A Future Together
part 4

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Once there was a church that had a lot of problems. The members were at odds with each other and ugly conflicts arose among them. People had formed camps around some of the strongest personalities who were and had been part of that church. People were described as being “for” this person or “against” this person. Their brokenness was visible even in their worship. Their attitudes were such that when they gathered for worship they discouraged each other with their attitudes rather than encourage each other with hope and grace. They debated issues of church practice and policy. They disputed over matters of morality and purity.

As they became more and more fractured, they finally decided to appeal to a well-known minister for advice about their many issues. He considered all of their various issues and responded to each with his judgments, but he closed his advice to them with something so very basic, but so very important. Something he felt they needed to recover in the midst of their turmoil ...

          Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
          For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
          For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

The wise minister, the least of the apostles, is Paul. The church with problems is the congregation in Corinth. Paul’s advice is recorded in 1 Corinthians 15. They had many problems and Paul responded to each of them, but he brought them back to the center of their faith and one can look back from there to see that he addressed all of their problems from the center of reality based on the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Paul is a witness that all of our brokenness, all of our identity, all of worship, all meaning and purpose come back to this fundamental event. Not only is it a significant event of the past, it is an enduring event in the present and determines the shape of our future together.

It is as if this gospel truth and this cross-to-resurrection event is the atmosphere and environment in which Christ’s followers thrive. It is the air that we breathe. It is the food that we eat. It is the water that we drink. We know how all of that can affect us. Do we know how the good news affects us?

All of our efforts to be a congregation that “makes disciples for Jesus who are eager to serve others” will be meaningless if we are not breathing the air of the gospel. Just as fire cannot burn without oxygen, our efforts to expect the best from one another, to encourage spiritual formation, to shepherd and minister to others will all fail if do not function in the environment of hope and grace that is produced by taking the gospel of Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection very seriously.

Without hope and grace our efforts devolve into despair, bitterness, suspicion, and control.

Hope gives us perspective. We survey the cross and focus on the agony and suffering – it is real. It is part of the story and that can never be denied. Christ died because of sin and he was buried according to Scripture. But then he rose again and appeared in the flesh to eyewitnesses. This is a hope that reminds us that when Christ is involved then the worst things that happen are never the last things.

Grace gives us the ability to live in that hope – not only for ourselves but also for one another. It isn’t easy to make it through this life. Things break down and fall apart. Our bodies, our homes, our work, our society, our relationships and even our churches. It isn’t always easy to live together. But we have hope that comes from seeing a glimpse of what is to come in Christ. We have been shown grace and we can extend grace because of that hope. After all, Christ had mercy when he appeared to us – even though he died for our sins. And God is working all of this out because his love is going to absorb all of our brokenness and weakness – all of our shame, worry, and sin.

These aren’t just happy thoughts. It is a life-changing reality. It permeates our life so that we actually feel differently, think differently, and act differently. Paul believed it was that critical. This wasn’t additional concerns for him. He said it made all the difference in the world whether we believed that Christ is risen:

And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? I die every day—I mean that, brothers—just as surely as I glory over you in Christ Jesus our Lord. If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." Do not be misled: "Bad company corrupts good character." Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God—I say this to your shame.

Yesterday an article from the Associated Press reported how the belief of the resurrection is variously understood and misunderstood by scholars and Christians. Thankfully, there were some of the scholars who pointed out that physical and spiritual reality of the resurrection demonstrates that God cares about creation; he intends to redeem and renew it and Jesus is the “pilot project for that renewal.” We are also part of the project.

So, does it really make any difference, this belief in the resurrection?

But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

We are a people who live in the environment of the resurrection. It is the air that we breathe. It matters.
Pink Flamingo seems sort of redundant. What other color would a flamingo be? Well as I understand it, flamingos can actually be lots of different colors and pink isn’t their natural color. Flamingos are not naturally pink. They are pink because they absorb the pigment from their environment – from the food they eat and the water they drink.

We are also shaped by the environment we live in. We thrive in an atmosphere of hope and grace through Jesus Christ. What is the air we breathe? Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (I Corinthians 15:58.)

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 23 March 2008

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