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It's Not Over
August 31, 1997

1 CORINTHIANS 15:35-45

During this past week I have talked to two people who have doubts about the Christian faith. They have serious questions, especially about death and whether there is life beyond death. The concluding sermon in the Summer Sermon Series on the Apostles' Creed deals, therefore, with an issue that is still relevant and controversial today: I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

In the book, Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Heaven But Never Dreamed of Asking!, Peter Kreeft says that the human race has come up with five basic views of what happens to us after death, and God has come up with a sixth.

1) Annihilation. Nothing. Death ends it all. When we die, we are dead, and that's it. This view is held by materialists who believe that what is material and can be experienced by the five senses is what is real. So when the material, physical body dies, that's the end.

2) We survive death in a place called Hades, but only as ghosts, pale shadows of the living persons we once were. Many ancient tribes and cultures, including the early Greeks and Jews, believed this view. This is the view of the Old Testament.

3) Cosmic consciousness is the view held by Hinduism and Buddhism. The only thing that survives death is the only thing that was real before death: cosmic consciousness, the Buddha-mind, perfect, eternal, transindividual spirit. In this view we do not survive death as individuals. For Hindus and Buddhists, death is nothing, because we are already part of the all-encompassing cosmic consciousness.

4) Immortality of the soul is a view from ancient Greece that crept into the church, but it is not a biblical belief. Immortality of the soul is the belief that the soul-- a pure spirit-- enters a person's body at birth where it is imprisoned until it is released by death. The body is basically evil, while the soul is good. A religious person seeks to deny the body, by abstaining from sex, food, drink, all bodily appetites, so as to free the soul from its prison.

5) Reincarnation is a popular view throughout the world. Reincarnation is the belief that the soul comes back to earth in another body-- reincarnated-- until through a process of cause and effect, learning and growth, the soul is purified and released from its earthly journeys.

6) The sixth view is God's surprise. We become something more than we were before death. We do not continue existence as we know it on this earth, nor does something called the soul escape from its body prison. What happens to us when we die is that we are transformed, resurrected, and given a new resurrected body; not a physical body such as we have on this earth, but a spiritual body. The physical body is not resuscitated, but resurrected and transformed into a spiritual body. This belief is affirmed in the Apostles' Creed: I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

In the early years, when the church was spreading throughout the Roman Empire, it encountered the belief in the immortality of the soul. The concept of the resurrection of the body was foreign to Greeks. To the Greek, the idea of resurrection was preposterous. When Paul arrived in Athens, the capital of Greece, the home of the great philosophers and poets, he witnessed to his faith in Jesus. The Greek audience listened attentively to him until he stated that Jesus was raised from the dead. Oh, how they laughed and scoffed.

No doubt the Corinthian Church was dealing with the same controversy because Paul devoted a great deal of space in his letter to the Corinthians explaining resurrection. He used an analogy like planting seeds. A seed dies in the ground, but from it grows a vegetable or a tree, a new body. When we die, we are given new bodies. What we do to these physical bodies-- bury or cremate-- is incidental, because we will be given new spiritual bodies.

Paul was fighting a losing cause, however, because the church for centuries tried to blend the two beliefs. Perhaps some of you were taught that when you die, your soul goes to heaven, and then at the final time, your body will be resurrected to be reunited with the soul. This strange assimilation was certainly not Paul's belief.

Paul is emphatic. Because Christ was resurrected from the dead, we also will be resurrected. The physical body of Jesus was transformed into a spiritual body, and the biblical writers go out of their way to emphasize that the risen Jesus was recognizable. The risen Jesus is the same Jesus they had known before. He walks, talks, eats and can be touched. Biblical theology finds it impossible to think of a person without a body. It is the body which makes us distinct, identifiable human beings. How would we know one another or communicate with one another without our bodies? Therefore, we believe in the resurrection of the body rather than immortality of the soul.

You may wonder what difference it makes! Oh, what we believe makes a great deal of difference. Belief in the immortality of the soul rather than the resurrection of the body has caused us many problems. The sharp distinction between the soul and the body, where the soul is seen as pure and the body as evil, has led to an artificial separation between sacred and secular. Secular has come to mean something less important or less significant, something dirty and evil, while the sacred is seen as holy. In contrast, our biblical religion teaches that all of life is sacred and should be lived to the glory of God.

