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I thought that the sermon/discussion last Sunday went quite well. Here’s the link to the audio (sermon starts around 29 minutes):

http://www.emmausway.net/media.php?pageID=9&itemID=47

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In ‘Jesus Christ in Texas,’ DuBois shows how we do not recognize Jesus because we fail to ask the one question that really matters as we encounter him: “Who are you?” None of the white characters in the story ever think to ask this question of the peculiar character that walks amongst them. Instead, the question that is asked of the stranger is “how might you fit into our world?” The hostess at the Colonel’s house is concerned with how interesting this stranger will be as a guest at her dinner party (that is, until she discovers the color of his flesh—then the question become “how can I get rid of this stranger?”). The rector asks how it is that the stranger seems so familiar. The wife of the farmer answers here own question of how could she possible give bread to a negro when Jesus’ voice reassures her as that of a white man. All of these characters are operating under the assumption that if Jesus was to visit them, surely he would fit into their world without causing any disturbance; surely Jesus would look, speak, and act like one of us! Surely Jesus would be a good evangelical! Surely Jesus would be against what we are against and fight for our causes! These assumptions always and everywhere keep Christ in the shadows, not allowing him to step out and reveal himself for who he really is. These assumption are what give us the false and poisonous ‘assurance of the voice of a white man.” These assumptions leaves us blind to the fact that Jesus will not be classified under or assimilated into any human program so as to remain in our control. Jesus will speak for himself.

It is only in the question “Who are you?” that we allow Jesus to speak for himself. This as Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, is the question of “dethroned reason.” It is the question that turns our world upside down and moves us to live as the new creation inaugurated by Christ. The “who” question is the question that confesses that we have nothing to give to Jesus but our broken selves. This is the question that relinquishes any claim to knowing what the world ought to look like and gives ourselves over to the surprising and disruptive work of God’s presence in the world. The “who” question allows us to meet Jesus in the face of the other, in the body of the abject who has been ground up beneath the forces of whiteness and other universal systems of ordering the world. The “who” question is the question of prayer, it is the posture of worship.

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In ‘Jesus Christ in Texas,’ DuBois shows us that at the heart of Christianity’s complicity and production of the racialized world—where black and other non-white folks are always already put to the question as to whether they are “really one of us”—is mistaking the identity of Jesus for someone who looks, thinks, and acts just as we want him to. This is not to say that we white folks are consciously crafting Jesus into own images, purposely interpreting his life and words for our own satisfaction. Rather, we allow ourselves to become so blinded to the cultural power that whiteness affords that we have lost the very ability to imagine Jesus as anything other than “one of us.” Though we love to spout words to the contrary, the borders and checkpoints of race, class, nationality, religion, and culture remain fixed in a world where these signifiers still overwhelmingly determine who is allowed in and who is out. DuBois shows us how “good Christian folks” have been at the center of perpetuating the excluding power of “belonging.” As the women responds (after being “reassured at the voice of a white man” and insistent that “there are none I hate; no, none at all”) to the visibly hidden mulatto Jesus’ question about whether she loves her neighbor as herself, DuBois describes:

“I Try—” she began and then looked the way he was looking; down under the hill where lay a little, half-ruined cabin.

 “They are niggers,” she said briefly.

He looked at her. Suddenly a confusion came over her and she insisted, she knew not why.

“But they are niggers!”

With a sudden impulse she arose and hurriedly lighted the lamp that stood just within the door, and held it above her head. She saw his dark face and curly hair. She shrieked in angry terror and rushed down the path, and just as she rushed down, the black convict came running up with hands outstretched. They met in midpath and before he could stop he had run against her and she fell heavily to earth and lay white and still. Here husband came rushing around the house with a cry and an oath.

