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March 2022

Raised In Glory (2/20/22)

By | Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Christian Church

Raised in glory, by the Rev. Joel K. Boyd

Edited and formatted for publication by J. E. Tucker, MPH
2/20/2022

I Corinthians 15:35-38 & 42-50 (NRSV)1

35But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” 36Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. 38But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. 42So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. 43It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 44It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. 45Thus it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual. 47The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. 49Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven. 50What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.

 

It’s always important to know your audience. Wouldn’t you agree? If you were a standup comedian working the crowd at nightclubs, you’d likely be aware that your jokes will not be received the same way at clubs in various places around the country. And that’s just comedy clubs and comedy audiences. But think about how different it may feel to deliver the same joke to different age groups, urban or suburban venues, or even abroad, from one country to another. How might people react if you said the same jokes in every instance? Most likely in totally different ways. Why? Because people are unique and have different cultural, generational, religious, and political worldviews. We see things through different [lenses], even if our basic priorities may be the same or similar.

I’ll give you an example. But this one has more to do with physical space/location. I once gave a talk on some of the [Hebrew] prophets. The talk was given at two different churches: one large, traditional-looking with a high pulpit, and with pews at quite a distance, much more so than what we have here at Meadowbrook. The second church was more modern, with lots of glass windows, with no pulpit but rather a modest lectern with a contemporary look to it, and with a significantly more intimate setting where you were close to those in attendance seated in chairs instead of pews.

Now, remember this was the same talk. I didn’t change a single word. I didn’t even change attire or the way I delivered the talk.

So, picture me there, at the first, larger church, delivering this talk loudly, cast outward to people at a distance, using grand gestures, and dressed in a jacket and tie. People seemed to hear what I was saying. It appeared that the content was received by all who were present. And to top it off, I felt that the message was received. Kind of nice when we feel heard, right?

And then the second church, the contemporary one. While I knew the church and pastor, I somehow missed the whole casual attire memo and came way overdressed. A little awkward, but hey, no big deal, I’d survive. Then we begin the talk, and I realize how unbelievably close I am to everyone. It’s almost like if I gestured too broadly, I’d have mistakenly bopped somebody on the head. Also, my delivery was far too grand and emphatically projected. You’d think I was at the Coliseum when in reality folks were just a few feet in front of me. Not feeling there were many good options, I just pressed on, nearly tripping over the display behind me, while yelling out my talk, waving my hands around, and generally looking quite silly. The response? Well, people were interested, but I hope it was more about the prophets than the circus performance I just gave.

So, what happened here? What’s the deal? Why couldn’t this have worked out as I had planned? I neglected to consider and know my audience. Of course, the first talk went well. I walked into it fitting smoothly like a glove. While it’s not necessarily the case that the second one was a complete disaster, it seems clear that my misreading and ham-handed preparation failed to include the necessary adaptations that would enable the talk to be more successfully received by a distinctly different audience and setting.

Ok, so I’ll take myself off the hot seat for the moment here, and don’t worry—you don’t need to go in there, though I’d imagine many of you may empathize with such a mishap as I just described. No, I’d like to kick it over to the Apostle Paul.

In today’s reading from 1 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul is writing some pretty serious yet obscure-sounding stuff. “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.” “You do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain.” “What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable.” What is Paul talking about?

First, we acknowledge the intended audience. Paul is writing a letter to the church in the city of Corinth. Once a great Greek power, Corinth was subdued by the Romans in 146 [BCE].[a] Julius Caesar would later [reestablish] the city in 44 BCE, making it a Roman colony. With its Greco-Roman culture, Corinth both honored Greek traditions and wanted to deepen connections with the imperial Roman base.

Corinth was a mercantile giant known for its wealth stretching back ages. There was a large gap between the rich and the poor in Corinth. Rome was an honor/shame society, with great honor going to those who had honor and shame staying with those kept out. It was respectable to show mercy to the lower class but shameful to associate with them directly. It is in this culture that Paul writes [his first letter to the] Corinthians.

Paul covers many things in his letter to the church in Corinth, but in today’s passage, he speaks of something he holds high above the rest: resurrection, or the state of one rising from the dead.

