David A. Davis
September 17, 2017
“I am the resurrection and I am life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, yet shall they live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26). That’s Jesus talking to Martha after her brother Lazarus had died. Jesus, responding to death and grief with words of resurrection hope. “Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast” (Psalm 139:7-10). The words of the psalmist. The psalmist singing, praying, affirming the fullness of God’s presence in life and in death. Psalm 139. An existential piece of poetry that plunges the very the depth of our being, our life in God.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. I was dead and behold I am alive forever and ever; and I hold the keys of hell and death” (Revelation). The cosmic, victorious Christ of the Apocalypse to John, the Book of Revelation. A triumphant proclamation of God’s ultimate resurrection power. “What is your only comfort in life and in death? That I belong—body and soul, in life and death—to my faithful Savoir, Jesus Christ” (Heidelberg Catechism, Question 1, 16th-century). A bold, right out of the gate, here’s where we start, everything else flows from this affirmation of the resurrection promise that defines our life in Christ.
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). The Apostle Paul in that memorable eighth chapter of Romans. A soaring conclusion to those paragraphs of the epistle, paragraphs that include: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” and “If the Spirit of the One who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the Lord who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through the Spirit that dwells in you” and “For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen?” and “What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us.” “I am convinced that neither death, nor life… shall separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Paul on the hope, and the promise, and the victory of resurrection life.
And from our text today, the 14th chapter of Romans. “We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.” Once again, Paul on the eternal promise of life in Christ. Not chapter eight but slipped in here in chapter 14. Like Jesus daring to speak of life in the face of death. Like the psalmist waxing eloquently on the purpose of life and God’s constant presence. Like the Christ of Revelation trumpeting the victory of all victories. Like the theologians of the Reformation pounding the defining stake into the ground. Romans 14:8. “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord, so then whether we live, or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”
In our tradition’s “Book of Common Worship,” the liturgy of the Service in Witness to the Resurrection, the liturgy for a memorial service, for a funeral, it begins with opening sentences of scripture. The notes to the liturgy suggest that the pastor read some or all the verses listed. There are about 20 verses and they read like a “hall of fame” of scripture texts, the greatest hits. Some of those top 20 I’ve already mentioned. You will remember or you can guess some others. “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth… God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear… We believe that Jesus died and rose again; so it will be for those who have died in Christ. God will raise them to be with the Lord forever. Comfort one another with these words.” And right there in the list is “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord, so then whether we live, or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”
At many, many weddings, I have read I Corinthians 13, “Love is patient, love is kind..” and many, many times, my first line of the homily has been to say to the congregation and to the couple, “Now you know this has nothing to do with marriage, right?” The point being that Paul is writing about love and community and love in the Body of Christ and love as the greatest of spiritual gifts which means, of course, that it has everything to do with marriage. But I have not, at least so far, I have not stood before a congregation at a memorial service and stopped after reading, “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord, so then whether we live, or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” I’ve never stopped right then said, “Now you know this has nothing to with mourning, grief, and death, right?
Because when you drop the quote from Romans back into context of the 14th chapter, it doesn’t come with profound reflection on humanity’s knowledge of God and therefore the knowledge of ourselves, not some divine pronouncement to the saints of every time and place gathered around the Lamb of God. Paul is writing about the issue of food choices, dietary laws, sabbath keeping, judgment, and self-righteousness. It’s a plea to avoid quarreling over opinions and an exhortation to honor and give thanks to God in the mundane practice of life. It is Paul weighing in, not on death, but on life. Paul writing to the ordinary, the everyday rituals and routines of life. What you eat, when you abstain, whether you observe a day to be holy and when you don’t. How in the rhythms of the day, the waking up and the going to sleep, the goings and comings, how amid life itself, folks in the gathered community of faith are so easily prone to judging one another.
This is not the soaring theological treatise of Romans 8. This isn’t Jesus confronting the heartbreak of death. This isn’t an apocalyptic vision of Christ upon the throne. It’s Paul writing about life, ordinary, everyday life and food and relationships and community. And right smack in the middle of it, he plays the resurrection card. “We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.”
It’s not about dying, its about living! It’s about a life together infused in absolutely every way with resurrection hope, resurrection promise, resurrection power. It’s not just about shouting, “Christ is risen.” shouting it on Easter morning. It’s about living it long about Wednesday, and praying in the dark of night, and whispering it with your life into the world’s chaos. Christ is risen! It’s not just about standing in the cemetery and hearing, “Behold I tell you a mystery, we shall not all die, but we will all be changed.” It’s about living in the light of that mystery every day, basking in the promise of eternal life, and passing forward the living, giving, life-sustaining power of God’s love to those around you moment by moment.
It’s not just about singing, “Abide with me… Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes, shine through the gloom and point me to the skies… in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me,” it’s about singing a resurrection song with the forgiveness you sow in your life, and proclaiming the resurrection gospel with how your treat others in your office, and giving a resurrection witness with the unconditional love you can now give back to your father whose health and mind is fading fast. It’s the assurance of God’s resurrection presence you cling to when the loneliness of the first week on campus rises up. It’s that resurrection strength you didn’t know you had that carries you the day after the diagnosis. It’s that grabbing hold of God’s resurrection future as the tears fall down your cheeks as your turn from the font with your baptized infant in arms, as your daughter climbs the steps of the school bus for first grade, as your son almost forgets the hug outside the freshman dorm.
It is the resurrection confidence that calms you at day’s end and lifts you at day’s beginning. It is the resurrection hope that echoes in your ear and beats in your heart when news of missiles and bombs and threats of war rise up again. It is that resurrection rising that you see when cities rebuild, and communities rally and hearts are changed and lives are transformed. It is that incomparable resurrection comfort that can carry you all of your days, every day, that I belong body and soul in death… and in life, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. If we live, we live to Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. Christ is risen!
“So then, each of us will be accountable to God,” Paul writes. Accountable for our judgment and our self-righteousness. Sure. Thank goodness grace abounds. But accountable also for the proclamation and witness to God’s resurrection hope, God’s resurrection promise, and God’s resurrection power in our lives. One theologian notably argued a long time ago that in and through the preached word, Christ rises from dead. Sunday after Sunday when the gospel is proclaimed. I have to tell you that preachers like me, we’re not that good. But you, the witness to the resurrection? It starts with you and in the smallest of ways you could ever imagine.
Christ risen. He is risen indeed!
So go, and live like it.
© 2017 Nassau Presbyterian Church
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