Meadowbrook Congregational Christian Church
Raised in glory, by the Rev. Joel K. Boyd
Edited and formatted for publication by J. E. Tucker, MPH
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.
- 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.