Well, today was the big day. Today I preached to a full congregation for the first time.
And — despite a cold which my body decided to catch at the worst time! — I think it went well. My preaching class had gotten the “first-time jitters” out of me, and although I probably could’ve slowed down and paused even more, I think my delivery was good. (And everyone said very kind things afterward.)
I’ve been debating whether to upload my sermons and sermonettes in general, but I think I’d like to post this one, just to mark the occasion. I hope it doesn’t need to be said, but if you want to use this sermon elsewhere, I probably won’t mind — but you must ask me first.
The Lectionary readings for today were from Proper 27, Year C in the Book of Common Prayer. They may sound familiar to some of you from this morning, but if not, it’ll be helpful to read them before reading the sermon.
Finally, the writing style and layout may seem a bit unusual; it’s what my preaching professors call “oral/aural,” and it’s designed to facilitate writing (and reading) the text in a natural way for being heard.
“Seeing with Resurrection Eyes”
May the Lord direct our hearts to the love of God
and to the steadfastness of Christ.
In the name of God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
If you’ve talked to me much in the past few months,
I’ve probably mentioned my two kittens.
Now, I’ve never had any big pets before,
and I think I’m turning into a bit of a first-time parent.
I can’t help cooing over every cute thing they do,
and repeating adorable stories in excruciating detail.
And one of the most adorable things about my kittens
is their creativity.
Everything in the house becomes a toy to them.
An old golf ball becomes a boulder to roll around and around the room.
A crumpled scrap of paper becomes an opponent to battle to the death.
An old sock becomes a rope for a game of tug-of-war.
And I have to admit it.
When they snuggle into my empty shoes like a sleeping bag,
I usually can’t bear to tell them that they’re wrong.
Of course, I liked wearing those shoes;
but they’re far cuter with a kitten head poking out of one end.
Here’s my point:
through the fresh young eyes of a kitten or a child,
everything can assume new meaning.
Objects and places that we thought we understood
can transform into something completely different.
Something magical and new.
Something we would never have thought of.
Well, it’s that transformative process that we see taking place
in today’s Old Testament and Gospel readings.
Let me show you what I mean.
Today’s Old Testament passage,
is one of the greatest messianic declarations
of the Hebrew Bible.
“For I know that my Redeemer lives.”
Many of us are even familiar with those words
through the great hymns by Charles Wesley and Samuel Medley,
or through the beautiful harmonies of Handel’s Messiah.
“I know that my redeemer liveth,
and that He shall stand on the latter day upon the earth:
And though worms destroy this body,
yet in my flesh shall I see God. ”
Read by themselves,
Job’s words express a triumphant hope.
No matter what troubles us,
no matter how difficult life seems,
we know that one day,
we’ll see God face to face.
In fact, we heard a similar message of hope in today’s Psalm:
“At my vindication I shall see your face;
when I awake, I shall be satisfied,
beholding your likeness.”
And when I call it a message of “hope,”
I don’t just mean a simple desire for a good future –
“I hope it won’t rain tomorrow.”
If that’s the only kind of hope we have,
then our faith becomes nothing more
than hollow optimism.
But our hope is real.
It’s the assurance of a promise.
We know that one day we’ll see God face to face,
And so we hope for that day in joyful anticipation.
We hope because we wait for an encounter
even greater than we can now imagine.
according to some scholars’ analysis of this passage,
Job isn’t expressing that hope at all.
Earlier in that same chapter,
he says that God made him into an adversary,
In verse six, he says,
“God has put me in the wrong,”
the exact opposite of what we’d expect a redeemer to do!
In verse ten, he says,
“God has uprooted my hope like a tree.”
And this loss of hope isn’t really that surprising.
If you remember the story of Job
he had endured devastating physical illness,
the deaths of family members,
the loss of his money,
and criticism and abandonment from his friends.
In a short span of time,
he had suffered more
than most of us will endure in a lifetime.