At that time in the Church, there was a lot of confusion about the resurrection of those who had died. People believed in Jesus’s resurrection but weren’t sure what to make of how it all related to them. Some assumed that the same, present, body they had then, would be the one resurrected when Jesus returns. Paul dug deep and explained—albeit a challenging one. Our body is like a seed that is planted and then rises in full bloom as God so blesses it. Paul explains what he means further, saying that while our present bodies are of the earth like Adam, our resurrection bodies are heavenly like that of the resurrected Jesus, who is understood as the second Adam. One Adam falls while the other one rises. Our earthly bodies, while imperfect and corruptible, fall away. Yet, our heavenly bodies are uniquely perfected and incorruptible and rise. Each of us, blessed to be who we uniquely are, rises.

Paul speaks into that Greco-Roman honor/shame paradigm which the Corinthians see and recognize, showing how the earthly body would fall in dishonor, and the heavenly one would rise in glory. Again, this was a prestigious church in a culture that kept out the lowly, the disenfranchised. They would understand when Paul referenced dishonor and glory. But they may find themselves a bit caught up short, in having their eyes opened to who or what that dishonor and glory was about or who it was for.

In a time [when] glory is reserved for the emperor, one may expect shame to be with those under the empire. But Paul points again to God, saying how the dishonor is of the brokenness of this world, but the glory… the glory belongs to God. And what’s so interesting about that glory, is that it includes you.

“That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies,” Paul writes, “and that which you sow, you do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body just as He wished, and to each of the seeds a body of its own. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption, it is raised in corruption; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power.”

Whose power? Maybe some at the Corinthian church weren’t too sure. They thought about God, about Jesus, and the Church, but maybe there was a part of them—no small part of them—that still thought the power was the Empire’s. But God has a way of flipping expectations on end. The weakness is all that is broken in the world. The power is God’s.

So, you can see that if Paul wrote to that church in Corinth as if they were from somewhere else, or even from a different time, or culture… well, they might not even understand what he means to say. Maybe this is why the Holy Spirit works in us the way it does. For we are—each of us—one of a kind, and we must remember that not only did God bless that, but God made that.

The glory is not for those who seek false power that they may flaunt over others. The glory is God’s, and we are invited into it. All of us. May the Lord bless our hearts as we seek to serve and understand in the name of God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

  1. Society of Biblical Literature. The HarperCollins Study Bible: Fully Revised & Updated. (Meeks WA, Bassler JM, Lemke W, Niditch S, Schuller E, Attridge HW, eds.). HarperCollins; 2006.

 

[a] As corroborated by Polybius in the introduction to his Histories.

True love, tough love (2/13/22)

By | Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Church

True love, tough love, by the Rev. Joel K. Boyd

Edited & formatted for publication by J. E. Tucker, MPH

2/13/22

 

 

The Gospel According to Luke 6:17-26 (NRSV)1

 

17He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. 18They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them. 20Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. 24But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. 26Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.”

 

In today’s passage from the Gospel [According to] Luke, we witness the beginning of what has often been referred to as Jesus’s Sermon on the Plain or the plateau. Much like the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s [gospel] (Matt. 5-7), Jesus’s Sermon on the Plain includes teaching among crowds and disciples. While the Sermon on the Mount is quite vast, covering three whole chapters in Matthew’s [gospel], Luke’s Sermon on the Plain appears in just twenty-nine verses. In both cases, the sick were healed by Jesus. But it is interesting to note that where [the Matthean author] shows Jesus teaching among the crowd and his disciples, Luke’s [author] shows Jesus teaching among the crowd to the disciples.

Why would that be different? we wonder. Well, it’s worth reminding ourselves that the four Gospels were written to different audiences.2–5 Perhaps the authors felt it important to stress certain aspects of the good news over others. Not to suggest they were of less value, but because they stood out as something to highlight when engaging one group of people over another. Truth does not change, but the way we say it might. Have you ever tried to tell the same story to two different kinds of people? Then you know what I mean.

Biblical scholars have long studied the intended audiences and purposes of the Gospels. And while they may not always agree, it helps shed some light on our topic today to keep their observations in mind.

Scholars believe that the Gospel of Luke is the first component of a two-part work with the Book of Acts being the second.6,7 Luke is believed to have been written to engage Gentile Christians living in an urban area.8 Its purpose: to challenge and enable believers to be more devoted to the faith, especially its growth among the marginalized.

