10 min read

The Wordle of God for the People of God

I guess what I’m trying to say is that we’ve got Amazon Prime two-day shipping. You can press a few buttons and, within two hours, have a week’s worth of groceries ready to pick up at your nearest Target. But sometimes resurrection isn’t like that.
The Wordle of God for the People of God

Sermon Delivered at The Local Church
February 20, 2022 • Epiphany 7C
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 15:35–38, 42–50

So who’s playing Wordle?

Even if you haven’t played it, chances are good you’ve seen the yellow and green squares on Facebook and Twitter. Wordle is this simple online word game invented by a guy named, amazingly, Josh Wardle. And the story goes that his girlfriend loves word games, and so as a gift, Josh decided to create one for her. So he did all the coding for it and put it up online. The rules are pretty straightforward. Pretty simple. You have six tries to guess a random five-letter word. Each letter in your five-letter word goes in a square, and with every guess, different colored squares mean different things. For instance, if the square around a letter is gray, that means the letter’s not in the word. If the square around your letter is yellow, it means it’s in the word but not in the right place. And if it’s green, it means right letter, right place in the word.

It’s become super popular. So much so that the creator, just last month, sold it to The New York Times for somewhere in the low seven-figure range, apparently. And there are a few things that have contributed to its popularity.

First, part of what’s super fun about it is that everyone who plays each day has the same word. So everyone who plays is basically competing with everyone else. So you can find TikToks and blog posts all with different strategies. For instance, how many of you start with the same word every day? How many of you mix it up?

It’s also super easy to share your score — hence the green and yellow squares that are now ubiquitous on social media. And I think that’s certainly contributed to its popularity, too. For over a month now, our family group text has been nothing but Wordle scores. We’ve never texted each other more than we have since we started playing Wordle. It’s been great. You’re always welcome to send me your scores, too. I’m finding that “2” score pretty elusive. The struggle is real.

But I also think that part of the reason it’s become so popular is that you can only play once each day. It limits you and leaves you wanting more. Unlike the apps you know and love like Instagram or TikTok whose whole deal is to keep you coming back, to hold your attention for as long as possible, to build up that muscle memory and train you to tap them as soon you unlock your device, Wordle is different. Because once you’ve played, you’re done for the day. You have to wait until the next day — which is almost unheard of these days. There’s no instant gratification of tapping “Play Again.” There’s no in-app purchase to unlock a pro paid version that lets you play as much as you want. You just have to wait. There’s no alternative.

There have been days I’ve woken up way too early and have had a hard time falling back asleep, so I’ll play Wordle while I’m laying in bed only to be super sad a few hours later when I open it back up to play having completely forgotten that I’d already finished the day’s game.

So obviously today we’re talking about the Gospel according to John where you’ll find such passages as John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Wordle,” and of course, John 3:16, “For God so loved the Wordle…”

Actually, we’re not. But I’ve been waiting to use that joke in a sermon for weeks. Instead, we’re wrapping up this journey that we’ve been on together for the past couple of weeks through the latter part of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. And I promise there’s a connection.

But first, as a quick refresher, we’re in the season of Epiphany. It’s a season of light. A season in which we are attentive to the ways that the glory of God — the presence and power of God — is revealed and made manifest in the world. And for the last few weeks, we’ve been sitting with and leaning into Paul’s correspondence with the fledgling Christian community in Corinth — a city in ancient Greece — with hope that we might discover anew the ways that God’s grace and love is revealed in and through beloved community.

If you remember, the struggle is very real in Corinth — different people coming together, especially in the church where you have Jewish converts to Christianity and Gentile converts as well. And they’re all there together and everybody’s bringing different beliefs, ways they’ve been shaped and formed and traditioned, different customs and practices. And when it all comes together, it can bring some conflict. Create some issues. And you throw in the self-indulgence and pride and rivalry that is part and parcel of the human experience, and it’s just a mess. And we’ve talked about how it may not be too dissimilar to that which plagues our communities even still.

And so Paul’s letter here is meant to diffuse some of that tension, remind them who and whose they are, and point to a faithful way forward. That’s the purpose of this letter. And while he’s not writing directly to us, we get to listen in to the conversation, because it’s not not for us either. And that’s what we’ve been doing for the last couple of weeks.

We started in chapter twelve, talking about the equity and grace of spiritual gifts and how we need each other as the body of Christ. Then Rajeev brought us to chapter 13 — the famous love chapter — talking about how the love Paul describes is the love that Jesus embodies, and it’s a love that can be messy. That takes some work.

And then we moved to chapter fifteen — where we’ll wrap today — the penultimate chapter of Paul’s letter, and we find ourselves right in the middle of a theological argument about the resurrection. Two weeks ago, we talked about the power of story and witness, each of us with our own paintbrushes invited to add a fresh coat to the story of faith. And last week, we talked about the persistence of resurrection and how it’s God’s big “But” in the face of death.

This week, there’s still more about the resurrection. Paul’s bringing his argument home. Because remember, there are questions there in Corinth, especially among those who have been steeped in that Greek culture, about whether the resurrection actually happened. About whether Jesus was actually raised in spirit and in body and whether we will be raised in bodily form, too. There’s a pervasive sentiment that perhaps the bodily resurrection didn’t and won’t actually happen. That it’s just a metaphor. And after all, why would we want to take our corruptible mortal bodies with us?

