Sunday, April 17, 2022

The New Celebration

1 Corinthians 5:6-8

Your boasting is not good.  Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough?  Clean out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened.  For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed.  Let us therefore celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

Sermon for Easter Sunday                                                       4/17/22

The New Celebration

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Hallelujah!

Although the celebration of Easter as a special holiday is ancient to us, if the Apostle Paul were to have encountered it, it would have been a new celebration.  The earliest Christians did not have a special Easter holiday.  They did celebrate Easter, but it was not a holiday.  It was every day.  They worshiped on Sundays, instead of the Jewish Sabbath, on Saturday, because Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday.  Every Sunday worship service was, to them, an Easter celebration.

Easter was much more than a holiday to the earliest believers.  It was their entire faith.  They lived in the afterglow of Easter.  They had no battles between Lutherans and Catholics to consider.  They had no family traditions, at least not at first.  They worshiped in the heart of the excitement of the resurrection.  Death was close and intimate in their world.  Life was hard and often dull.  The gods of their society were capricious and silly, and all authority tended to be dictatorial -- at home, in their temples, and from their government.  The sudden reality of love and freedom from God and of the resurrection and glory to come was worth dying for, and so it was worth living for.  So Easter was their entire faith.

We celebrate Easter as a holiday because it is not our entire faith.  It should be, but we have grown content and complacent.  We keep death at arm's reach with hospitals, nursing homes, and funeral parlors.  We only occasionally stare into its face, and usually it is wearing make-up.

Our faith too often is about feeling good.  Our faith is about nervous tension and relative (not real) economic changes.  Only occasionally do we think much about dying, and only now and then do we ponder the resurrection.  Forgiveness is a self-esteem thing, not a spiritual power.  So naturally, Easter is a holiday -- a ‘set aside' for once a year.

But our comfort with this life and our satisfaction with ourselves and how we live is what St. Paul refers to in our text as boasting.  Just prior to our text, Paul was writing about immorality that existed among the Corinthians.  A man had taken his father's wife.  We don't know if his father had died, but it seems unlikely, or she would be called his father's widow.  She was not the man's mother, but probably a second wife - perhaps one of many, or perhaps the second wife after his father had been widowed.

What that man did is called "incest".  If his father and his wife were divorced, such a thing was still totally out of bounds, even among the pagans.  The Corinthian Christians, however, had tolerated this immorality without excommunicating the evildoer.  Paul accused them of arrogance, in their patience with sin, and commanded them to reject such a man.

Then He said, "Your boasting is not good."  Our comfort with our lives, and our contentment with our own immorality is such boasting.  Patience with divorce and adultery and fornication and homosexuality and such is pagan and worldly, not godly or Christian.  Open-mindedness with the rampant immorality of our television shows and movies is ‘boasting'.  Approval of false teaching in the church, and in our society -- like praising the show Touched by an Angel, even though it contradicts Scripture at almost every single turn -- is such boasting.  The boast is that we are so strong, that we can endure such evil among us and not be turned.  We are so righteous that what God vehemently condemns, we can patiently approve.

"Your boasting is not good".  The reality is that "just a little leaven leavens the whole lump".  Proverbs said it too, "bad company corrupts good morals."  If we wink at sin and tolerate sin and patiently endure sin, we will become twisted by sin again and lost.  "Clean out the old leaven", Paul says.  Don't give sin a foothold among you.

But then Paul says something strange -- he says that we are unleavened already!  We are unleavened because Christ is our Passover -- the feast of the unleavened bread -- and He is not just the feast, He is the lamb, sacrificed to remove our guilt and shame.  We have been unleavened by the forgiveness of sins, purchased and won for us by the sacrifice of the Lamb of God on the cross.  That is what we celebrated on Good Friday.

Let us therefore celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.  Paul is inviting us to a new celebration.  He is inviting us to celebrate not just a holiday, but life set free from sin.  And we don't just celebrate it by having a special service once a year, or with the traditional ham dinner at home.  We celebrate this feast with a life of purity and truth!

The feast he is talking about is not a meal, it is life itself in the presence of God for the sake of Jesus Christ.  Jesus referred to eternal salvation and heaven as the wedding feast, but life here in this world, lived by faith in Jesus Christ, is also part of that feast.

Paul says, "Let us therefore celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth."  The old leaven is the old evils of life without Christ.  They have been set aside by God on the cross.  The resurrection of Jesus from the grave is God's unmistakable method of telling us that our sins have truly been forgiven.  The leaven of malice and wickedness and deceit has been purged from us.  Now we are invited to the new celebration without malice or any evil intentions.  We are invited to the new celebration without wickedness of any sort.  We are invited to celebrate with sincerity and truth.

We are invited to celebrate the new celebration of living a new life in Christ.  That life is a life of honest worship.  Not just singing hymns in a church, but living our lives in the knowledge of the resurrection and the sincere expectation that we shall rise too.  Such worship is lived in the light of forgiveness.  That means that we set aside sin, for we have been unleavened.  Just as the Jews cleaned out all the leaven in their homes for the Passover, we must clean out all of the dishonesty and evil from our lives so that we may remain unleavened, unpolluted as best we are able by the pollution of sin.

It means humbling yourself.  Boasting is living in sin as though you can handle it, as though you are master over sin.  But if we do what is not right, if we lie and gossip and entertain ourselves with the lives and sins of others, that little bit of leaven gets in us and works in us to produce sinful desires and sinful thoughts, which lead inevitably to sinful actions.

Every day is to be a celebration that we have been set free from our guilt.  We celebrate with thanksgiving.  We celebrate by choosing to see the hand of God in all our blessings and opportunities, and trusting in and expecting the hand of God even in those things which trouble us and tempt us.  Like those actors on Television who shout and leap for joy that they have kicked the habit of smoking, or lost all that weight, we should celebrate our forgiveness and salvation.

Jesus' resurrection means that we, too, shall rise from the grave.  Our resurrection will be just like His, because it is tied to His and, in a sense, is His resurrection.  We will rise because He paid for our sins, and death has no claim on us.  We will rise suddenly and with the same sort of glory and excitement as we witness in the Biblical accounts of the first Easter.

We celebrate that resurrection now with faith and with a life which does not participate in the fear and frantic pursuit of hollow, sinful pleasures of this world.  There are enough good and sincere and wholesome pleasures.  We have no need for the private sins, the secret lusts, the sleazy, sinful passions.  We don't need to do them, and we do not need to wink at them in our entertainments, or among our families and friends.  Rather we need to hold up the love of God toward us.  We need to remind one another of God's grace and forgiveness.  We need to encourage one another in prayer and faith.

Jesus said, "I am the Bread of life."  He is the unleavened bread with which we shall satisfy ourselves in the new celebration of the feast.  His resurrection means that the promises made to us are true.  There is life, even beyond death.  There is so much that is so good, so much that it is well worth waiting for, and for which it is well worth disciplining ourselves.

Our boasting is not good, so let us set aside the boast, and humbly repent, knowing our forgiveness is as certain as the resurrection of Christ.  And let us not presume that we have wisdom to righteously live our life as it seems good to us, but let us resolve to humbly seek His guidance and wisdom.  Then we will celebrate the new celebration, where Easter is every day, because we look back at Jesus on the first Easter, and because we see what He has done and we hear what He has promised us if we live in Him, we can confidently look forward to our personal Easters.

He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Hallelujah!

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

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