 

Before this conversation, Jesus had met on a country road an escaped black convict that confesses to Jesus the surprising and gladdening words “why, you are a nigger, too” when Jesus reveals himself as mulatto. The convict has recognized Jesus as he really exists: as the one who has taken the form of a slave, as the one who breaks the chains of oppression and fear and opens our arms to the embrace of God’s reconciling work. The convict, who after talking to Jesus has been working for an exploitative farmer who’s wife is having the conversation with Jesus, sees Jesus talking to the women and runs to embrace him, only to be met in collision with the women fleeing Jesus as she realizes that he is not white. As the two find themselves on the ground, the convict is taken up and lynched by the angry white mob that has been hunting him down. This powerfully captures the grim reality of how a world of whiteness, a world that cannot bear the Jewish flesh that marks Jesus as Other, stands as the false and violent mediator between the world and those for whom Jesus has come to set free. The woman flees from Jesus because she cannot recognize him. She cannot recognize him because he does not fit the mold of who she thinks Jesus ought to be. She cannot recognize Jesus because she does not know how to let him speak for himself, just as she cannot let those in the half-ruined cabin speak for themselves. Everyone—including Jesus—is interpreted through a lens of whiteness that judges identity in terms of white and not white. Because Jesus is assumed to be white (“one of us”), he cannot be recognized for who he really is. In the wake of such misrecognition, those that have been caught on the underside of a white world are met with the force of a whiteness whose reflex in the face of Otherness is either to eliminate it or forcefully manipulate it into its own service.

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I was asked by my pastor to lead the sermon/discussion for this Sunday’s service. We are currently in a “Fiction” series, so I have chosen to focus on W.E.B. DuBois short story “Jesus Christ in Texas.” In preparation, I’m writing out my thoughts as I think through how our congregation might have a fruitful discussion about race, religion, and the identity of Jesus Christ. For all of you faithful readers out there, I would love to hear what you think.

…………….

One of the preeminent social critics and civil rights activists of the early 20th century, W.E.B. DuBois was a black intellectual writing in America at a time when the failure of post civil war reconstruction had transitioned into the segregated and systemically racist reality of the Jim Crow south. In his most well known book, The Souls of Black Folks, DuBois asks the question that had come to define the experience of black folks in the social hierarchy of racialized America: “How does it feel to be a problem?” Writing from the perspective of those that had been cast as outsiders to the inside of white privilege, in our short story for this evening ‘Jesus Christ in Texas,’ DuBois shows us that one of the major engines driving such a racist and segregated social imagination was (and is) a religious one: a Christianity that had become part and parcel of white superiority and the social ordering of society that determined all non-white flesh as suspect and a threat to the orders of social power. DuBois gives us a peek inside what it looks like to do the work of searching for God from the vantage of having been deemed an outsider, from the shadowy corners of black existence in a white world that has put a hedge around the work of Christ so that white, “authentically Christian” culture is not disturbed and is sustained in its position of social power.  DuBois shows us how such white claims on Christianity have created a world where Jesus’ presence as he who has come to set the captives of the world’s prison of social hierarchy free–as the one who “took the form of a slave”–is domesticated into an affirmation and justification  of the order of things. Rather than tearing down the borders that have determined the world as segregated and racially ordered, Christianity becomes a border producing cultural site of a white status quo.

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Here is a sermon I preached for the camp counselors and staff I am working with this summer. We have been going through a series termed “basic Christianity” all summer. I was given the topic “the essential gospel” to preach.

“If anyone is in Christ there is a new creation” 2 Corinthians 5:17

I would like to open our time together this morning by reading excerpts from a letter written by a man named Emmanuel Kataliko, the Catholic Archbishop of Bukavu (which is a city in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Southwestern Africa). The letter, written on the occasion of Christmas, was addressed to the suffering Christian community residing in the Congo, who, along with other citizens, had endured a state of constant war, horrific violence, and brutal oppression stemming from a war that began in the Autumn of 1996. In his Christmas letter, the Archbishop describes the situation:

