Sermon: Heaven: A Primer
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50
Preacher: Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location: First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, FL
Date: February 24, 2019
Every church is like a child: each one has its own personality. The Corinthian church was Paul’s problem child who went out of her way to test the boundaries and limits of the faith and his patience. Paul, the ever-vigilant parent, wrote some five or more letters to this church which comprise what we have of First and Second Corinthians. For example, discrimination at the Lord’s Table took place as there were different tables set with different types of food based on social status. There was their promise to raise a financial offering to send to drought-stricken Palestine that Paul had to constantly remind them that they made as they weren’t making good on it. There was the rise of so-called Super Apostles who challenged and threatened Paul’s authority by teaching doctrine that was not orthodox Christianity. One of those teachings is what our text is about today.
These super teachers who popped up when Paul was not there were Hellenists, i.e. Greek. They were trained in Platonic philosophy and Aristotelian logic and saw reality split nicely into two forms: The perfect, untainted and pure spiritual reality compared and contrasted to this imperfect, tainted, impure physical, fleshy world. These super teachers were proscribing a Christianity that was denying the central tenant of the Christian faith and that was bodily resurrection.
On one hand, you had those who said Jesus was just a man who was a superior moral teacher and the proved to be the model for perfect humanity. On the other hand, you had those who said God is too pure to become a real, fleshy man so Jesus appeared as an apparition, a ghost. The former denies Jesus’ humanity and the latter denies Jesus’ divinity. Both of those views are heretical. Furthermore, they saw Jesus’ resurrection as a soulful, spiritual resurrection in that he shows you and me how to morally and spiritually rise above the current fray and hardship of this life. They were spiritually majoring in the minors and minoring in the majors. Well, Paul had had enough. Our scripture this morning has Paul using a rhetorical device called a diatribe where a writer poses a series of questions to gain the attention of the readers or listeners only to fire back the real answers he or she wants them to learn.I believe it is safe to say that you can easily imagine Paul grinding his teeth and is a little red-faced with veins popping out the side of his temple as he wrote this. Listen to the Word of the Lord!
1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50
35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” 36 Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.
42 So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 Thus it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man isfrom heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we willalso bear the image of the man of heaven.
50 What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.
To call someone a fool was not a good thing. It’s consummate to calling someone “You dumb, stupid moron!” Why the harsh language? Paul knew that if the Church didn’t get this point right about their faith, the Church lost the whole meaning of Christmas and Easter which sets the Christian tradition apart from other world faiths. Jesus bodily rose from the dead.
Jesus did not metaphorically rise from the dead whereby he achieved new enlightenment. No, Jesus took on bodily form; the Gospel accounts indicate Jesus had a body, a form, a substance just like before but it was different. Verse 44 can be best understood if we hear it as, “The physical body embodies the soul, the spiritual body embodies the spirit.”
As we look at this primer on heaven, let’s make note of some clarifying points. First, bodily resurrection means that when we transcend this life, we will not be Casper-the-ghost like vapors floating around the clouds; on the contrary, as Richard Hayes writes, our spiritual body gives spirit its form and local habitation.Heaven describes a place of relationship when the Christ-follower is in the presence of the Almighty God.
Second, whereas our earthly body is the habitation of our personal soul, our heavenly body is the habitation of God’s Spirit. Heaven is also the time, the moment we are, as Paul writes in Romans 8:29, conformed into the image of the Son. Heaven in this instance is not so much a place as it is a time when there is a transformation of our likeness into the image of Christ. It points to the time when all the redeemed will be united to the Christ in glory and joy.
When I moved from Georgia to Florida back in 1996, I was still a Georgian. It was only when I went to the Osceola County Courthouse with my ID and two utility bills to show I lived in Kissimmee that I became a Floridian. There was that moment I was given my Driver’s License and Voter ID card and I knew I was bona fide.
Third, we forget that heaven is not the annihilation of Earth and creation but that the earth and all creation are redeemed though the work of Jesus. Paul reminds us in Ephesians 1:10 that through Christ, God is working out a plan, in the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him in heaven and earth. All that God has created makes a difference and matters to the Lord. Our bodies matter to the Lord. Our earth matters to the Lord. Our health matters to the Lord. Our natural resources and how we care for them matters to the Lord. How we treat our physical bodies, our neighbors, our environment and resources now are acts of our personal and corporate discipleship for the care of God’s creation right this moment.
Friends, bodily resurrection affirms the moral significance of life in our physical bodies. What we begin here continues on into glory. It’s not that we live an earthly life and then a heavenly disembodied life; when we accept Jesus our life gains an eternal dimension that begins now and runs out into the future with God. It’s not part A and then part B. Accepting Christ means a physical and spiritual reboot where we begin the process of transforming who we are into the image of Christ now. It’s only after we die that we put on the spiritual body. My body matters. Your body matters. The homeless man’s body matters. The sex-trafficked girls in Jupiter, Florida this week matter. Because bodies matter, Jesus demands that we love one another in willful, intentional, and inconvenient ways and missionally address the homeless and those held in bondage to sexual slavery. Because this world matters, Jesus demands that we care for it in willful, intentional and inconvenient ways and missionally care for creation and our natural resources.
Christianity affirms a bodily, material resurrection. What that means and what it looks like, I have no clue. I sometimes wonder if my spiritual body might be another three inches taller and leaner. That would be nice. Yet, it really means that I am called to live in health right now.
Heaven is beyond our imagination. It’s both a place in the presence of God and a time when we put on our spiritual bodies with all the saints of God. My beloved Smoky Mountains will be untainted and clean and wild. You see, that’s my heaven in my mind. It’s both a place and a time.
As a place, I am in a small cabin in the hills of Appalachia up along a mountain holler that has a robust creek running down it. The cabin is just a few rooms and is nestled into the hillside. A wood fire is burning and it’s raining. I am sitting on a large twelve-foot deep porch that looks down the holler rocking in an old rocking chair, puffing my favorite pipe while drinking a piping hot cup of my favorite coffee. I am dry and warm bundled in a fleece jacket gently rocking and listening to the rain hit the tin roof. After a while comes a person who I recognize as Jesus. He climbs onto the porch, removes his hat and raincoat and I motion inside with my coffee cup. Jesus goes inside and pours a long draught of coffee and then walks back onto the porch and sits in the neighboring rocking chair. We don’t talk but simply sit in one another’s company listening to the rain, enjoying the coffee, and a good pipe. Time seems to stand still. It’s safe. I feel unconditionally and passionately loved for who I am as opposed to what others expect me to be. I am in God’s very presence and God in Jesus just lets me soak him into my being. That’s what heaven will be like for me. What will it be like for you? We can only imagine.
Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
401 SE 15thAvenue
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301
© 2019 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
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