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Hold Firmly

Brothers and sisters, I want to call to your attention to the good news that I preached to you, which you also received and in which you stand. You are being saved through it if you hold on to the message I preached to you, unless somehow you believed it for nothing. I passed on to you as most important what I also received: Christ died for our sins in line with the scriptures, he was buried, and he rose on the third day in line with the scriptures. He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve, and then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at once-most of them are still alive to this day, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me, as if I were born at the wrong time. I'm the least important of the apostles. I don't deserve to be called an apostle, because I harassed God's church. I am what I am by God's grace, and God's grace hasn't been for nothing. In fact, I have worked harder than all the others-that is, it wasn't me but the grace of God that is with me. So then, whether you heard the message from me or them, this is what we preach and this is what you have believed. -1 Corinthians 15:1-11 (CEB)

And so what do you suppose most people who drive by Aldersgate on Sunday morning see, a lot more cars here than they would on other days of the week, I think… What do they think about us, what do they think about us who call ourselves Christians? What assumptions do they have about who we are and what we believe? The world is at least as we hear reports, see fewer people are here on Sunday mornings, and that's not just because of covid,

over the past couple of years in studies they've done when people check a religious affiliation box on a survey more and more people are checking the box, none and one that they don't have any religious affiliation.

And that's a growing segment of our population, but specifically about Christians, what is it that they think... Well, I'm gonna speculate and say that I think for some of them, they would say, Oh, those are a group of people that enjoy getting together, one another, they have something that they like about their worship and in some way, whatever it is they're doing makes them feel better and gives them some encouragement and motivation to get through week to week in life. That's a fairly cynical view. There are some that would maybe even be more cynical than that, that would be in that vein of skeptic, they would say, well, and they believe in some fiction that's been made up about some guy that died and supposedly died for them. But all of that's just a story, and yet, there are so many different ways that people do choose to express their faith, even among Christians, we have many things that we agree upon, but a lot of differences between denominations and even in here... If we really got down to the nuts and bolts of things, there would be some things that we might say, Well, I kind of think this, or I kind of think this, and sometimes those things are splitting hairs and aren't the heart of the matter, but there has to be a heart of the matter, there has to be something in each of our lives that was compelling enough at some point to get us to say, Yes, this does matter.

And this is going to be something that is going to be a part of my life. It's not something we fabricated, it's not something we've made up, it's something that touched us and moved us in such a profound way that it has altered our lives, that we structure a week around being here to honor and glorify God, that we structure our daily life around finding time to sit down and pray to God or reflect on scripture, do those things that are consistent with building up and reinforcing who we are as Christians. Now, some of us maybe go through seasons where we forget, where we maybe lose sight of what it was that was so compelling, so moving that it's like we're going through the motions.

But it doesn't change the reality of that truth, and sometimes we need to be drawn back to it and be reminded. Paul was dealing with a community of believers who were dealing with all sorts of stuff… Corinth was not an easy place to be a Christian. There was a lot of pressure on them, the society around them had a lot of different gods and a lot of different less than positive behaviors going on that we're pulling on people's time and attention, and this community of faith had heard this word of God, but they needed to be reminded of it. Paul recognizes that one of the challenges that this community was facing was this idea of Jesus who had died and rose again, and whether it was people in the community or people outside of the community that were saying, that's a bunch of nonsense. Nobody dies and rises again, and Paul's trying to bring them back to the heart of the matter, to what he felt was most essential. And so he begins by saying, he said, Now look, I should remind you brothers and sisters of the good news that I proclaim to you, and there's a three-fold process that he talks about right here, he says, I proclaimed it to you, which you in turn received in which you now stand, and through which you are being saved, Paul went around and he proclaimed this gospel to many people, and there were probably quite a few who heard it and just brushed it off, and never thought twice about it. But Paul specifically is addressing the people who heard it, who received it and said, You know what, there's something about that message that resonates with me.

There's something about that that I need to know more. So they received it, and it was true enough, firm enough that they rooted themselves, they establish themselves, that they stood upon it, and through their faith, it was what they were, it was also through which they were being saved. He says, Never lose sight of that. Hold firm to that message, he says, because if not, anything else means that you came to believe in vain, maybe they didn't believe it is completely true to begin with, and maybe they're at that point where they forgot and then Paul needs to bring them back and say, No, no, no, this is not in vain. This is what changed your lives...