“Our Church herself is not spared. A number of parishes, presbyteries, and convents have already been sacked. Our priests and members of the religious life have been beaten, tortured, and killed because they denounce the flagrant injustice into which their people have been plunged, condemning the war and preaching reconciliation, forgiveness, and nonviolence. Needless to say, there have been no investigations carried out to ring the guilty parties to justice. [¶] The moral decay has reached so absurd a level that some of our countrymen do not hesitate to hand over their brother for a ten or twenty-dollar bill.38

What follows is the Archbishop’s response to such a seemingly hopeless situation:

“My brothers and sisters,

Let us be conscious of these bonds of servitude! Let us recognize our responsibility in this sinful situation that bears down upon us. Let us take the risky path of liberation through the guidance of the Spirit!

Our Christian message is a message of hope. This is the message of Jesus Himself. He, the Son of God, entered into solidarity with our human condition. Born into poverty, persecuted from the first moments of his life, forced into exile in a strange land, he died on the cross so that we might know the love of God the Father. He never avoided the costs of this solidarity, and facing death, he did not turn away.

Today, we His Church cannot betray the hope which He has brought to us. We, His children, are called to continue His mission: to proclaim life and life in abundance, to resist evil in all its forms, and denounce all that degrades the human person. We are engaged with courage, with a firm spirit and an unshakeable faith to be near all those who are oppressed, if necessary, with our own blood, as [many of our friends] and so many other Christians have already done.

The Gospel calls us to reject the use of arms as a means of resolving conflicts. It is through our suffering and our prayers that we will fight for freedom and bring our oppressors to reason and inner freedom.

We commemorate this day the birth of Jesus our brother. He invites us to know him, to love him, to follow him and to be like him. Christ is born from the Virgin Mary: he invites us to receive the incredible newness of grace and praise him with the Angels: “Glory to God in the highest!”

Written from Bukavu, the 24th of December, 1999

Mgr. Emmanuel Kataliko

Archbishop of Bukavu

These are Powerful words. Almost unthinkable words. Words that, let’s be honest, go against our common sense. In such a context of constant violence and instability as that which the Congolese find themselves, these are words that strike us as foolish, and words that come off as absurdly naïve and, if we are talking about practicality, totally ineffective and useless in the real world.

The Archbishop’s insistence for the community to not retaliate might come off nicely on paper, but when the rubber hits the road, when there are lives at stake and when there is the threat of violence against innocent people, we all know that the best way to fight injustice, oppression, violence, and the like is by flexing our muscles back at the threat. What the Christian community in the Congo really needs is for the “good guys” to go in and kill the “bad guys” so that some semblance of peace can once again exist in the Congo.

Really, it seems that this is the best we can really do or imagine, because, lets face it, we live in a broken world, and in order for this world not to simply deteriorate into chaos and oblivion we  need to be realistic about what it takes to survive in a world of war. We know that the gospel has something to do with “peace”, but “peace”, as we tend to think, is really just a figurative term that doesn’t really apply to certain areas of our lives because “peace” is just not all that realistic.

And lets not kid ourselves, this is the way that we in the West typically think about our lives as Christians—particularly in America, where we are generally removed from immediate threats to our security and stability (only because those threats have been moved elsewhere). And this way of thinking has trickled into our understanding of what constitutes the gospel.

Contrary to having our everyday lives and political worldview radically shaped by what God has done in Jesus’ death and resurrection, we tend to think that the gospel is really about our souls and where they will go when we die. We tend to think that the “good news” of the “gospel” is that our sin won’t count against us when it comes to God’s judgment at the end of the world. A comforting idea, isn’t it? And so, as Christians, we convince ourselves that life on Earth is really about convincing as many people as we can that where we go when we die is all that really matters about Christianity.

But this isn’t really the Christianity of the New Testament. Nor is it the Christianity of Archbishop Kataliko. This is the Christianity of America, the Christianity of those who don’t really want a gospel that challenges the status quo or bids us to relinquish control over our lives. This is a purely “spiritual” gospel that teaches us that Christianity really only boils down to a “personal relationship with God”.

