God Of The Living
ASCENSION LUTHERAN CHURCH
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 11, 2001
23RD SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR C
LESSONS: JOB 19:23-27a; PSALM 17; 2 THESSALONIANS 2:1-5, 13-17; LUKE 20:27-28
‘GOD OF THE LIVING’
19:23 "O that my words were written down! O that they were inscribed in a book!
19:24 O that with an iron pen and with lead they were engraved on a rock forever!
19:25 For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
19:26 and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God,
19:27a whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
OUR GOD IS THE GOD OF THE LIVING. OUR GOD IS ALSO THE LIVING GOD. GOD HAS RAISED JESUS FROM THE DEAD. GOD HAS PROMISED TO RAISE US TO NEW LIFE IN CHRIST AND GIVE US EVERLASTING LIFE. WHILE IT IS TRUE THAT GOD AND GOD’S ACTIONS HAVE A PAST TENSE, GOD IS MOST IMPORTANTLY GOD OF THE PRESENT AND OF THE FUTURE. GOD CLAIMS AS A NAME “I AM”, THE PRESENT TENSE OF THE VERB TO BE. GOD PROMISES TO BE WITH US IN OUR PRESENT AND GOD PROMISES THAT OUR FUTURE IS TO BE WITH GOD IN ETERNITY.
FOR JOB, THE IDEA THAT GOD WOULD SOMEHOW AND SOMEDAY MAKE THINGS RIGHT WAS MORE THAN A HOPE, IT WAS A CERTAINTY. JOB’S FAITH, JOB’S RELATIONSHIP WITH THE LIVING GOD HAD CARRIED JOB BEYOND HOPE TO AN UNDERSTANDING THAT GOD’S JUSTICE WAS MORE THAN SOMETHING TO BE HOPED FOR.
JOB BELIEVED THAT GOD’S JUSTICE WAS AN ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY AND SO JOB SAYS, “I KNOW THAT MY REDEEMER LIVES.” JOB WAS POSITIVE ABOUT THIS AND HE GOES ON TO SAY, AGAIN WITH CERTAINTY, THAT HE WOULD SEE GOD.
WE TOO, IN OUR TIME, THOUSANDS OF YEARS LATER, CAN EXPERIENCE THAT SAME CERTAINTY. WE TOO, CAN PROCLAIM THAT OUR GOD LIVES AS WE EXPERIENCE GOD IN OUR PRIVATE AND CORPORATE PRAYER LIFE. WE TOO, CAN PROCLAIM GOD AS ALIVE AND WITH US AS WE EAT THE BREAD AND DRINK THE WINE. WE TOO, CAN LIVE INTO THE CERTAINTY OF GOD’S PRESENCE AS WE POUR WATER ON THE NEWLY BAPTIZED AND PROCLAIM THEM BORN AGAIN WITH US INTO THE HOLY FAMILY OF GOD.
THE WORDS OF JOB ARE NOT TO BE RELEGATED TO THE PAST; THEY CAN BE OUR WORDS HERE, NOW, IN THIS PLACE AND IN THIS TIME. THE WORDS THAT JOB SAYS CAN BE SAID BY US TO HELP EXPRESS OUR FAITH, OUR LONGED FOR RELATIONSHIP TO THE LIVING GOD, A GOD WHO CREATES US, A GOD WHO REDEEMS US THROUGH THE BLOOD OF JESUS, AND A GOD WHO SENDS THE HOLY SPIRIT TO BROOD OVER US AS A HEN BROODS OVER HER CHICKS.
(STORY OF THE MOTHER @ DAY BY DAY BEING CALLED BY HER SON)
2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
2:1 As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters,
2:2 not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here.
2:3 Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction.
2:4 He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God.
2:5 Do you not remember that I told you these things when I was still with you?
2:13 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.
2:14 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.
2:15 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.
2:16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope,
*2:17 comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.
PAUL TELLS THE CHRISTIANS OF THE CHURCH IN THESSALONICA AND TELLS US TODAY, “…GOD CHOSE YOU AS THE FIRST FRUITS FOR SALVATION.” IF IT IS TRUE THAT GOD IS ALIVE AND ACTIVE IN OUR LIVES, AND IT IS TRUE, THEN WE ARE NOT ABLE TO CLAIM CREDIT FOR OUR OWN SALVATION. AFTER ALL, GOD CHOOSES US; WE DO NOT CHOOSE GOD. LUTHER UNDERSTOOD GOD’S GRACE IN THIS WAY TOO.
LUTHER UNDERSTOOD THAT GOD SHOWERS GRACE ON US ALL, AS THE RAIN FALLS ON THE JUST AND THE UNJUST ALIKE BUT THAT IT IS OUR RESPONSE TO THAT GRACE WHICH MATTERS.
