Sermon: 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Text: 1 Corinthians 15:1-20

In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

You probably don’t remember the name Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin nor should you. But during his day, he was a powerful man on this earth. A Russian Communist leader, he took part in the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, was editor of the Soviet newspaper Pravda, and was a full member of the Politburo. Although Communism in Russia is long dead and buried, we should not forget how aggressively Communism sought to undermine, even destroy Christianity and replace it with an atheist state.

There’s one particular story about Bukharin. It’s about a journey he took from Moscow to Kiev in 1930 to address a huge assembly on the subject of atheism. Addressing the crowd, he aimed his heavy artillery at Christianity hurling insult, argument, and proof against it.

An hour later, when he was finished, he looked out at what seemed to be the smouldering ashes of the people’s faith. “Are there are any questions?” Bukharin demanded. Deafening silence filled the auditorium, but then one older man began his slow but steady pace to the lectern.

Standing shoulder to shoulder to the communist leader, he surveyed the crowd first to the left then to the right. Finally, he mustered all the strength he had inside him and shouted the ancient greeting known well in the Russian Orthodox Church, “Alleluia! Christ is risen!” and en masse, the crowd stood to their feet and the response came crashing like the sound of thunder, “He is risen indeed! Alleluia!”

My dear friends: the Resurrection: This morning’s epistle outlines the core of our faith, the true Gospel proclaimed by the Church for millennia and as real today as it was in 55AD when Paul wrote to the Church in Corinth.

It is always before us: in our Creed, at the heart of our faith. Paul had to remind the church at Corinth, and we too need to be reminded of the gospel that we have received and on which, we have taken our stand.

This is the Easter message, even though we are not yet even into Lent, our faith is an Easter faith, we are an Easter people, liberated by the Resurrection. I stand here today, in this pulpit, to proclaim this word that…

Alleluia! Christ is risen! Join me in saying, He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

We face interesting times: in this parish, as it looks forward to welcoming Fr. Andy and moving forward in partnership with Christ Church; in his deanery as we face the challenges of the future; and in the Church as a whole – a fragmenting Anglican Communion with its divisions and hang-ups about the sexuality of Bishops; Meanwhile, bible-bashing fundamentalists of bigotry and hate at home and abroad, as some seek to take a Gospel of love and inclusivity and draw a few selective passages of Paul and the Levitical law to condemn in ways that Christ never would.

Lurking behind all of this is the whole issue of how Christians engage with modern society, and explain what the Gospel has to do with them, and how it can transform them.

That Gospel has little to do with heavy-duty theology, or complex philosophy but at the heart of it, and at the heart of all that we do…it’s all about the Resurrection.

Paul said if there’s no Resurrection, then all the preaching is useless.

If there is no Resurrection, our faith has no value.
If there is no Resurrection, we become false witnesses.
If there is no Resurrection, the transformation that takes place within our lives when we know Christ is meaningless.
If there is no Resurrection, then we are to be pitied among humankind.

But Paul was quick to proclaim, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, (he is) the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

In a later verse in the same passage of I Corinthians 15, Paul says the resurrection will change us….

The body sown is perishable, but it will be raised imperishable;
it is sown with dishonour, it will be raised in glory.
it is sown in weakness, it will be raised in power;
it is sown as natural, it will be raised as spiritual” (15:42-43)

This Resurrection is our hope! It is our joy! It is our faith!

The resurrection of Christ from the grave is the cornerstone of Christianity. It is the Magna Carta of our faith. Everything depends on it. Nothing in the Christian faith is worth trusting without it. As a matter of fact, it is not stretching too far to say that all of the New Testament stands firmly on the event we call Easter.
And when we began to doubt, we need to be reminded that no event in history has shaped the world like the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

There is no other religion anywhere in the world that offers an empty tomb as its salvation. There is no other religion that has people lined up for hours in Jerusalem or elsewhere, to look at the empty place where their leader is no longer. In short, Christianity is the only religion that celebrates a Resurrection.”

The resurrection of Jesus Christ has stood the test of time because there isn’t anyone who has been able to disprove it. Even in the face of persecution, the apostles and those who followed them willingly underwent Martyrdom proclaiming Christ risen.

If they had made it up, then surely, at the first sight of an axe, a hammer and nails or a gridiron, surely they would have admitted that it was made up. But no, with faith in Christ resurrected, the glorious martyrs held fast to the Gospel. If anything is worth dying for, then it is worth credibility. That is why I believe in the resurrection and the power that it has to change lives: my life, your lives

And because of that Gospel message, hopes have been restored, attitudes have brightened, emotions have been positively influenced, and lives have been changed.

Let me tell you another story…

It was Easter Day 1973 . Uganda groaned under the terror of Idi Amin. Still fresh in the memory of young priest Kefa Sempangi’s memory was a faced burned beyond recognition, the sight of soldiers cruelly beating a man, and the horrible sound of boots crushing bones, all for the crime of being Christian.

But that East of 1973 Sempangi bravely and openly preached on the Risen Lord in his town’s home football stadium to over 7,000 people. After the service, five of Idi Amin’s Secret Police followed Sempangi back to his little church and closed the door behind them. Five rifles pointed at Sempangi’ s face.

“We are going to kill you for disobeying Amin’s orders” said the captain. “If you have something to say, say it now before you die.” Sempangi, thinking of his wife and little girl, began to shake.

But the risen Lord living in his heart gave him the courage to speak. “Do what you must, “ he said, “The Word of God says that in Christ I am already dead, and that my real life is hidden with Him in God. It is not my life that is danger my friends, but yours. I am alive in the risen Lord, but you are still dead in your sins. May He spare you from eternal destruction.”

The leader looked at Sempangi for a long time. Then he lower his gun and the other guns followed, “Will you pray for us?” he asked. Sempangi did, and from that day those five officers, now converted through the witness of Sempangi’s bravery, protected the Anglican Priest with their very lives.”

Nothing has ever shaped the world like the gospel message.

As we are reminded that it’s all about the Resurrection, and that nothing has ever shaped the world like it, I’m also reminded a very simple fact about life itself…Life on this earth, in these bodies, does not go on forever.

There is death. Every one of us must face our own mortality. There is no military victory, no medical cure, no global village that can prepare any individual to answer the ultimate questions in life any better than the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s the hope of the Russian Orthodox standing against the atheism of Communion, It’s the hope of Paul and the Corinthian Church. It’s the hope of people like Sempangi, who in the face of death itself, stood firm and claimed that indeed Christ is risen!

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Amen.

Preached at St Thomas the Apostle, Elson and Holy Trinity, Gosport, 4th February 2007