The Way Out is Through

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We have been worshipping online for ten weeks today. That’s two-and-a-half months. In the grand scheme of things, that doesn’t seem like a long time. But…

In the last two-and-a-half months, I have learned how to make a podcast, and how to hold meetings and Bible studies and worship over Zoom, and that Zoom is a less-than-perfectly-safe place to hold worship, and how to lead worship over video. Among other things.

And we’ve learned how to do many of those things together. We have failed and we have triumphed together. And we’re still learning how to do those things together.

Eventually—maybe even sometime in the next few weeks—we’ll be able to worship in person again. And that will be wonderful. And that will be different.

We might have to keep the congregation small. We might have to sit far away from each other. We might have to wear masks. We might have to give up singing and responsive readings. We might have to figure out new ways to pass the peace and share communion.

And even when we can worship in person, we will still have a podcast and video worship. And maybe we’ll even have a way for people to join us for Bible Study or I Have Questions online.

We will go through this… and we will get out of this… and we will be transformed.

In today’s reading from 1 Corinthians, Paul is making a careful argument. But you might need a little background in order to understand it.

You see, in Paul’s world, people believed that when someone died, they went to sheol. And sheol wasn’t so much an afterlife. It was a waiting room. Some people waited in the good part of sheol, with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, in comfort. And some people waited in the bad part of sheol, in torment and pain. But they were all waiting.

And they were waiting for the resurrection of the dead… and for judgment day. Someday, everyone would get up again, and line up before God, and be welcomed into the new heaven and the new earth, or be sent away into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

But Paul has heard that there are some people in Corinth who do not believe that there will be a resurrection of the dead. So he writes to them,

“I told you what they told me: Christ died for our sins, like the scriptures said he would. And he was buried. He went to the grave with all of our sins. And then… he rose again, just like the scriptures said he would. And the rising matters. You see, he defeated sin and death on our behalf. He forged the path through sin and death to new life. And the proof is that he rose.”

“You see, if there’s no resurrection of the dead, then Christ didn’t rise. And if he didn’t rise, then he didn’t forge a path through sin and death. And if he didn’t forge the path, then we have no one to follow… and we are still trapped in our sin… we are still dead men walking… and all of this… is pointless.”

And I’ll be honest. I don’t know if, when we die, we go to an afterlife. I don’t know if, when we die, we go to a waiting room. I don’t know if, someday, the dead will rise. I have hope. I have faith. But I don’t know.

I do know that it raises a lot of questions. And one of the big ones goes like this: who will I be?

If I had died when I was five, would I be five forever? If I die when I’m ninety-five, will I be ninety-five forever? If I die today, when I have this shoulder-and-neck thing that gives me nasty headaches sometimes, will I have this shoulder-and-neck thing that gives me nasty headaches sometimes forever? And if I die with dementia, will I have dementia… forever?

If all of this is true… if there’s life after this… who will I be?

And Paul answers this way:

“You’ll be you. You see, you’ve never been you before. You’ve never been the you who isn’t weighed down by the world… who isn’t stained by sin… who isn’t trapped in debt that you can never repay. The way of this broken world will beat you up and tear you down and bury you in the ground… but you are a seed… and God will tend you and grow you into something magnificent: you… as you really and truly are.”

“You will get through this… and you will get out of this… and you will be transformed.”

That’s not just true about death. That’s true about life

We might not always notice it, but life is a series of little deaths and little resurrections and little transformations. And we’re in the middle of one now.

We have been worshipping online for ten weeks today; two-and-a-half months. Depending on where we are and who we are, we have been in lockdown or safer-at-home or on the frontlines of the fight or in the last line of defense. We’ve been keeping a healthy distance and wearing masks and going out only when necessary… and sneaking out when not necessary. We’ve been happy and bored and frustrated and lonely and stressed.

And we don’t know what the world will look like on the other side of this. Maybe it will snap back to the way it was before. Maybe it will shift just a little to return as much as possible to what was and accommodate what is new. Maybe it will change in big ways to make sure that the next time a pandemic comes along—and there will be a next time—no one will have to worry that being safer-at-home might mean losing their home.

And I know that this is a big thing that is taking us through a death, and that will lead us to a resurrection, and that might even lead us to a transformation. But I also know that life is a series of small things that do the same. We are always dying a little, and rising a little, and being transformed a little.

We are always getting through this… and getting out of this… and being transformed. That’s true about death. That’s true about life. And that’s true about new life.

I’ve talked about this a little bit before, but there was a time when I had some friends who were deeply concerned about the state of my soul.

We imagine the afterlife differently than Paul did. We don’t imagine a waiting room—even one with a good part and a bad part—or (usually) a resurrection. At some point, we Christians started to imagine that the moment we die, we stand before the judgment seat, and we get assigned to the good place or the bad place.

And my friends were worried. In fact they weren’t just worried. They knew… beyond the shadow of a doubt… that unless I changed my ways… I was going to end up in the bad place.

And I was… not receptive. And there were a lot of reasons for that. But a big one was that when I looked at my friends, they didn’t seem that different from anyone else. And even today, when I look at a lot of Christians, we don’t seem that different from anyone else.

We are baptized into Christ’s death and into Christ’s resurrection… and we go on with our lives. We confirm our baptisms into Christ’s death and into Christ’s resurrection… and we go on with our lives. We eat at Christ’s table and we go on with our lives. We read the scriptures and go on with our lives. We pray for good things and go on with our lives.

I am a pastor. I do all of these things and more. And, far too often, I go on with my life.

And I know that that is not enough.

Now, I need to be careful here. I firmly believe that Christ’s life is for everyone, that Christ’s death is for everyone, and that Christ’s resurrection is. for. every. one. We are enough for God.

But I also firmly believe that the kingdom of God is in us and among us. I firmly believe that the new life that Christ offers is in us and among us. I firmly believe that a taste of the abundant life that Christ calls us to is right there in front of us.

And I firmly believe that if we acknowledge our baptisms and then go on with our lives…

If we go through the motions of being the church and then live just like everyone else; if we just preach that Christ died for our sins, like the scriptures said he would; and he was buried; and he went to the grave with all of our sins; and then he rose again, just like the scriptures said he would… and then go on with our lives…

…then we are cheating ourselves out of the gift that God has given us.

I don’t know if, when we die, we go to an afterlife. I don’t know if, someday, the dead will rise. I have hope. I have faith. But I don’t know.

And, honestly, I don’t care that much. That’s another day. And tomorrow will take care of tomorrow; today has worries of its own.

I am more concerned with the kingdom of God that is already among us, with the new life that is in us, with the taste of abundant life  that is right there in front of us. The taste that we get at Christ’s table, the life that energizes us when we feel the spirit move in prayer or song, the kingdom that we see when we share what we have with others.

We are going through a lot right now. It is wonderful and boring and frustrating and lonely and stressful and a thousand other things. It is a death for the way that things used to be. But we will get through this and we will get out of this.

And… if we are open to it… if we are willing to take the leap… if we are willing to imagine what could be… if we look for the kingdom of God… we will be transformed.

Because it may turn out that we were just a seed, and we can rise from our burial and grow into something amazing. Thanks be to God.

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I’m a pastor, an author, and a nonprofit development and communications professional. My passion, my mission, and my calling is bringing people together to do good, with a particular focus on serving people who are experiencing poverty and other forms of marginalization.

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