Let’s look at our first reading this morning from the book of Job.
O that my words were written down!
O that they were inscribed in a book!
O that with an iron pen and with lead
they were engraved on a rock forever!
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another. (Job 19:23-27a)
In October, I turned 65, and it just so happens that October was a very difficult time for me. I’ve always felt that I’m healthy and physically fit for my age, but October was a wakeup call. I started having trouble with my eyes, and the optometrist sent me to a cornea specialist, who discovered infection in the cornea of both eyes, something that could possibly lead to blindness, but fortunately with aggressive care it has cleared up. Then a few weeks ago, for no apparent reason, I started having severe problems with my back. I’m now in therapy trying to get my back healthy again. I’m beginning to think that my pick-up basketball pastime might not happen anymore.
I’m reminded of the words of Job: “And after my skin has been destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another” Every week I try to do my best to take into consideration of the people I am preaching to. We have people represented in all ages in this congregation, a healthy percentage of children, young adults and people of all ages, and I have a glimpse now of what it means to grow older, and as we age our attention of eternal life becomes more focused.
How many of you have ever driven a car with a lot of miles on it? Eventually parts start to fail. And they need to be replaced. I know some of us have had parts replaced on our bodies, new knew, hips, shoulders, and even some internal organs. I have had a surreal sense this last month of what it means to realize that I am no longer a middle-aged person. Many of you are older than me, and I’m beginning to understand that enjoying the resurrected life now is a gospel truth, but the message of the blessed hope in our second reading becomes more important to me as I age, the promise of “eternal comfort and good hope, a hope for the future”.
“But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth. For this purpose, he called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter. Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word”. (2 Thessalonians 2:13-17)
In this passage, we are encouraged about the promise of our place in the present, and how we are deemed as chosen and sanctified by the Holy Spirit, a process that has been going on and will continue, but also a glimpse into eternity, “that we may obtain the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ”. Then the scripture encourages us to hold fast to the teachings we have had since the beginning, and not to sway away from solid Christian tradition.
I appreciate the tenets of our faith, and ancient Christian traditions, the liturgy that reminds us of the hope of glory, pointing us to the person of Christ here with us today, and pointing us to eternity, the resurrection, to eternal life, the hope of glory. I love the traditions and liturgy of the church that helps us bring our minds and hearts back into focus. That’s why Common Prayer is important for all of us. Because, regardless of where we are politically, socially or culturally, and when we come into worship service, our minds are filled with so much stuff, we are gently brought back into focus to what being in Christ is all about. What is our hope and what is this message of resurrected life now and eternal life ahead?
In the gospel message, today in Luke, Jesus is challenged by Sadducee’s with a trapping question for Jesus. We can now assume that maybe they called them Sadducees because they were “sad you see” It’s a question about an old Jewish tradition that says that when a brother dies and there is not a child to carry on his name, the brother next in age will marry the wife, but he dies without fathering a child, and all seven brothers die. One of the Sadducee lawyers asks Jesus: “So Jesus, whose wife will she be in the afterlife, since she was married to all seven brothers”.
Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed, they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.” (Luke 20: 27-38)
We do not know what the after life is like. We are given some glimpses. People neither marry, nor or they given in marriage. There will be no more death. We will be like angels and the children of God, children of the resurrection. Jesus uses the story of Moses and the burning bush to show that He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all of them are alive.
In my time as a chaplain in the VA Hospitals of New York City, and being present with saints at the hour of their passing, there is a surreal presence of God, a holy atmosphere that I can’t put into words. I do not understand it, nor can I explain it, but I can appreciate the sweetness of this comforting presence from God. Many of you have witnessed this and you know what I am talking about. As we get older we look forward to this promise of glory. I know it’s not just for the mature in age. Time on this earth for young as well as old.
I just received news that one of cousins has been diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor. He is married to wonderful woman that has left her job to care for him, and they have a 12-year-old son named Elijah. That’s tragic news, and my cousin is working full time to cope with his sickness and to be the best dad and father he can be to his wife and son in the days ahead. I pray for him and his family, and I sorrow. But, I know there is a blessed hope and promise of a life after death.
It reminds me of my favorite closing blessing, and in case you wonder why I like this blessing and use it so much, it’s because of the blessed hope. I can’t understand it. I can’t comprehend the extent of this promise. It is a mystery, but I grasp this promise: And may the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your mind and heart in the knowledge and the love of God, and of his son Jesus Christ our Lord. And the blessing of God Almighty, Father., Son and Holy Spirit be among you and remain with you always.
We are living in the present and looking with expectation toward the future. The eternal has come into the temporal and God says: “I have come to give you life, and to give you that life abundantly”. That means now, but it also means as Job stated when this life is over: “When our flesh and bodies began to fade physically, there is an eternity beyond us; an understanding of the eternal, an understanding of God in our midst.
I AM THE GOD OF THE LIVING NOT THE DEAD.
The Reverend Dr. David Madsen