And it makes sense to construct this sort of gospel—one that is relegated to the personal, spiritual realm and one that doesn’t very often interfere with a “the way things are is the way it has to be” mentality—one that doesn’t really interfere with the political reality around us (that is, the way the world actually runs).  Here in America, we don’t really need the sort of gospel that the Archbishop spoke of in his letter—the sort of gospel that teaches us to deny the most obvious answer to the threats around us—because, when it comes down to it, we believe more in our common sense and our security as citizens than a in a God who shows us what true freedom means by pathetically dying on a cross.

Within this frame of mind, we don’t really want a gospel that teaches us to suffer instead of fighting back; a gospel that teaches us to say “Glory to God in the Highest” when everything is falling down around us; a gospel that teaches us to have such a radical hope that the worship of God is what really determines our lives, a gospel that shows us that true freedom is following Christ to his cross. We don’t want this sort of gospel because we have duped ourselves into believing that our freedom, security, and well-being is really taken care of by our ability to fight back—or at least have someone fight back for us.

As Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw ask from the perspective of the modern world,

“Who needs a Creator when we can sculpt mountains?”

“Who needs a Great physician when we can heal ourselves?”

“Who needs a savior when we have a four-hundred billion dollar defense shield?

And he’s right. Really, who needs Jesus when we live in a world where everything we need can be bought down the street at Wal-mart? Who needs the Kingdom of God when we already have America?

But maybe there is a different way to understand what the “good news” of Jesus Christ actually means for us here today. In order to understand, let’s go back to our passage—our very short and simple passage—that we heard a moment ago. “If anyone is in Christ there is a new creation”.

What could this possibly mean for us here? What could it mean to be in Christ new creations when we are citizens of nations, when we live in an obviously sinful world. What could it mean as we live out our lives under and in the midst of what Paul refers to as the fallen “Powers” and Principalities”—that is, those fallen systems, structures, constructed identities, philosophies, governments, constitutions, shopping malls, television sets, mega-churches, fashion trends, cars, boats, Universities, military-industrial-complexes, economies, nationalities, radio stations, fast-food chains, agri-corporations, banks, televangelists, lattes and frappachinos, cable news stations, etc., etc.,  etc.—basically all those things that make up a world of division and injustice and wish to control the status quo by keeping us comatose to the deeper reality of God’s grace and peace. What could it possibly mean to be a NEW Creation in the midst of this world?

Well, first of all, Paul’s statement—that in Christ we are new creations—is incredibly good news. You see, this litany of powers and principalities I’ve just listed—the world we live in—it all seeks to enslave us to a particular logic of scarcity, fear, division and stagnation. As creatures who have rebelled against the free gift of God’s love and grace, we are powerless to resist the powers’ hold over our lives; we cannot help but to operate under the backwards logic of the world—we are slaves.

Yet it is precisely over against our enslavement to the fallen world around us that the gospel of Jesus Christ is really good news (and it really is news: its a public proclamation from God to humanity that there is a new reality in Christ) The new reality is that God’s incarnation in Jesus—where he defeated the powers by dying on a cross and being raised again, thus killing the logic of death and ushering in a new history of life—has freed us from the powers’ hold over our lives; the powers’ prison door has been unhinged so that humanity no longer has to operate under its logic of captivity.

The good news is freedom! Its new creation! In Christ, we have been re-created and have received new minds; we have received a new logic and with it a whole new possibility of life. We have received life where there was previously death; we have received reconciliation with God and with each other; in Christ we now have the freedom to live outside of the logic of the fallen world and live freely in the Kingdom of God that has come in Jesus Christ; we have received newness.

What I want to say to you today is that this newness, this radically new identity and logic that we have received in our baptism and as we have chosen to follow Jesus to his cross—this  is the gospel. This is the good news.

