Sometimes I can get a bit cynical. Not often, and usually, not for long. It is just that when I am tired of fighting battles I thought were settled, and hearing arguments that arise out of shallow thinking and biblical illiteracy, I can get cynical.
That is not original with me. And I wonder if even Paul faced it at times. Perhaps in Corinth. The entirety of the letter of First Corinthians is filled with a degree of tension that raises the likelihood that Paul experienced genuine frustration with this church.
And yet, here in the final portion of the letter to this obviously troubled church, Paul patiently, but with clarity, calls the church to remembrance, to a return to the truths he had poured into them during the year and a half he had spent with them in the earliest days of their exposure to the Gospel.
Their beginning days of encounter with the gospel were fraught with danger, and conflict with Jewish leaders in the synagogue resulted in Paul’s declaration that he would no longer concentrate his work among the Jews but would turn to the Gentiles. Even so, the Jewish leaders stirred up opposition, even bringing him before Gallio, the Roman proconsul of the region of Achaia.
However, Paul and his amazing cadre of workers (Acts 18) established the work in Corinth through the faithful presentation of the Gospel. They poured themselves into the church in Corinth, teaching, admonishing, making disciples, and establishing the Church of Jesus Messiah in that bustling Roman center.
But the Church of Jesus, then and now, is vulnerable to the influence of the culture surrounding it, the influences at work within the church, and the memory of what it really means to be a follower of Jesus. In the interim between Paul’s leaving Corinth and the writing of this letter to the we call 1 Corinthians, something had happened to distract, disrupt, and corrupt the church. Paul wrote to challenge his friends, the people of the church, to correct both their behavior and their beliefs.
The focus of this passage for Epiphany 5B is one of the main points toward which Paul called the church in Corinth to consider. He made it clear that this was not an incidental matter. Their confusion regarding the Resurrection of Jesus and the implications of that truth for their redemption was a major concern for Paul. If we get the resurrection “wrong,” if we miss its centrality to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we miss out on the whole purpose of the Gospel: our salvation. It is not too strong to say that Paul insists that if you get this part wrong, everything falls apart.
Note that Paul insists that this is the heart of the message he had preached to them. During the one and a half to two years he spent in Corinth, with all his colleagues in ministry (Timothy, Sosthenes, Priscilla, Aquila, and later, Apollos), this had been the point: “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve” (1 Cor. 15:3-5). “He appeared . . . and he appeared . . . and he appeared.” Paul could not lay it down. This is central to the message. The Resurrection is not an afterthought. It is not a peripheral aspect of the message. It is at the heart of the Gospel presentation. Jesus was raised from the dead.
Paul makes clear that this is not just his idea. It has come down to him. It was “received,” and therefore of necessity, was passed on to them.
In a time when the necessity, the validity of the Gospel is under serious question in an increasingly secular culture, we must find a way to communicate this fact: Belief in the Resurrection is not an optional dimension of the Gospel. This is creedal. This is substantial to the credibility of the message. It may not be easy to preach, it may not land easily on the ears of the hearers, and it may seem inconsequential to the demands for “proof.” But, says Paul: “This is the Gospel I preached to you, and you received it. You took a stand on it, check out www.homeconcierge.ie. What I received I passed on to you as having first importance – Jesus died and was raised.”
In Acts 17, Paul spoke before the Areopagus. They listened attentively to him, fascinated by this “new teaching.” He was eloquent, and they were fascinated. But when he began to speak to them about the resurrection of the dead, “some of them sneered.” Not much has changed. Paul had just come from that experience in Athens when he arrived in Corinth for the first time. Their sneers had not deterred him. He continued to preach the Resurrection.
This is the simple reality on which the Gospel of Jesus Christ stands. It is important for us as ministers, as pastors, as proclaimers of the Word to remind the people of our churches that this is what has formed them. In the press of other “isms” and of competing empires and narratives, this is still the core of the Gospel. While the desire for relevance can distract us and create a sense of angst that we seem to be speaking to people in our own churches who are more shaped by the cultural narrative than the narrative of the Kingdom, we stand before them in part to remind them that this is our story. This is our “truth,” and we dare not forget it. Sometimes we all, clergy and laity alike, need to be confronted with the simple and straightforward reminder that “Christ died for our sins, and was raised.”