Top of Page ILLUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT THE SERMON
This Sunday rarely occurs. I often wonder why the lectionary editors made it so infrequent. We have not had these verses in many, many years. By this time of the year we are normally deep into Lent. But not this year. We have not even reached Transfiguration Sunday. So, we suddenly must face up to several rarely preached scriptural passages.
The first Scripture is from 1st Corinthians 15 which explores the thorny question of what will our eternal new life look like? Paul heads straight into this question by writing to the Corinthians” Some of you have asked, “How will the dead be raised to life? What kind of bodies will they have?” Don’t be foolish. A seed must die before it can sprout from the ground. Wheat seeds and all other seeds look different from the sprouts that come up. This is because God gives everything the kind of body, he wants it to have.” That is a wonderfully powerful and comforting passage that we do not normally use in the lectionary cycle. As we deal with death in our life and wonder to ourselves how does this second life work, how does eternal life even make sense, we are suddenly reminded of these verses. If you are members of your congregation are facing a very disturbing death, I think these verses might help. They might help us think in simple terms what it might mean to have a second life. What does it mean to have a resurrection experience? The other question that comes to mind is why did not Paul use the rebirth of a butterfly as another great example.
Before we begin to try to interpret this section, we would do well to remember one thing: all through it, Paul is talking about things that no one really knows anything about. He is talking not about veriﬁable matters of fact, but about matters of faith. Trying to express the inexpressible and to describe the indescribable, he is doing the best he can with the human ideas and human words that are all that he has to work with. If we remember that, it will save us from a crudely literalistic interpretation and make us fasten our thoughts on the underlying principles in Paul’s mind. In this section, he is dealing with people who say: ‘Granted that there is a resurrection of the body, with what kind of body do people rise again?’ His answer has three basic principles in it. (Barclay, W The Letters to the Corinthians [2002, Louisville, KY] p185)
The second scriptural passage that leaps out is the one from Luke the 6th Chapter. It is very hard hitting and like the lection from 1 Corinthians is a tough passage to totally understand. We can understand in a superficial way but what does it really mean. Jesus says: “This is what I say to all who will listen to me: Love your enemies and be good to everyone who hates you. Ask God to bless anyone who curses you and pray for everyone who is cruel to you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, don’t stop that person from slapping you on the other cheek. If someone wants to take your coat, don’t try to keep back your shirt. Give to everyone who asks and don’t ask people to return what they have taken from you. Treat others just as you want to be treated.” None of this makes good common sense. To quote Dr Phil it does not pass the common-sense test. But then things seem to get worse.
The very next verses carry on: “If you love only someone who loves you, will God praise you for that? Even sinners love people who love them. If you are kind only to someone who is kind to you, will God be pleased with you for that? Even sinners are kind to people who are kind to them. If you lend money only to someone you think will pay you back, will God be pleased with you for that? Even sinners lend to sinners because they think they will get it all back.” So, Paul knows that these verses which come directly from Jesus’ teachings are going to be hard to follow. Kindness is easy goes the thinking so let us take the harder road and be just as nice to the unkind.
Then there is the last couple of verses: “But love your enemies and be good to them. Lend without expecting to be paid back. Then you will get a great reward, and you will be the true children of God in heaven. He is good even to people who are unthankful and cruel. Have pity on others, just as your Father has pity on you.” I can just hear what my Scottish father in law would say about not expecting to get repaid. He would be horrified. So, is Paul saying that Jesus is asking the impossible? Is Jesus putting up a barrier that none of us can climb over? Is Jesus asking too much of almost every human being except for a few extraordinary people? Is any of this possible? We are talking something that we have seen only in a very few people over the many centuries of many following Jesus. The whole point of these verses is that God has demonstrated extreme love and generosity towards all of us and that we should try and pass this on to each other. It will help us come closer to God if we try and copy some of God’s wonderful characteristics.
Looking in depth at Luke we turn to the first subsection (6:27–31) the accent is on the showing of love to those who hate and persecute the disciples; they are to be prepared to give freely and to obey the ‘golden rule’. A second subsection teaches that such love will gain a heavenly reward and contrasts it with the mutual love shown by sinners (6:32–36). From the thought that such conduct is like that of God who is merciful there develops the command to avoid judging others and to give freely in order to receive freely from God (6:36–38). By this point the thought has moved from love of enemies to relationships of a more general character.