Where [the Lukan gospel] is intended for a Gentile Christian audience, Matthew’s is believed to have been written primarily for Jewish Christians,[a] though not exclusively.9,10 It is thought that Matthew’s purpose was to teach a church committed to mission among all people but [which had] internal divisions over Jewish [vs.] Gentile Christianity and [faced] external persecution.

In the passage from the Sermon on the Plain we have today, we witness the inclusion of four beatitudes. Though like those found in Matthew (who lists more than twice as many), Luke’s beatitudes conclude with something quite different: woes. That’s right, woes.

Again, let’s remember that Jesus specifically addresses these words towards his disciples and not to everyone there. So, looking directly at his disciples, he teaches both these beatitudes and these woes. Before we think these were his longtime buddies or childhood friends, we should keep in mind that it was only a few verses prior that Jesus named the Twelve.

While there had been more disciples added over time (yet not much time), Jesus had only just chosen his Twelve Apostles. Luke shows how the apostles, being part of the crowd of his disciples, accompanied Jesus as he healed a great many people from all over. And yet, at the moment of speaking the words of blessing, the beatitudes, he looks at his disciples. He doesn’t look at everyone in the crowd—though we might guess they could hear at least some of what He was saying. Jesus doesn’t even look at his apostles—the Twelve who had only just recently been singled out for their special roles in Jesus’ ministry. No, as curious as it may be to us, Jesus did not direct these beatitudes at everybody, nor did he direct them at only his select few of the faith. What Jesus did was to speak to all his disciples.

Friends, it can, of course, be quite easy to make more of something than there is there. But when it comes to the Gospel, God has a way of inviting us into every detail in every corner of the good news. Each one sparkles with teachings and opportunities to be drawn into God’s word. So, let’s accept that invitation here in our passage from Luke’s [gospel].

Picture yourself there on that day, when Jesus spoke the words, heard the prayers, and healed the pain, the disease. Let’s say you’re a disciple; not part of the crowd that has gathered from all around. Maybe you’re not one of the Twelve, so what. Depending on how close you were and if you could hear all that well, you might have been a little jealous when they were selected, but then again, maybe you were a bit relieved.

So, imagine your surprise when, suddenly, Jesus looks at you and says,

 

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.”

 

You may have a moment here to think. Luke doesn’t state how quickly Jesus continues, but perhaps you have been thinking in your head as Jesus was speaking. How does he know I’m poor? Can he truly mean that I belong to God’s kingdom? How is that even possible? Or another disciple you know, just a few feet from where you stand, turns to you, and whispers, my family has had very little to eat since I’ve been gone. We’ve seen Jesus heal. Do you think he could really feed my family? Still, someone stands behind you. You can almost hear him shaking his head as Jesus speaks. Phew! He says as he folds his arms. Starting to walk away, he sneers at you, saying through his teeth, you believe this stuff? How are we blessed when someone hates us? You offer an awkward-yet-nervously-polite Yeah, well…

 

“But woe to you who are rich,” Jesus continues, “for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.”

 

You quickly turn back toward Jesus as you hear the rushing footsteps of that disgruntled guy as he runs off, kicking up his dust as he goes.

Couldn’t he deal with it, that guy? He certainly seemed fine until a few minutes ago. He’d come along with your group of disciples as you followed Jesus out here. Anyway, you shake it off and get focused on Jesus, still mulling over what he had said about the blessings all those in need will receive. If he’s right, you think, and I hope he is, then the only one who could do that is God. That’s got to be it. The empire always makes things worse. Look at Herod! They tell us their truth, but it’s all just lies. They don’t care about us. God cares about us. God is the only one who could do this because God loves us like no other.

As a disciple of Jesus, we are followers of Jesus. So, it may not always be the first thing we think about to see that Jesus speaks directly to us in scripture. Sometimes we can focus so much on doing his work that we don’t hear what Jesus is saying to us as his disciples.

