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1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Good morning, church. Christ is risen! And because he is risen, we have hope for new life. Please go with me, if you will, to 1 Corinthians 15, and we’re about to read starting in v.1. If you want to use one of our bibles, just raise your hand, and someone will bring one to you.

New life! If I were to distill Christianity into two words, those may be the words. New life—thriving, restored, abundant life with Jesus—is the hope of it all. In Genesis, at the very beginning of the Bible, one of the first things we find out about the God of Christianity is that he is a gardener, and what pleases him most is to make beautiful spaces and fill them with new life, green, running, springing up from the ground, and we still celebrate Easter in this time of the year when new life cries out like an infant from every corner of the earth and demands to be picked up, embraced. God, who needed nothing and no one, out of sheer delight, created everything and everyone. From Genesis to Revelation, the hope of Christianity is that Jesus will make all things new.

One of my favorite prayers is e.e. Cummings praising God for this new life. He says,
“I thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes”

New life is at the center of everything we believe, and the resurrection of Jesus is the core of that center. Whether or not you believe in the resurrection of Jesus, you should want to believe it. The brilliant philosopher Rénee Descartes decided to doubt everything he had ever known or been taught—this is before we millennials made that cool—and he wrote his famous work, Pensees, from a place of absolute doubt, but in the end he decided some things were undoubtedly true. He decided he could not doubt his own existence. His famous “I think, therefore I am” statement, which is also a fabulous Billie Eilish song, Alana, am I right? But even doubting everything else, intentionally doubting religion and everything he’s been told of God, Descartes said another thing he could not doubt, even though he tried, was his own desire for God. He determined, God could not be proved, and belief in him is a matter of faith, but his desire for God was indubitable.

And I know exactly what he means. There have been many times in my life I’ve doubted God, doubted what I’ve been told about him, doubted his love for me, but what I’ve always known is my desire for someone who knows me entirely and yet loves all of me, someone who can do more than I can do to change the world, even to change me in all the ways I most desperately need to be changed—so it’s not left to me to try to be good enough or effective enough to turn back all of the sad things in my life and in the world.

And even if I intentionally doubt everything else, another thing I can’t doubt even for a moment is that I want death to be undone. Death and shame. I know we tell each other platitudes about death being natural, and they’re in a better place, but that’s all nonsense and we all know it. I long for resurrection, and you do, too. I long to be made new. Everyone I’ve lost, I want to see them again—they can’t just be gone. I want sickness to finally end, and war to be a distant memory. I want peace and justice together. I want life to be made new. I want a world in which dawn always, always breaks the night and where even true stories have happy endings. As Lewis writes, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” Resurrection, new life, that sunrise changes everything.

Resurrection and a world made new is something we all long for. Descartes, one of the most brilliant philosophers in history, tells us, our longing isn’t really in question. But will you allow yourself this morning to believe it’s actually true? Will you allow yourself to believe that if we find in ourselves a longing, like hunger, there must be some real thing, some spiritual food in the world that satisfies our desire? Will you allow yourself to believe the world actually is beautiful and good, that all the seasons of this earth, all the sunrises, all the stories and fairytales have been telling you something true: that in the end good wins over evil, and all the sad things come untrue? What if, in spite of all of the pain and sadness of this world, in spite of all of the failures and hypocrisies of churches and Christians you’ve known—what if in spite of all of that, the gospel of Jesus Christ rising from the dead is actually good news?

1 Corinthians, chapter 15. Let’s stand, if you’re able, and we’ll read it together. [1 Cor 1:1-11] This is the word of the Lord; thanks be to God. Please be seated. Pray with me, briefly.

Frederick Beuchner writes “the gospel is always tragedy before it is good news,” and that is as true in our passage as it is in our own lives. The good news of Easter is that Christ is risen, and because he is risen all of the deathly things in your life, your life itself, if you hear him calling to you, all of you can rise out of whatever tomb you find yourself in, and you can live, too in this life and the next. The tragedy you have to understand, first, though, is in vs. 3 and 4. Christ died for our sins, and he was buried. Jesus, left eternal joy, intentionally. He entered into our all-too-common human story of death, loss, and shame. God loved the world enough that he came into it to save it, to allow anyone who would to enter eternity with him, and we killed him. That’s tragic.