The first subsection (6:27–31) is parallel to Mt. 5:44, 39b, 40, 42; 7:12. Two different structures are apparent. In Luke there is a set of balanced clauses, assembled to form a unity. In Matthew there is material cast in the form of two separate antitheses (on retaliation and love for enemies) and presented separately from the golden rule. Despite the closeness of wording, there is a significant change of metaphor in v. 29b from Mt. 5:40. If the same source directly underlies both Gospels, one or both Evangelists has considerably revised its order and contents. Most scholars hold that the more original form is to be found in Mt. (Bultmann, 100; Dupont, I, 189–204; Schulz, 120f.): Luke has run together material from two separate groups in Mt. but has probably preserved something like the original position of the golden rule. Both Gospels show signs of systematizing the traditions before them, and this makes it almost impossible to reconstruct a hypothetical original.
The same difficulty exists in the second subsection, 6:32–36, which is parallel to Mt. 5:46, 47, 44, 45, 48. In Lk. there are three parallel statements indicating that certain forms of behavior go no further than the common practice even of sinners. These are followed by a threefold command to go beyond such minimal actions, so that disciples may have a heavenly reward and become like God. The form is logical and clear. In Mt. the general command to love is followed by the aim of becoming like God. Then come two statements about minimal behavior and an appeal to go beyond this by being ‘perfect’ like God. Luke is more ‘Hellenistic’ than Mt. here, probably as a result of Lucan editing.
In the third subsection, 6:36–38, the theme is that the person who shows mercy, does not judge others and gives freely will receive from God. If the teaching in vs. 32–35 is that living purely on the level of normal human ‘sinful’ relationships does not deserve any reward from God, here we have a command to go beyond this kind of behavior and thus to receive what God has promised in return. This takes the teaching of the beatitudes and woes further. Those who have nothing in this world because they give freely will have a divine reward, but those who have plenty in this world because they have lived in worldly-wise fashion will find that their lack of mercy to others results in the same attitude being shown to them by God. (Marshall, I. H. The Gospel of Luke: a Commentary on the Greek text [1978, Exeter] p257–258)
Thus, they are to see as God sees; and they are, secondly, to act as God acts. They will therefore follow not merely the call of duty, but the call of love (6:27–38). They will seek to do not simply what is right, but what is good. And they will act in this way not only towards those who deserve it but also towards those who do not. Such open-heartedness does not in fact go unrewarded—but the very essence of it is that that must never be their motive for practicing it! (Wilcock, M. The Savior of the world: the message of Luke’s gospel [1979, Downers Grove, IL] p86)
The heart of this lection is the need for love. Jesus stresses that his followers must love the unlovely as well as those that appeal to them. There were several words for ‘love’ in Greek. Jesus was not asking for natural affection, nor for erōs, romantic love, nor for philia, the love of friendship. He was speaking of agapē, which means love even of the unlovely, love which is not drawn out by merit in the beloved, but which proceeds from the fact that the lover chooses to be a loving person. Love your enemies is uncompromising. As Matthew reports the equivalent saying, people have been ready to love their neighbor and hate their enemy (Matt. 5:43). But Jesus goes beyond that. His follower cannot be selective in his love. He must love all, including his enemies, in the spirit of the Master, a widening of the scope of love that appears first in the teaching of Jesus. It is not enough to refrain from hostile acts. He is also to do good to those who hate him. To people living in occupied territory such words must have sounded odd. Must not the Romans be opposed and hated and hurt? To people of strong nationalistic leanings Jesus’ teaching was downright immoral. But, as Caird says, ‘He who retaliates thinks that he is manfully resisting aggression; in fact, he is making an unconditional surrender to evil.’
The believer’s love finds expression in his words. Some will curse him, but he will bless them, the opposite of what might have been expected and of what the world will do in a similar situation. Some will abuse him. He is not to retaliate in kind. He is to pray for such. In verse 29 we find Jesus illustration about physical violence. The cheek is is often the translation, but a more accurate translation is the jaw. Jesus is speaking of a punch to the side of the jaw rather than a light slap in the face. The natural reaction to such a blow is to strike back hard. Jesus enjoins his follower to offer the other side of the jaw. He is speaking about an attitude. When we receive injury, we must not seek revenge, but be ready if need be to accept another such injury. A literal turning of the other side of the face is not always the best way to fulfilling the command. One worldly wit advised, ‘Always forgive your enemies. Nothing infuriates them more.’ It is possible to be outwardly forgiving without showing real love. But it is love that Jesus looks for. This lies behind his words about the coat and the shirt (the coat, himation, was the normal outer garment, and the shirt, or the tunic, the usual undergarment). One must not react in anger against the one who takes the coat but let him have the shirt as well.
In verse 30, once again it is the spirit of the saying that is important. If Christians took this one literally there would soon be a class of saintly paupers, owning nothing, and another of prosperous idlers and thieves. It is not this that Jesus is seeking, but a readiness among his followers to give and give and give. The Christian should never refrain from giving out of a love for his possessions. Love must be ready to be deprived of everything if need be. Of course, in a given case it may not be the way of love to give. But it is love that must decide whether we give or withhold, not a regard for our possessions. Give, incidentally, is in a continuous tense. Jesus is talking about the habitual attitude, not the occasional generous impulse. (Morris, L. Luke: An Introduction and Commentary [1988, Downers Grove, IL] Vol. 3, Pp 149–150)
Do good to those who hate you. Although the Greek wording is different, this is essentially a synonym for “do good” in 6:33, 35. The expressions “enemies” and “those who hate you” are used interchangeable. This command, for Luke, did not mean that Christians were prohibited from defending themselves by legal means against non-Christians. Bless those who curse you. There are numerous examples of blessing only those who bless you and cursing those who curse you, so that this command represents a sharp contrast once again. (Stein, R. H. Luke [1992, Nashville] Vol 24, pp 207–208)
Turning to an equally difficult set of verses in 1 Corinthians about the new life after our present life. The first paragraph (verses 35–38) introduces the idea of the seed which is sown looking like one thing and which comes up looking quite different. Paul doesn’t of course mean that when you bury a body in the ground, a new one ‘grows’ like a plant from its seed. The point he is making is simply that we understand the principle of transformation, of a new body in continuity with the old yet somehow different. And he emphasizes particularly that this happens through the action of God: ‘God gives it a body.’ That’s the first thing to grasp: the resurrection is the work of God the creator, and it will involve transformation—not merely resuscitation, as though the seed, after a while underground, were to emerge as a seed once again. (Wright, T. Paul for Everyone: 1 Corinthians (London, 2004) p. 222)
Paul writes ποίῳ δὲ σώματι ἔρχονται; ‘And with what kind of a body do they come?’ This second question is made in support of the first. Will it be the same body as that which died? But that body has perished. Or will it be quite a different body? Then how is that a resurrection? The ἔρχονται seems to imply a rather crude idea of the resurrection, as if they were seen coming out of their graves. Yet such a conception is almost inevitable, if resurrection is to be pictured to the imagination. The Talmud shows that the Rabbis believed that the particles of the body which died would reunite at the resurrection and form the same body again. So, gross a conception could easily be held up to ridicule then, and is less credible than ever now that we know that the particles form several bodies in succession and may pass in time from one human body to another.
In 36 we find ἄφρων, σὺ ὃ σπείρεις κ.τ.λ. This is the answer to the first question, and it is given with a severity which implies that the objector plumes himself on his acuteness. But he is not at all acute. There is strong emphasis on the σύ, ‘Your own experience might teach you, if you had the sense to comprehend its significance. Every time you sow, you supply the answer to your own objection.’ In 37 we find καὶ ὃ σπείρεις κ.τ.λ. This is the answer to the second question, introduced by καί. The grain, before being sown, is stripped of all the sheaths which protected it on the plant, as the human body, before burial, is stripped of its usual clothing. The γυμνόν has no reference to the soul stripped of the body, an idea which is quite alien to the passage. For the argument there, the exact number of γένη φωνῶν was of no consequence: here the particular kind of grain is of no moment, — ‘wheat, if you like, or anything else.’