In Luke’s beatitudes and woes, we see two sides of the same theological coin. Speaking to his disciples in need directly, Jesus encourages them by teaching that God’s truth is the most real for them, as it is for all of God’s people. Jesus teaches that those who are impoverished, hungry, and full of sorrow, will see their needs met in God’s Kingdom. You see, God does not give, does not love as the world loves. The world gives to any who can afford it, too often to those who don’t need it. It loves only those who buy into its myths, its cultural liturgies. The world also loves only when you can perform to its expectations. As soon as you falter, you’re on the outs. But with God, it’s an entirely different story; practically the opposite. God loves us for who we are; God made us in God’s image after all. God calls us all to share our unique talents, and so God is glorified in our living out our many, diverse calls. God loves us so much that God wants to be with us. This was the case in the Garden [of Eden], and was the case with all the covenants, kings, prophets, and faithful people of Hebrew scripture. And still, while you would think that anyone or anything would just write us off because we’re not useful to them, God persists in love for us, and Jesus became incarnate by the Holy Spirit to dwell among us. While the world leaves us, God always comes to us.

So, God’s love is true. God’s love is lasting. The world’s is false and is fleeting. But true love doesn’t always mean it’s easy.

Still speaking to you, as that contemplative disciple in the crowd, Jesus tells you, firmly, of the harsh, flipside of the coin. While on one side there is a great blessing for those who are marginalized, on the other side there is great woe for those who have all they could ever want yet still oppress others.

What should we expect of all which is false, a lie, a sham? How could any of it possibly lead us where we should go, where God calls us to go? Indeed, these woes may sound harsh, and they may be harsh. But the only way to overturn a lie is with the truth. And the only way to fully bring the truth out is with love. God shares these tough words of woe out of love for us, not out of a need to scare us or to make us feel bad. If God wanted to, God could easily do so, right? So, here we have tough love from our true God.

It may not be the Valentine’s Day present you wanted, but you can be sure, it’s the one that will always last.

So why would Jesus say these words to us as opposed to the whole crowd? Maybe for Luke, it was more important to highlight, given that Gentile Christians would not have considered themselves as being on the inside, not nearly in the way that most of Matthew’s Jewish Christians would have, anyway. Kind of interesting, isn’t it? Here in Luke, it’s almost as if we already see ourselves included among those in the kingdom. We’ve all been invited to the party. Jesus is so happy to see us there that he’s handed out Valentines, just for you. Then he, quick, tosses over some of those candy hearts to you. Like flipping a coin, you read the back: Be Mine.

Amen.

References:

  1. Society of Biblical Literature. The HarperCollins Study Bible: Fully Revised & Updated. (Meeks WA, Bassler JM, Lemke W, Niditch S, Schuller E, Attridge HW, eds.). HarperCollins; 2006.
  2. Collins AY. Mark and His Readers: The Son of God among Jews. Harvard Theological Review. 1999;92(4):393-408. doi:10.1017/S0017816000017740
  3. Luz U. Matthew 1-7: A Commentary. (Koester H, ed.). Fortress Press; 2007.
  4. Méndez H. Did the Johannine Community Exist? Journal for the Study of the New Testament. 2020;42(3):350-374. doi:10.1177/0142064X19890490
  5. Levine AJ. Luke and the Jewish Religion. Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology. 2014;68(4):389-402. doi:10.1177/0020964314540107
  6. Bird MF. The Unity of Luke-Acts in Recent Discussion. Journal for the Study of the New Testament. 2007;29(4):425-448.
  7. Gregory A. The Reception of Luke and Acts and the Unity of Luke–Acts. Journal for the Study of the New Testament. 2007;29(4):459-472.
  8. Smith DA. The Jewishness of Luke–Acts: Locating Lukan Christianity Amidst the parting of the Ways. The Journal of Theological Studies. Published online November 6, 2021. doi:10.1093/jts/flab068
  9. Conway-Jones A. The New Testament: Jewish or Gentile? The Expository Times. 2019;130(6):237-242. doi:10.1177/0014524618812672
  10. Ehrman B. The Jewish Emphases of Matthew’s Gospel: Part 3. The Bart Ehrman Blog: The History & Literature of Early Christianity. Published online June 13, 2013.
  11. Fredriksen P. When Christians Were Jews: The First Generation. Yale University Press; 2019.

 

[a] For a great introduction to Jewish Christianity, I suggest Paula Fredriksen’s When Christians Were Jews.11