Sermon Ideas For 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 Part 2
In the midst of despair, hope is difficult to maintain. In fact, in times of depression, anxiety, and crisis, it is all but impossible to find. For the person trapped in an abusive marriage, the person finding it all but impossible to function because of depression, the survivor of sexual abuse, the exhausted parents of an acting out adolescent, the cancer patient facing the end of life in pain, hope is frequently absent.
In 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, Paul reminds his readers that hope is grounded in Resurrection. He begins by reminding his readers of the basics of the gospel, implying perhaps that in difficult times it is all too easy to forget. He reminds them of the death and resurrection of Christ, citing the evidence of the Old Testament scriptures, and the numerous eye witnesses to the resurrection. He notes the appearance of Christ to Peter, to the 12, and then to the more than 500 witnesses. Paul understood the human tendency to forget, and to lose both hope and focus. He knew that when the object of faith is not central, it is easy to lose one's bearings. Thus he begins with a reminder of the basics of the gospel to those at Corinth who may have lost focus and were beginning to be confused. To be centered means to get back to basics.
Too often we have the capacity to view our experience through a skewed lens shaped by our latest problem, resulting in a total loss of focus. For example, Jim and Lisa, a married couple in their thirties, reported in a marital counseling session that their vacation was a disaster marked by constant fighting, further proof that their marriage was in deep trouble. They sat with expressions of total despair, stating that they felt doubtful about the future of their relationship. When I explored with them in a little more detail what had gone wrong on their vacation, I found that they had had a fierce argument on the way home over which exit to get off the freeway, resulting in an escalating interaction over who had the ability to read maps. However, after further exploration, it became clear that most of the vacation had gone extremely well, and the only real conflict occurred on the way home! All too often, Lisa and Jim's experience typifies our own experience. Our immediate problems and crises cause us to lose hope and frequently lose perspective on the whole picture. Once focus is lost, it is easy to spiral down into despair.
Some of the newer psychotherapies, such as Solution Focused Therapy, focus on the construction and usage of language. A common technique which they utilize is called the "exception question." In this technique a therapist may ask a couple who report constant fighting about the exceptions, that is the times they do not fight. For example, "Both of you seem to be fighting some of the time. But I wonder, when do you not fight? Can you describe those times that you get along with each other?" When the couple can identify good times, the therapist can then explore what they did differently during those times to cause things to go more smoothly, and how they can do more of it in the future. They key is to find exceptions, and find out what was done differently during those times. The same technique was used with a woman suffering from depression. The solution focused therapist helps her focus on those times when she is not depressed, and what she does during those times, and tries to help her to do more of those things. For example, she may report that when she is less depressed, she gets up and works out with a friend, even though she does not feel like it, and then plans activities for the weekend so that she will not be alone. By doing more of these things, she may find that she is less depressed, and has more energy to deal with underlying problems.
While obviously there are limitations to these solution focused techniques, they underscore the need for focus and remembering those things which build strength and focus. They underscore how easy it is to lose hope and focus, and drift into despair, due to focusing on the wrong things.
Paul understands the need to be focused in the right place. He understands too well the human tendency to lose sight of hope, and even to use language in such a way as to spiral down into despair. For this reason Paul reminds his readers how important it is to stay focused on the central hope of the Christian faith--Resurrection. Resurrection serves not only as a statement of Christ's triumph over death, but also as a symbol of hope in the worst times of despair. It serves as a profound example of the possibility of new beginnings, and of the potential for not only new life after death, but new life before death. It displays the possibility of the totally unexpected taking place, in the most depressing of all circumstances.
The text offers the preacher the opportunity to identify the human tendency to be swallowed up in despair and to lose both hope and focus. It allows for empathic identification with what those in the pew experience and what is all too common to our own experience: broken marriages, the alienation of dysfunctional families, depression, anxiety, and illness. The text offers the opportunity to speak to the question that many are even afraid to ask: Is there hope? The resounding answer of the text is that by going back to the basics there is, in fact, hope and that the reality of the resurrection is the foundation of that hope.