Grace Not in Vain
Scriptures: I Corinthians 15:1-11, 51-58
Before I read our second scripture, I want to show a two minute segment of a Veggie Tales movie. Some of you, especially our children, are already familiar with Veggie Tales. They are short videos, often with a Biblical theme, where the characters all look like vegetables. This particular Veggie Tale is called “A Snoodle’s Tale.” One day a Snoodle appears in a town of Snoodles. This new little Snoodle does not know where he came from, or what he is for, but he finds 3 items in his backpack: a paint brush, a kazoo, and a pair of wings. He is especially excited about the wings, and he decides to show the others that he can fly. That’s where our first movie segment begins. Here is two minutes of “A Snoodle’s Tale.”
[Show www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJzJ5s970Pc. Start at 2:55, stop at 5:11]
We will watch the end of the story in a few minutes. But I wonder if the Apostle Paul ever felt like that Snoodle. As we heard in the first scripture, Paul was called to be an apostle. The risen Jesus has appeared to him in order that he might share with others the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ. And Paul had been doing that for years, starting churches in cities across the Mediterranean, including Corinth. But the church in Corinth had so many problems. In chapter 1 we read about divisions and factions in the church. In chapter 5 there is an episode of sexual misconduct. In chapter 11 we discover they are abusing the poor, and in later chapters they are fighting with each other over who has the best spiritual gift. Some of them even question whether Paul is really an apostle. Paul could have easily felt like that Snoodle: that his gifts as an apostle were unappreciated and wasted and that all his work was in vain. But it wasn’t! And here is why.
[Read second scripture: I Corinthians 15:51-58]
Notice how often in this chapter Paul talks about how our faith might seem like it is in vain [Slide 1]
- Verse 2: “… you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain.”
- Verse 14: “… if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.”
- Verse 17: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”
Without Jesus’ resurrection, I think we could all end up feeling like that Snoodle, as if everything in our lives is wasted.
But in fact Jesus has been raised, and that changes everything. [Slide 2]
- Verse 10: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain.”
- Verse 58: “Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
Often when we think of Jesus’ resurrection, we think of what it means for life after death. We think of Easter in terms of what happens after we die. But Paul sees what Easter means before we die. It means that the things we do to serve Jesus in this life are not wasted.
Why? Because in the resurrection God does not brush aside our feeble efforts to serve Jesus, the way the other Snoodles brushed aside the artwork of that little Snoodle. God does not brush aside our efforts to serve Jesus. Rather in the resurrection God takes our efforts to serve Jesus—God takes our lives—and makes of them something more remarkable and more important and more lasting than we ever imagined.
Listen again to verses 51-52: [Slide 3]
Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.
The resurrection does not mean the continuation of life as it is. We don’t rise from the dead and go back to being the same bickering, self-centered, angry or depressed people we have always been. In the resurrection we are transformed into what God intended us to be all along. And that means the things we do to serve Jesus here and now, things we do to show God’s love in this life, will not be wasted in God’s kingdom; they will be perfected. [Slide 4: Blank]
Now we are ready to watch the conclusion of “A Snoodle’s Tale.” After the Snoodle is rejected by the others, he wanders up to a mountain where he meets a voice. We never do see the figure he meets up on the mountain, but we hear his voice. The voice invites the Snoodle to come in and have a cup of tea. And that’s where we see the Snoodle transformed. Here is the final four minutes of “A Snoodle’s Tale.”
[Show same youtube video. Start at 9:32 and stop at the end 13:29.]
What I especially like about this story is how the Snoodle is not the only one transformed by his encounter on the mountain. Did you notice that? The Snoodle is not the only one who flies at the end of the movie; so does everyone he encounters. When the Snoodle tells his story, others are changed. His efforts are not in vain.
Neither are yours. Go and tell your story.