“FOR WE CAN NEVER PERCEIVE IT WRITTEN ON A MAN’S FOREHEAD WHETHER OR NOT HE IS HOLY AND JUST. BUT THIS WE CAN SEE: WHERE THE WORD BRINGS FORTH FRUIT, SO THAT MEN HAVE TO SUFFER FOR IT…THESE WE KNOW, THESE MUST BE LIVING SAINTS.”
PAUL CONTINUES, “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.”
WHAT WILL BE OUR RESPONSE TO THE LIVING GOD WHO CREATES US? WHAT WILL BE OUR RESPONSE TO THE LIVING GOD WHO RAISES UP THE DEAD TO NEW LIFE? WHAT WILL BE OUR RESPONSE TO THE LIVING GOD WHO SENDS THE HOLY SPIRIT TO SUSTAIN AND EMPOWER US AND WHO CHOOSES US FIRST BEFORE WE CAN CHOSE GOD? WHAT WILL OUR RESPONSE BE, BELOVED, WHAT WILL IT BE?
IN SOME TRADITIONS IT IS CUSTOMARY FOR THE PREACHER TO END THE SERMON WITH AN ALTER CALL, AN INVITATION TO COME FORWARD AND MAKE A PUBLIC AFFIRMATION OF FAITH. THERE IS SOMETHING IMPORTANT GOING ON IN THAT CUSTOM AND TRADITION THAT WE MIGHT TAKE NOTICE. THE IMPLICATION OF AN ALTER CALL AND AN INVITATION TO COME FORWARD IS THAT WE ARE BEING ASKED BY GOD THROUGH THE PREACHER TO EXERCISE SOME RESPONSE TO OUR LORD’S DEATH, RESURRECTION, AND ASCENSION TO GLORY. THE IMPLICATION OF AN ALTER CALL IS THAT WE ARE TO HAVE A RESPONSE TO THE GRACE AND MERCY OF GOD, WHICH IS CONSTANTLY SHOWERED UPON US.
I WANT TO SUGGEST THAT IN THE LITURGICAL CHURCHES (LUTHERAN, EPISCOPAL, ORTHODOX, AND CATHOLIC) THAT AS WE COME TO THE LORD’S TABLE TO RECEIVE BREAD AND WINE THAT WE ARE MAKING OUR ALTER CALL. AS WE COME FORWARD AND RECEIVE COMMUNION, WE ARE RESPONDING TO GOD’S GRACE FILLED INVITATION. THAT RESPONSE OF COMING FORWARD IS NOT ALL THERE IS TO OUR RESPONSE TO GOD’S GRACE. AT THE END OF THE SERVICE IN MOST LITURGICAL CHURCHES SOMEONE, A PASTOR, A DEACON, A PRIEST SAYS SOMETHING LIKE, “LET US GO FORTH INTO THE WORLD IN THE NAME OF THE RISEN CHRIST” AND THE PEOPLE RESPOND, “THANKS BE TO GOD.”
WE ARE NOT ALLOWED TO TAKE CREDIT FOR OUR OWN SALVATION AND WE ARE CALLED BY A GRACIOUS GOD TO LEAVE OUR WORSHIP AND GO OUT THOSE DOORS RE-PRESENTING CHRIST TO A FALLEN AND BROKEN WORLD.
ONE OF MY FAVORITE AUTHORS IS VERNA DOZIER WHO SAYS IN HER BOOK, THE DREAM OF GOD, THAT WE ARE NOT CALLED BY THE GOSPEL TO WORSHIP JESUS; WE ARE CALLED BY THE GOSPEL TO FOLLOW JESUS. BELOVED THAT IS A TALL ORDER. FOLLOWING JESUS IS AND HAS ALWAYS BEEN A DANGEROUS AND DIFFICULT TASK.
WE CHRISTIANS WOULD RATHER ARGUE ABOUT WHETHER IMMERSION OR JUST A SPRINKLE WILL DO FOR BAPTISM. WE WOULD RATHER ARGUE ABOUT THE LEGITIMACY OF FEMALE MINISTERS OR WHETHER WINE OR GRAPE JUICE WILL DO FOR COMMUNION. WE WOULD RATHER ARGUE OVER MEANINGLESS RESOLUTIONS AT CHURCH CONVENTIONS OR FUSS AND FRET OVER WHICH BIBLE TRANSLATION IS MORE VALID.
