A Lutheran Says What?

Sermons and random thoughts on God, the world and the intersection of the two

“Now What?” 1 Corinthians 15: 1-26, 51-57, May 4th, 2016 Narrative Lectionary May 7, 2016

We have a saying in our house that gets used in a multitude of different situations. We’ve been known to say it when we’re on vacation and are between exciting adventures. We’ve said it when we’re in the process of fixing something and it’s not going according to the YouTube video. We’ve said it when we don’t know what to do next with parenting, our vocations, or even health issues. Perhaps by now you have guessed our phrase: “Now What?” It does most often get said in a sense of irony or amusement but there are times when this question for us has been quite profound. It is always said in relationship to something not going quite according to our plan or when we know that we don’t have a good plan going forward. The astonishing thing that Mike and I have noticed every time we’ve asked this question is that the situations have (so far) worked out somehow. Not always how we envisioned it or wanted it to be, but always, always, even when the “now what” is answered with exactly what we don’t want, always answered with God preparing us for the next step, even though it might be a step into the unknown and unexpected. I highly doubt that our family has the corner market on this question either. I’m sure that if I polled this group of all ages, you have all asked yourself or someone else, “Now What?”

We like to know what’s coming next, what we should do, what choices should we make, what will the future hold, what certainty can we count on? Sometimes this question holds excitement and possibilities and sometimes it holds sorrow and fear. “Now what?” reveals for us the reality that we can’t see into the future with any real predictability or clarity and the best we’ve got is questions and some experience of the past. In some situations, that’s enough, but often we want more.

In this part of the letter to the people of Corinth, Paul addresses the “Now What?” that they are asking. We’ve heard the story Paul, now what? We know that Jesus is resurrected, now what? We know that we don’t understand it all, now what? It’s tricky, and Paul has already dealt with so many misconceptions and issues with this fledgling church. He’s told them that Jesus is found in the hard places of our lives, offered that the cross is God’s wisdom in a world that sees it as foolishness. Paul has told them that radical, counter cultural unity is at the heart of God’s community. Paul has told them that all are equal at the banquet that Jesus lays out, Paul has talked extensively about love, not love as the world gives but love that only Christ can give: love that is unconditional, unending and self-sacrificing. He’s laid out for them the story of what God has done, what God is doing and now he turns his attention to what God promises to continue to do in our lives and in creation forever.

You see, the Corinthians were confused. They had been told that Christ would return and they all assumed that it would be imminent…yet saints, apostles and other important leaders in this nascent movement were beginning to die. If these witnesses to Jesus’ ministry were dying before seeing Christ return, what did that mean for them, newbies to the community? What did it mean that they were struggling with getting along and understanding all that they had heard and seen? They didn’t have a long-term strategic plan for Jesus not returning immediately. This was not what they had envisioned. Now what?

It’s tricky for Paul, as he’s living in the “now what” too. Now what indeed? People are dying, we don’t know what’s next, what’s the plan? What’s God’s plan? When we don’t understand something we fill in the gaps ourselves. We make up a story that we can latch on to and we do grasp it with every fiber of our being, even if it’s not that helpful a story. The Corinthians were filling in the gaps of what happens when they die and this is still true today. Does our soul drift skyward like Casper the ghost? Do we become shapeless globs of spirit only? Do we become young and beautiful again? Do we stay in our graves yet able to know what’s going on around us? Are we more like zombies? If we’re cremated can we be resurrected? When does this resurrection thing happen? Immediately? What we refer to as the “last day”? There are as many ideas about the afterlife as there are people sitting in this room, I suspect. We wonder about this, if we’re honest, we worry about this. We’re scared of death. We’re scared to death about death.  We get so preoccupied with what happens when we die, that we, like the Corinthians, forget to live.

