Sermon: Now, Wait a Minute

February 17, 2019
Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany

Luke 6:17-26, 1 Corinthians 15:12-20

by Eric Anderson

I am a big fan of “Now, wait a minute” moments.

A “Now, wait a minute” moment is when some new awareness, or some new piece of information, or some new thought calls into question what I thought I saw, or knew, or believed.

Some of them are pretty common, and I treasure them. Driving down Waianuenue Avenue on nearly any day offers that amazing vista of Hilo Bay. I really would like to stop and wait a minute to truly appreciate the sight, but that’s not all that safe to do driving down Waianuenue Avenue. I hope I never lose that sense of awe at the sheer grandeur of it all.

Likewise, looking up toward Mauna Kea is a “Now, wait a minute” moment. Thanks to cloud cover, those moments aren’t as common. Even so, the sight never fails to make me gasp in wonder.

Other “Now, wait a minute” moments are rarer, such as seeing one of the endemic birds for the first time. Let’s face it: they’re sensibly shy of people, and they’re rather small. When I do see one, or see one and can identify it, I’m awash in that sense of amazement.

The neat thing about “Now, wait a minute” moments is the way they open up new possibilities. I remember the first time I visited South Korea a few years ago, and saw the GPS units they were using. On first glance, they just looked to have a bigger screen, which they did. But I noticed something else as well, a feature that was pretty quickly apparent even though I couldn’t and can’t read Korean.

The devices would indicate which lane of the road you should be in to make the next turn. Or to go straight.

That opened my eyes and blew my mind. Here in Hilo, that wouldn’t be quite so useful, although I still find myself making turns I don’t want to take in Kona because I’ve chosen the wrong lane. But imagine how much easier it would make getting around in Honolulu, where you can find yourself circling the blocks if you’re in the wrong lane at the next intersection.

American GPS units didn’t do that at the time. Nowadays I use an application on my phone for directions, and it still doesn’t do that.

Which is why, when I’m in Honolulu, I go around in circles a lot.

The people of the early Christian Church experienced a lot of “Now, wait a minute” moments, and they preserved many of them for us. We’ve got two of them before us in this morning’s Scriptures.

This may surprise you, but the resurrection was one of them: not, so much, the resurrection of Jesus. New Christians tended to accept that in becoming part of the infant church. Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, however, indicate that people were not nearly as confident of a resurrection of the body when it came to themselves. It was one thing to believe in a dramatic instance of divine power, overcoming the attempts of human beings to thwart the goodness of God. That was rather satisfying, in fact, to see the might of an Empire humbled by the continued life of a one-time laborer.

It made less sense, however, to think of resurrection of the body for one’s self. Philosophies of the time tended to discount the worth of the body, of the physical. Death was the freeing of the soul from the prison of the body. But as Carla Works writes, “Paul does not care that the hope of a bodily resurrection might be repulsive. Christ’s resurrection is non-negotiable. It has to be for Paul’s gospel to work. At the heart of this good news is the resurrection of Jesus. If God did not actually raise Jesus from the dead, then God is not stronger than death.”

Paul himself was not particularly comfortable with the idea. He did not, shall we say, have a strong positive body image. By the end of chapter 15 he asserted that the new body is a spiritual body, that is somehow different from the physical body with which we’re so familiar. The spiritual body, however, would be raised from and with the physical body: “For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality” (1 Cor. 15:53).

In the twenty-first century, we have less concern about this body/soul duality. It’s still around, for sure, partially because the philosophies of the ancient Mediterranean had so much influence on the development of Christianity. Today, however, we pause at the notion of resurrection for a different reason. We’re just not sure about this whole business of life after death. As the saying frequently goes, dead is dead.

That makes Easter into an annual, “Now, wait a minute” moment for a lot of people.

And then there’s Luke’s version of the Beatitudes. They’re shorter – only four instead of the nine you’ll find in Matthew’s Gospel – and using fewer words, which vastly changes the meaning.

In Matthew: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” And in Luke: “Blessed are the poor.”

Luke described Jesus as being rather more concerned with the hard-and-fast troubles of the world than Matthew did – a generalization that is somewhat unfair, but it can be supported. This is the third time we’ve heard a word from Luke about God’s compassion for the poor since Advent began. It’s there in Mary’s song. Jesus read it in an Isaiah text just a few weeks ago. And now here we are, with the poor, the hungry, the sorrowful, and the persecuted declared the favored of God.

A second century Christian book called The Shepherd of Hermas had the nerve to answer the question, “Why? Why the concern for the poor?” In one section the author addresses a mysterious figure of vision, watching stones assembled for a tower: “’But who are these, Lady, that are white and round, and yet do not fit into the building of the tower?’ She answered and said, ‘How long will you be foolish and stupid, and continue to put every kind of question and understand nothing? These are those who have faith indeed, but they have also the riches of this world. When, therefore, tribulation comes, on account of their riches and business they deny the Lord.’ I answered and said to her, ‘When, then, will they be useful for the building, Lady?’ ‘When the riches that now seduce them have been circumscribed, then will they be of use to God. For as a round stone cannot become square unless portions be cut off and cast away, so also those who are rich in this world cannot be useful to the Lord unless their riches be cut down. Learn this first from your own case. When you were rich, you were useless; but now you are useful and fit for life. Be ye useful to God; for you also will be used as one of these stones.’”

Or as Melissa Bane Sevier writes: “Isn’t the ultimate blessing by God expressed in wealth and material possessions? Isn’t the release from poverty the result of prayer and hard work? Shouldn’t we look to the smartest capitalists among us to run our country and make our laws? And shouldn’t those who are poor be required to earn any blessings like health care, employment, housing, even food?

“In a (gospel) word: no.”

For Rev. Sevier, and for the author of the Shepherd of Hermas, clearly these words come as a “Now, wait a minute” moment.

The utility of such moments is to broaden our thinking, to open our imaginations, to consider new possibilities, and to move in new directions. As Rev. Sevier continues: “The economic values of our capitalist society are limited and often skewed. Jesus values are often different from those of capitalism, socialism, communism, or any other ism. We’re invited to examine our own social and economic structures with gospel eyes, and to reach new conclusions.”

We’re invited to examine whatever is before us with gospel eyes, and to reach new conclusions.

Can you imagine a life that is grander, more fulfilled, and more enduring than this one? No? Then I invite you to a “Now, wait a minute” moment. Can you conceive of a society in which one kind of hard work is not privileged over another kind of hard work? No? Then I invite you to a “Now, wait a minute” moment.

Can you conceive of a hope that respects death, accepts death, and yet overcomes death? No? Then I invite you to a “Now, wait a minute” moment. Can you conceive of a society where the follies of the wealthy and powerful do not become the burdens of the poor? No? Then I invite you to a “Now, wait a minute” moment.

These are the moments – moments of awe, moments of inspiration, moments of epiphany – that create the possibilities of tomorrow.

Have a “Now, wait a minute moment” – and dream.


Listen to the Recorded Sermon

Now, Wait a Minute

In most weeks, there are noticeable differences between the prepared text and the sermon as spoken. There are more this week, mostly the intentional (if spontaneous) omission of some introductory material. There has also been an addition: the commissioning and benediction have been appended to the sermon (there’s a brief organ chord marking the break). It probably illustrates this sermon better than anything in it does.

The 2013 photo shows a South Korean GPS unit in use (though not, regrettably, with the lane feature visible). The highway sign, however, gives a good idea why such a feature is so handy.

Categories Sermons | Tags: | Posted on February 17, 2019

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