A Sermon preached by The Reverend Michael Hiller on the Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 27, November 10, 2019
Last week we went to see Pedro Almodóvar’s latest film Pain and Glory. It is the close of his trilogy that includes The Law of Desire in which a young man and woman comes to grips with their sexuality and gender, Bad Education in which a young man and his brother come to grips with the abuse that others, most especially the church, have visited upon them, and finally, in Pain and Glory, where an older man revisits past loves, and observes the pain and glory in his life. I mention these films because they served as a call to me to observe what is happening about me, what is unusual in my life, and how life changes things as we grow older.
In the Gospel for today, Jesus wrestles with the Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead (the Pharisees did) and use an argument about that to challenge Jesus’ authority as a prophet. And before we go any further, we need to be clear about what prophetic work is. It is not done at a table with a crystal ball, looking into the future. Prophecy, at least in the sense shown to us in the Hebrew Scriptures is more about hearing God’s word for the now – observing God’s will in the present. Jesus wants the Sadducees to be clear about what the theology of the resurrection is really all about, and to do so he compares what goes on in our time and what goes on in the Kingdom of God. There is a difference. Given the example of marriage, Jesus says that that is an institution for this time, but not the next. The primary relationship is that which we as individuals have with God. It makes me think that the notion of meeting up with friends and neighbors, husbands, wives, and children in the afterlife is beside the point. We are called to know God in the now.
Once again, forgetting whether or not you are using Track One, or Track Two of the Lectionary I will use both of the readings from the Hebrew Scriptures. Haggai in his reading wants the people of Judah to see the real state of things – a destroyed Temple and city, and then encourages them to have a vision of renewal. What glory they had seen in the past, what pain they had seen in the past all would be surpassed by the gracious presence of God in a renewed Temple. Was that a building, or was it more than that? Did the prophet long for the presence of God in their midst.
The other reading is from Job, one that we are quite familiar with. If you have sung the hymn “I Know that My Redeemer Lives” at Easter, then you will have sung the essence of this reading. The challenge is for us, however, to hear it without our Christian filters, to hear it as the ancients heard it. Let me read it to you again and listen as if you were one of Job’s friends arguing about whether he was righteous or not.
“O that my words were written down!
O that they were inscribed in a book!
O that with an iron pen and with lead
they were engraved on a rock forever!
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see on my side,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.”
What we don’t hear, because of the Easter hymn, is the real setting of Job’s comments. He makes them in a courtroom, a courtroom in which his life, his righteousness, his worthiness is being judged. Remember, he has lost his children, his lands, his wealth, and has been plagued with disease. His friends think, “Job, you must have done something wrong.” Job, however, sees and observes something different. He sees himself as saved by God, that God is standing by his side – redeeming him. What resurrection should mean to us is not only some future event, but a present enjoyment of our relationship to God – God’s presence with us now. In a way the Antonio Banderas character in Pain and Glory is in a similar situation. The pains of old age have taken away from him the spiritual and creative gifts given to him by God. He has to look at them again, even in the midst of a deteriorating body, to see the graciousness of what we have been given in our talents and then to give them back to those around us. We then become God’s presence for others.
In the second reading from Second Thessalonians, Paul warns the Thessalonians about what to avoid as we think about the End of All Things. Such observations for us are not about our getting older but are about the actual challenges facing us in our time: Climate Change, emerging racial elitism, and xenophobia. The Thessalonians were worried about such things, and Paul needs to remind them that they have been chosen by God. Yes, there will be an End Time, but we must wait for it. The real question is what shall we do while we wait for the Parousia – the End Time? Listen to what he has to say:
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.
“In every good work and word,” such is what our world must be like as we wait. We anticipate Advent just a few weeks away. However, we live in an Advent – a hoping for God’s presence among us. And here’s the point. Job, Haggai, the Thessalonians and Paul, all of them were called to observe and know God’s presence in their midst already – as a present reality. All of them are about the business that would see their teachings and traditions as present in their hearts. Job makes it very clear by asking that this knowledge of God be written with an iron pen and with lead. Jeremiah will have a similar notion of these truths being written on our hearts, engraved on our hearts.
As we observe the world about us, we are challenged by distortions of our Christian faith. We are being taught to distrust others, to dismiss the foreigner and the stranger, to forget the hungry and the homeless. And yet, this is not of the teachings and traditions that have come down to us.
Yes, there must be resurrection, but not only of our bodies after death, but of our lives while yet living, while we await what Haggai saw as “the latter splendor, greater than the former. There must be a resurrection of grace, forgiveness, truth, and love. Now, how shall we do that?