Paul is clear that we are baptized in the DEATH and RESURRECTION of Jesus Christ. Both! Yes, we will share in a death like his, but we also share in a resurrection like his! God will do a new thing with us too! Paul doesn’t give us a step by step instruction manual on how this resurrection thing works, because that’s not what’s important. What’s important and his response to the “now what” is God’s promise to transform our death into life, God’s promise that in our grave, we are not alone, in pain or in sorrow. Paul in 1 Corinthians as in Romans 8 tells us that God promises that there is nothing that separates us from the life and love of God through Jesus Christ.

This is not just the “now what” response about what happens when we die, though. It’s the response on our lives as well! If the promise is that God doesn’t let death be the final answer to our lives, then God can transform and bring new life from any circumstance no matter how impossible it seems, then isn’t this good news for today. This free us to be bold with how we live our lives in this good news that transformation of any situation in our lives and the world is all in God’s power. How will you live your life knowing that God frees you from not just physical and earthly death, but death from our sins, death from our egos, death from our selfishness, death from our personal agendas, death from disunity, death from loneliness, death from whatever is keeping you from being all who God created you to be for the sake of telling the world about Jesus Christ? How will we engage our neighbor differently? Now what?

“Now what,” is that we are truly freed to be one people, gathered in this promise of new life, not just someday by and by but right here, right now. Freed to live your life for the gospel. Freed to risk inviting those who make us uncomfortable to worship, freed to risk being generous with our time, our gifts and our material resources, and freed to risk reckless and boundary crossing love for those who our society deems unlovable. “Now what,” is that no matter what you are caught in the promises of God that were splashed on you at baptism, that you ingest at the table, and that you live out each and every day in simple or more complex ways. “Now what,” is that God says no matter what happens to you today or tomorrow, God’s got you. God will be there. God will transform sorrow into joy, pain into wholeness and death into life-real life now and forever. Amen.

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God’s Embraces Us For Wholeness, New Life and Liberation, Act 4: 5-12 April 26, 2015

Are you all familiar with Ted Talks? If not Google them! Mike forwarded me one that was going around his work this week and it really resonated with me. It was given by a fairly young man, well younger than me anyway, https://www.youtube.com/embed/YrZTho_o_is“>Phil Hansen, who talked about his journey as an artist. He was an artist in school and couldn’t wait to graduate, get some sort of a stable job and the THEN be able to afford many high quality art supplies to pursue his craft. He assumed that he needed just the right stuff to be a true artist. His main focus was the genre of pointillism, in which a series of tiny dots creates images. During art school, he developed a tremor in his hand. Being young, he ignored it until it was interfering and for all practicable purposes, stopping him from being an artist. He hoped it would go away and he could return to his art. After three years of not creating at all and being in deep depression, he finally went to a neuro-specialist who told him that the damage was permanent. Despondent, he asked the doctor what to do, he is an artist who does pointillism, after all. The doctor answered him: Embrace the Shake.

Now his income was greatly reduced so there was no money for art supplies. Plus he could not do anything that required fine motor skills. He recalls early in his entry back into art that he was at Starbucks and remembered that you can ask for an extra cup, so he wondered can you ask for 50? Turns out yes, he got 50 coffee cups and created an image using a pencil to draw on the stacked cups. He began to wonder what else could he do large scale and cheap or free? He embraced his shake. He created with his feet, karate chops with the side of his hands, painting images on his torso, even creating art out of partially chewed food. Instead of waiting for something that may or may not happen, waiting for enough money, or waiting for his shaking to stop, he discovered that his limitation was the ultimate liberation. He was no longer bound by his own focused perspective. By embracing his shake, he tapped into what made him whole, his creativity was not limited to pointillism, but could be unleashed in all sorts of ways even though his hand shook. He began his journey back into art, revealing that working through, with and in his “limitation,” his was liberated for so much more than he had ever imagined. He started living a new story of a new life while embracing his shake.