Just like the good news this morning, the tragedy of this world includes you, it includes me. The word sin Paul uses in the passage, it means falling short of what was meant to be. I had so many intentions in my life, dreams, goals, aspirations, and I’ve fallen short of so many of them. We try to comfort each other by pointing out we’re all in the same boat. We’ve all done things we regret, and other people in the world have done wrong to all of us—but y’all! What comfort is it that we’re all in the same situation if the situation is deplorable? If we’re all in the same boat, and boat is sinking, doesn’t that mean we all need a rescuer now? We all need someone to come and draw us up out of that water? I don’t want to settle for broken. That’s tragic, when people fall and then just give up, stay down in life. I don’t want that. What I want is love and forgiveness. In those honest moments when I can admit that part of the problem with the world is me, what I want is rescue.

Because I know, and you know, that some of the fault lines in our lives we, on our own, will not be able to mend. Some of the broken relationships we won’t be able to reconcile, the loss and the regret is irrecoverable—unless. Unless death can be undone. Unless shame can be undone. Unless one day the truth of everything is known and the people who hurt us won’t be able to hide behind excuses. Unless we can be fully known and still fully loved in Christ. God is our creator, and like every craftsman he created us with a desire, an intention, that we would thrive, and create, multiply, revel in the beauty of the rest of his creation. We don’t need to settle for broken, we need to be loved and forgiven. We need to be restored and made new. Understanding the tragedy is important. If you never find your place in the conflict of your own story, you’ll never see the resolution, you’ll never get to the good part of the story.

You’ve made mistakes. I have, too. You’re not always ok! Neither am I. We always ask how are you, and we always say good, but that’s not always true. Many of us live our lives in a panic of business. Most of us are so far from balanced and happy we’ve come to believe those ideas are sales pitches. Most of us have some trauma we need to deal with. All of us face conflict and regret from time to time. We need to stop settling for broken and instead tell the truth. We need forgiveness. We need redemption. We need community to help us. We need to be restored and made new.

In the passage, Paul admits his own greatest regret. He killed a man. Paul whipped the crowd into a frenzy of nationalism and they stoned a man to death. The good news of Paul’s life, though, is that God did not leave him broken. Jesus came to him while he was still an enemy of the faith, he was on the road to kill someone else when Jesus came to him and changed his destination—changed his whole life.

“I would remind you, brothers, sisters, of the gospel I preached to you,” he writes. I do believe Christ is risen today. I believe it’s true, and I believe Jesus rising from the grave is good news. Because if he can rise from the grave, then maybe I can, too. If Jesus is risen, then death doesn’t have the finality it seems to have. Getting older is actually getting closer to new life. Death is not going to be able to hold onto us. And any person in this world who tries to make you afraid by threatening your life, there is no reason to be afraid of him. If Jesus is risen, then death loses its sting. The pain of this life becomes a brief, momentary affliction.

I love that My in-laws are here this morning to help us bless and dedicate the kids. They live in Memphis, and I love going to visit them for several reasons. One, and this will make no sense to someone who doesn’t live in New Orleans, but the trees—the trees are taller in Memphis—and they’re everywhere! and they grow right by the houses, and no one is concerned about that—and the houses have lawns. It’s a strange and amazing land, Memphis. Also, when we visit my inlaws, we’re children again. They come in, sweep up the kids, and then Annie and I are left wonderfully, beautifully alone in the quiet. That’s how I noticed how tall the trees are, I got five minutes without a child or work demanding my attention, and all of the sudden I’m looking at trees again like a bleeding poet.

I also love visiting Memphis, because Rick, my father-in-law, he’s a history buff. He’s forgotten more about Western history than I’ve learned. So he loves to watch the history channel and I—I love to yell at the history channel, so this is an activity and dynamic we both enjoy. If you’ve never seen a history channel documentary, their formula, from my experience, is to take centuries of research and scholarship on a topic, discard all of that, and then ask the question: What if, everyone until the present day were actually idiots? Also, what if it was really aliens? Then they riff on that for about an hour. It doesn’t matter what it is—the great wall, pyramids, the Bible, JFK’s assassination—you can be assured of two things on the history channel: one, no one knew the truth until now. And two, it was probably aliens.

But in all seriousness, doubting the Bible, doubting what you’re told by a religious teacher is healthy and good. I’ll say it again for those in the back: doubt is healthy and good. Doubt is how we dig through the dirt of human failure and misunderstanding to get to the gem of the gospel which is beautiful and good. I would even say, deconstructing what you’ve learned is good. But I offer this warning, not to deter you from walking down the path of doubt, but to keep you from slipping into the ravine: truth is like spiritual food. You shouldn’t open your mind to anything and everything people want to put into it. That makes your mind like the waste bins on every corner here in the French quarter, which are open to anyone who would walk by, and for every piece of good food thrown away, there will be ten pieces of trash. To paraphrase Chesterton: you should open your mind the same way you open your mouth, in hopes of closing it again on something good, something healthy, able to nourish you.

