This sermon was preached on November 10, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. The texts were:
Job 19: 23-27a
2 Thessalonians 2: 1-5, 13-17
Luke 20: 27-38
Children’s sermon: Do you ever worry about something? What do you worry about? Yeah, we worry about lots of things don’t we. Worry can be ok, as worry can sometimes help us to make decisions, but often worrying can keep us from focusing on what is actually important. Have you ever worried about the wrong thing? Such as worried about what a friend thinks of you to the point that you ignore other friends who then might get upset with you? Yeah, we can worry about the wrong stuff as people of any age. Our bible stories for today are kinda odd, but they are essentially about worrying about the wrong thing. We heard some questions from people worried about what happens when we die, or when Jesus comes again-but Jesus says, don’t worry about that! We don’t have to worry because no matter what, God loves us, is with us and never leaves us. So if we don’t have to worry what should we do? Jesus says we should do what God does, offer life! God offers life to us in so many ways-how do you see God in your life? Yep! All great things! God wants us to spend our lives offering this same life to other people. Today we are talking about offering life as the church to the community around us. We can offer life to people by spending time with them, by working with people with a special gift we have or with our money. The adults will be turning in what we call a pledge card and it’s about how we will offer life with all of who we are as well our money. You have something to offer too. I have these cards that say “I offer to God” and you can write or draw with this dry erase marker how you will share God’s gift of life with people. When the adults come forward with their cards, you can drop yours in the basket too! Every gift matters! Let’s pray:
This might seem like a counter intuitive statement, but we live in a culture preoccupied with death. Now, the real challenge is that we don’t talk about it or acknowledge in healthy or forthright ways, we dance around the deeper questions to worrying about our physical bodies. Watch tv for five minutes and you’ll see products to make you look younger, take away gray hair, exercise programs to keep you thin, products that make your joints less creaky (ok that one is speaking to me some days), whiten your teeth and even more invasive medical procedures to give you back the body you had when you were young. Sucking out fat, removing wrinkles, lifting things, and the list goes on and on. We worry about our aging bodies, we worry about the future and we worry about dying. We are really trying to control the future. We want to control what happens next in our lives, we want some certainty about how our lives play out and ultimately what happens when we die. We’re afraid of the unknown, and when we’re left to our own speculation, we try and shape what happens next. We’re preoccupied with death-but so much so that I’m not sure how many of us are really living.
This is also true in religious institutions. In the ELCA, we’ve heard the alarm bell clanging of “we are a dying institution.” And not just ELCA but all mainline protestant churches (UMC, UCC, Presbyterian, Episcopal). As mainline, we’ve watched rapid decline of attendance and participation in the past 20 years and in response a whole slew of books, speakers, conferences, blog posts, and FB conversation threads have popped up all with the idea that if we could just find the right answer, find the key, the silver bullet, then we could return to the good old days and we could be comfortable knowing that we’ve got this church thing under control. If the church could just look like it used to, it would be great! We wouldn’t be living in fear of the “what happens if all this goes away,” what if it looks different and wondering if there is life for Church after the death of the institution.
It turns out that this has been our tendency for thousands of years, being preoccupied with death but for all the wrong reasons! We speculate ourselves into a corner so to speak where we then concretize these vague ideas as truth. Both the letter to the Thessalonians and our gospel from Luke today capture this challenge of wanting certainty about the unknown. The Thessalonians were stressed out about the second coming of Jesus and wondering if they would know when it happened and make the cut. Paul attempted to calm them down reminding them to not get caught up in people who run around saying the sky is falling, you’d better be doing or not doing certain things and everything is terrible. Don’t focus on what is going wrong, stay focused on the truth that God chooses us, all of us, loves us and promises that we will be with God always, in this life and in the next, no one is left behind. What God is doing in your midst today, may not look like the past, but our God, through Jesus Christ, is always renewing, transforming and nurturing life in unexpected places and in unexpected people.
The Sadducees were looking to discount Jesus’ teachings on resurrection and life with God, when they approached Jesus with what they thought would be a way to ensnare him in a conundrum. Most Sadducees denied that there was anything after death-no resurrection-and they only acknowledged the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, the Torah or writings of Moses. The Pharisees did have a theology of the resurrection long before Jesus, as they acknowledged the history books, the prophets and the writings that make up our OT. This is why Paul, a Pharisee, could so easily articulate how God, through Jesus Christ, promises resurrection and saw the support for the resurrection in the Hebrew Bible. The Sadducees ask Jesus this ridiculous question about seven brothers and this one poor woman. Since they don’t even believe that there is an afterlife, they don’t really care, they just want Jesus to contradict Mosaic law and tradition so that they could label him a heretic. They are looking to kill this Jesus movement that was bringing people so much hope because people with hope are dangerous. They live differently. They think differently and see more than others. But Jesus elegantly leaps over the tripwire to move them and us beyond worries and preoccupations with being right-to God’s truth. The truth that women are not property to be batted about among men-we have our own worth and God will affirm that worth in this life and in the next. The truth that God is a God of love and relationships and wants us to be in healthy, safe and affirming relationships, and not alone. The truth that we must move beyond worrying about death into order to see there is life all around-Moses even said so! When Moses at the burning bush calls God the God of Abraham, God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, Moses affirms that in God, all life is connected, God is not a God who worries about death but creates life when the rest of the world proclaims finitude and hopelessness. God is a God of the living and the hopeful!
Resurrection life is not only about the transformation of our lives when we die, it’s a process that starts right here right now. In God, resurrection isn’t status quo and more of the same of this life, it’s so much more! It’s transformation, God’s grace that won’t leave us devoid of hope or in the same ruts on either side of the kingdom. It might not feel good, as resurrection does first mean death, death to the preoccupations of the world: death to our fears of not being in control and being comfortable. Death to the traditions that stifle our imagination and hope about God’s work in our midst. Like the Sadducees, we must die to thinking that we have the all answers and can manipulate God into affirming them. When we die to our fears, worries, and preoccupation with getting it right, then we focus on being alive in Christ, we try something that we’ve never done before, we stop doing things that aren’t bringing life to ourselves and our neighbors, and we know that being alive in Christ, is moving forward even when we’re unsure of the path because of our confidence of who is on the path with us. God who calls us beloved, renews us, transforms us, resurrects us and declares us alive.
While we’re preoccupied with the details of death, God is preoccupied with life-our life with God today and forever. Being children of the resurrection means that we focus on life, abundant life, right here, right now. We quit worrying about dying and start living! Being alive in God means that we embrace that with God, our lives will look different in the coming years, personally, in the larger church and here at Our Saviour’s. We don’t have to know the details but we can wonder with hope, promise and confidence that God is present with us in this life and the next. Alive with God’s presence, we can offer this resurrection life, transformational life through how we live our lives, to people in our midst today and every day. Thanks be to God.