We all have limitations and often we let them define who we are and what we do. We think about all the things that we can’t do or won’t ever do again. We know some people such as Phil Hanson, who seem to live into the transformation, but that seems more rare than typical to us. But our passage from Acts 4 today is all about limitation being ultimate liberation and what this transformation proclaims about the promises of God. This text is towards the end of the story begun last week; Peter healing the man who couldn’t walk. The man who couldn’t walk was limited; he had few choices in his life. He was also cut off from community with his uncleanness of being disabled. So he went to Solomon’s Portico to beg for money and the kindness of others. He did what he could with his limitations. Peter and John walked by and heard his cry for help. Peter and John had their own limitations. They were wrestling with how to live in post-resurrection, how to not provoke the authorities anymore than they already had,  a complete lack of material and financial resources as well as their own doubts, faith, and wonderings.

So when Peter came upon this man, he had nothing to offer him but the name of the one who lives in the midst of our limitations and liberates us for something more-Jesus. To those looking on, this would have been incredulous. After all, what this man really needs is money, food and a place to live. But Peter embraced this man’s ailment and offered him a new way to live. Peter creatively offered him the wholeness of life in the life-giving name of Jesus. Both Peter and the man’s response was to immediately acknowledge that this event was all God; God’s word of liberation from limitation versus the world’s word of bondage to limitations. God’s word to the man was one of being made whole, wholly into the community and wholly who he was as a child of God. This got the attention of those that the disciples were trying to avoid. After speaking to the crowds, Peter and John were arrested and then brought up before the rulers, both the civil and religious authorities.

We catch up to this story today with Peter once again telling the story of how God’s creativity transformed what the world saw as a limitation, Jesus’ death on a cross, into ultimate liberation and wholeness of life. God embraced and still embraces all of the limitations of the world, humanity and all of creation. God embraced the shakes if you will to transform death into life, separation into radical wholeness of self and community and the messiness into beauty. And this embrace for transformation is for all people, all times and places. When Peter states in verse 12: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved,” it’s not an exclusive statement but one of mind-blowing, radical inclusivity. Even those considered unclean and untouchable are made whole in God’s embrace!

In our culture, we tend to think of “being saved” as an act that requires us to also do something:  if we believe enough, if we are good enough and follow all of the rules, then Jesus will save us on some judgment day in the future. It’s the sense that being saved is not a here and now event in which we are unconditionally included, but more of a “someday, my prince will come if I follow the proper procedure” concept. And when we pray about being saved, we also tend to think of it in a being rescued sort of way. Fix this now, Jesus! We think, like the young man with the shake in his hand, when this is fixed, then I can go on. But that is not what salvation actually means. The word translated into salvation in English is not about rescue per se but being restored and made whole, not just someday, but also here and now, today and every day from the beginning of time to when Jesus returns. Each day is about God’s salvation being revealed every day in large and small ways as evidenced in the scripture text this morning and in our daily lives. God’s salvation for the man who was disabled was more than his physical healing (although we get fixated on that) but about being pulled into God’s wholeness of life and community, not necessarily being removed away from something but God pulling us towards new life with God. God proclaims that all people, no matter what, are now included fully into the resurrection life of Jesus.

We look at our everyday lives and see our shakes. We look at our ministry here at LCM and maybe only see our shaky limitations. We see not enough money, not enough people, not enough time, not enough whatever…But God sees our shakes and embraces us, shakes and all, for new life and a new story with God. God sees our limitations through God’s eyes of creativity and ultimate liberation. How does that reality change how we go about our decision making and ministry here at LCM? How does that change how we care and walk together as the people of God?

God is pulling us, and all of creation, into God’s salvation each and every day. God is pulling us into wholeness, restoration, new life and ultimate liberation-we are free! Free to be creative about proclaiming what God is up to in our lives and in the world. We are free to not let limitations make our decisions but free to follow God’s creative activity among us. We see signs of this liberation, wholeness and restoration all around us. Look at you neighbor-they are a sign of God’s creativity. We have ordinary things among us that remind us that we have a restoring and creative God-God creatively uses water to gather us in as one people, bread and wine that creatively proclaims Christ is among us and meets us here and now with promises of love, grace, mercy, new life and HOPE! God creatively raised Jesus from the tomb and liberated us from the limitation of death and separation. God embraces us for new life, wholeness and liberation-shakes and all.  Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!