The gospel is the proclamation of pure freedom—real freedom, not freedom in the sense of “I get to go shopping and have infinite choice about pursuing “happiness”—but rather,  the freedom to live in God’s Kingdom; freedom to imagine a deeper reality; freedom to no longer be a slave to the logic of the world; it is freedom to live life in an overflowing reality of love, peace, friendship, creativity, joy, community, sharing, and reconciliation; it is the freedom to embody a different reality—to live under a different logic—than the fallen world around us. It’s the freedom to relinquish control over our lives and given them over completely to the grace and peace of God. Hear the good news: Jesus makes us new creations in a world of death. Jesus makes possible what was before impossible.

For instance, the world says that it is impossible to live peacefully, that it is impossible to refuse violence at all times. The world says that it is impossible to imagine a world not defined by war, that it is impossible to love our enemies. The world says that it is impossible to share with each other unconditionally. The world says that it is impossible to reconcile ourselves across constructed divisions of nationality, race, religion, sexuality, economics, and other differences of ideology. The world says that it is foolish to trust our lives to the grace of God and abandon the “logic” of the world—again, that is, the idea that “the way things are is the way things have to be”.

The world says all of these things, but Jesus has shown us and given us a new possibility—one that, yes, is indeed an actual possibility for us to embody as we learn together to make our lives conform to the way of the cross—the way of selfless and non-resistant love that proclaims an infinitely deeper reality than the reality of the fallen world.

Here is the essential gospel, the essential good news in Jesus: we have been set free—set free in the most real and concrete way imaginable. We are set free to resist the logic of fear and scarcity. We are set free to love each other without condition. We are set free to care for those people whom the world has left behind. We are set free to feed the hungry, house the homeless, befriend the imprisoned, come alongside the sick, and suffer with those who are oppressed. We are set free to proclaim and embody the Kingdom come.

I would like to end our time together this afternoon by going back to Archbishop Kataliko’s letter that we heard earlier. In this letter, we see the good news of Jesus being lived out as a real possibility. We hear the Archbishop residing in a different reality than that of the violent world he finds himself. This is an example of someone who has learned to abandon the already defeated powers of coercion and oppression that Christ has set us free from; this is an example of someone who has learned to live in the logic of love, truthful worship, and trust in the sovereignty of God.

Again, as the Archbishop reminds us of the truth of Christmas, the truth of God’s good news for us in the form of a child, “[God] invites us to know him, to love him, to follow him and to be like him. Christ is born from the Virgin Mary: he invites us to receive the incredible newness of grace and praise him with the Angels: “Glory to God in the highest!”

As the church, the gospel is our reality. The world waits for the gospel to be proclaimed through our lives that are determined by a savior who chose to die on a cross rather than fight back. The world waits to hear that peace is a deeper reality than war; that love is deeper than sin.

We here today  find ourselves caught up in that story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection as we learn to follow him together. We are caught up in a story of wonderful news which only makes sense when we learn to join in the chorus of the angels singing that Christmas hymn, “Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace among those whom he favors.” Hear the good news: Christ has set us free. Amen.

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Here is a sermon on 1 Corinthians 15:35-44 I wrote for my New Testament course this semester:

[Hope by Czeslaw Milosz]

Hope is with you when you believe
The earth is not a dream but living flesh,
That sight, touch, and hearing do not lie,
That all things you have ever seen here
Are like a garden looked at from a gate.

You cannot enter. But you’re sure it’s there.
Could we but look more clearly and wisely
We might discover somewhere in the garden
A strange new flower and an unnamed star.

Some people say we should not trust our eyes,
That there is nothing, just a seeming,
These are the ones who have no hope.
They think that the moment we turn away,
The world, behind our backs, ceases to exist,
As if snatched up by the hands of thieves.

In his book The Witness of Poetry, the great Nobel poet Czeslaw Milosz writes, “I have defined poetry as a ‘passionate pursuit of the real.’” The poem by Milosz we have just heard seems to capture this sentiment perfectly: Hope is believing that we actually exist—that our bodies do in fact allow us to perceive reality and, if we are willing, discover the hidden beauty behind our feeble first glances. Indeed the last stanza of the poem, beginning with Some people say we should not trust our eyes/That there is nothing, just a seeming, suggests something deeply troubling about those who would deny the world around them as an illusion, as simply a fantastic trick that “ceases to exist” when we turn our backs.

