I Corinthians 15:1-11
Several weeks ago, I watched a movie about an African-American young man who was a star football player in college, and was about to go pro when he was diagnosed with leukemia and died a few months later. there is a scene from his childhood in the movie where his grandfather, who raised him, is instructing him about who he is and quotes from I Corinthians 15:10, “by the grace of God, I am what I am, and God’s grace toward me has not been in vain. on the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”
With this statement, I believe that the Apostle Paul has discovered what was at the heart of Jesus’ identity and what gave him the capability of resisting all worldly pressures so that he could be as faithful as he was to the will of God—a faithfulness that ultimately led him to the cross. From childhood on, Jesus so identified with the name of God Yahweh, I am who I am, that nothing could dissuade him from doing the will of God, even in the face of death. for those of us, who like the Apostle Paul, consider ourselves to be followers of Jesus, it seems to me that in order to be faithful to this call, we also are to be what we have been created to be in the image of God—in essence, to be I am who or what I am by the grace of God.
Perhaps you may not think that there is much importance in a name, but in the Jewish tradition, a name often reflects the very nature of who or what a person is. therefore, when Jesus indicated to his disciples that he was one with God, he essentially was telling them that he had come for the purpose of revealing to them and all the world the very nature of the great I Am. in so doing, Jesus could resist all of the temptations and pressures of being what everyone else, the world, and even the evil one wanted him to be. as a result, Jesus left in his wake a lot of disappointed and even offended people, but that did not stop him from being and doing all that he was meant to reveal about what is involved in being faithful to the identity, and therefore the will of God.
Whether the stories are fact or fiction, already at the age of 12, Jesus is portrayed as abandoning his parents in order to debate with the religious leaders at the temple because he knows that he must be about God’s business. later on, when his mother and his brothers pressured him to stop what he was doing out of fear for his life, Jesus rebuffed them by telling them that his mother and his brothers are those who do the will of God, or in other words, who are able to be what they have been created to be. When his disciples, and especially Peter, tried to stop Jesus from going to Jerusalem, he rebuked them as if they were Satan trying to stop him from being what he was commissioned by God to be and do.
Early on in his ministry, Jesus’ hometown folks were all excited about the possibility that Jesus might be the promised messiah until he indicated to them that he had come to save all people, not just the children of Israel and Judah. At that point, they even tried to kill him, because they were so offended at Jesus’ inclusivity. Consistently throughout his life, Jesus disregarded the most sacred religious laws of his day, and at one point basically told the religious leaders to go to hell for their oppressive, corrupt, and violent ways, all because he was being what he understood his purpose to be in this world—a reflection of the love, justice, peace, and freedom of God.
This self-understanding also led Jesus to threaten the men in his society. Every time that Jesus treated a woman as a real person, Jesus was violating one of the most significant mores of his day. whenever Jesus would bless the children or indicate that they were the greatest in God’s realm, we can almost see the hair bristle on the back of the necks of every man in the crowd. of course, when Jesus dined with the tax collectors who were some of the most despised members of the community, everyone who had any patriotic loyalty would be offended.
The ultimate test of Jesus’ being who he was created and called to be came when he refused to be the messiah that most of the people expected him to be. He did not come to Jerusalem to defeat the Romans. He did not have in mind the restoration of the reign of David. He did not even raise a finger to save his own life like any brave man would have done. The people were so disappointed and offended that six days after they hailed Jesus as their king, they were calling for his execution, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Thus, Jesus was crucified basically because he refused to be what everyone else in his life wanted him to be.
And on the third day, God raised Jesus from the dead and said, “yes! You did it! You were everything that I am, and now it will be up to your disciples to be faithful to the same calling—to be in the world, but not of the world; to set their minds and hearts on divine things, not human things; to consider everyone from a divine point of view as my children; to love everyone, even their enemies, as I have loved them; and to be ambassadors of reconciliation just as you were as you prayed for everyone to be forgiven as you breathed your last breath.”
Today, we celebrate this resurrection of Jesus, and in doing so, we can claim with the Apostle Paul, “by the grace of God, I am who and what I am—a creature of God, a child of God, a temple of God’s Spirit, and a reflection of God’s love. as a result of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, I do not have to live in fear of my own death, or in fear of any form of worldly rejection or persecution. instead, I can be who God has created me to be, what Jesus has called me to be, and whatever their Spirit has inspired me to be—the most faithful of witnesses to the love, justice, peace, and freedom of God that I can be by the grace of God. in this promise and with this hope, may the love and peace of God that goes beyond all of our human understanding, keep our hearts and our minds ever faithful unto Jesus of Nazareth, the one whom we profess to be the risen Christ. Amen.