Live Long and Prosper, 1 Corinthians 15:19-26, April 4, 2010
 
What’s the secret to living a long life or, even better, living forever?
There’s an old saying in Japan: “Old people are everybody’s treasures.” If that’s the case, and it should be, then Japan is one of the richest countries in the world (electronics aside.)

A 2008 survey revealed that Japan has more centenarians than any country in the world with 36,000 citizens aged 100 or older. In the United States the ratio is about 10 per 100,000. Life expectancy in Japan is a full four years longer than in America.

But is living that long really a good thing? What is the quality of life after 100? After all, who wants to spend his or her golden years in a wheelchair or nursing home? Here, again, is where the Japanese respect for their elders as “treasures” trumps our obsession with youth and fear of aging.
 
Many of these Japanese elders are living active, full lives. Take a guy named Tadashi Kozakai, for example, who’s 101. He goes dancing twice a week, exercises every day and gave up smoking 11 years ago at age 90.
 
Then there’s Shitsui Hakoishi, who at 92 has been cutting hair for 75 years and still gives her clients a shave with a straight razor. “When my hands start to shake, I will have to retire,” she says.

Japanese cultural traits, good genes and a focus on social activity and family may foster long life in Japan, but diet appears to have even more of an impact.
 
Unlike a typical Western diet, the daily Japanese diet doesn’t contain much meat or sugar. In fact, an average Japanese person eats 86.2 grams of fat per day, or about half of the 155.4 grams consumed by the average American.

It’s not as if we Americans don’t know that eating too much fat can shorten one’s life span, or that spending too much time on the couch may turn us into a vegetable. We’ve been told that to maintain a healthy lifestyle: Be a nonsmoker, exercise, eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day and maintain a healthy weight.
 
At the same time, a 2005 Michigan State study revealed that only 3% of Americans do all these things. What gives?
 
This body can’t last forever.

It has been suggested, that food and exercise may have as muchto do with American’s shortening life spans as ancient Greek philosophy does. It’s a philosophy that Paul confronts in this section of his first letter to the Corinthians.
 
He writes to people who have come to believe in Christ but who still hold on to some ancient assumptions about the body — assumptions that many Westerners (even church folk) still hold today.

The idea may have originated with Plato, somewhere around the fourth or fifth century B.C., who postulated a dualism between the body and the soul. In general terms, Plato believed the body to be the enemy of the soul primarily because the body engages the world through its senses, which can deceive a person’s view of reality.
 
For Plato, the real world was the world of eternal and universal ideas that can be seen only with the mind’s eye and can be known by humans only after death. Any noble idea was more real than a physical body.
 
God created humankind and said ‘It is good.’ God created us physically and communed with Adam and Eve in the garden. Our bodies were meant to glorify God—not to be degraded with lust or destroyed by toxic substances.
 
Our bodies do not cause us to sin—they are neutral—we control how we live: walk, talk, eat, sleep. . . Plato and other philosophers put the body down—devalued it.

To put it another way, Plato saw the body, although beautiful and worthy of art and sculpture, to be a kind of prison: something to be sloughed off at death so the soul could move to a higher plane of knowledge and existence.

It’s interesting to note how this philosophical idea has permeated Western culture and, perhaps most tellingly, much of Christian theology and thought. The idea of an eternal and blissful heaven as the realm of the soul at death is a vision that many Christians and even nonreligious people believe to be true.
 
In this view, the body has no ultimate use or value in comparison to a disembodied spiritual life lived on clouds behind pearly gates where souls have wings and plunk on harps all day long. It’s the kind of philosophical view that’s even expressed in our hymnody in lyrics such as “Some glad morning when this life is o’er, I’ll fly away.”

So if most people believe even unconsciously that their bodies are simply destined for the ground anyway while their souls will experience heavenly bliss, what incentive is there to care for the body in the present?
 
Why live a long life on earth when eternity in heaven is waiting? Why not “eat, drink and be merry” in the present body, because tomorrow we’ll die (1 Corinthians 15:32, quoting Isaiah 22:13)?

These may have been the questions the first-century Corinthians were asking. They were culturally steeped in Greek philosophy and lived in a prosperous cosmopolitan city with plenty of opportunities to eat, drink and make merry.
 
 When Paul thus came to Corinth and preached a gospel centered on the resurrection of Jesus’ body as the “first fruits” of the general resurrection of human bodies at the end of time (v. 23), it’s no wonder that some of them scoffed at his message (v. 12).  Bodies coming out of tombs may be a wonderful spiritual metaphor, but for many of them, like some Christians even today, believing it to be literally true was spiritually and intellectually repugnant.

The resurrection is not a metaphor

Paul insisted, however, that resurrection was anything but a metaphor. The empty tomb on Easter morning was the linchpin for the whole Christian movement and the only hope for all of creation. If Easter hadn’t really happened, if the tomb wasn’t really empty because Jesus hadn’t literally risen from the dead, then the consequences for Paul and the church were staggering.
 
Without it, Paul’s preaching would have been useless (v. 14) even deceitful (v. 15), and his life of constant risk and danger on behalf of the gospel would have been in vain (vv. 31-32).
 
Without resurrection, Paul says, “[Y]our faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (v. 17) and those who have died before are simply dead (v. 18).
 
In the resurrection of Jesus, Paul says, God was doing nothing less than beginning to reverse the curse of sin and death that entered the world through human sin.
 
“For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so will all be made alive in Christ” (vv. 21-22).
 
The resurrection of Jesus was thus a prototype and the beginning of the resurrection to come for all of us.

Unlike Platonism, the resurrection of Jesus wasn’t a means of circumventing death or simply seeing it as a transition to a better, more spiritual existence.
 
On Easter, death itself had been placed on notice that its reign of terror was nearing an end. For Paul, the body is not the enemy, as it was for Plato, but death is! (v. 26).
 
The goal of life isn’t a ticket to heaven but a renewed body in a renewed creation. Paul will spend the rest of the chapter explaining how that works.

The point of Easter isn’t merely that it’s a nice metaphor for some kind of new life. Nor is it just evidence that Jesus was divine but eventually went back to heaven
.

No,the point of Easter is that this world, God’s good creation, matters. What we do and how we live, as people created in God’s image in his good creation, has significance.
 
We care for ourselves, we care for each other and we care for the earth because we know that God has not and will not abandon this creation project but will ultimately make it whole again.
 
As we await that great day, we are to spend our lives not giving into death but embracing the goodness of life. The point of the gospel isn’t that we go to heaven to be with God but that God comes here to be with us: “Your kingdom come … on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
 
So why not “live long and prosper”? Whether we are 10 or 110, each day we live is another opportunity to advance the coming kingdom of God on earth, and to bring the day of death’s ultimate defeat that much closer. God’s peace to you and Happy Easter!
 
Rev. Rosemary Stelz
First Presbyterian Church
Bastrop, Louisiana
 


 
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