This is the good news. Now, we could relate this in a number of ways, the way that came to mind for me was that a few years ago, I was appointed to a church that had a significant amount of conflict going on. It was challenging. It wasn't fun. And a short time into that appointment, I went in for my annual check-up and the doctor said, We need to get you on some blood pressure medication, so he spoke those words to me. I believed him, I filled the prescription, I took the pills, and I continued to take those pills because they work...

Now, if I had gone to my doctor and he said, You know what, you need to take some blood pressure medication and wrote me a prescription and hand it to me and said, Okay, thank you. And put it in my pocket. And never did anything about it. Well, I visit that the doctor would have been in vain, and so it is kind of with faith that Paul has proclaimed this message of good news, and for those who received it and acted upon it and continue to stand in it, well, that good news is what is saving them. That good news is what is bringing them... That promise of salvation through Jesus Christ. And Paul goes on to say, Alright, so Christianity 101, here are the basics, here's the good news that I taught you, what I learned, a first importance, and hand it on to you, He says here it is in a nutshell.

The most important thing, and he begins to give them this message of the summary of our faith, some scholars would say that this is one of the oldest statements of faith that there is... Paul says that Christ died for our sins in accordance with Scriptures, that He was buried and was raised on the third day in accordance with Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter and the 12, and then 500 others, and then to James. And then did all the Apostles and last of all, to me. Paul begins by telling them, Look, here is the essence of our faith. People are questioning whether Jesus died and rose again, but he said that is the most important part of what we believe about who Jesus was.

This Jesus who died in accordance with scriptures, was buried and rose on the third day again, in accordance with scriptures, Paul is adding these statements as evidence for anyone that would doubt... Well, Jesus said these things would happen, Scripture said they would happen, and it did. Jesus died and rose again on the third day, just like scripture said He would, and if these scriptural testimonies about who Jesus is and what would happen aren't enough... Well, He appeared to Peter and the others. He appeared to 500 other brothers and sisters of faith. He says many of them are still alive, so you could go and find any one of them and talk to them, he appeared to James and the other apostles, everyone else who has been sent, he wanted them to understand that this truth, this fundamental foundational truth of the Christian faith is of most importance, it is that foundation upon which we stand, and he says, Hold on to that as if your life depends upon it, because it does. Now, we live in a world with a growing number of skeptics and a growing number of those nones, and so what does that mean for us? Because we can't, as it used to be, open the doors and expect that people are just going to show up because...

What is it that the Christian faith has lost... That doesn't seem to be as compelling, as meaningful... As significant in people's lives. Sadly, I think part of that has come down to the fact that many people see themselves as consumers of the Christian faith, and much like when you go to the grocery and you walk through the produce department, picking things up and examining and saying, I like this one, and no, I don't like that one. We wanna be able to pick and choose, we wanna be those consumers who shop and buy just the parts that we like and the parts that we want, and leave everything else on the shelf, but in doing so, we begin to create and fabricate the faith that we want... And when we do that, we do begin to make a fiction out of this faith, it doesn't mean it's not impactful or meaningful or true, it doesn't mean that there aren't things that encourage us or support us in our lives, but at that point, what distinguishes us as Christians, us as a community of faith, from any self-help book, or a psychologist or a counselor, there are a lot of positive things that we can do in our lives to make us feel good and feel better, but often those things...

Well, those aren’t transformative. Those aren't life-changing, those aren't something that we have absolutely no control over, because if we wanna have control, well, then suddenly we begin to push God out of the picture and live life on our terms, and to create things as we want them to be, not as God wants them to be. And so as followers of Jesus, as people who bear that name Christian, we cannot escape the reality that Paul has stated that Christ died, that He was buried, and on the third day He rose again. That simple statement that may sound very familiar to one that we're gonna say in just a little while, when we proclaim that mystery of faith, when we say Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again, Christ will come again might not be in Paul's statement, but yet that is still the essence of who Jesus is, that the one who died and rose again and will come again is the one in whom we find hope and possibility, and the life. Alife that wasn't possible otherwise.

And Paul says, This is the first most important thing about who you are as Christians. And so he says, Hold firmly to that. Hold firmly to the message I proclaimed to you. Hold firmly to the good news that God loved this world and sent His son, that in him, now a life that wouldn't have been possible otherwise is your reality, if you receive... If you believe, if you stand firm in that, that is the source of your salvation. I think that by not keeping sight of that message may be where we faltered a little bit, or maybe the fact that there are so many other choices that people can have of things to hold firmly to, that if my bank account is big enough and I hold firmly to that, then everything will be okay in my life.

