Saturday, November 6, 2010

This world and the next

Job 19:23-27a
Luke 20:27-38

2 Thessalonians 2

Job has been miserable for many chapters, many days by now, in Chapter 19. His family and his livestock have all been taken from him. He has accused his friends of harassing him. He has accused God of not being fair to him. His lament is long and heartfelt. Despite all that has happened to him, he knows that God lives. Now, he wants the comfort of God’s presence, and really wants to see God face to face.

About 25 years after Jesus died, there were a number of Christian congregations. We have an image of all these early congregations as having similar theology, similar beliefs about Jesus, but this is far from true. Each of Paul’s letters describes similarities and differences. Each congregation had to make sense of the Good News of Jesus in their own context. Each congregation faced internal and external pressures.

Apparently, there was a rumor making its way around Thessalonica that Jesus had already returned, and the people of that congregation had missed the experience. They were afraid they had been left behind. Paul writes to correct this impression. “Don’t panic! Jesus has not returned yet. Remember Jesus loves you, and wants you to pass on that love to others. Don’t worry about that which is beyond your understanding or knowledge.”

Jesus said something similar to the Sadducees in Jerusalem. They asked him a question designed to test his knowledge of scripture and push him on the matter of resurrection. Sadducees were the religious conservatives of their day, believing only the scriptures, but not in the spoken or written traditions which interpret scripture. There is little in the Hebrew Scriptures regarding resurrection until the time of Daniel and Second Maccabbees, a couple of centuries before Jesus. The new-fangled idea of resurrection was just too modern, too “new-agy” for the Sadducees.

Essentially, Jesus said to them, “Life in the next world is not like life in this world. You are asking about divine things, and only God knows about them. I can tell you this: Do you remember when God said to Moses, ‘I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?’ Why would God have said that if they were dead? God is the God of the living, not the dead. Therefore, resurrection really happens.”

We do not know just what is in the other side of death. People who have had near-death experiences, when they died and were brought back to life, tell us that what they saw and felt was wonderful. But, God holds that as a surprise for us.

We live, knowing that God is the giver of life. We live, seeking a relationship with God that is challenged by events and circumstances of this life, and trusting that God will never abandon us, now or in the next life. We live in the meantime, with hope and trust in the resurrection, Jesus’ promise to us. We live, and believe in an invisible God, made visible for a time in Jesus, but present with us constantly through the activity of the Holy Spirit.

Life can be a challenge; Job experienced it; the Thessalonians experienced it; we experience it often. When life presents challenges, we turn to God for comfort, and to Scripture for the reassuring words we can read there. We know God loves us, forgives us, and wants justice for us.

Today, we recognize today the loss of loved ones, and remember them before God. We are comforted by knowing that God will never abandon us, in this life or the next.

This week, we honor our service men and women and remember those who have died to protect our freedom. And we give thanks to God for the freedom we have to live, work, vote, worship, and play as we choose.

Over lunch today, as we face the pains and joys of Hope’s past and look forward to the future, we do so with the hope and faith in God’s presence. We will name our hurts and give them to God so we can forgive those who have hurt us. We will name our joys and give thanks to God for the blessing of such good memories. And we will seek God’s will for the future for this part of the family of God. How will we be led to live out our mission: to know Christ and to make him known?

Please pray with me: Loving God, you know our hearts, our hurts, and our joys. You know our worries and fears, and our faith and trust. Make your presence known among us and within each of us today and all our tomorrows. Amen