Scripture: 1 Cor. 15:12-22
While pastoring in Kansas City some years ago, I served as co-chair of what became a nationally acclaimed End of Life program entitled “Compassion Sabbath.”
The program was sponsored by the Center for Practical Bioethics aimed at increasing the quality of spiritual care provided by faith leaders to their congregants at the end of their lives. We were successful in bringing together over 300 faith leaders to share ways that they could be more effective in their end of life ministry.
One of the conversations surrounding our work was that of “realistic versus unrealistic hope.” When the doctors inform the patient and/or family that they have done everything that is medically possible and that there is nothing else that they can do, is it realistic to pray for healing?
Has God already spoken and are we praying to change God’s mind or should we be praying to change our minds, ‘not our will but thy will be done.’ Should we be praying for comfort, and peace, and God’s presence in the times where God’s will is not our will?
There have been too many instances where we have been guilty of attempting to provide unrealistic hope. During this time, one of our supervising pastors in Kansas City had a massive stroke and all of the pastors made our way to the hospital.
As I was going in his room, the nurse said to me that there was nothing else medically that they could do and that they were waiting for his family members to arrive to withdraw treatment. There was minimal brain stem activity and he had already been declared brain dead.
As I went back into the waiting room, the other supervising pastor asked us to come together for prayer. He proceeded to pray for healing and restoration of our colleague, asking God to come against the medical condition and to heal him.
After the prayer, I spoke to him in private and asked had he talked with the wife or medical staff or had he been in the room to see our colleague and he said no to all of the above. When I told him what the nurse had said to me, he apologized for his inappropriate prayer of unrealistic hope.
Paul, in the text, is addressing the issue of realistic hope that is found in the resurrection. If Christ is preached that He rose from the dead, how say some that there is no resurrection (v.12)? If there is no resurrection from the dead, then Christ is not risen and if Christ is not risen then his preaching and their faith is in vain (vv.13-14).
The hope to which Paul writes is a hope rooted and grounded in the resurrection. Because Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, we can face tomorrow. Because He is risen from the dead, all fear is gone. Because Jesus is risen from the dead, life is worth living. It is a hope that provides strength for today.
Whatever we face, or whatever we go through today, we can go through it knowing that God will take it from us or us from it. Either way, it’s going to get better and work for our good.
Not only is the resurrection hope that Paul writes about strength for today, but it is also security for tomorrow. If only Paul says they have hope in Christ for today, they would be most miserable (v.19). Because Christ is risen, He has become the first fruits of them that are asleep (v.20).
Through one man came death and now through one man came the resurrection from the dead (v.21). In Adam all die, but in Christ, all are made alive (v.22).
In Christ, our future is secure. In a couple of months, I will be 62 years old and eligible for Social Security benefits. When I met with my financial adviser years ago, he said, “Reverend, I know you are a man of faith, but for our purposes, let’s not include Social Security in our conversation about your future financial needs. It may or may not be there when you need it to be there.”
Well, it looks like it’s going to be there, but that wasn’t where my hope was. I’ve made some financial provisions and I’m still making some provisions. But my hope is not in the financial provisions I’ve made. “My hope is built on nothing less, Than Jesus blood and righteousness,
I dare not trust the sweetest frame, But wholly lean on Jesus name, On Christ the solid rock I stand, All other ground is sinking sand.”
The Rev. Dr. Kelvin T. Calloway is the senior pastor of Bethel AME Church in Los Angeles. This article originally appeared in the March 24, 2016 issue of the L.A. Sentinel Religion section.