What Do I Gain?
Text: 1 Corinthians 15:21-26, 30-34, 42
7 Epiphany, C
42So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. Often, at a person’s burial everything seems so final and maybe even hopeless. The life is over. The person gone. All that once was gained is now lost. And while we may face the day with utmost care and decorum in the depths of the human heart you can never quite get past the unspeakable thought that a funeral is not so very different from the weekly task of taking out the trash. All the good once enjoyed has been used up and now the mess, the empty packaging that is left, must be cleaned up. Respectfully.
But when we plant a seed we do not think that way. When we bury a seed it is full of promise and hope and the expectation of all the good and all the return yet to be. We plant seeds in hope of gain. That buried seed is not the end, but the beginning. So why do we Christians who know all this still sometimes fall into thinking and action more like the former and not nearly enough like the latter? Why do we seek to gain what the world offers knowing full well it WILL be lost, and yet disdain what the Lord has promised which will be our everlasting gain, whatever this life may bury us under in the meanwhile?
It is because in sin we are perishable. Our hopes our dreams, our trust, our capacity for truth and joy and faith ... it is all less than it should be. Strong today it is gone tomorrow. It dies at the first sign of trouble, or cost, or hardship or suffering. It understands permanence and immortality ... but only in theory. Mortality – that our hearts and lives know up close and personally. That is why Paul reminds us again and again that our Christian faith is imperishable. It is holy, everlasting, heavenly and all-together out of this world. You can’t judge anything by the here and now. Your must see it all through the eyes of faith and hope and trust or you will lose everything!
30Why am I in danger every hour? 31I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day! 32What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” 33Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” 34Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame. Sometimes we think that the wicked will triumph. The world seems a dark place full of anguish and suffering. The news is always bad and getting worse by the day. It does not take much of a stretch of imagination to see the devil behind so much that happens around us. Has he already won this world? The world is a morgue. Think of the millions who have died and are buried. Think of the millions, the billions who are alive but who are bound to die! Has sin and wickedness won? NO. Not even a little. God has total victory over all forces of evil. He always has and He always will. Only the Word made flesh gets the final say and that message is “Everything is going to be OK!”
This life, these fears, that body this terrible time and circumstance ... they don’t win. They can’t succeed. They have already lost to victory gained in Jesus Christ died, buried, risen and ascended. The struggle between the old Adam and the new Christ in the heart and life of the believer is real but that doesn’t mean it is yet undecided. For the two sides are wholly unmatched. The one is by natural descent from a broken and failing ancestor, who by his sin brought death and dying upon us all; the other by a spiritual regeneration through faith in the Redeemer, who conquered sin and death and by his resurrection brought life and immortality to light.
Thus Paul writes 21For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26The last enemy to be destroyed is death ... Every time we go to a funeral, every time we hear of a death or consider our own, we ought think of this verse. Both as a solemn reminder and as a wonderful comfort. This broken world with all its tarnished treasures will be lost to us and death is the last enemy to be fought. But even that enemy has been destroyed. Already in Holy Baptism you have died and been resurrected in Christ. You have been buried and brought forth from the tomb of sin and death to life everlasting in Jesus Christ your Lord. You have been given the treasures of heaven in the Word and the Sacraments. A treasure that will never tarnish or fade.
What’s more, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead 2,000 years ago is God's pledge to us that those who belong to Christ, will, at the time of His second coming, be raised from the dead. Let this world rage as it will. Our future is guaranteed. On that day of His return Christ will hand over the Kingdom to the God and Father, having abolished all rule and all authority and power. Christ's victory will be total and complete. And He will gladly share it with every one of those who belong to Him in faith.
Now realistically, what does this mean for us Christians still a part of the Church Militant? Just this, Jesus Christ conquered death but we must all still pass through it. Not until God's children rise to life eternal will death be gone forever. It is the last enemy after all. But it is an enemy that should hold no fear for us. In the promise of the resurrection and the return of Christ there is literally nothing to lose and everything to gain. For on that day all evil powers, sin and Satan, will be finally and forever conquered and so will death. For when the believers rise, death itself shall be gone forever and all of this will have been worth it.