Psalm 138; 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
Sermon Resurrection Life
Good morning! I have often said that the single best part of this job, of being a pastor, is that I get to baptize babies. Celebrating the sacrament of baptism is the most joyful part of this calling. Ministry has its highs and its lows, but even in those times when I’m tired or frustrated, I remember that I am charged with this wonderful task; I remember that part of my call to ministry is to welcome our children into the faith.
First of all, I get to share in the joy of the parents. And let me tell you, even when that baby is a couple’s third child, like Adelyn Claire Plahutnik, or Aiden John Cavaliere, the parents are joyful, excited, and happy. I love the chance to connect with the family and build a relationship.
But it’s not just the baby’s family! Everyone in the congregation is full of joy when we celebrate a baptism. The joy is infectious. It’s a reminder that this community is alive, that there are new people coming in, and we have a duty to raise that child in the faith, support the parents, and conserve the resources we have, so that we may continue to thrive as a congregation.
Simply put: when we celebrate a baptism, it’s a day of joy and hope for everyone. No one complains about anything when we celebrate this sacrament. I don’t hear any complaints about the sermon or the hymns. No one is upset if we run longer than an hour. When we celebrate a baptism, we celebrate what unites us; we celebrate what we hold in common.
Our reading this morning comes from the Apostle Paul’s second letter to the congregation in Corinth. The Corinthian congregation was anything BUT united. This was a big problem and it seems that many people in the congregation didn’t want to listen to Paul.
You have to understand. Paul was one of the people who founded the congregation! He was there at the beginning, yet some rejected him. While I think many of you are familiar with the story of the Apostle Paul, some historical context might be helpful.
Paul was originally named Saul. He was born Jewish, he was trained in the law, and he was from a city called Tarsus, which is located in present-day Turkey.
Jesus was crucified and resurrected in the year 30 CE, most likely. Almost immediately after the resurrection, the first Christian community is formed in Jerusalem, but nobody is using the name “Christian.” The followers of Jesus all think of themselves as faithful Jews. At first.
This brought them into conflict with the Jewish religious authorities. There were many clashes between these authorities and the early Jewish-Christian communities. In fact, one of the chief persecutors was Saul of Tarsus. And he was quite good at it. Until one day, while he was on the road to Damascus, Saul was struck by a blinding flash of light. He saw a vision of the resurrected Jesus, who said, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
After seeing this vision and being struck blind, Saul had a change of heart. When he regained his sight, he was born anew and renamed Paul. He took his charge directly from Jesus; he was called to be an apostle. That is, Paul was called to spread the word of the risen Christ. This was probably somewhere between the years 31 and 36 CE.
Eventually, Paul goes to Jerusalem. The early church spread rapidly among Jewish communities across the Roman Empire. The leaders of the church in Jerusalem decided that they also needed to undertake a mission to Gentile communities and establish new congregations there, too. Paul was one of the leaders of that mission.
Paul spends the rest of the 30s and all of the 40s establishing these communities. He likely visited Corinth, which is not far from the city Athens, and established the congregation there between the years 47 and 49. Later he went to Ephesus, which is in present-day Turkey.
Paul continues to correspond with the Corinthians, even after he’s gone on to his next mission. It turns out, there was lots of conflict in Corinth after Paul left. Other people came into the community, calling themselves “apostles.” We don’t know who they were, but a lot of people wanted to follow their teaching. Some even questioned Paul’s authority as an apostle. We don’t see all of that in this passage from Second Corinthians, but I encourage you to read the whole letter sometime. You’ll find more of the conflict.
In this reading, the Apostle Paul reasserts his authority as an apostle by returning the discussion to the theology that all Christians hold in common, as he says in verse 14, “we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence.” That is, they are all united in the resurrection and the possibility of life everlasting, in Jesus Christ.
To drive his point home, Paul reminds the Corinthians how he and other true apostles have suffered to share this message with the world, yet they have not lost heart, because of their momentary afflictions. Paul and the other true apostles have learned to, “look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal” (4:18).
Paul’s goal is to unite the believers in Corinth and to remind them that they have not yet experienced the fullness of Christian community and the resurrection life. He’s reminding them that they’re new believers. Yes, they’ve experienced the movement of the Holy Spirit, but they need to learn how to talk to people who haven’t felt that same movement. They also need to care more deeply for the members of their own community, too. They need to demonstrate it to the world by living like Jesus did.
In this community, in First Presbyterian Church, we are not afflicted by the deep divisions that the congregation at Corinth experienced. But we do live in a world that has grown increasingly indifferent to much of what we offer. And certainly, it’s a world that doesn’t speak our language.
The answer for us is much the same as it was for the Corinthians.
We, too, must focus on our shared identity, on the truths we hold in common. The beliefs and the identity we share as Christians ought to be bigger and stronger than the things that divide us. We ought to be more invested in our identity in the risen Christ than we are to country or political party. We have to show that to one another and we have to show it to the world outside our walls.
We live in a very divided society, but it is no more divided than the world that Jesus was born into. That was the same world in which Paul founded the congregation at Corinth. And Ephesus. And Colossae. And Philippi. He did that in a world that was either indifferent or completely hostile to the Christian message. And yet, he succeeded. It can be done.
We’re not going to fix all the problems in the world today or tomorrow. Yet this is the work of reconciliation, to which Christ calls us, and the Apostle Paul reminds us. Over the last 15 months or so, we have been separated from one another physically. Now it’s time to come back together and affirm and celebrate what we have in common.
Baptism is the best reminder of all we hold dear, all we hold in common. Baptism is the sign and seal of being in relationship with God, of being raised with Christ. As Paul says, “we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. Today we celebrate as Elena Rose Vazquez is baptized into the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Let us all come together and rejoice in this. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Beloved, as you depart from this place, remember that we are bound to one another through the sacrament of baptism. Remember that our identity in Christ is the most important identity that every one of us holds. Celebrate what we have in common, and then go forth and be instruments of God’s peace and love and reconciliation. Do not return evil for evil to any person, but know that we are all loved by God, and that we are called to reflect that love to everyone we meet. Go forth and be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. In the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord, let all God’s children say, Amen!