Not To Be Pitied! - 1st Corinthians 15:12-26 (Easter Sermon)
I would like to tell you two stories that involve the feelings of pity.
An elderly couple walked into a restaurant and ordered a hamburger and a soft drink. The waiter noticed the elderly gentleman cut the hamburger in half and slide one portion over to his wife.
Taking pity, thinking the poor couple couldn't afford much to eat, the waiter offered to bring another burger to the table.
“No, no,” said the husband. “We share.”
Later, the waiter approached them again, saying he would be happy to give them another hamburger. But the response was the same.
“No, it's all right. We share.”
When the waiter noticed, however, that the wife was not eating, he could restrain himself no longer. Approaching them, he asked the husband, “Why isn't your wife eating?”
“Oh, she's just waiting for the teeth.”
A young man started a new job at a local restaurant. On a busy Friday night, the owner suddenly emerged from the kitchen and handed him some money.
"We're in trouble," the owner said. "We're out of quarters, and customers are waiting. Go next door and get me $40 worth."
The young man ran to the supermarket next door, but a cashier said she wasn't allowed to give out that many quarters. Determined, he sprinted to a convenience store two blocks away, but it was closed. At a gas station farther down the road, the clerk took pity and gave him the four rolls of quarters. Twenty minutes after he'd left, the young man handed the coin rolls to his boss. "Where are the quarters?" He asked.
"Right here," said the young man, completely out of breath.
The restaurant owner’s face sank. "I meant chicken quarters."
In the first story, the waiter had pity for this older couple that appeared not to be able to afford to each have their own meal…then he has pity for the man’s wife as she just sits there while her husband eats.
In the second story, a gas station attendant evidently has pity on an out of breath waiter looking for change. Of course, as the story concludes, we have to wonder who we are supposed to have pity on—the waiter who ran all over the neighborhood looking for change, or the restaurant owner who can make change for anyone, but who can’t supply his chicken-hungry customers with food.
Both stories evoke pity due to misunderstandings—the first from not knowing the couple’s habits, the second from not knowing what kind of quarters to get. Which one evokes the most pity from you? For me, it is the first story. I mean, if a couple is having to share teeth, I think we ought to have pity one whoever has to eat second. I mean, just think, if you are really hungry, you are having to just sit there and wait while your spouse enjoys their food.
With all this talk about pity, we may need to ask, “what is pity?” According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, pity can be understood as: 1) “a sympathetic sorrow for one suffering, distressed, or unhappy,” or 2) “something to be regretted.”[i] The first waiter though the elderly couple was suffering from poverty and felt pity…the gas station attendant evidently saw a very distressed young man looking for change and had pity.
What does pity have to do with Easter or our Scripture reading from Paul? Well, according to Paul, if some people are right, then those who have struggled to follow Christ are to be pitied above anyone else. Evidently there is an ongoing debate in the church of Corinth. The debate centers around resurrection. For those of us gathered here this morning, I would think that at least 75% of us, if not 100% of us are here because we believe that there is no question about the resurrection. However, in the early church there was quite a debate. We have to understand the culture of the time and the heritage of the people. Among the early Jewish Christians there would have been those who were influenced by Pharisaic tradition and others from Sadusaic tradition. Those who had been influenced that the Pharisees in their understanding would have believed in the possibility of the resurrection of the body…the Sadducees did not. When you add the new Gentile Christians into the mix—whose Greco-Roman influence would have them considering resurrection from completely impossible to something that might happen once-in-a-while in isolated incidents, but for whom the idea of a general resurrection of the dead was completely foreign.
Paul, though, asserts that there can be no question about the resurrection of the dead. It seemed that the Corinthians wanted to accept and go with the resurrection of Christ as a given fact, but wanted to debate as to whether or not anyone else would be resurrected. Paul says if you question the resurrection of the dead, if you want to suggest that God won’t raise the dead, then you have to include Jesus in that mix—in other words, no resurrection means no resurrection, including Christ. And if this is the case, if there is no resurrection of Christ, and therefore no resurrection of any of the rest of us, then, Paul says, “we are of all people most to be pitied.”
Paul says, if you want to feel sorry for someone, if there is no resurrection—if Christ has not been raised from the dead, then you better feel sorry for all of us!
Feel sorry for us because if there is no resurrection then, since we have been saying that God raised Christ from the dead, we are misrepresenting God…and if there is one person you do not want to misrepresent, it is God, He will hold us accountable.
Feel sorry for us because without the resurrection everything we have believed has been a lie, a joke, it means nothing…it’s like learning that the free trip you won will really cost you as you add in taxes, insurance, security deposits, tips, and any other fee that those giving you the free trip want to add in…
Feel sorry for us because without the resurrection we are still trapped in our sins…without the resurrection the cross means nothing for without the resurrection Jesus was just some fanatical man with a few teachings that foolishly allowed himself to be killed and it has no redemptive power for us what so ever, and we are still completely estranged from God…
Feel sorry for us because without the resurrection those who have died, especially those who have died for their faith, are nothing more than dead rotting corpses in the ground…it means Stephen was stoned for no reason; it means that Dusty Miller, a Methodist layman during World War 2 who was crucified in Thailand for his faith, died for no reason; it means that Ri Hyon Ok was executed in June of 2009 for distributing Bibles in North Korea died for no reason;
Feel sorry for us because if there is no resurrection then we are simply wasting our time and our efforts…
Feel sorry for us because if there is no resurrection then when we have put our life on the line (and Paul will tell us repeatedly elsewhere all the times he has put his life on the line for the sake of the Gospel of Christ), it has been for nothing…
Feel sorry for us because if there is no resurrection then when we have denied ourselves the pleasures of this life—eating and drinking and merriment to our hearts content—then we have lost out on whatever joy we might experience…it means that when we came and watched The Passion of the Christ rather than the NCAA Tournament, we wasted two hours of our life…it means that when we give up Monday Night sitcoms to study The Way of Jesus or the first part of American Idol because we are on the way home from choir practice, we are wasting our time…it means that when we choose to give to a mission project rather than go out to eat, or fund a church renovation project rather that put a down payment on a new luxury vehicle then we have thrown away our money…it means when we give up a sporting event for a church social or turn down a vacation in order to help with Vacation Bible School, then we have been completely foolish…
“…if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised…we are above all people most to be pitied.”
However, my brothers and sisters, we are not to be pitied. We do not need anyone feeling sorry for us. Why? Because Christ has been raised from the dead…and he is the first fruits of all who will be raised from the dead.
According to Paul we do not need the pity of the world, because like that waiter with the old couple, the world just doesn’t understand us. We do not folks to feel sorry for us because of any sacrifice we make on behalf of the Gospel because through Christ we have the promise that we are living for more than what we can experience right now…we are living for the future that God has in store for each of us. Paul reminds us that just as death came into the world through one man, through Adam…so too will we all experience the promise of true life, of eternal life, of resurrection life through Christ. We don’t need the pity the waiter or the restaurant owner in the quarter confusion might have received, because we are not confused. We don’t need the pity because even if we are temporarily suffering, distressed, or sorrowful, we know our joy comes in the morning. We don’t need the pity because there is nothing we regret. Christ has been raised, and God will keep His promise and we who have given their lives to Christ will be raised as well.
He is risen!
He is risen indeed!
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!