If I work hard enough and long enough and aspire to that level of success, then everything will be alright if I hold firmly to that, that will save me in my family. But we know that finances can be squandered and jobs lost and all other sorts of things can befall us, and if we're holding firmly to those, suddenly we're not sure which way is up or where to turn, but just as we've heard over the past couple of weeks, particularly about this love of God that never ends, this love that calls us to give of ourselves, like we heard last week in Corinthians of this love that Paul spoke of in Romans that knows no end, and nothing can separate us from it. That it is this God who is saying, this is my son, and this son died, was buried and rose again, so that we might have life. We need to remember that of everything that we do, of all of the wonderful music we sing, of all of the service we engage in our community, of all of those wonderful organizations that we support and contribute to, and all of the fellowship and things that we do. Those are a wonderful part of being part of a community of faith, but even those, even those are empty and meaningless, if it's not rooted firmly on that foundation of the one who died and rose again, it is only in and through him that any of the things that we do as a church have significance and meaning, so when we gather to worship, we need to never forget that it is because of Jesus who died and rose again that we come to hear wonderful music, to sing our hymns, to offer our prayers, to give, to serve, to be the body of Christ.

What's more, when we go forth from this place, the reality that can sustain you and support you in your day-to-day life is to do it in the name of the one who died and rose again, and have that foundation that cannot and will not be shaken. Be the foundation upon which you build your life. When it comes to being the people of God, we're called to live our faith, trusting in Jesus, but what's more, we're also called upon to go and to share that message. Paul begins by saying, that message that I came and preached and proclaimed to you is the one that you believe is the one you stand on, and it's the one that's saving you, we're called to be participants in that as well. To share it with others. There's a quote attributed to St. Francis, it says, proclaim the gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.

Let your life be a living example, let the way that you interact and treat other people be part of that witness and that testimony of what it is that you believe, let your actions and the way that you love... Demonstrate your faith, and if necessary, use words. Sometimes pastors, as we'll talk about that when it comes to sharing your faith, and we need to have our elevator speech ready, Paul says to be prepared at all times to give an account of this hope that you have. And so what is it about this faith, this hope in Jesus that has made a difference to you? Maybe it is something that you heard a long time ago as a child in Sunday school or at church camp, maybe it's something recently, maybe what it was then is different now, but what is it about this good news and Jesus that you find most compelling? And how... How, if one of those people that drives by and sees the parking lot and wonders what we're doing here, if they were to ask you, so why do you go... What is it about being a Christian that matters to you?

How would you respond? I'll just say that if your response begins with... Well, you see, it's probably not gonna be very compelling, but to have some thought and be prepared whether you need it or not... Maybe we start with Paul's words, because he had his elevator speech ready. That Jesus died for our sins in accordance with scripture, that he was buried and raised on the third day, according to Scriptures, and He appeared to Peter and the others, and a bunch of people saw it… But I think also what Paul did well, we share his own story as well, because he goes on and says... Last of all, as someone untimely born, he appeared to me. I didn't deserve it. He says, I was the least of the apostles. unfit to be called an apostle because I was persecuting the church.

And yet God came and tapped on my shoulder and said, Hey Paul, I want you to go and spread this good news. He says, it wasn't me. I am who I am by the grace of God, and his grace hasn't been in vain, because I received that grace and I rolled up my sleeves and I got to work. He does boast a little bit here, he says, on the contrary, I worked harder than any other. But then he goes back and says, But it wasn't me. It was the grace of God in me. But at the end of the day, he says, it really doesn't matter who it was that proclaimed it, whether it was I or someone else, we proclaim this message, so that you came to believe, Paul doesn't care where you heard that message. Paul has recognized the importance of it in his life and the difference that is made, and he just wants other people to know and experience what he has, that grace of God working in and through him.

That when Jesus appeared to him and spoke to him, and he was untimely born. And unworthy of it. He recognized the importance and the value of it, like Paul. We too are untimely born, because we can't say we were there to witness Jesus die on the cross, and we saw him after he emerged from the grave, were untimely born, but the thing is...

The foundation, the thing of first importance, has stood the test of time, because we're here, because we've heard that message, and generation after generation, that story has been told of the one who died and was buried and rose again, that we might have life. At the heart of our faith. That's exactly what it's about. People may question it or roll their eyes at it, or say it doesn't make sense. Now, friends, it doesn't have to make sense to be true. It doesn't have to make sense to change our lives. God's Spirit works and moves through us, and when we hear that truth of God declared, that good news that Jesus died and rose again for our sake, we respond by grabbing hold of and holding firmly to that truth and that truth alone. If there's nothing else in life that you hold firmly to, May it be that truth... That Jesus died and rose again for you.


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