Sermon Ideas For 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 Part 7
The season of Epiphany is associated with missions. We emphasize the role of Jesus revealing God to the world, beginning with the Wise Ones from the East. In today’s Gospel lesson Jesus recruits disciples to help him carry his message to the world. The call to follow echoes Isaiah experience of hearing God ask, “Whom shall I send?” and then responding, “Here am I. Send me.”
If the lessons from Isaiah and Luke have to do with recruiting messengers for God, the Psalm for the day (138:2b) and the Epistle reading have to do with the content of that message. In First Corinthians Paul is concerned to remind the Church of the Good News in which it stands; namely that Christ died for its sins, and was resurrected in accordance with the scriptures.
On a pastoral level, this could be a good day to preach on the relationship between the universal and the specific. The scriptures see a universal problem in sin, and a universal solution in Christ whose life, death, and resurrection saved us from our sins, granting us the atonement or at-one-ment that overcame our separation from God. The shorthand for this salvific action is “grace.” Paul confesses (1 Cor 15:10), “by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain.”
While we as pastors affirm these great universals of the faith, we also know that grace comes to each person specifically, and that there is a great plurality of people in any one congregation or denomination. There is also plurality throughout our scriptures this morning. Grace came to Isaiah, Peter, Paul, James, the apostles, and the five hundred in highly specific ways. So, when Christians affirm together the atonement of Christ for their sins, that affirmation is at a high level of universality, what some psychologists refer to as “surface structure.” If we inquire into what these general words mean to particular followers, we discover more specific “deep structures.” The plurality of deep structures reveals how Christ’s grace can minister to highly individual hopes and fears. It also explains how there can be strife and division within congregations when people use the same language with different meanings. Thus, it is not just a nicety but a necessity that pastors understand plurality and help their congregations affirm that the universals of the Good News of the Gospel appropriately come to individuals in highly specific ways.
One person who has offered an excellent five-part typology of how people live out of different psycho-spiritual experiences of sin, grace, and atonement is W. Paul Jones in his book Theological Worlds. A thumbnail sketch of his Worlds follows.
Those of us in Jones’ World Five have a lived question in relation to life itself, because it is characterized by so much pain and suffering. We feel overwhelmed, like victims of abuse. Sin for us means separating from God by turning off, and giving into the meaninglessness of life’s struggles. The corresponding salvation we seek is that of being able to endure and survive with integrity. Christ is most meaningful to us as a suffering servant and companion whose love gives us the grace and longsuffering to persevere and remain faithful to the end, empowered to stand with the rejected.
In World Four our lived question has more to do with a guilty, demonic sense of sin which renders us powerless to deal with our idolatry and addictions. Sin is a perverse, ego-centered condition that colors everything before we even act. The atonement we crave is to be given a reprieve by the Judge who alone is righteous, and adopted back into God’s family solely by grace. We need Jesus to be a Savior/Redeemer whose love forgives and justifies the unworthy, granting us new birth.
The issue for those of us in World Three revolves around a sense of emptiness we feel from being insignificant and excluded. Our sin has to do with living in an impotent, self-alienated way that keeps us from fulfilling the potential God has given us. The salvation we seek is for God to transform our separation and estrangement into wholeness and belonging. Jesus becomes crucial to us as an example of modeling trust in God, whose supportive, encouraging love fills us to overflowing, enabling us to grow in grace toward the holiness of wholeness and perfect compassion.
In World Two the problem that tears at us is history with all the evil that invades and oppresses the peace and justice of God’s Realm on earth. We carry the anger and rage of Warriors for God who see the hurts, and want to sign up on God’s side to make things right. Our sinful temptation is to become indifferent, and compromise too quickly with the crushing forces of evil. The epiphany we require needs to come from God bringing about a New Kingdom and a New Earth. We look to Christ to be a Messiah who liberates through combating evil, whose grace and love takes the part of the poor.
Those of us in World One have an issue with the universe, the cosmos itself. We live with a sense of longing that comes from feeling separated and isolated in its vastness. We are tempted to wonder if the opaqueness and mystery of life means that there is no God or place to call home. Our sin prevents us from risking communion with the unknown. We need a graceful epiphany-experience of coming home to the unity and harmony of God’s luminous presence that sometimes feels like a full-emptiness. Here, Jesus is especially important as a teacher, revealer, and evoker whose love tears the veil between God and the world, and leads us into being known and welcomed home.
In all, many different needs, hopes, fears, and ways to sin separate us from God. A universal grace through Christ is sufficient for every specific need. How great God is.
Gregory J. Johanson
The Hakomi Institute