As a result of separating sacred from secular, and separating soul from body, our culture has dissected us. We send the mind to school to be taught. We send the body to the doctor to be healed. We send the psyche or spirit to the psychiatrist to be healed. We send the soul to church to be religious. The Bible knows no such distinctions, and, thank God, we are beginning to understand that there are no such distinctions. What the Bible emphasizes is a holistic understanding of life. Modern medicine is recognizing that you can't separate physical health from mental, emotional and spiritual health. Yesterday's Merced Sun-Star reported that eight medical schools have received grants to teach courses in religion and spirituality! We are whole-- mind, body and spirit are all one-- and cannot be divided or dissected.

Who we are as persons is inextricably interwoven with our bodies. How can you know me without my body? I am my body. You are your body. Your body is beautiful; it is God's gift to you. Take care of it. Don't be embarrassed, ashamed, or wish you had someone else's body. Your body is you. You are more than your body. You are what you think, feel, dream, all that you have experienced and learned. But, what you are cannot be separated from your body. Thank God, our bodies' physical pain, limitations, and illnesses will be gone when we are transformed into spiritual bodies,

We Christians believe that when we die we will not lose our personal identity by becoming a disembodied soul, or dissolving into some kind of universal spirit or cosmic consciousness. What the Bible means by the resurrection of the body is that we are individual, distinct human beings with the ability to have a personal relationship with God and with other human beings that transcends death .

Therefore, we need not face our own death, nor the deaths of our loved ones, with fear, dread, terror, or anxiety. Death is not the end. It's not over. We are going to be with Jesus in life everlasting, reunited with loved ones and joining the communion of saints . What I am trying to say this morning has been said much clearer in poetry form by James Weldon Johnson, in Go Down Death.

Weep not, weep not,

She is not dead;

She's resting in the bosom of Jesus.

Heart-broken husband--weep no more;

Grief-stricken son--weep no more;

Left-lonesome daughter--weep no more;

She's only just gone home.

Day before yesterday morning,

God was looking down from his great, high heaven,

Looking down on all his children,

And his eye fell on Sister Caroline,

Tossing on her bed of pain.

And God's big heart was touched with pity,

With the everlasting pity.

And God sat back on his throne,

And he commanded that tall, bright angel standing at his right hand:

Call me Death!

And the echo sounded down the streets of heaven

'Till it reached away back to that shadowy place,

Where Death waits with his pale, white horses.

And Death heard the summons,

And he leaped on his fastest horse,

Pale as a sheet in the moonlight.

Up the golden street Death galloped,

And the hoofs of his horse struck fire from the gold,

But they didn't make no sound.

Up Death rode to the Great White Throne,

And waited for God's command.

And God said: Go down, Death, go down,

Go down to Savannah, Georgia,

Down in Yamacraw,

And find Sister Caroline.

She's borne the burden and heat of the day,

She's labored long in my vineyard,

And she's tired--

She's weary--

Go down, Death, and bring her to me.

And Death didn't say a word,

But he loosed the reins on his pale, white horse,

And he clamped the spurs to his bloodless sides,

And out and down he rode,

Through heaven's pearly gates,

Past suns and moons and stars;

On Death rode,

Leaving the lightning's flash behind;

Straight on down he came.

While we were watching round her bed,

She turned her eyes and looked away,

She saw what we couldn't see;

She saw Old Death. She saw Old Death

Coming like a falling star.

But Death didn't frighten Sister Caroline;

He looked to her like a welcome friend.

And she whispered to us: I'm going home,

And she smiled and closed her eyes.

And Death took her up like a baby,

And she lay in his icy arms,

But she didn't feel no chill.

And Death began to ride again--

Up beyond the evening star,

Out beyond the morning star,

Into the glittering light of glory,

On to the Great White Throne.

And there he laid Sister Caroline

On the loving breast of Jesus.

And Jesus took his own hand and wiped away her tears,

And he smoothed the furrows from her face,

And the angels sang a little song,

And Jesus rocked her in his arms,

And kept a-saying: Take your rest,

Take your rest, take your rest.

Weep not--weep not,

She is not dead;

She's resting in the bosom of Jesus.

Notice, Death didn't take something from her called a soul. Death took her body, her total being, which by the grace and power of God, was transformed into a spiritual body. I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

© 1997 Douglas I. Norris