So it’s no wonder that Job had harsh words
for someone who would cause him so much pain.
Job didn’t seem able to take much solace in the future.
In fact, he usually talked about death as the final end.
In Job 14:12, he says,
“Mortals lie down and do not rise again.”
this life was all there was.
So it seems pretty unlikely that he’d turn around
and start talking about a glorious resurrection.
And that’s why some scholars say that Job
isn’t talking about God or heaven at all.
Whoever Job’s redeemer is,
it couldn’t possibly be God,
who had just destroyed everything that Job held dear.
According to them,
Job doesn’t think that God redeemed him,
and he doesn’t believe in life after death.
Making Job’s poetic declaration
into an expression of prophetic hope
must simply be an interpretive mistake.
And I think that sometimes we can feel like Job, too:
certain that God won’t answer our cries.
Maybe it’s through suffering losses like Job’s:
the loss of health,
the loss of loved ones,
the loss of financial security.
maybe it’s through walking down a path
with no change in sight:
a job that sucks our time away,
an academic degree that feels endless,
a physical or mental illness that lingers tenaciously.
Like Job, we might know that God’s there —
but we find it hard even to imagine
what “redemption” could mean.
But that’s where today’s Gospel comes in.
If we look at today’s gospel reading,
we see someone else who made an “interpretive mistake,”
just like the “mistake” of the people who see the Messiah in Job.
Someone else who looked at an old, familiar text
and saw something new,
So let’s look at the reading.
While answering a question about the resurrection,
Jesus repeats Moses’s statement of his ancestral faith.
When Moses called the Lord
“the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”
that what Moses really meant
was that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were all still alive.
But this seems a little unconvincing.
By this logic,
when I say that I live in the land of George Washington,
I must mean that George is still around and kicking.
It really doesn’t make sense.
And it especially doesn’t make sense
to say that when Abraham simply mentioned his ancestors,
he was really talking about the resurrection of the dead!
Wherever Jesus is getting his ideas from,
it doesn’t look like a plain and simple interpretation of Scripture.
Just like a plain and simple interpretation of Job
might say that Job had no hope in a resurrection or Messiah.
We have two famous Old Testament passages before us:
Job talking about his living Redeemer,
and Moses talking about the God of his ancestors.
Neither of them might have had anything to do with an afterlife
when they left the lips of the person who said them.
when we look at them through Christian eyes,
Jesus Himself disagrees.
He says that there’s something more.
See, taken by themselves,
the words of Job and Moses are powerful and inspiring.
Neither knew Jesus’s message of salvation.
But despite all their daily trials,
they had faith in God anyway,
believing in the Holy One who had sustained their ancestors.
many generations later,
Jesus’s life and death transformed those words.
The cross allows us to look at them with fresh eyes.
it demands that we look at those words with fresh eyes.
It demands that we take all the things we think we know about God
and look at them through the light of salvation.
To illustrate this,
let’s look at the first half of today’s Gospel reading.
Jesus is out teaching the crowds,
and he gets approached by Sadducees, Jewish religious leaders.
We don’t have a lot of information about the Sadducees,
but we do know a couple of things.
First of all,
this gospel passage says that they “say there is no resurrection.”
So, unlike many Jews of the time,
they didn’t believe in an afterlife of any kind.
Josephus, a Jewish writer from about the time of Jesus,
talks about the Sadducees.
He tells us that they rejected all the rabbinic teachings
that got added onto the Bible.
They only trusted what was “in the written word.”
So these men are religious scholars
who accepted the Hebrew Bible as their only authority.
And they came to the same conclusion
as those modern scholars I mentioned earlier.
They said that Job had no hope of a resurrection.
You die, and that’s it.
So these guys come up to Jesus with a question.
Of course, it’s not really an honest question.
They’re so convinced that their interpretation is right
that they’re sure that he won’t be able to give an answer.