And if you remember last week, that’s where Paul makes the argument that if there’s no bodily resurrection, then Jesus isn’t raised from the dead. And if Jesus isn’t actually raised from the dead then God is not stronger than death. And if that’s true, then basically none of this matters and your faith is in vain.

But as John read, you get the sense, you know, that Paul is still fielding questions. It seems like he’s anticipating the follow-ups from a bright group of people in Corinth who are still trying to figure things out. Which is a good thing, by the way! Asking questions is something to be celebrated — not criticized. They’re always welcome here. Digging deeper and leaning in and wanting more means your faith is alive. And that it matters. So we celebrate that.

And as you heard, the central question that Paul is responding to is, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?”

In other words, what they want to know is, “What’s the form of the body when it’s raised?” They want to know what it’s going to look like. And I love that w’eve moved past whether it happened or not. It’s working, right? Paul’s making progress.

Hey, maybe you’ve wondered the same. When I’m raised, will I be the Brent who’s in his prime? Or will I be raised as a toddler? Or in whatever state I am when I die? Will we recognize the body or will it be something else? And despite Paul’s snarky response, the reality is we can’t know, you know? Paul doesn’t know. But he can offer his best educated guess, and it’s actually a pretty good and beautiful guess that centers Jesus and the Spirit’s divine and creative activity.

To do this, he uses the metaphor of a seed. He’s basically saying, if you knew nothing about seeds and germination and how plants grow — if you’d never been a part of a second grade science classroom, and you saw a seed, and then you also saw a flower or some wheat or a blade of grass, and someone told you that one came from the other — that a whole dogwood tree or hydrangea bush or field of wheat could grow from that tiny seed — you’d be amazed. Probably a little skeptical. Your mind would be blown. If you were just looking at a seed with no context and no understanding of what happens to a seed when you plant it and water it and give it sunlight, there’s no way you could possibly imagine what would come from that seed.

So this is what Paul is saying. Think of a seed and think of what grows from that seed. The same is true for the resurrected body. In other words, if we were to take the bodies we know and compare them to what’s to come, we wouldn’t believe it. We can’t even begin to imagine what form that body will take. But we do know that it’ll be a spiritual body — which, to be clear, isn’t necessarily the opposite of a physical body. Paul’s not creating a dichotomy between the physical and the spiritual in the way we might think. Instead, he’s saying that it will be a body transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. In other words, it’ll be the same, but different. We can’t see it. We don’t have the capacity to see it yet. But in time, we will.

And that’s the real point that Paul is trying to make. There’s going to be a transformation. It won’t just be the reanimating of something old. Instead, God will take what’s old and make something new. That’s what resurrection is all about. New creation. In you. In the community. In the world. It’s a promise — all in God’s time.

But here’s the thing. We might look around and wonder, “Really?” You know? Last week, I ticked through a bunch of examples of resurrection. Forgiveness. Healing. Welcome and belonging. A fresh start. A mended relationship. Grace for yourself.

And as much as we believe this to be true and work so hard to bring these realities to bear in the world, there are days resurrection can still seem elusive. There are days we might wonder — like the Corinthians did — “But how?”

When you lose a loved one.

When the the fog of grief is suffocating.

When the addiction gets the best of you again after you’d made so much progress.

When the hits just keep coming and it feels like one thing after another.

When you keep showing up and working so hard for a different result but find yourself disappointed again and again.

When it feels like rejection after rejection whether it’s a job or a sale or someone to love.

Or when you just feel stuck. You feel like you’ve thrown everything you could at the problem — whether a fractured relationship or a more robust spiritual life or something else you’ve been working out for yourself — and you’re just not getting anywhere.

What do we do with this? Where’s the resurrection here? Maybe you’ve been there. Maybe you’re there right now.

And this is where Paul is helpful — because the good news is that when we’re stuck in these places, we should think of ourselves as seeds. Maybe we feel the weight of the world. Maybe there are days we feel like the darkness is all consuming. That we’ll never see the light of day again. When instead what we need to realize is that the weight we feel — the heaviness that seems to be everywhere is just the soil into which we’ve been planted. And the darkness is so big only because our roots are still growing and we have yet to break out through the soil toward the light. But that doesn’t mean it’s not working. It doesn’t mean growth isn’t happening.

I remember our earliest elementary school science experiments in which we’d plant seeds in tiny pots and wait for them to grow. Day after day we’d come into the classroom and check for growth. And day after day we’d end up disappointed because there was nothing new to see. And just when it seemed like all was lost and it was never going to come, a tiny sprout would surprise us and remind us how much was happening beneath the surface that we couldn’t see.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that we’ve got Amazon Prime two-day shipping. You can press a few buttons and, within two hours, have a week’s worth of groceries ready to pick up at your nearest Target. If you want to learn how to fix a dishwasher or learn Luisa’s moves in Surface Pressure or refine your photography technique, you can do it all with a world of knowledge instantly available in the palm of your hand.

But sometimes resurrection isn’t like that. Sometimes there’s no quick fix. No magic wand. There’s no instant gratification. Instead, sometimes what we hope for and what we believe can still seem a long way off. Sometimes it feels elusive. Like it’ll never come. Sometimes resurrection is more like Wordle. Sometimes we just have to wait for what’s new to come.

And all the while, as we wait, we trust that there is more at work than meets the eye. That right now, right this very instant even, the Spirit of God is ever-present in our waiting. And when that resurrection comes, not only will it be something far more than we could ask for or imagine, but we’ll be able to look back and see how God was in it all along.

And this is the wordle of God for all of God’s creation, thanks be to God.