Sermon text: 1 Corinthians 15: 1-11
On Thursday night it began, primetime coverage of the Olympics, and I love it. The Winter Olympics are my absolute favorite. I watch in awe of all the sports we’ve created and compete in on the ice and snow. Who took the time to invent skeleton, the biathlon, curling, and ice dancing? And could we throw some random, average Joe out there for the first run to show us how impossible these sports really are?
Thursday night started with one of my personal favorites: moguls. Since I was a kid I was mesmerized by these athletes who can flawlessly navigate the large mounds of snow on skis while also jumping and twisting and flipping through the air on jumps. It’s absolutely crazy, especially when I consider that I can barely make it through three moguls without dying.
NBC did their first of many human-interest pieces on two of the American Olympians competing in the event, aged 18 and 19. The two young men had been training and competing with each other for the past 14 years. There was a video of the two of them as six-year-olds on the ski slopes, declaring that one day they were going to be in the Olympics. Now, 12 years later, they were there, competing with the best in the world.
Can you imagine the training, focus, and dedication it would take for any of the athletes to reach such a stage in their lives? To be an Olympian it would require more than physical traits. It would require drive and focus to perfect your craft and rise to the top of the world’s stage. How many hours, how many dollars, how many injuries, how many sacrifices were made to follow these dreams and to reach these goals? That question could be asked for every athlete in Beijing. They all have operated for years with this one moment being the priority in their lives.
It’s that theme of a singular purpose that caught my attention this week, not only for the Olympic Games, but also for the Apostle Paul, the author of First Corinthians. Paul has a message, a gospel of Christ crucified, and he is devoting the entirety of his life to the mission of spreading the good news to the Gentiles, in the same way that a figure skater perfects their craft on the ice—day by day, week by week.
He says, “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.”
These words are the crux of Paul’s message. He’s saying, “If you remember anything about my time with you, remember this creed of belief. Everything I have taught you, everything you do, every point of your ministry together circles back to Christ crucified and risen.”
This is Paul’s deepest conviction, and it is a matter of life and death. He knows that if the church does not hold fast to this foundational belief, of our connection to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, then everything we are doing is in vain. It is useless. Futile. Worthless.
It’s no wonder why we read from this chapter of First Corinthians on Easter Sunday. The Resurrection is what we’re all about. We are a resurrection people. In Easter we see the fullness of God revealed. We witness an even greater epiphany of who Jesus is and what he intends for us as he is raised from the dead.
It’s amazing that since the time of the church’s infancy to now, that our central tenant of faith has not changed. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. In the beginning the church met in homes and in catacombs, it broke social norms as slaves and slave owners and as men and women from different social classes worshipped and broke bread together, and it was often persecuted and scapegoated when Christianity was illegal in the Roman Empire.
Fast forward two millennia when the church now worships in buildings the size of whole city blocks, when it broadcasts worship on the internet, and is now on the decline as the once dominating social and political force during the time of Christendom. Times have changed as we moved from burgeoning illegal movement to the central religious power of the West. And in all that time the foundation has been the same (or at least it should have been): We celebrate Christ crucified and risen.
Without this tenant of faith, all is in vain for us as a community of belief. Without this creed, we have no guidepost. It would be like training for the Olympics with a coach, a workout regime, and a nutritional plan, but you’ve forgotten which sport you compete in.
Why do we worship?
Why do we perform acts of social ministry?
Why do we have lock-ins and youth groups?
Why do we pray?
Why do we gather for support and fellowship?
Why do we learn and study?
Why do we do good works of faith?
Why do we try to be generous, kind, and compassionate people?
Why? Because of Christ crucified and risen. We hand on to each other what we first received, this belief that changes absolutely everything in our lives. This message of good news is at the heart of all we as church. It is our mission. It is our message. It is our purpose. And if we do not reflect this gift, then it is all vanity.
So we proclaim and so you have come to believe. It is the essence of who we are, no matter if we are in the first or the twenty-first centuries. Let us hold firm to the message. Let it be the underpinnings of who we are and what we do. Let it be our driving force across every worship, every activity, every meeting, every ministry. For this is the life for which we have been called. This is our Olympic sport. AMEN