Hold Firmly

February 6th, 2022 homily on 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 by Pastor Galen

Good News!

Imagine that you’re having lunch with a few friends at Frazier’s on the Avenue or coffee and a quiet conversation at Common Ground Café, and suddenly the door bursts open and a stranger rushes in with an excited look on his face, exclaiming, “Good news! You’ll never guess what it is! I have the greatest news you could ever imagine!” (The following story is adapted from N.T. Wright, Simply Good News HarperCollins, 2015, pp. 1-2).

What do you think his good news might be? And how could it possibly be such good news that he would come rushing into a café to tell complete strangers about it?

Well, possibly, the doctors just told the man that his daughter is going to be cured of an illness that was previously considered untreatable. That would indeed be good news for him! By why would he come and announce it to complete strangers who don’t know the man or his daughter, rather than tell his friends and family members, for whom it would also be good news?

Maybe he is rushing into the restaurant to share the good news that the Orioles just won the World Series, or the Ravens just won the Superbowl! That would indeed be good news for most of us here in Baltimore. But if the people in the cafe were serious fans they would have been home watching the game, or they would have been watching the game at the restaurant – so why would this stranger leave the celebration at home to come and tell people who obviously were not sports fans?

The only rational explanation for why this man is interrupting everyone’s quiet conversations is that in fact he has good news for everyone in the community that will change their lives for the better.

So what would good news of this sort look like? Well, in an area where unemployment is 29% higher than the national average, perhaps good news of this sort might be that a global corporation has chosen Hampden as it’s new worldwide headquarters, and suddenly there will be plenty of jobs, and anyone will be able to have a fresh new start. (Please note this is a hypothetical situation – I am not aware of anything of this sort happening!) Or perhaps in this era of the pandemic, the good news might be that the mask mandate has been lifted, or that the CDC determined that COVID has been completely eradicated and the pandemic is finally over (again, these are hypothetical scenarios!)

News of this sort might cause an otherwise quiet stranger to burst into a restaurant and interrupt everyone’s conversations, because the news is relevant to the people inside, and because his good news is of an event that will change everyone’s lives for the better.

Good News of Jesus Christ

In 1 Corinthians 15 verses 1 through 11, the Apostle Paul reminds the Christians in the city of Corinth about the Good News that he had proclaimed to them several years before – the Good News about Jesus’s death and resurrection, his appearances to the disciples, and of the grace and salvation brought about by Jesus Christ.

The story of Paul’s original proclamation of this good news to the city of Corinth is recorded in Acts chapter 18. As he did when he first arrived in most cities, Paul originally went to the Jewish synagogue and taught there on the Sabbath, until he was forced out by those who opposed his message. When he was kicked out of the synagogue in Corinth he went next door to the house of Titius Justus, a “worshiper of God” who lived next to the synagogue. His name, combined with this phrase “worshiper of God” indicates that he was a Roman citizen – and a Gentile – not someone who was Jewish – but who worshiped the one true God. He and other Gentiles in Corinth were open and receptive to Paul’s preaching and teaching, as were some of the Jews in Corinth – and thus the church in Corinth was born.

And so the Corinthian church was founded because a complete stranger – the Apostle Paul – essentially burst open the door and interrupted their conversations and proclaimed the Good News to them – teaching them, and telling them how and why the story of Jesus’s life and death and resurrection was good news that would change their lives for the better. 

Because, you see, in order to receive news as good, we have to know the backstory. We have to understand the problem that the good news addresses. We have to know and feel the weight of it before we can understand how and why good news is in fact good. 

Without knowing about the high rate of unemployment in our area we might not understand how or why thousands of new jobs might be good news for everyone in our community.  A little over 2 years ago, we would never have received news about a mask mandate being lifted as good news – because we didn’t have a context for it! Two years ago at this time we were only beginning to hear rumblings about COVID – but most of us had no idea how negatively it would impact our lives. And therefore we would not have been in a place to understand how news of a mask mandate being lifted or of COVID being eradicated would be good news. 

Perhaps this is why the Gentiles in Corinth were among the first to be receptive to Paul’s proclamation of the Gospel – because they intrinsically knew the bad news. They had been taught to believe that as Gentiles they were somehow inferior, or further away from God. They had probably been told that there was no hope for them. 

Paul’s proclamation of the Good News, that Jesus had in fact given his life for any and all who would hear and receive the message, was understood by the Gentiles to be good news. This is exactly why some of the Jewish worshipers had a problem with Paul’s message – because for many, their identity was so wrapped up in being God’s “chosen people” that they struggled to believe that they needed Jesus at all, and they had problems with the idea that Jesus had come for people of all nations.

Hold Firm

But now, several years later, Paul is writing this letter to Jewish and Gentile Christians in Corinth who had accepted and received Paul’s message, whose lives had been radically altered by the proclamation of this Good News. They had converted – some from the various Greco-Roman religious traditions that were popular at that time. Some Jewish believers who came to embrace Jesus as the Messiah who came to save the whole world. 

