Prepared for our local Habitat for Humanity board, Spring 2006
A week from tomorrow is Easter Sunday. Arguably, this day is the zenith, the apex of not only the Christian cycle of worship that spans throughout any given year, but also the content, the proclamation of what the New Testament means to say about the living God. It is the Sunday when preachers ascend their pulpits to utter the astonishing claim that the terminated Jesus was raised up from the dead. And congregations add their astounding reply: "He is risen indeed!"
The question I want to raise with you this morning are something like these: What does that have to do with this? What does the unprecedented claim of Easter day – that in Jesus, God has triumphed over death – what does that have to do with our work here of building houses, shepherding families, and getting organized and mobilized to do so?
Well ... Christians have been trying to make connections like this for better than 1900 years, so far be it from me to pull it all together for us in under 10 minutes! But one little clue, one thread to bind us, one initial possibility can be found, I believe, in Paul’s letter to the Corinthian Christians.
Chapter 15 of that New Testament letter is the place the church returns to again and again to hear Paul articulate the resurrection-word and all of its derivative implications. I encourage you to read and reread this chatper over and over this season. What interests me today is the very last verse of this massive chapter ... but how he gets to that last verse is important, too. The entire chapter is future-oriented.
Paul reminds them that he has passed on to them what was handed to him in the first place: the retelling of the two primary events of the New Testament: Jesus’ death and Jesus’ resurrection.
He reminds them that God’s power is even stronger than death - evidenced on Easter morning - so that there will also be a resurrection of those who have perished. And he teaches them that God is working to put to an end all those things that work against his benevolence and grace. There is coming a day when they will be, in practice, fully and finally defeated, and the biggest enemy is death itself.
He says that Christ is our firstfruits: an agricultural image, meaning that the first portion of the crop represents the whole, i.e. what God accomplished in Christ's dying and rising God will accomplish in those who trust in him.
They had asked Paul what kind of body one will have in the resurrection to come. He answers that it will be much like yours now, yet also new and different. It will run on God’s life ("spirit") instead of being powered by your own steam ("flesh"). He says that when that future day arrives, death will lose the sting it so obviously carries now. So we look for that day and its coming.
But here’s the thing that trips me up in this long chapter, here’s the odd conclusion Paul draws from all of this future faith-talk. At the end of this long arguement, one would expect him to say that the church should not worry so much about this life now, but focus on the next. One might think he'd say, "The here-and-now body is not as important as the soon-to-come soul, so you should make certain your soul is saved above all else. One might expect, "One glad morning I’ll fly away.”
But no, this is what he says, in verse 58: "Therefore, my beloved - -
(Note that "therefore" is Paul’s code word for 'given everything I have just taught you about what God has already done, this is what you should do in response ... ')
"Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain."
For Paul, the future hope of the resurrection has massive implications in the here and now.
For Paul, the promise that God will resurrect his people is sign that God is not abandoning the world, tossing it will all the judgement-trash, but in fact deeply committed to redeeming the whole creation from the inside out. Furthermore, Jesus' astonishing new Easter-life is the signal to Paul that this work has begun, and continues, and will go on and on until all those things counter to God's good will are laid to rest, even death itself. The resurrection = the death of death.
"You know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain." Let is be said, Habitat, that our labor is not in vain ... not so much because we have sweated and toiled ... not so much because we have been earnest or sincere ... not so much because helping your neighbor is the the good and right thing to do. All of that may be true, but: Let us not labor in vain, that is, let us labor well, because we have heard the good news that on Easter God showed his cards, tipped his hand, such that we have seen what God is up to in Christ: the remaking and redeeming of the world, body and soul, now and then. Let us drive nails and hang shingles and open doors because we have heard the news that this, and nothing contrary, is God's good work.
And may it be so that in the resurrection, our labor for others will not have been in vain.