Our reading today from the first Epistle to the Corinthians addresses the resurrection of the dead. In a way similar to Milosz’s poem, Paul is, so to speak, telling the Corinthians what is real. He is telling them that their bodies are real in the eternal sense of the word, and by doing so, he is attempting to radically reconfigure their hope.

Before we can dive in to what Paul is getting at here, a little context is needed. Beginning with verse one of Chapter 15, Paul teaches that without the resurrection of the dead—that is, without both Jesus’ resurrection and our own resurrection at the end of the age—the gospel is no gospel at all. Where we pick up today is with Paul’s insistence that the resurrection at the end of the age will, in fact, be a bodily resurrection which is—and this is the key point—in continuity with the very bodies that you and I currently occupy. The question I would like to ask you today, as we discuss Paul’s talk of a bodily resurrection is, “Do we live our lives as if we really believed in a bodily resurrection?” We do not need to answer this question right now, but as we reflect on the text, I want you to keep this question in mind. Now, lets see what the Apostle is doing here.

Paul, as we can see, certainly has strong convictions about the resurrection. “How foolish!” he declares vociferously at the thought that the Corinthians might question whether the resurrection will involve actual bodies. Apparently, anybody who thinks that the resurrection will be something other than bodily—say, spiritual or incorporeal, or, as in the case of the Corinthians, some sort integration into the cosmos—has demonstrated their utter stupidity. Right? Well, maybe not. On closer inspection, Paul is actually responding to a very reasonable objection to the thought of a bodily resurrection that is in continuity with our earthly bodies.

You see, the converted Corinthians to which Paul is writing would have been highly influenced by the typical Greco-Roman conceptions of the human body and the afterlife that dominated the culture of that time. Coming out of that culture, they would have been utterly appalled at the idea of their deceased corpses being raised out of the ground. If this were the case, so the Corinthians thought, the resurrection would simply consist of a bunch of zombies roaming around the earth. A terrifying image indeed! Instead of heaven being a pleasant and ethereal environment where people have turned into friendly ghosts floating leisurely around puffy white clouds—or something like that—heaven, the way the Corinthians seem to hear Paul describing it, is Night of the Living Dead come true.

Understandably, the Corinthians would not have found much hope in Paul’s insistence that the resurrection will be in continuation with our current bodies. And at first thought, neither do we. Think about it for a moment: dead bodies being raised out of the ground? This seems an absurd thing to believe. To be sure, we tend to think that once our bodies are dead, that’s it. Indeed, bodies do go away eventually: buried corpses rot until there is nothing left but bones, and with the popular practice of cremation that so many modern people opt for these days, the natural process of degradation is sped up, instantly turning the body into a pile of ashes. What can this possibly mean for a bodily resurrection?

Furthermore, for those of us lucky enough to still retain some semblance of a human body when the resurrection does occur, what does a bodily resurrection say about heaven? If heaven means that the bodies we currently occupy will simply be lifted out of the ground to continue where death left off, this is not good news. Bodies get sick. They break down. They are the vehicle of suffering and pain. When we talk about doing violence to someone, we are talking about doing violence to their bodies.

And, worse still, what about those people who have bodies that are irreparably damaged, faulty or corrupted? Will the crippled be resurrected and still be crippled? Will the mentally handicapped still be handicapped? In short, if it is this body that I will have in heaven, does this not mean that there will still be suffering? Is not heaven meant to be an escape from all of this? Do we not wish to escape our bodies and inhabit a better and wholly other existence where pain and suffering cannot touch us, where we can “eat our pie in the sky” and not have to anymore worry about dealing with a physical body? If it’s not this, what are we hoping for?