In 38 ὁ δὲ Θεός. We find the important point. Neither the seed itself, nor the sower, provides the new body; ‘but it is God that giveth it a body exactly as He willed, and to each of the seeds a body of its own,’ i.e. the right body, the one that is proper to its kind. Therefore, to every buried human being He will give a proper resurrection-body. Then comes the big finish οὐ πᾶσα σὰρξ ἡ αὐτὴ σάρξ. ‘Not all flesh is the same flesh.’ The difference between our present body and our risen body may be greater than that between a seed and the plant which springs from it. It may be greater than that between men and fishes. In Gen. 1:20–27 fishes are mentioned before fowls, and we have an ascending scale, fishes, birds, beasts, man; here we have a descending one. (Robertson, A., & Plummer, A. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary On The First Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians [1911, New York] p369–370)
There are two wonderfully difficult and enlightening lections to choose between this Sunday. One is all about how to understand leaving this limited life and trying to see beyond our limits to the possibility of eternal life. The second lection is all about how to live totally encompassed by extreme love. Both lections stretch our limits and our imagination.
Top of Page ILLUSTRATING THE SERMON
Illustrations with 1Cor 15:35-38
Imagine standing outside a car showroom, a hundred or more years from now. An advertisement has brought you and lots of others to see a new type of car. Different from all that went before, the slogan had said.
‘Looks pretty much the same to me,’ says one person.
‘Well, it’s similar,’ replies another, ‘but the engine seems different somehow.’
The inventor makes a short speech.
‘I know it may look like an ordinary car,’ he says, ‘but what makes this one totally different is what it runs on. We’ve developed a new fuel, nothing to do with oil or petrol. It’s clean, it’s safe, and there are limitless supplies. And because of the type of fuel, the engine will never wear out. This car is going to last forever.’
A fantasy, of course—or perhaps not, since you never know what inventions are going to come next (who in 1880 would have predicted the jet engine or the microchip?). But it gets us to the point of this long, dense and hugely important discussion. What sort of a body will the resurrection produce? And what will it ‘run’ on? (Wright, T. Paul for Everyone: 1 Corinthians [2002, London] p 220)
We may as well go to the heart of the passage, to the verse that has puzzled people many times in the past, and still does. In verse 44 Paul contrasts the two types of bodies, the present one and the resurrection one. The words he uses are technical and tricky. Many versions translate these words as ‘physical body’ and ‘spiritual body’, but this is highly misleading. That is as though the difference between the old car and the new one was that, whereas the old one was made of steel, the new one is made of something quite different—plastic, say, or wood, or some as-yet-un-invented metal alloy. If you go that route, you may well end up saying, as many have done, that Paul is making a contrast simply between what we call a ‘body’, that is a physical object, and what we might call a ghost, a ‘spiritual’ object in the sense of ‘non-physical’. But that is exactly what he is not saying.
The contrast he’s making is between a body animated by one type of life and a body animated by another type. The difference between them is found, if you like, in what the two bodies run on. The present body is animated by the normal life which all humans share. The word Paul uses for this often means ‘soul’; he means it in the sense of the ordinary life-force on which we all depend in this present body, the ordinary energy that keeps us breathing and our blood circulating. But the body that we shall be given in the resurrection is to be animated by God’s own spirit. This is what Paul says in a simpler passage, Romans 8:10–11: the spirit of Jesus the Messiah dwells within you at the moment, and God will give life to your mortal bodies through this spirit who lives inside you.
But when the spirit creates a new body, it won’t wear out. Here, in order to make the illustration of the new car really work, we would have to say that the new fuel will not only preserve the engine forever, but the bodywork too. That would be straining even fantasy-imagination a bit far. But we need to say something like that to do justice to what Paul has written here.
Paul does in fact think that the resurrection body will be a different kind of thing to the present one, because in verses 51 and 52, and again in Philippians 3:20–21, he declares that Christians who have not died at the moment when Jesus returns as Lord will need to be changed. But the contrast he then makes between the present body in itself, and the future body in itself, is not the contrast between ‘natural’ and ‘spiritual’. That, as we’ve seen, has to do with what energizes these two bodies, what they run on. The contrast between the two bodies in themselves is stated in verses 42 and 43. It is the contrast between corruption (our present bodies fall sick, bits wear out, we decay, die, and return to dust) and incorruption (the new body won’t do any of those things). It is the contrast between shame (we know we were made for more than this decaying, corrupting life, and we are ashamed of frailty and death) and honor (the new body will be splendid, with nothing to be ashamed of). It is the contrast between weakness and power. (Wright, T. Paul for Everyone: 1 Corinthians [2004, London] p220–222)
He takes the analogy of a seed. The seed is put in the ground and dies, but in due course it rises again; and does so with a very different kind of body from that with which it was sown. Paul is showing that, at one and the same time, there can be dissolution, difference and yet continuity. The seed is dissolved; when it rises again, there is a vast difference in its body; and yet, in spite of the dissolution and the difference, it is the same seed. So, our earthly bodies will dissolve; they will rise again in very different form—but it is the same person who rises. Dissolved by death, changed by resurrection, it is still we who exist. (Barclay, W. The Letters to the Corinthians [2002, Louisville, KY] p185)
The Duke of Wellington, the great English general, often said that “there was but one thing worse than a victory, and that was a defeat.” Read military history and you know precisely what he meant. To achieve a great victory is grand, of course. It is what you do battle for. But in this world victories are usually won at great cost. You have defeated the enemy, but many of your soldiers died in the effort, many of your friends are no more, perhaps many others are seriously wounded. You see exultation in victory only on those very rare occasions when they have been cheaply won. Usually the victors look virtually as exhausted and as desolate and as dispirited as the vanquished.
But it is the Christian message, it is central to the Christian message, that at the end of time, at the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, the victory will be utterly complete, not one soldier among the hosts of the Lord will fail to answer to his name when the roll is called. It does not appear to be the case now; believers and unbelievers die alike. But on that day, it will be so, the day when the dead rise and the entire immense company of the saints is gathered together and begins its eternal life in the presence of the Lord Christ. Only then will anyone be able fully to measure the victory of the Lord Jesus Christ.
If God is the creator of human beings, if God is our Maker, it is only right to ask what he will do with us his creation? What is more, Christians are sure that there has already been such a resurrection in the world, the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Admit that and it is no longer difficult to believe, as he taught and his apostles after him, that his followers would rise from the dead as he did precisely because that was the entire purpose of his dying and rising again. That was Paul’s point, as we saw, earlier in this same chapter.
What is more, there is an answer to this doctrine, this hope, this expectation in every human heart. We know, whether we suppress this truth or not, we know that we were made to live not die. We know also that our bodies are as surely ourselves as our minds and spirits. Christianity, unlike some other religions and philosophies, does not propose that human life in the future will be something utterly different from what it is here in this world. It builds salvation on creation. It promises the restoration and the perfection of that extraordinary thing that is human life in the first place. We can see much of what God intends human beings to be just looking at ourselves among ourselves. As soon as people stop taking for granted their own lives, their own consciousness, their own extraordinary powers as human beings, powers that cannot begin to be explained naturally, just that soon the Christian doctrine of the resurrection becomes the inevitable fulfillment and conclusion of human life. It is a simple thing to demonstrate that the vast majority of people who do believe in life after death do not envisage it in terms utterly different from what they know human life to be. (https://www.faithtacoma.org/corinthr/the-resurrection-body-1-corinthians-1535-58)
Now, once again, all of these are metaphors or illustrations. The human body is not really a seed, nor does it sleep in the biological sense, nor does it change its clothes, but each of these metaphors helps us to see both that in the resurrection it will be our very own body that rises to eternal life and that it will rise not the same body as before, but transformed, made perfectly suited for its new sphere.
And here, once again, the Bible is asserting a fundamental piece of the Christian world view. Against the Greek notion, which has been reproduced in many religions and many philosophies, including many in the world today, that disparages the physical nature of men and women, Paul asserts that salvation in Christ, the Son of God, embraces man in his totality, in his divinely created nature as a psycho-physical being. It is not only the soul that is made sinless and perfect, but the body as well. And it is not only as souls that men and women who have trusted in Christ in this world will live and love and serve the Lord forever in heaven, but as fully authentic human beings. In fact, it is surely striking that Paul says nothing about the soul after death and before the resurrection; not here. For him the great day is not our death but the resurrection of the body. (https://www.faithtacoma.org/corinthr/the-resurrection-body-1-corinthians-1535-58)
The Apostles’ Creed, the earliest short summary of Christian teaching that has come down to us, has the same emphasis. In that creed we confess our faith in God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and, then, the holy catholic church, the communion of the saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. But, actually, the language of the creed is more emphatic than that in respect to our point. It does not say in its Greek original “resurrection of the body,” but, rather, “resurrection of the flesh.” Now, flesh was a word, in those days, that served in Christian usage to contradict this anti-body, anti-material philosophy that was so common in the world of that day. The resurrection of flesh and bones was Paul’s meaning and he wanted no one to misunderstand him.
And, following Paul, our catechism takes the same viewpoint: “What benefits do believers receive from Christ at death?” And the answer comes: “The souls of the believers are at their death made perfect in holiness and do immediately pass into glory; and their bodies, being still united to Christ, do rest in their graves till the resurrection.”
Now that is Paul’s point and emphasis and it is consistent with the emphasis of the entire Bible. This is Christianity. You are a body and your body is you. And if Christ saves you, then he saves your body; if he transforms you and perfects you, he transforms and perfects your body. To be sure, no one knows precisely what this means in detail. How like our appearance here will be our appearance there? How old will we be? Questions such as those are never addressed in the Bible. But there is no mistaking its teaching that our bodies will rise to eternal life and be transformed at the coming again of the Son of God. (https://www.faithtacoma.org/corinthr/the-resurrection-body-1-corinthians-1535-58)
Ben Franklin had put on his grave:
The body of
Benjamin Franklin, printer
Like the cover of an old book,
Its contents worn out,
Stript of its lettering and gilding,
Lies here – food for worms:
Yet the work shall not be lost,
For it shall (as he believed) appear once more,
In a new and beautiful edition,
Corrected and revised
By the author.
As children, many of us learn about the wondrous process by which a caterpillar morphs into a butterfly. The story usually begins with a very hungry caterpillar hatching from an egg. The caterpillar, or what is more scientifically termed a larva, stuffs itself with leaves, growing plumper and longer through a series of molts in which it sheds its skin. One day, the caterpillar stops eating, hangs upside down from a twig or leaf and spins itself a silky cocoon or molts into a shiny chrysalis. Within its protective casing, the caterpillar radically transforms its body, eventually emerging as a butterfly or moth.
But what does that radical transformation entail? How does a caterpillar rearrange itself into a butterfly? What happens inside a chrysalis or cocoon?
First, the caterpillar digests itself, releasing enzymes to dissolve all of its tissues. If you were to cut open a cocoon or chrysalis at just the right time, caterpillar soup would ooze out. But the contents of the pupa are not entirely an amorphous mess. Certain highly organized groups of cells known as imaginal discs survive the digestive process. Before hatching, when a caterpillar is still developing inside its egg, it grows an imaginal disc for each of the adult body parts it will need as a mature butterfly or moth—discs for its eyes, for its wings, its legs and so on. In some species, these imaginal discs remain dormant throughout the caterpillar's life; in other species, the discs begin to take the shape of adult body parts even before the caterpillar forms a chrysalis or cocoon. Some caterpillars walk around with tiny rudimentary wings tucked inside their bodies, though you would never know it by looking at them.
Once a caterpillar has disintegrated all of its tissues except for the imaginal discs, those discs use the protein-rich soup all around them to fuel the rapid cell division required to form the wings, antennae, legs, eyes, genitals and all the other features of an adult butterfly or moth. The imaginal disc for a fruit fly's wing, for example, might begin with only 50 cells and increase to more than 50,000 cells by the end of metamorphosis. Depending on the species, certain caterpillar muscles and sections of the nervous system are largely preserved in the adult butterfly. One study even suggests that moths remember what they learned in later stages of their lives as caterpillars.
Getting a look at this metamorphosis as it happens is difficult; disturbing a caterpillar inside its cocoon or chrysalis risks botching the transformation. But Michael Cook, who maintains a fantastic website about silkworms, has some incredible photos of a Tussah silkmoth (Antheraea penyi) that failed to spin a cocoon. You can see the delicate, translucent jade wings, antennae and legs of a pupa that has not yet matured into an adult moth—a glimpse of what usually remains concealed. (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/caterpillar-butterfly-metamorphosis-explainer/)
Illustrations for Luke 6:27-38
One of the greatest Jewish scholars to write about Jesus in the modern age was David Flusser, who taught for many years at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. But not everyone approved of his scholarship; and one of his most brilliant students, visiting a university elsewhere, was once given a very low mark by the professor simply because of being associated with Flusser himself. Then, sometime later, a student of that other professor came to study with Flusser. His work was not very good, but Flusser insisted on grading it with an ‘A’. His teaching assistant protested: how could he do that, particularly after what the other professor had done? ‘Give him an A,’ insisted Flusser. ‘This I have learned from Jesus.’