So let me remind you of the question that they think is going to stump Jesus.
“Imagine that a married man dies.
His widow marries another man,
and then he dies.
So she marries another man,
and he dies, too!
And this happens again and again, until she’s married seven different men.
And then — finally! — she dies.
Well, in ‘the resurrection,’
whose wife will she be?”
As you can see, it’s a pretty silly question.
It reminds me of questions like,
“Can God create a rock heavier than He can lift?”
Yes, we can try to answer them logically,
but that’s really not the point.
And Jesus recognizes that.
“You’re missing the point,” he tells them.
“You’re acting as if the resurrection just means an extra-long human life.
As if we’re going to pop up out of the ground
and go back to our regularly scheduled lives.
You’re trying to put new wine into old wineskins.
You’re trying to reduce God’s miraculous promises
to the comfortable world you already know.”
Jesus refuses to play their game.
And instead he offers us a new game,
a new way of understanding ourselves in the world.
We are “children of the resurrection,” Jesus says.
Fundamentally different from the children of this earth.
We are “children of God,” He tells us.
Heirs to God’s kingdom,
which is a promise far more powerful and mysterious
than debates about what marriage is like after you’re dead.
And if we look back at Job,
that’s God’s response to Job as well.
Whether or not Job felt like God was his Redeemer,
whether or not he thought that God had become his enemy,
God had an amazing plan for him all along.
“Don’t assume that you know what’s going on,”
God tells Job later in the book.
In chapter 38, verse 11, God asks Job
how he could possibly think
that he knew what God was planning.
“Do you know the ordinances of the heavens?”
And sure enough,
the God whom Job called his enemy
ends up giving him blessings beyond imagination —
everything he’d lost and more.
God took Job’s experiences and assumptions,
and turned them around,
transformed them into something unexpected and wonderful.
when we assume that we know what God’s doing,
we can close our eyes to an even more amazing plan.
When we’re feeling like Job —
trapped in those situations where we can’t see hope,
feeling far from God’s redemption,
it’s easy to forget God’s promises.
It’s easy to forget that Christ’s death and resurrection
holds the promise —
and the challenge —
to make everything new.
Because our hope isn’t just something we feel.
And that’s a good thing,
because sometimes it’s impossible to feel like change will ever come.
Hope is something we know.
It’s like we heard in today’s epistle to the Thessalonians.
“Through grace, God gave us eternal comfort and good hope.”
God’s grace —
God’s gift to us,
through the sacrifice of Jesus
and the abiding presence of the Spirit —
gives us “good hope” for this world and the next.
It reminds us that just like Jesus awakened new meaning
in the Old Testament’s promises,
there is always new meaning waiting
in God’s promises to us.
And it reminds us to leave behind the mindset of the Sadducees
who said that there was “nothing new under the sun.”
Following Jesus means constantly reopening our eyes
to see the changes God beckons us to make.
So in the end, I have to side with Charles Spurgeon,
the great preacher of the 19th century.
In one sermon,
he reacted to critics
who wanted to disconnect Christ
from Job’s Redeemer who lived.
This is what he said.
“If it had been Job’s desire to foretell the advent of Christ
and his own sure resurrection,
I cannot see what better words he could have used.”
Well, I don’t know what Job originally intended to say.
But I do know that his words were fulfilled perfectly
in our Redeemer who does live,
and who we will see one day face to face.
And so Job’s words to us
and Jesus’s words to the Sadducees
do more than just paint a picture of the world to come.
They remind us that God’s good news is creative,
in every sense of the word.
It creates us anew:
children of God,
children of the resurrection.
And it creatively transforms
all of our assumptions about what God will or won’t do,
or who God can or can’t be.
So as we go forth as children of the resurrection,
children of the living God,
may our preconceptions be challenged by a creative God.
May we respond to this changing world in new and living ways.
Because as Jesus said,
God is a God of the living,
and not of the dead.