Doubt is healthy and good, but deconstructing without reconstructing anything is just destruction. And you don’t want to destroy your soul. That’s tragic. I would encourage you to build on the foundation of Christ. Building your spiritual life on your own understanding or performance is shaky. And we don’t talk enough about this: trying to go through life without a worshiping community is just lonely. A life lived without people in whom you can confide, with whom you explore the deeper things of the world is a life lived in polite isolation. You have acquaintances, not friends, and certainly not brothers.

I was talking earlier about Descartes, and what we should and shouldn’t doubt—despite what the history channel tells you, the truth is, Jesus’ resurrection is one of the most historically verifiable events in history, and if Jesus rose from the dead, that’s one of the most consequential events in history. I say that as someone who doubts everything, and someone who used to teach science, who’s studied philosophy, epistemology. Believing in the resurrection of Jesus is just a reasonable belief—not because it’s precedented, but because it’s so widely documented and attested. I would argue, you don’t need to try to decide for yourself whether or not Jesus was raised from the dead, what you need to decide is what Jesus coming back from the dead means for you.

For example, in this passage Paul founds the resurrection—not on theological grounds, or on any kind of mysticism—this is not a, God spoke to me and gave me gold tablets that I lost moment—Paul is founding his statement on the first-hand experience of hundreds of local, otherwise unrelated people who are still alive and can be asked to confirm or deny his statement. You don’t do that if you’re trying to trick someone. You can’t convince 500 people to back up your fake story. And those eye-witness testimonies are documented in multiple books coming out contemporary to the event, then widely circulated and meticulously preserved. It would make more sense to doubt the death of Jesus than his resurrection, but if you do doubt his death, I would assume you aren’t that familiar with Rome.

I know people in olden times didn’t have iPhones or quantum theory, but they knew enough to know people don’t come back from being crucified. Rome had refined their craft. They didn’t just assume Jesus was dead when he stopped breathing, they stabbed him to see whether or not his blood had separated. That is a solid, scientific confirmation of death. Then his followers scattered, assuming he had failed and it was over, assuming death was the final word in the story of the life of Jesus. That’s why the resurrection is called a miracle, because it was impossible, and they knew that, and yet they also knew it to be true.

You don’t need to try to decide for yourself whether or not Jesus was raised from the dead, what you need to decide is what Jesus coming back from the dead means for you. Listen, I would tell you: Jesus rising from death is good news both because it’s true and because Jesus’ resurrection includes you. I know sometimes, sermons, church life, it can all feel a bit foreign and like you’ve been left out. If you don’t know the songs, or the prayers, you can feel like a tourist in a land where you don’t know the language or customs. You’re observing and trying not to offend.

But Jesus rising from death includes you; you’re part of this, even though you weren’t there, even if you don’t fully believe it, this is something that includes you. The Bible uses language of traveling, sojourning to talk about life lived outside of faith. We’re traveling through this life. We’re tourists in the world, but in Christ, when it comes to knowing God, Paul uses language, not of traveling, but of adoption. If life is the road, faith is finally having a home. This home may be something new for you, new rhythms, new people, but you’re not a tourist, you’re an adopted child. Here you’re forgiven, welcomed, and loved.

Paul ends the passage, in v.10, he says, “By the grace of God I am what I am.” What he is: he’s a child of God, now. He says I’m still being saved, it’s not a smooth process always, he still makes mistakes and doubts and does things he regrets, but now he knows he has a home and a family.

Friends, just like Paul, by the grace of God I am what I am, a child forgiven, welcomed, and loved, in a community of people who believe and walk alongside me. Where are you on the road this morning? If you are in need of forgiveness, friendship, and new life, come to the table this morning. Stop avoiding grace and community when it’s exactly what you need. Don’t stay in the outer dark when you are welcome into the light and the warmth, the celebration of the city. Adam’s going to come and lead us in communion this morning, and it’s a chance for you to respond. I’ll be in the back and available after service if anyone wants to talk or pray.

Eventually the whole earth will be filled with new life. Christ is restoring all things. It’s hard to believe when you’re walking on broken ground that out of this comes new life. But it does, and the ground has to be broken for anything to grow. We have to recognize we are broken. But out of broken earth, and out of broken people, he causes new life to grow, pushing through the dirt. We celebrate today because Jesus’ resurrection matters for us today. The consequences of the resurrection, being eternal, reverberate through all of time. This is an event which effects and changes the past as much as it effects the present and future—like a person who is healed of cancer, and suddenly, not only does she have a new and bright future, but her past, all of the sickness, all of the struggle, becomes a story of survival and providence and joy rather than death and sorrow.

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