Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Guest Sermon by Jan Robitscher at Hayward Presbyterian, '.... for to him all of them are alive.' (Luke 20:38)

Jan’s sermon Year c proper 27
November 19, 2013

“Now he is not the God of the dead, but of the living;
for to him all of them are alive.”
(Luke 20:38)
Year C Proper 27                                                                                                                                                   
Jan Robitscher
Job 19: 23-27a                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  
Ps. 17                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    New Bridges Presbyterian Church
Luke 20: 27-38                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             November 10, 2013                       

What keeps us from sleeping
is that
they have threatened us with resurrection.

Accompany us, then,
on this vigil,
and you will know
how marvelous it is
to live
threatened with resurrection.
(Julia Esquivel,  A Sourcebook about Liturgy, p. 116)

In this month of November, as the leaves fall and the days grow shorter and colder, we Episcopalians begin with the celebration of All Saints and All Souls--a time when we remember those shining examples of the Christian life who now are counted among the Communion of Saints--and also those saints (the New Testament word means all who belong to the household of God) who are nearer and dearer to us. Perhaps you do, too. This is at once both joyful and painful, comforting and frightening. The end of the Christian Year brings us face to face with  mortality--in the world around us and in ourselves. The Rule of St. Benedict bids us  “keep death daily before one’s eyes.”1  Not very easy for us in our death-denying culture. 
Day of the Dead Altar at Church Divinity School of the Pacific
But we cannot avoid it since we are faced with death all the time. We see it on the news every day: the wars in Afghanistan and elsewhere; mass shootings;  the homeless who die violently-- or simply of exposure --on our own streets. Or in quiet moments we remember those family and friends whom we knew and loved so well. It doesn’t matter what side they were on or what their politics were. They are all dead, gone, separated from us--at least from our human perspective-- and nothing we can do can bring them back to us again. Worse, perhaps we have thought it silly--or even scary--to think of them in a continuing life with God, in heaven. Death and taxes are  certain--but resurrection? Perhaps the poet is right:

 What keeps us from sleeping
is that
they have threatened us with resurrection...

+ + + 

Job certainly knew what it was to live threatened by death. Everything he held dear--family, lands, livestock, and even his own health--had been taken away from him in a kind of cruel game played by his “friends” (I use the word advisedly), and all this with God’s apparent cooperation.  And, at least at this point in the story, Job was not afraid to pour out his grief before God in words which might not be read in church if we really gave them their full vent: 
                              “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!”

But Job knew more. Somehow, in spite of everything, Job also knew what it was to live “threatened with resurrection”, to live knowing that death is not the end of this life, but the beginning of an existence in another realm where he will be able to see God face to face and live. And we must be careful, when we hear his words, not to hear too much of the wonderfully sweet music of Handel’s Messiah in them, which is appropriate at other times:
                              “For I know that my redeemer lives, and that at the last 
                              he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been
                              destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God...”

Perhaps Job wanted to echo of the last verse of Psalm 17:
                              For at my vindication I shall see you face,*
                                             when I awake, I shall be satisfied, beholding your likeness.

And Jesus also had to contend with the question of the Sadducees, “those who say there is no resurrection...”  They really were “threatened with resurrection”, and  posed the question in the form of a story that seems so ridiculous that it is a wonder that Jesus did not just dismiss it for the silliness that it was and leave. But in a remarkable act of patience, Jesus gently points out to them that, indeed, we will all enter eternal life after death, and that our existence and relationships there will be quite different from those we have known here. For, as one person has put it, we will no longer be in the relationship of father, mother, child, spouse, friend, or stranger. Instead, we will all belong to the “siblinghood of Christ”.2  In any case, says Jesus, 
                              “Now  [God] is not God of the dead but of the living;
                              for to him they are all alive.”

Job with friends
Here is the perspective we need! To “keep death before [our] eyes” is not a morbid exercise, but a way of looking at the Communion of Saints; those who inhabit the Church Calendars of Episcopalians or Roman Catholics or those we hear about in the news, or our own beloved dead. To see them through the eyes of God is to see them alive!  Not alive as we might like to have it, but alive with God in another place where there is (as our funeral liturgy puts it) “no death, neither sorrow nor crying, but [the] fullness of joy with all [the] saints”. Far from being the stuff of science fiction or New Age fads, Jesus bids us enter into the simple construct of children (Jesus says we will all be “children of God”) to lay hold of our faith. Eternal life and resurrection are our belief and our hope. Job dared to proclaim it. Jesus taught it to questioning Sadducees, and than walked his talk all the way to death and resurrection,  so that we could follow after him.  I offer again the poet’s invitation:

Accompany us, then,
on this vigil,
and you will know
how marvelous it is
to live
threatened with resurrection.



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