conceit and Grace. It is built on the text “Not I but the grace of God which was with me—By the grace of God, I am what I am.” Patrick begins by confessing that when he was young he idolized The Invisible Man. What a way to go. When enemies, trouble or conflict or difficulties happened, the invisible man could just fade away and nobody could get him.
Times change but new technology gave heroes invisible force shields to protect them. Just imagine the yardage you could gain in high school football with an invisible force shield. Patrick wanted protection from the slings and arrows of life. One of his friends suggested that we are protected by such a field, the grace of God. Patrick responded that the only way most people get through the tough places is by sheer conceit. The helmet of pride, the flak jacket of undauntable ego, the thigh pads of an unbreakable sense of self-worth and the shoes of self-confidence that never need polishing.
The world is a mean, hard place. Dog eat dog. Look out for number one. The predominant way we try to protect ourselves is with a great dose of self-confidence. But our self- confidence can not endure all the abuse it gets. But maybe there is Paul’s way. Not I, but the grace of God which was in Jesus Christ. Oh, Paul may have tried arrogance and conceit. We know he knew how to dish it out. But he soon discovered that it was only by Grace that kept him going. Patrick uses Buechner’s Bebb at the end of that story where Bebb says that Jesus was always picking him back up and putting him back in the fight. In the end it is not what we think about ourselves that gets us through. It is only by the grace, by what we think Jesus wants us to do that we can keep going. We may walk through the valley of the shadow of death and think we fear no evil because we are the “baddest dudes” in the valley, but there will always come someone mean and tougher, or we walk through the valley trusting that the grace of God in Jesus Christ is sufficient.
Rick Brand
First Presbyterian Church