Saturday, 9 November 2019

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 10 November 2019 Pentecost 22

Readings:  Job 19:23-27a   Luke 20:27-38

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O God, our rock and our sustainer. Amen.
On this the penultimate Sunday of the church year, the lectionary today offers us up the gnarly question of the afterlife – how is it going to work for us in heaven. And it is through another tricky question posed by yet another group who are trying to take Jesus on with theological one-up-man-ship. The Sadducees v. Jesus

It has been said that those who ask the question have the power, especially those who ask in expectation of debate rather than conversation.  The Sadducees thought they had found the unanswerable question – one that would prove their thinking right – that there was no such thing as life after death -  and make a bit of an ass of this upstart rabbi Jesus at the same time.  But Jesus doesn’t play their game and we hear that at least some of them were left speechless.

Instead, for Jesus, the question provides an opportunity for a teaching moment on the nature of heaven, a chance to teach about the glory and love of God – and remind us that the way of God is different to ours.
Jesus makes several points:
In responding, not to their artificial question, but to their lack of belief in God’s eternal presence, Jesus is rubbing salt in their wounds by answering from their Torah – the five books of Moses.  Jesus interprets the words of God to Moses from the burning bush as current not past tense – the voice does not say; I was the God of Abraham (until he died) – rather it is ‘I am the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and Jacob’.  To God all of them are alive, part of a new age, children of the resurrecting love of God for them and us.  And the ‘all of them’ Jesus refers to is not just the big guys from the distant past but is in fact each and everyone who is a child of God  – as we spoke last week and remembered our small ‘s’ saints, we remember that they too are part of this inheritance of hope.

The next point Jesus makes is in fact to say ‘this is what we do know: that eternal life is not a continuation of our mortal life here on earth, the way of God is not the way of humanity, the rules and judgements of this world are not transposed into God’s eternity.  We who try to pin down a definition of the resurrected time with our own comfortable sofas and favourite foods might just be wasting our time.  As children of God, as children of the resurrection, all things will be made new – that is God’s promise though Christ.

And then Jesus speaks the words of hope.  Whatever the reality is on the other side of earthly life, God’s love for us is eternal, God mercy is forever sure. To God, all are alive. And this gives us hope, a hint of something beyond our ken, a direction to stop worrying about how life beyond death works and to trust that, in God, all our questions come to rest.

So out of the Sadducees’ rather inappropriate question comes a great deal of teaching and encouraging – not at all sure that is what they meant to do.

Actually it is really interesting to explore the question and the questioners a little bit more.  For it was what we might today identify as a ‘first world’ question – asked from the mouths of those who have time to explore intellectual ‘what ifs’ and to debate death as a concept rather than a reality. The mockery behind the question came from those who have power over their own lives and the lives of others.  In their well heeled, well educated world this lightweight question is useful only as a tool to trip Jesus up.

Mocking a law that was intended to partially at least protect the vulnerable and keep families together didn’t show much empathy or heart it has to be said.  For the Sadducees, described by writers of their time as people from the elite upper crust, there would have been little experience of poverty and compassionate justice, of desperation and despair.

Yet these are exactly the people for whom the eternal, life giving love of God is the only hope left in their broken hearts. The widow of their example was passed from pillar to post, no right to choose, and it wouldn’t have been much better for the brothers, all of them caught in cycle of death and subsistence and duty.

It was for just these people, the widows, the poor, the unclean, the powerless that Jesus preached the eternal and faithful love of God for them, not just in this life but in the life to come.  For in most of their lives on this earth, there wasn’t a lot to celebrate.  

And we see it no more clearly than in the horror of the slavery of the African people in North America - and we hear it so powerfully in the music that has poured out of their despair.  The only place they could see where they might be free was in heaven – certainly not this world, not in their time and sad to say not even in our time. 
And their music resounds with the hope of what is yet to come and how it sustains them in faith and life, sure in the knowledge that, in heaven, they will somehow know the joy and peace that was kept from them on earth.  They understood deep in their hearts the good news of Jesus resurrection and the implications of the gospel promise that resurrected life was for all people, especially the downtrodden and marginalised.

The song ‘I got a robe..’ is a wonderful example of their sustaining belief that God cares for the disenfranchised, the widows, the people considered disposable, discardable, exploitable in their life on earth. 
I got a robe, you got a robe, all God’s children got a robe.
When I get to heaven goin’ to put on my robe, goin’ to should all over God’s heaven.  And then the next verse takes a swipe at the so called piety of their oppressors with some robust theology - if you listen carefully:
Everybody talking ‘bout heaven ain’t going there, Heaven, Heaven, Goin’ to shout all over God’s heav’n

There are other spirituals that speak into their hope in God and a place of peace to come, this one:

I'm just a poor wayfaring stranger. I'm a-travelling through this world of woe,
But there's no sickness, toil, or danger in that sweet home to which I go.
I'm going there to see my mother. She said she'd meet me when I come.
I'm only going over Jordan; I'm only going over home.

I know dark clouds are going to gather around me,
And I know my way will be rough and steep,
But beautiful fields lie just before me, where God's redeemed their vigils keep.

And then this one –

Talk about suffering here below and let's keep a-followin' Jesus
Talk about suffering here below and let's keep a-lovin' Jesus
The gospel train is comin' now don't you want to go
And leave this world of sorrow and troubles here below
Oh, can't you hear it father? And don't you want to go
And leave this world of sorrow and troubles here below

I wonder who is going to tell the English Rugby fans that in singing Swing Low Sweet Chariot so gustily the words ‘coming for to carry me home’ actually mean death and resurrection life for the oppressed, not victory over the opposing rugby team.  And the suffering goes on….

There is one more name that we think of when we talk enormous suffering – and that is Job – and we heard his words of hope in the midst of his deep despair, wanting his faith in the living God to be inscribed in a book, engraved with an iron pen and lead in the rock forever. His heart yearns to be with his God.  When all else had gone, God is.

So have we made any sense of this difficult subject of our lives made eternal in the love of God? 
Are we able to go from here knowing Jesus does not answer all our questions, especially in this matter of death and resurrection, to our satisfaction - and still be at peace? 
Are we assured, deep down in our hearts, that the love of God is immeasurable and inexhaustible, sufficient for all in life and death that we face?
Are we able to believe that in the mystery of the loving and living God, beyond our knowledge, God’s children will together be goin’ over Jordon, goin’ over home?
We are going to finish the sermon together today with words of faith from the 8th century – please remain seated as we sing ‘Eternal Light’

Words Christopher Martin Idle 1938- from a prayer by Alcuin 735-804  Tune Truro WOV 33

            Eternal light, shine in my heart; eternal hope, lift up my eyes;
eternal power, be my support; eternal wisdom, make me wise

eternal life, raise me from death; eternal brightness, help me see;
eternal Spirit, give me breath; eternal Saviour, come to me

until by your most costly grace, invited by your holy word,
at last I come before your face to know you, my eternal God.

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