December 6th 2016
3rd Sunday before Advent
Luke 20: 27-38
With Rev Canon Cheryl Collins
What is the point of resurrection?
Is eternal life anything more than a really, really long time?
Or as the Westminster shorter catechism puts it – What is the chief end of man? (well, it was written in 1647)
The answer provided by the catechism is that our chief end or purpose is to glorify God and enjoy God for ever. That is what we are created for.
We are created for a relationship, and that relationship is the foundation of a life lived as eternal, not in some unspecified future life, but here and now as well.
Eternal life begins today.
But we can often get distracted or misled when pondering eternal life, or the end of this world and the beginning of the next as some might put it.
That is certainly true of the Saducees in our story from Luke’s gospel.
The Saducees were the urban elite of 1st century Israel. They were those ‘in the know’ able to pull the levers of power. Perhaps their success in this world distracted them from believing in resurrection because they had no need of it. Things were fine as they were. The status quo suited them just fine.
So they sought to mock and undermine the new prophet from Galilee with their ridiculous question about the unfortunate woman doomed to be passed down a line of brothers like some ridiculous game of pass the parcel.
They assumed that the conditions and preoccupations of the present would continue in any resurrection they could imagine. They were unable to contemplate anything new and radical. They wanted a religion that upheld ‘family values’ and ‘hard-working families’.
In the culture of his time the unmarried, itinerant Jesus was a disgrace. The new way of organizing one’s life, around our relationship with God not round the ties of family and society continues to challenge us. But it is also good news, not just for those who don’t fit into the boxes that society provides for us, but for all of us. For our relationship with God does not depend on our success or even our doing the right thing- our relationship with God depends on God’s grace- the fruits of a steadfast and amazing love poured freely upon us.
The Thessalonians that Paul was writing to had an imminent expectation of the end of the world or ‘the day of the Lord’. So much so that it was making them anxious, and distracting them from their life as disciples now. Paul called them to refocus on what they knew of God and of the life God was calling them to in Jesus, through Paul’s teaching.
For us it is impossible to read today’s passage from the book of Job without hearing the music of George Frederick Handel- I know that my redeemer liveth. Scholars suggest that in its original context Job might not have meant exactly what we think he means in this passage. However, if viewed in the context of the whole book of Job our understanding does make sense.
At the beginning of his story we learn that Job is a faithful worshipper of God who is wealthy, well-thought of and blessed with good health and a thriving family. As one by one all these things are stripped away from him, his friends assume he must have done something to deserve this. All those who should love and support him in his time of need turn away from him and abandon him. But Job does not just worship God because of the security and favours he might expect from God. He is angry with God, but it does not occur to him in his pain, distress and fury not to believe in God. What he wants most of all is not the restoration of all he has lost, but to know that his relationship with God still exists. For Job, it is only God’s judgement of his life that matters.
Paul’s words of comfort to the Thessalonians stress that God has chosen them. He reminds them that his proclamation of the good news of the gospel led them to salvation.
The root meaning of salvation is about broadening or enlarging, making space for. God rescues and delivers us from a situation of opposition and peril to a renewed spaciousness. The goal of this deliverance is the establishment of God’s reign among his people and throughout the world.
Jesus demonstrates this in his life through delivering people from physical/spiritual/psychic/cosmic bondage, restoring them to a life of wholeness. ‘Saved’ life is a life where the relationship between God, oneself and the wider community has been restored. Jesus’ lifework is summed up in his death, which delivers those who believe in him from a present age in bondage to sin, both individual and corporate to a new age of restored relationship.
This relationship is one of sanctification in which the believers are enabled and empowered in their discipleship, their living out of this new life, by the power of the Holy Spirit at work in them.
So Paul encourages the Thessalonians by assuring them of the truth of this narrative- good comfort indeed, and praying that they may experience God’s free gifts of grace as they try to live out the good works and share the good words of the kingdom in their present contexts.
So eternal life is not about pie in the sky when we die, but about a way of living now. A way of living that follows the example of and rests in the power of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
We are not just called to declare ‘I know that my redeemer liveth’ we are called to live it.
This means living like Jesus. It means trusting that God is active in our lives, choosing us, caring for us, providing for us. Therefore we do not have to hold on tightly to what we have but can freely give it away- our time, our talents, our material resources, trusting that God is always more than enough. It means living lives of thankfulness, counting our blessings, finding hope even in our sorrows and sharing the good news of our relationship with God with those around us. It means being honest with God, as Job was, when we are angry, or despairing or struggling because we can trust that God is big enough to cope with our feelings and loves us enough to want to share them. It means living as God’s beloved, the children of the resurrection.
One of my favourite hymns which you can look forward to next Easter is ‘Now is eternal life, if ris’n with Christ we stand’ expresses this beautifully in its last two verses
Unfathomed love divine
Reign thou within my heart;
From thee nor depth nor height,
Nor life nor death can part;
My life is hid in God with thee,
Now and through all eternity.
Thee will I love and serve
Now in time’s passing day;
Thy hand shall hold me fast
When time is done away,
In God’s unknown eternal spheres
To serve him through eternal years.