The kingdom that Jesus preached and lived was all about a glorious, uproarious, absurd generosity. Think of the best thing you can do for the worst person and go ahead and do it. Think of what you’d really like someone to do for you and do it for them. Think of the people to whom you are tempted to be nasty, and lavish generosity on them instead. These instructions have a fresh, spring like quality. They are all about new life bursting out energetically, like flowers growing through concrete and startling everyone with their color and vigor. (Wright, T. Luke for Everyone [2004, London] p73–75)
Christianity down the years seem to have known little or nothing of the God Jesus was talking about. Much that has called itself by the name of Jesus seems to have believed instead in a gloomy God, a penny-pinching God, a God whose only concern is to make life difficult, and salvation nearly impossible. But, by the same token, this passage gives the lie to the old idea (which was around in Jesus’ day as well as our own) that all religions are really the same, that all gods are really variations on the same theme. This God is different. If you lived in a society where everyone believed in this God, there wouldn’t be any violence. There wouldn’t be any revenge. There wouldn’t be any divisions of class or caste. Property and possessions wouldn’t be nearly as important as making sure your neighbor was all right. Imagine if even a few people around you took Jesus seriously and lived like that. Life would be exuberant, different, astonishing. People would stare. (Wright, T. Luke for Everyone [2004, London] p73–75)
The reason why crowds gathered, as Luke told us earlier, was that power was flowing out of Jesus, and people were being healed. His whole life was one of exuberant generosity, giving all, he’d got to give to everyone who needed it. He was speaking of what he knew: the extravagant love of his Father, and the call to live a lavish human life in response. And finally, when they struck him on the cheek and ripped the coat and shirt off his back, he went on loving and forgiving, as Luke will tell us later (23:34, 43). He didn’t show love only to his friends, but to his enemies, weeping over the city that had rejected his plea for peace. He was the true embodiment of the God of whom he spoke.
There are two particularly astonishing things about these instructions. First, their simplicity: they are obvious, clear, direct and memorable. Second, their scarcity. How many people do you know who really live like this? How many communities do you know where these guidelines are rules of life? What’s gone wrong? Has God changed? Or have we forgotten who he really is? (Wright, T. Luke for Everyone [2004, London] p73–75)
Rebekka Garvison could feel the passengers’ eyes rolling as she walked toward her seat carrying her newborn, Rylee. They were flying from Kalamazoo, Michigan, to Fort Rucker, Alabama, where Rebekka’s husband was stationed. Minutes into the flight, Rylee wailed. A nearby couple glared, so Rebekka moved. Rylee was still crying when their seatmate, Nyfesha Miller, asked if she could try holding her. Rylee quickly fell asleep in Miller’s arms and stayed that way throughout the flight. “Nyfesha Miller, you will never understand how happy this act of kindness has made my family,” Rebekka wrote on Facebook. “You could’ve just been irritated like everyone else, but you held Rylee the entire flight and let me get some rest and peace of mind.” (https://www.rd.com/true-stories/inspiring/extraordinary-generosity/)
I was running through the streets of New York, soaking wet thanks to a sudden storm, when I heard a voice: “Do you need an umbrella?” It was a woman standing in the doorway of a hotel. She grabbed an umbrella and handed it to me, saying, “Now you have at least one more reason to believe there’s humanity in this world.” Continuing on my way, I was now not only protected by an umbrella but also by the kindness that shows up now and then in the world. Raimo Moysa, North Salem, New York (https://www.rd.com/true-stories/inspiring/extraordinary-generosity/)
A few hundred years ago the great preacher and evangelist John Wesley showed us another way. Wesley lived in economically uncertain times, yet from humble beginnings he became so well known that his income eventually reached 1400 pounds per year. In 2001 this would be the equivalent of earning around $300,000.
So, what did he do with all this wealth? Did he tithe it? No. Wesley went way beyond tithing. He disciplined himself to live on just 30 pounds of the 1400 pounds he earned every year. He gave away 98% of all he earned and lived on just 2%!