As individuals and as a community they had been filled with the Holy Spirit, they were living out their gifts and callings as followers of Christ. They were experiencing God working in and through them, despite the fact that they were not a perfect community. 

But here in 1 Corinthians 15, it seems that they were in danger of forgetting or losing sight of the good news that they had received all those years before. Specifically the issue that Paul is addressing here is skepticism regarding the resurrection. It seems that as a holdover from Greco-Roman religious traditions, some among them thought that when we die only our souls will be raised and we will exist for eternity as disembodied beings. Others thought that souls would simply cease to exist, and that therefore this life is all there is. 

To address this, Paul lays out the case for the future resurrection of those who believe in Jesus by pointing to the historic truth of Christ’s bodily resurrection. And as he makes his case, he tells the believers in Corinth to “hold firm” to the message (1 Cor. 15:2). To remember the Good News, and to remember why it is still good news. To not lose sight of the truth of the Gospel that they were taught.  Despite all of the forces that might cause them to doubt God’s grace, or mercy, or goodness, Paul urges them to hold firm to the truth. 

We Still Need To Hold Firm

In our day and age, there is just as much temptation to lose sight of the truth of the Gospel. Many in our world are skeptical that Jesus was and is who he said he was. Many don’t see any relevance of Jesus to their lives. They think that as long as they are generally good people, that God will most likely grade on “a curve.” As long as they’re not the most evil people in the world, they think they’ll probably be fine (and there are always people we can villainize and stigmatize who we think have done much worse things than us!)

Many point to the hypocrisy within the Church as reason for doubting. Many have been hurt or traumatized by leaders who have abused their power or positions. Many have become frustrated by what they feel is the over politicization of the Church, or individuals or churches who have a different viewpoint than them when it comes to politics, or theology, or praxis. 

In a climate such as this, it is essential for us, like the Corinthians, to hold firm to the Gospel! Not in a militaristic or combative sense that rails against those who disagree with us, or villainizes those who have left the church. But rather, it is important for us to be reminded of what it was that first grabbed a hold of us – how and why we received the story of Jesus as good news in the first place. Like the church in Corinth, we need to remember the core, the foundation, the essence of our faith. How and why the Gospel is indeed Good News – not just for us individually, but for the whole world. 

Tim Keller, author and pastor in New York City, says this in his book, The Reason for God. “Here’s the gospel: you’re more sinful than you ever dared believe; you’re more loved than you ever dared hope.” We are more sinful than we could ever dare to believe, and our world is in more dire straits that we could ever dare to imagine. 

And yet, Paul says, because of the good news of Jesus Christ, we are being saved, if we hold firmly to the message (1 Cor. 15:2). I love that phrase “being saved”  because it entails an ongoing action of God in our lives. Salvation is not just a past event, it’s past, present, and future. God is not done with us yet! God is still working on us. 

In verse 10 Paul talks about his own unworthiness to be called an apostle, because of how he used to persecute those who believe in Jesus. And yet, he says, “by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain” (1 Cor. 15:10). 

And that is the good news for each and every one of us. Each one of us has reason to be called unworthy. Each and every one of us has fallen short. And yet, if we place our hope and out trust and our faith in Christ for salvation, then we are being saved! God has not given up on us, and by God’s grace God is making us into the people God wants us to be. No one is too far gone. No one has strayed too far away, no one is beyond the reach of God’s love.

This is good news for us, and it is good news for the world. This good news is why the Apostle Paul burst open the door in Corinth to tell the good news to the Jews and Gentiles living there. It’s why for the past two thousand years the Good News of Jesus Christ has been passed down from generation to generation, why Christian missionaries have traveled across countries and cultural boundaries, across the street and around the world. It’s why the founders of our congregation went out into the streets of Hampden – and if you read the history of our church they even went into the bars and pool halls –  to tell people about Jesus and invite them to come to church. It’s why we continue to invite the surrounding community to join each week as we join in worship, prayer, and studying the Word together.

Mike – one of our Sunday School teachers – told me that he started coming to church when he was a child because someone from our church knocked on his door and invited him and his brother to Sunday School. I started attending a Bible study in college because an international student from Nigeria invited me to a Bible study in the common room of the dormitory where I lived. A friend of mine who was an atheist started studying the Bible and eventually converted to Christianity because a random stranger walked up to him on the campus where he was taking summer classes and asked him if he was interested in spiritual things. 

The Power to Change Lives

Friends, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is indeed good news for the world, and it has the power to change lives. And so we must hold firm. We must remember, and we must remind one another of why we believe. Let us remember that we are desperately in need of God’s grace and mercy, and that God’s love is so much more pervasive than we could ever dream or imagine. Let us hold firm to the hope that we have in Christ. And let us proclaim to the world, through our words and our deeds, the truth of this Good News.

Amen!

Published by Galen Zook

I am an artist, preacher, minister, and aspiring theologian

%d bloggers like this: