November 6, 2022
In Haggai 2.1-9 the prophet offers a vision of hope: that God will help rebuild the temple that was destroyed in the Babylonian invasion, with more splendor than before.
Psalm 145 proclaims the basic creed of the Old Testament: that “God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, with compassion for all Creation.” God upholds those who are falling, provides for life, and hears those who cry out.
In 2 Thessalonians 2.1-5, 13-17 Paul writes to people who are hearing that Jesus has or is about to come back. He says that before the Coming of Christ, there will be a great disturbance: one who has no love for God will “declare himself to be God”— but, Paul says, stay firm in what you know to be true; stay faithful.
In Luke 20. 27-38 some Sadducees, who do not believe in resurrection, try to trap Jesus in speculation about the afterlife: in the resurrection, which man will be the husband of a woman married more than once? Jesus straightens them out: there’s no marriage in the afterlife. Resurrection is not about human institutions, even marriage. Nor is it about the afterlife: God is the God of the living, not the dead.
New Beginnings As we approach the end of the church year the scriptures begin to focus more on the End Times. Some of it is generically “teleological,” that is, focused on where we’re going. Some of it is specifically apocalyptic, that is, focused on a particular narrative about the end times: that at some point in time there is some great conflict in human culture, the culmination of human history, and God intervenes and reveals (the meaning of the word “apocalypse”) God’s true intent for human life. God takes apart all the legos of the universe and rebuilds a new earth and a new heaven. Most apocalyptic literature, both ancient and modern, seems to focus more on the taking apart of the legos (“the end of the world!”) rather than the New Creation. In the Book of Revelation the demolition takes up 15 chapters, the New Jerusalem 2. Maybe that’s just because when you feel like you’re in the early stages of the Apocalypse that stuff feels cathartic. But despite all the impressive monsters, explosions and special effects, the emphasis is on the New Creation. But it’s hard to get past the distractions to focus on the New Creation, the Realm of God.
Resurrection One hurdle to overcome, made worse, not better, by the lectionary, as in today’s Gospel reading, is our conflation of the Reign of God with the afterlife. When Jesus talks about the Reign of God he’s not talking about being dead. He’s talking about abundant life. He’s talking about living in harmony with God’s loving sovereignty. To make matter more confusing there’s the mystery of resurrection. When either Jesus or Paul talk about dying and rising they mean surrendering our lives to God in this life, who gives us new ones in this life. Jesus, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12.2).: Paul: “We have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6.4). But today’s reading takes us off track, and on a day emphasizing the New Creation, points resurrection not toward new living but toward being dead, toward the afterlife. … sigh… OK, we’ll go there. But Jesus will jerk us right back into this life.
The afterlife… and before Some doctrinal snipers try to trap Jesus with a trick question, and of course he dismantles the trap. In the afterlife, which man is the husband of a woman married more than once? None of the above. They don’t marry. The premise of the question is flawed, because they’re not really dead. “They cannot die any more” (v. 36) because they’re been resurrected, because God is the God of the living, not the dead—speaking of which, how are you living? Wow. Slick. See? Jesus takes their question (and the lectionary’s misdirection) about the afterlife and slips out of the afterlife right back into the beforelife, into right now and how we are living newly created lives lives today.
The Coming of Christ Paul tries to do the same. He wants to dissuade the folks in Thessalonika from speculating too much about the future (oh, boy, here comes Hollywood and their special effects again). This is partly borne by disappointment that Jesus hasn’t come already… and it will only get worse. His argument is: don’t worry, that day will be obvious. You’ll know it when you see it. Meanwhile, how are you living? He goes on to talk about living the life of faith—this life—not the future. We have hope in a future blessing that we can’t imagine. Rather than obsess with trying to get a sneak preview, Paul says, just live faithfully. That is you sneak preview. The promise is enough for us to go on, to live faithfully right now, even facing challenges.
The end…now “Today” is the key word. Paul and Jesus both direct our hope in future blessing as energy to motivate us to live the New Life right now. The New Creation is unfolding among us this moment. It’s not something we have to die to see. When we give our lives to God (and sometimes when they’re jerked out of our hands) God gives us new lives.The “end of the world as we know it” is simply the turn of the page from one chapter to the next. God is already creating the world new. Christ comes all the time. Christ enters our life and changes it, brings about the end of that life, at least that aspect of it, as we knew it, and we start a new way of living. Over and over. This dying-and-rising is the gospel’s constant promise and invitation for each of us. And for our churches. And for The Church.
Now…the end. Of course there’s also the other dimension: the actual end of human civilization as we know it. It’s strange to even name it, but this becomes a more real possibility the more we fail to address violence, poverty, climate change, war, Trumpism, the renewal of talk of nuclear war, the loss of species, the violent persistence of white supremacy, and other dangers. For more on that see my comments next week’s texts (OT 33, Nov.13, 2022).
Call to Worship
1. [from Psalm 145]
Leader: Great is the Holy One, and greatly to be praised; God’s greatness is unsearchable.
All: The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
O God, you are good to all, and compassionate toward all your creatures.
All your creatures will praise you, Beloved, and all your faithful shall bless you.
God, you are faithful in words, and gracious in deeds.
You lift up those who are falling, and raise up those who are oppressed.
The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season.
You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing.
We thank you! We praise you! We worship you!
Leader: Loving God, you create us in love
and you re-create us moment by moment.
All: You love us in this world and in the next.
Holy One, transform us by your grace.
Resurrect us to new life,
now and always life, by your grace.
Leader: Loving Creator, you fashion us in beauty.
All: We are in awe of you.
Beautiful Healer, you transform us with light.
We praise you.
Abiding Mystery, you raise us daily to new life.
We give you our thanks, and we worship you.
Collect / Prayer of the Day
God of grace,we do not know what awaits us in the future. But we know it is in your hands, and we trust you. We open our hearts to your presence as we worship, that you may receive us with grace, transform us by your Spirit, and raise us to new life, this and every day, in the name of Christ. Amen.
(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)
you are married to us in this life,
and married to us in the next.
We give you our hearts,
as they are now and as they shall become,
that you may raise us up
to new life in Christ.
Prayer of Dedication / Sending
Loving One, all of our loyalties and all of our loves are gathered into you. You are our Love, our Spouse, our hope. Be with us now and always, that we may be faithful to you, and live in love, by the grace of your Spirit in us. Amen.