Wesley once preached a sermon on Luke 16.9. In it he spelled out his philosophy: money is a tool that can be used for great good or great ill. “It is an excellent gift of God” he claimed, “answering the noblest ends. In the hands of his children, it is food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, raiment for the naked: It gives to the traveler and the stranger where to lay his head. By it we may supply the place of a husband to the widow, and of a father to the fatherless. We maybe a defense for the oppressed, a means of health to the sick, of ease to them that are in pain; it may be as eyes to the blind, as feet to the lame; yea, a lifter up from the gates of death! It is therefore of the highest concern that all who fear God know how to employ this valuable talent; that they be instructed how it may answer these glorious ends, and in the highest degree.”
He went on to spell out three simple rules which can guide us: gain all you can, save all you can, give all you can. Wesley lived out these principles, on another occasion remarking: “If I leave behind me ten pounds…you and all mankind [can] bear witness against me, that I have lived and died a thief and a robber.” (https://storiesforpreaching.com/category/sermonillustrations/generosity/)
Blaise Pascal was an influential French scientist who lived in the 1600’s. He was something of a genius. For example, at the age of twelve, even before he had received any formal training in geometry, Pascal independently discovered and demonstrated Euclid’s thirty-two propositions. I don’t even know what Euclid’s thirty-two propositions are, let alone demonstrating them! It’s no surprise then that as an adult Pascal completed important works on mathematics and experimental physics. He even gave us buses. Noticing a crowd of people all headed in the same direction to work he came up with the idea of the bus and in 1662 helped form the very first bus company.
Pascal was also a devoted Christian. He wrote books on grace and the life of Christ as well as other Christian works.
Through all this Pascal realized that his faith, though intensely personal, could not be merely individualistic. His love for God drove him to love for the poor. “I love poverty” he said, “because he (Christ) loved it. I like wealth because it gives a means to assist the needy.” Increasingly Pascal deprived himself so that he could give more. He sold his coach and horses, his fine furniture and silverware and even his library in order to give to the poor. When he received an advance of 1000 francs for his bus, he sent the money to the poor in Blois, who had suffered from a bitter winter. He then signed over his interest in the company to the hospitals of Paris and Clermont.
When Pascal died at the age of 39 on August 19, 1662 his funeral was attended by family, friends, scientific colleagues, worldly companions, converts, writers, and the back of the church was filled with the poor, who had been helped by Pascal during his life. (https://storiesforpreaching.com/category/sermonillustrations/generosity/)
Top of Page prayers (WorshipAid)
Leader: Don’t be annoyed by anyone who does wrong, and don’t envy them.
People: They will soon disappear like grass without rain.
Leader: Do what the Lord wants, and he will give you your heart’s desire.
People: Let the Lord lead you and trust him to help
Leader: Then it will be as clear as the noonday sun that you were right. Be patient and trust the Lord.
People: Thank You God for reminding us that evil doers will soon disappear, never to be found, but the poor will take the land and enjoy a big harvest.
Union: Let these many assurances come quickly Dear God. Amen.
Dear God, we confess that when it comes to things of faith, we sometimes not only do not comprehend what You want but we just plain do not want to do it. We confess that we find it almost impossible to love those who hate us. We confess that we have a hard time turning the other cheek when someone insults us on Social Media. We confess our failure to turn from cursing to blessing those who insult us and injure us and persecute us every day. We confess that we spend way to much time fantasizing about their destruction or humiliation. We confess that we are too much enamored with the idea of revenge. We admit that we do not see the real value of being generous while others hurt us.
Take these gifts and re work them into something glorious. Take these minutes of our lives and transform them into something wonderful that we don’t even understand. We ask you O God, take these offerings and make them work for You in the world and the world to come. Amen.
O God in a world in which we face difficult ideas and propositions each day, help us celebrate the wonder of Your call for extreme generosity and extreme love. In a world limited by death and reason help us to celebrate the wonder of Your promised new life to come.
O God, we know that the world often misunderstands Your point of view. We understand that our world is built upon repaying debts and repaying favors, help us to see beyond such limits. We understand that the world is built upon the finality of death and refuses to even consider a new life to come. We understand O God, that without Your wonderful extreme view of who and what we are that we would be lost in an ungenerous and grasping world. We understand O God, that without Your wonderful and frightening view of our physical world we would not be able to see beyond the decay and destruction that is always part of each of our lives.
We come in thanks for Your extreme love and generosity which we saw in Jesus. We come in thanks and extreme gratitude for Your promise of a new life to come. Help us each day to live according to all these miracles. We pray for this in Jesus name, who is and will always be the hope of the world. Amen.