Rev. Adrianne Meier
February 20, 2022
Saint Thomas Evangelical Lutheran Church, Bloomington, Indiana
What Have We Become?
1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50, emended
But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.
So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first human, Adam, became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first one was from the earth, one of dust; the second human is from heaven. As was the one of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the one of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the one of dust, we will also bear the image of the one of heaven.
What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.
My grandma had these three VHS tapes for her youngest set of grandkids to watch. There were four of us “little cousins,” and we watched the tape of black and white Popeye and Betty Boop and Looney Tunes until the images fuzzed a bit, the tape was played and rewound so often. One tape was a story version of the song “Puff the Magic Dragon;” every bit as odd as you might think. And the last one was the movie Fern Gully. I can’t imagine this movie had such critical success that many remember it, unless it was the only movie you had yet to watch on a blustery winter Saturday on a farm 30 minutes from town. In the movie, the rainforest is being cut down, and one of the workers is shrunk to the size of a fairy to learn the pain of deforestation. In the story, the fairies can lay their hands on the tree stumps and feel their pain, but the worker, despite being the size of a fairy, cannot. He offers excuses for deforestation, listing the cool things that come from pillaging the earth’s resources until nothing remains. Only when he sees what the rainforest is like – its diversity, beauty, and—of course—the fun of being so small the forest becomes an amusement park – only once he sees this compared to the devastation of acres of cleared trees, only then does he try to stop what is being done to the rainforest. The movie, of course, ends happily, with the rainforest preserved, even revitalized. That it is truly a fairy tale was lost on me as a child. Our human consumption continues unabated, reducing to ash and dust the earth and all its grander, and, so too, each person in all their loveliness. What have we become?
Back in Corinth, Paul is continuing his argument for the resurrection of the body. Last week we heard him argue that if there is no resurrection for us, there is no resurrection for Christ, and if Christ is not raised, then there is nothing to believe in, there is no faith. Now Paul has another argument. Before we get there, first remember that gnostic preachers had visit Corinth after Paul. They believed that our essence is god-like, and we achieve immortality of that god-like essence through knowledge. Our god-like center existed first, and then is wrapped in a temporary covering, the body. The creation story tells us our bodies were formed from dust. From dirt. Proof-positive to the gnostics that bodies are worthless. Made for using and abusing. Our bodies, other people’s bodies, they are all of the same value as the endless layers of dust we sweep up in our homes. Gnostics look around this earth and see nothing but dust, nothing of value, everything to be abandoned.
In their song “Baby,” the band Lost and Found offers these stunning portraits of people in pain, people unseen and unloved. One verse says,
Eighty pounds, she's hardly whole Losing her body to gain some control Hours alone in a tanning salon Trying a smaller and smaller size on.
The next one says,
Pin-striped suits and wing-tipped shoes His laptop computer and his Wall Street news He makes his plane and keeps his pace He hides his pain behind a poker face.
It is a stark reminder that gnosticism is alive and well. We live in a world that teaches us that bodies are to be controlled, subdued. They are to be reduced to near-nothingness. Even those whose bodies are called beautiful, perfect—even these bodies are airbrushed and Photoshopped in print. The are less, still. And even when thinness isn’t the ideal, instead we ask for definition, to be able to see each muscle and sinew, to reduce this complete person to parts. What have we become?
Dust. And that is all this world will ever be able to offer us. Dust.
Sometimes we package it up. Make it fancy. Advertise turbo drives, and gigahertz of speed and terabytes of storage. But it is just fancy dirt, mined from within the earth. And we use it as a means of escape – we escape into work, games, other people’s lives—real and fiction. We are dust.
And it so tempting to put it all out for a fire sale. It isn’t going to get any better than this, except in a fairy tale. Might as well move on.
But Paul tells the story differently: In the beginning, God created the world. In the beginning, at a word from God, creation exploded onto the scene. God gathered up the dust of stars, each atom a seed brimming with potential. Yes, at the end of God’s creating, God gathered a handful of dust and formed it into a person. But God didn’t make the dust into a temporary shell, fragile and breakable, made to be outgrown. God made the dust into fertile soil where life might grow. And into that person, God planted life like a seed, God breathed life into dust to sanctify it, to make holy that dust-human’s entire life. In the beginning, our bodies were created in God’s image; in the resurrection, so, too, our souls. The resurrection isn’t the means by which we abandon our bodies and the world God has made. It is the way the perishable and imperishable, dust and breath, become one.
What have we become?
Life. Paul admits that this isn’t clear, that it is mysterious. Early in the pandemic, when I added “untrained preschool teacher” to my list of vocations, along with novice epidemiologist and makeshift hazmat containment crew, anyway, I’d sit down with the girls each morning for circle time. We’d practice letters and numbers. Sing a few songs I dredged out of my memory or found when I finally turned from dooms-scrolling to what am I going to do with these people tomorrow? We talked about space, fish, and one week, seeds. We put some green bean seeds in a zip-top bag with wet paper towels, and, quicker than I’d even hoped, they’d sprouted. What normally happened in the dark, secret recesses of the earth was happening before our eyes. Obviously this isn’t a new experiment but, surrounded by every marker of death, of fear, as we shrunk from one another, retreating into our homes, here was life. And yet, I still don’t know how that seed does that. If you cut a green bean seed in half, there isn’t a tiny plant in there. It is just…solid, green bean. How does it happen that life comes from that? What an unbelievable mystery.
I once knew a girl who would literally try to claw out of her body. She had a loving family, but harsh beginnings. And she would scratch her skin until it bled. We all took it seriously as cry for help it was. At the time we called it “self harm” and “suicidal ideation.” Every now and then, I get a note from her mom. The path to life has been to become friends with her body. To learn to trust it. To name it for herself. To believe that it is not a casket, a promise of death, but that it holds in it the promise of abundant life.
That is the resurrection of the body. An unbelievable mystery, a testament to God’s hidden possibilities – possibilities in us, in this world. We are not living in a shell, waiting to break free. We are seed, already being transformed. We are, ourselves, revelations—revealings—of a living, loving God. We are dust, but we are soil. We will die, and yet we live.