The Rev’d Carlos de la Torre
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
July 23, 2017
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
For centuries, Saint Paul’s letters have been at the center of Christian faith. Arguably, the most important figure in Christianity besides Jesus, Saint Paul and his letters have been the foundation and source of theological arguments throughout the ages. From the earliest Church Fathers to modern era reformers, Saint Paul has been the aid and inspiration for many Christian thinkers.
Countless parishes bear his name, and his impact on the Christian faith goes further than the eye can see. While educated in the Law and a Roman citizen, Saint Paul was not systematician, he was not setting out to write a multi volume theological book. Nor was he writing books for the bible. Instead, Saint Paul was a man for whom his experience with the risen Lord altered his life forever. Dedicating his life, even to his last breath, to spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ.
While venerated and held in high regard by scholars and theologians, Saint Paul himself was not a larger than life figure. While successful in teaching people of Jesus, it was not without its blemishes nor was it a one off event. Hence all his personal letters where we find Saint Paul teaching and reteaching Christian communities. Sometimes at a point of anger and frustration. While he was able to make believers out of various non-jewish communities, his missionary efforts would come to end and his life taken away by the empire.
From all accounts, his own included, Saint Paul was not a luminous or grand figure. If we read through Saint Paul’s letters, we’d find out, by his own admittance, that he was not a gifted speaker, possibly suffering from a speech impediment. Saint Paul speaks openly about his imprisonment and physical abuse by Roman soldiers. He even shares with his audience his own medical problems. An unknown deformity in his eye had plagued him in his missionary endeavors in Galatia.
I’m sure like many of us, Saint Paul must at times felt both blessed by God and beaten up by the world. And yet for Saint Paul all the ailments of this world, all its challenges and stumbling blocks, were no longer a deadly threat. While our bodies may be bruised, our hearts broken, our minds challenged, and our bodies decaying, in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, all of humanity has been given the chance to transcends this earthly life.
While Saint Paul reminds us that all life will end and flesh will decay, the cosmic promise of Jesus Christ is that all flesh and bodies will be transformed. And while we cannot see what this looks like, what life after death looks like, we are led by the Spirit. As Saint Paul reminds us, we who are led by the Spirit are children of God and we will one day be glorified with Christ.
And yet all this talk of the life to come and bliss of the resurrection may in itself be of no use for us. Specially for those whose lives are filled with fear and horror every day they wake up.
What good is Saint Paul’s message of a new creation?
What actual joy can we obtain by believing that one day all bodies will be redeemed and transformed, when innocent lives and sacred bodies are taken away by evil forces?
Especially as we’ve witnessed and continue to witness over and over again certain lives understood as inferior and even disposable. The plague of human violence has created a false economy where some bodies have been viewed as more valuable than others. And we don’t have to look too far into our history to see this. Just turn on your tv or pick up the paper and you’ll see the death of innocent men, women, and children.
Yet, Saint Paul’s personal assurance that our bodies will one day be transformed is not oblivious to the suffering and pain experienced by human bodies. Rather, Saint Paul’s assurance that one day, one day, our bodies will be transformed and made new comes from his own experience with the risen Christ, whose wounds were not vanished but transformed in his resurrected body. Saint Paul’s certitude does not neglect the pain and suffering of our human bodies, on the contrary, Saint Paul views the state of human creation as that of a mother in the midst of labor. An image he’s not afraid to use even for himself in his letter to the Galatians, where he compares his pain at the division taking place amongst Christians to that of a mother giving birth.
While the pain of labor was symbolic for Saint Paul, his own body was no stranger to pain and violence. Remember his imprisonment and physical abuse by Roman solider. In the Book of Acts, we’re told that “the magistrates had Paul and Silas stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.”
For Saint Paul, a new creation, the transformation of the flesh and body, is at the center of Christ’s resurrection. This believe is what kept him going amidst beating, imprisonment, and ridicule.
In his letter to Romans, Saint Paul’s final known letter, we find a seasoned and experienced Paul. After years of missionary trips all over the known world, we find an old, beat up man, who has given up everything to go out and spread the Good News. Putting his body on the line, Saint Paul seems more convinced than ever of God’s faithfulness.
In the verses the follow today’s Epistle, Saint Paul freely and openly puts it out there for all who might struggle to believe that God will reign supreme. That our bodies, and the bodies of the innocent and vulnerable, the living and dead, will not be consumed by the violence of the earth but transformed by the love of God in Christ Jesus. After his own trials and tribulations, Saint Paul writes:
If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,‘For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.