This is the text of the message I prepared for KSSM for Sunday 17th February 2019.
Psalm 1; 1 Corinthians 15:12-20; Luke 6:17-26
My mother was not born with the surname that she has now: I suggest your mother probably wasn’t either. Many of you here today who are mothers, the same. My mother, Mrs Tann, was born Miss Fisher; no, not that Miss Fisher, she’s Judith, not Phryne (or Peregrine) although she does love a good crime drama on Foxtel. I raise this because mum’s key ring, the one with her actual keys on it, bears the Fisher family coat of arms: it’s much more impressive than the Tann coat of arms let me tell you, and yes there is a Tann coat of arms. The Fisher coat of arms, (much more impressive), bears the motto Respice Finem. “Regard the End”, or, to put it another way, “consider the future”. Hold that thought.
Last week in our reading from the Jesus traditions we heard the story of Jesus calling the first of his named followers, namely Simon, James and John, from their lives of fishing to a new life of discipleship and fishing for souls. By the time we pick up the story in today’s reading Jesus now has a band of followers, and the twelve have each been chosen and brought to the front. Having begun his ministry in earnest with some healing and teaching Jesus takes some time away from the road to sit with his mob, so the twelve plus the crowd, and he begins to lay out for them the ways of discipleship. Luke records Jesus speaking in a short series of dot pointed blessings and woes, and the content is similar to the Sermon on the Mount as recorded by Matthew, who was probably there (whereas Luke was probably not). You may have recognised some of the beatitudes along with some of the later content on the Sermon on the Mount. What Matthew takes three chapters to cover in his account; Luke takes twenty-nine verses, but what does Jesus say to his disciples? Well it can be summed up in two words, Respice Finem, consider the future.
Last week we also heard from Paul and his letter to Corinth. Today’s reading follows immediately after last week’s, and it begins with a similar theme to that of the Fisher family and Luke’s first words from Jesus’ “sermon on the flat place”. “Regard the end”, respice finem says Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:13-14: consider the future if Christ has not been raised: our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. I have wasted my time, preaching only emptiness, says Paul, and you have no hope, if there was no (and therefore is no) resurrection. What appears to have been going on in Corinth is that some Christians, Christians mind you, not agnostics or Sadducees or cynics, some Christians had evolved an idea that Paul’s regard for the end of the world and the soon to be returning Jesus was more like a metaphor for a spiritual life in the present. Heaven, and the bodily resurrection of the died-in-Christ was not real, it was more about what life is like before Jesus and after Jesus. You know, dead to sin, alive to Christ in repentance and rising again to new life, but in this life as a new life: it doesn’t actually mean that corpses will be reanimated in tombs at The Rapture or that we will live eternally in the sky with the angels. That’s what people were saying and Paul is saying “no”: no there really is eternal life and there really was an empty tomb. If Christianity is nothing more than a moral code for good citizenship then it’s a bit of a waste of time says Paul, and it’s certainly not the Kingdom or the future that Christ proclaimed.
Good one Paul.
Also, says Paul, hold on to your “good one Paul” for a tick, if Jesus was not raised from the dead, as we have been saying, then we have been lying. Because we said it happened but it didn’t: (I mean it did, but what if it didn’t). Look at 1 Corinthians 15:15: we have been proclaiming as gospel that God raised Jesus from the dead, and by implication and explanation have declared God to be all mighty and powerful enough to raise even the crucified, ex-sanguinated (drained of blood), dehydrated, asphyxiated, corpse of a man beaten half to death and then speared through the chest to make sure! We have not been talking about some random Ambo who did a close to brilliant resuscitation thing with a set of de-fib pads and some well placed CPR; Jesus was dead! He was dead dead, so dead he was dead, D-E-double-D dedd! He was dead, he was so dead, but God raised him. So if God didn’t raise him then we’ve been lying (or fooled), and if we’ve been lying or fooled about that then what else have we been lying or fooled about, and therefore what else have we been saying that isn’t true. Mate, is any of this true?
Yes. Yes mate, says Paul, any of this is true because all of this is true, including the resurrection part. He says that in 1 Corinthians 15:20, and he says more than that. Paul says respice finem, Jesus was not only raised from the dead but he was the first one raised from the dead. Not “the one”, not “the only one”, no Jesus was “the first one”, which to me at least suggests that there will at least be “the second one”, and if God can do a second one then a seven billionth one is probably not out of reach and therefore I can (and will) be raised too. Regard the end sister-brothers in Christ, the end is not death but resurrection and life eternal. And life eternal we read elsewhere in scripture is not just everlasting life, infinite in time and going on forever, but “a life for the eons”, a life that is long long looong but is broad and tall and fat and thick and rich and full and…and you get the idea. And as the great yet underrated theologian of the twentieth century Jewel Kilcher wrote “let eternity begin”. In other words, the fat life has already begun for those alive in Christ, dead to sin, and regarding God’s end which is endless.
In Psalm 1 we read what the compositors of the NRSV have subtitled “the two ways”. There’s the God way, the way of discipleship, the Yahweh Way, that’s one way. There’s also the “no so” way, the way of the wicked, we way where respice finem suggests that the end is not good. Look, whether the way of Psalm 1:4-6 is a way of fire and brimstone for eternity, or whether it is just a way of frustration and tears in this life where there is no flow and everything is hard, the point is not to focus on where the dead and stupid end up. The point of Jesus, of Paul, of the Psalmist, of Jewel and of Damien is the end for the disciple, which is not an end at all. Delight in God says the Psalmist in Psalm 1:2, so this isn’t even about begrudgingly following the rules and regulations of organised religion and steering clear of the whirring saw-blades of heresy. No, delight in life, drink from the cool springs, sit in the shade, laugh and play, make toddlers squeal with pleasure, and eat the cake. Prosper! Not in a prosperity gospel way: God is not going to give you a new car if you tithe 95%, (although I might get a new car if you tithe 95% so don’t let me stop you), don’t be afraid of the news that God wants your life to be rich and full so long as your life is about the richness and fullness of God. We do not seek God for the reward, we seek God for God’s own pleasure, but we know that when God is pleased then blessing flows and we can live with joy and security in the everlasting life of the eons.
Have you connected, maybe you’re still thinking about it so let me make the connection for you, Psalm 1:1-3 only makes sense if 1 Corinthians 15:20 is true. Respice finem, regard the end if Christ was not raised: if God is not able (or not willing) then scripture’s promises of blessing are empty. The story is not that only Christians prosper in the Kingdom of God: the story is that there is no Kingdom at all if Jesus was not raised. But if Jesus was raised, and he was, then there is a Kingdom and the power of God is trustworthy and available and prosperity in God’s manner is given to all to receive if they choose to receive it.
Respice finem: have you chosen to receive what God has for you? If not yet, then how about now?