THE REAL ISSUE THOUGH REMAINS. WILL WE HAVE THE COURAGE AND FAITH TO RESPOND TO GOD’S GRACE BY FOLLOWING JESUS TO THE PLACES WHERE PEOPLE ARE HUNGRY, NAKED, HOMELESS, ORPHANED, IMPRISONED, FEARFUL, AND POWERLESS? MAY GOD GRANT US THE GRACE AND COURAGE TO FOLLOW JESUS TO THESE DIFFICULT AND DANGEROUS PLACES, AND MAY GOD FORGIVE US WHEN WE FALL SHORT OF THE MARK.
20:27 Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him
20:28 and asked him a question, "Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother.
20:29 Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless;
20:30 then the second
20:31 and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless.
20:32 Finally the woman also died.
20:33 In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her."
20:34 Jesus said to them, "Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage;
20:35 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. 20:36 Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.
20:37 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.
20:38 Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive."
THOSE WHO SURROUND JESUS IN TODAY’S GOSPEL LESSON WANT TO PLAY THAT AGE OLD GAME OF ‘STUMP THE TEACHER’. THEY, LIKE MANY OF US, WANT TO ENGAGE JESUS ON RATIONAL, LOGICAL, AND LITERAL TERMS. THEY, LIKE US, WANT TO PLAY THEOLOGICAL GAMES WITH JESUS. BUT THE CHRIST, THE SON OF THE LIVING GOD WILL HAVE NONE OF IT. JESUS DEFLECTS THEIR QUESTION, DESIGNED TO TRAP HIM IN A NON-SENSIBLE DEBATE ABOUT THE NEXT LIFE, BY DECLARING A TRUTH THAT REALLY MEANS SOMETHING. GOD IS THE GOD OF THE LIVING, NOT OF THE DEAD DECLARES JESUS. HE WILL HAVE NONE OF THE SADDUCEES VERBAL NONSENSE. JESUS KNEW WHAT THEY WERE UP TO AND HE KNOWS WHAT WE ARE UP TO ALSO. JESUS KNOWS THAT OUR DEBATES ARE MOSTLY ABOUT ‘HOW MANY ANGELS CAN DANCE ON THE HEAD OF A PIN’. THINGS HAVEN’T CHANGED MUCH SINCE THIS SCENE FROM THE FIRST CENTURY.
PEOPLE WOULD RATHER DISCUSS GOD THAN BE ENGAGED WITH GOD. TO BE IN RELATIONSHIP WITH THE LIVING GOD THROUGH CHRIST IS STILL DIFFICULT. IT REQUIRES EFFORT, HUMILITY, AND SACRIFICE. IT REQUIRES THAT WE FOLLOW JESUS INTO ALL THE PLACES AND SITUATIONS WHERE WE WOULD RATHER NOT GO.
ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE WHICH FLOWS FROM TODAY’S GOSPEL IS THAT IN THE NEXT LIFE WE WILL NO LONGER BE ABLE TO RELY ON THE EXCLUSIVE RELATIONSHIPS OF THIS LIFE, EVEN MARRIAGE. FOR THEN WE WILL BE MARRIED, WITH HIS CHURCH, TO THE RISEN CHRIST. THE GREAT MARRIAGE FEAST AT THE END OF TIME WILL BE A CELEBRATION OF CHRIST THE BRIDEGROOM AND THE BRIDE, HIS HOLY CHURCH.
THE MESSAGE OF TODAY’S LESSONS CAN BE FOR US THAT WE DO INDEED WORSHIP THE ONE TRUE, HOLY, LIVING GOD, THAT GOD CHOOSES US FIRST, THAT GOD FREELY SHOWS US GRACE AND WANTS US TO RESPOND TO GRACE BY FOLLOWING JESUS, AND THAT WE CAN KNOW GOD AS A BRIDE KNOWS HER BRIDEGROOM.
BELOVED, HOW WONDERFUL IT IS TO KNOW SUCH A GOD; HOW WONDERFUL IT IS TO LIVE IN THE GRACE OF SUCH A GOD; HOW WONDERFUL IT IS TO BE CALLED TO FOLLOW SUCH A GOD BY FOLLOWING JESUS; AND HOW WONDERFUL IT WILL BE TO LIVE IN ETERNITY WITH SUCH A GOD AS THE CHURCH TRIUMPHANT IS BRIDE TO THE RISEN CHRIST.
AND NOW UNTO GOD THE FATHER, GOD THE SON, AND GOD THE HOLY SPIRIT BE ASCRIBED ALL MIGHT, MAJESTY, DOMINION, POWER, AND GLORY, THIS DAY AND FOREVERMORE. AMEN.
I NOW INVITE YOU, MY BROTHERS AND SISTERS, AS WE STAND AND SING TOGETHER HYMN NUMBER 352 TO COMMIT YOURSELVES TO FOLLOWING JESUS IN HOLY SERVICE TO THE LIVING GOD.