BY THE GRACE OF GOD – 2/10/19 – PASTOR DONNA DOUTT
I love words! I take great pride in learning and using new words that I’ve never used before. I accept it as a challenge. I’ve learned a few new words this year. One of them is “suborn.” Does anyone know what that means? It means no compromise. That’s not me, but perhaps you know someone who doesn’t compromise. You could stun them by dropping that word on them.
I remember the first time I learned the word “bloviate.” It means someone who talks at length, especially in an inflated, bragging, or empty way. Some people might think pastor’s “bloviate.” I hope you don’t think that of me.
One of my favorite all-time words is “coddiwomple.” It means to “travel purposefully toward an as-not-yet determined destination.” It’s a great word, but how often do you really get to use it? I, fortunately, have had opportunity to use that several times as I have coddiwompled around Ireland and the United Kingdom.
As I was preparing for this message, I read a word that I have to admit I’ve read many, many times referring to Jesus Christ. That word is “incarnate.” How many of you think you know what that means? I guess I thought I did, but then my querying mind got the best of me. I looked it up, and it means “(especially of a deity or spirit) embodied in flesh; in human form, such as "God incarnate." Meaning Jesus is God in human form. Well heck, I knew that! I heard the word, but didn’t fully understand how it related to Jesus.
The task for the apostle Paul in this scripture from 1 Corinthians is to convince the people of Corinth that Jesus is the “incarnation” of God.
One of my favorite books, The Complete Guide to the Bible claims that 1 Corinthians is a letter written for Christians behaving badly. Paul is long gone from the church he started in Corinth. He left them a few years earlier, after spending about a year and a half getting the church and up and running. He spent far more time there building the church than he did in most other towns. But now he gets a letter from the church at Corinth. They’ve got questions and some serious problems happening. Their number one problem is they have a potential church split going on because they can’t agree on who their leader is.
Paul’s over in Ephesus now working with them. He can’t drop everything he’s doing, but he knows the Corinthian need his help. So he writes a letter, several of them, in fact, addressing the church’s problems.
One of the problems is the Greeks have trouble dealing with the idea of immortality of a disembodied soul. They have big trouble with the idea of a physical body getting reanimated and living forever.
Wait for it….what’s that word…incarnation!
How to do that? What can he say to convince them? He’s got to get a witness. Paul speaks of all those to whom the risen Jesus appeared. So enters our scripture for today: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Let’s hear this translation from The Message:
15 1-2 Friends, let me go over the Message with you one final time— this Message that I proclaimed and that you made your own; this Message on which you took your stand and by which your life has been saved. (I’m assuming, now, that your belief was the real thing and not a passing fancy, that you’re in this for good and holding fast.)
3-9 The first thing I did was place before you what was placed so emphatically before me: that the Messiah died for our sins, exactly as Scripture tells it; that he was buried; that he was raised from death on the third day, again exactly as Scripture says; that he presented himself alive to Peter, then to his closest followers, and later to more than five hundred of his followers all at the same time, most of them still around (although a few have since died); that he then spent time with James and the rest of those he commissioned to represent him; and that he finally presented himself alive to me. It was fitting that I bring up the rear. I don’t deserve to be included in that inner circle, as you well know, having spent all those early years trying my best to stamp God’s church right out of existence.
10-11 But because God was so gracious, so very generous, here I am. And I’m not about to let his grace go to waste. Haven’t I worked hard trying to do more than any of the others? Even then, my work didn’t amount to all that much. It was God giving me the work to do, God giving me the energy to do it. So whether you heard it from me or from those others, it’s all the same: We spoke God’s truth and you entrusted your lives.
All of these witnesses proclaimed the gospel of the death and resurrection of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins and the salvation of all humanity.
What’s not included in our lectionary this week, but is just beyond this week’s scripture are the next few verses in 1 Corinthians 15:12-15:
12-15 Now, let me ask you something profound yet troubling. If you became believers because you trusted the proclamation that Christ is alive, risen from the dead, how can you let people say that there is no such thing as a resurrection? If there’s no resurrection, there’s no living Christ. And face it—if there’s no resurrection for Christ, everything we’ve told you is smoke and mirrors, and everything you’ve staked your life on is smoke and mirrors. Not only that, but we would be guilty of telling a string of barefaced lies about God, all these affidavits we passed on to you verifying that God raised up Christ—sheer fabrications, if there’s no resurrection.
Can I get a witness? Was it all smoke and mirrors? Just because you didn’t see it happen ...can you not still bear witness? When we hear the gospel… Christian teaching, Christ's teaching, the life of Christ, the word of God, the good news, Christian doctrine, the New Testament, the writings of the evangelists…when we receive these words of life and promise, we are required to share that gospel news…the same word of salvation that Paul proclaims.
There’s no indication that Paul ever met Jesus during his early lifetime. Paul didn’t even convert until about five years after Jesus death. Yet Paul considers himself an apostle. No, he’s not one of the 12 disciples. He’s working under his own definition of apostle, which in Greek means “to send forth.”
Jesus told his disciples to witness everywhere. And after appearing to Paul on the road to Damascus, Jesus commanded him the same, declaring that Paul was his “chosen instrument to take my message…”
Jesus took Saul, the ugly, murderous, and blinded thug, and turned him into Paul, who learns “You will be his witness to all people…” (Acts 22:15).
The Rev. Dr. Lewis F. Galloway writes, “Whenever Christ turns a life around, heals a marriage, transforms a bitter heart, forgives a sinner, teaches a fearful person to love, or shows a greedy person how to give, there is a witness ready to take the stand to tell the good news of God’s grace.”
The risen, incarnate Jesus works in the lives of many. Paul was plain-spoken about his past. He didn’t try to hide it. In fact, his redemption provided his “story.” This was his witness, the experience, of his transformation.
Christians do come to their faith in different ways. And sometimes our faith doesn’t come to us until we see Jesus at work in our lives. How has Jesus appeared to you? When has Christ come into your life? Think about that. What story of your life could you share with someone else? What has happened to you that you could “take a stand to tell the news of God’s grace?”
Christians today can recognize that they are who they are by the grace of God. The risen, incarnate Jesus. Every struggle we have, every pain we suffer, every joy we celebrate, everything with accomplish, every dream we dream are stories of the gospel that light the way for others.
How about that little song we sang last week? “This little light of mine…I’m gonna let it shine….” Shine your light on someone.
Could you be like Paul…working hard to proclaim:
That by the grace of God you are everything you are?
That by the grace of God you have everything you need?
That by the grace of God you are loved?
That by the grace of God you are a faithful servant?
I invite you this day to be a continuation of the gospel story. To shine Jesus’ light on somebody. To find someone…somewhere as you coddiwomple through your life, and tell them the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins and the salvation of all humanity.
We do all these things by the grace of God.
 Stephen M. Miller, The Complete Guide to the Bible. p. 393 George H. Martin, Feasting on the Word, Year C, vol. 1, p. 292
 Lewis F. Galloway, Feasting on the Word, Year C, vol. 1, p. 330