Though these are certainly reasonable questions and fears, Paul has for us something different—something far better—to hope for. What is missing from these questions and fears is the hope that our bodies will be transformed in the resurrection. What is missing is the sense that God is mighty enough to take our bodies out of death and reshape them so that they are fit to inhabit heaven, that is, the Kingdom of God waiting for its consummation in the resurrection of the dead.

This is why Paul uses the analogy of the seed mentioned in verses 37-38. A “dead” flower seed that is planted into the ground is not raised to look like a seed. We don’t marvel at little round dots that have been pulled out of the ground. No! We marvel at the flower that has somehow arisen out of the seed. The seed is transformed—rather mysteriously, I might add—into that which it was created to be: a beautiful Lilac, Lablab, or Larkspur. The seed, so to speak, dies and is transformed—it is resurrected—into a glorious manifestation of beauty. Just so, as Paul is trying to convince his Corinthian audience, our bodies will die and be resurrected into glory through an organic process of transformation just like that of seed into flower—a process that can only be attributed to the power of God. In short, Paul is attempting to radically reconfigure the Corinthians hope so that it included their own bodies.

Hear the words of the Apostle: The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.

This is our hope, our assurance. This is what is real. This is what we desperately need to hear today as so many around us are suffering—indeed, as many of us here today are suffering. We will be healed. Our bodies will be transformed so that there is no longer sickness. No longer will our bodies be subject to pain, suffering, or the “sting of death,” as Paul puts it. Sickness, suffering, violence, death: these things are passing away, not the gifts of our bodies which are given by God. Our bodies are real. They are part of our destiny, which through our baptism—our being buried with Christ and raised into new life—is a transformation into glory. This is our hope.

If the bodily resurrection is true, what are the implications for our lives, now? First, it means that our bodies are good—they are a gift. They are not something simply to discard as a transitional cage in which we are currently trapped. They are not a thing to abandon, escape, or loath. Rather, our bodies are part of the redemptive and transformative story that God is telling through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who transforms us into a newness that is fit for the Kingdom of God. Our bodies are a gift which, though they are waiting for their healing and perfection, provide the very vehicle by which we hope for and discover the newness and redemption that God has promised.

Second, that the resurrection of the dead is in continuity with our earthly bodies means that God’s redemption is real for us now. It means that through the event of Christ’s death and resurrection, what we are hoping for has already infiltrated our world and put us on a trajectory that allows us to experience now the Kingdom of heaven. And it is this point that matters most for who we are as a church that is in the world and for the world.

As a community that believes the story of Christ’s cross and resurrection to be the truth of the universe, our hope takes real shape and can be realized here and now as we encounter our neighbors, enemies, and each other. It is realized when we embrace each other’s bodies under the “peace of Christ.” It is realized when go out from these walls and feed the bodies of the hungry. It is realized whenever we heal—or simply come alongside—the bodies of the sick. It is realized as we learn to treat each other’s bodies as a gift from God, as God’s good creation that is not to be attacked, manipulated, or harmed.

To return to the question I asked earlier: Do we live our lives as if we really believed in a bodily resurrection? Do we really believe in a bodily resurrection as we are more and more subsumed into on-line communities or virtual realities bereft of actual bodies? Do we really believe in a bodily resurrection when we satisfy our consciences by buying coffee from Starbucks so that a dollar will go to a faceless, bodiless child in Africa instead of actually helping the needy child down the street? Do we really believe in the bodily resurrection when we live out our lives as autonomous individuals who refuse to let the space called our homes be interrupted by the bodies of strangers, the needy, and the homeless?

Paul’s words today challenge us to reevaluate our lives in light of what is eternally real. Today I challenge you with a final word: Live the bodily resurrection now. Live lives of a poetic pursuance of the real. Pursue the bodies of others in real community, in real charity that requires our actual presence and time, in real worship that teaches us to live thankfully in our bodies that are being transformed. For in this we know hope. Let us worship the Lord and be thankful for our bodies and the bodies of others. Amen.

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