Sunday, November 10, 2013

Twenty Fifth Sunday After Pentecost (C) 2013

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.

Text: Luke 20:35
Theme: In the Age of the Resurrection

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Does God have secrets? Well, where would we start? Jesus once said to His disciples, “The secret of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables.”1 People like to know secrets. To couch something in terms of a secret adds a dimension or aura of intrigue. It implies access to privileged information. The marketing world has long been onto this tactic. What is the secret to losing weight while still eating everything you want? What is the secret to a happy marriage? What is the secret to a high-paying, satisfying career? What’s the secret to children who are obedient and well-adjusted; and on and on it goes. These are important questions.

Still, these passing particularities of life are more or less trivial in the bigger picture. The Christian is finally concerned with the establishment of Christ’s kingdom and the well-being of body and soul for eternity. As we approach the end of the Church Year we are mindful that one of the impenetrable ‘secrets’ of God is the hour of Christ’s return. But God does not keep secrets out of arrogance or because He enjoys seeing people driven to vain speculation. He always has our well-being in mind. St. Paul says today, “Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to Him, we ask you, brothers, not become easily unsettled or alarmed…don’t let anyone deceive you.”2

At first glance this text may not seem to relate to the gospel reading. But both speak of the realities of the life to come. Jesus was approached by a group of Jewish religious leaders called the Sadducees. Generally well-off and part of the upper echelons of society they were somewhat of a counter-balance to the more legalist Pharisees. They did not believe in angels or the resurrection of the dead. The Sadducees posed an almost absurd question to Jesus to test Him. Suppose a woman who was following the Levitical law of marriage3 had seven husbands die, all brothers, and all before she bore any children? Whose wife would she be in heaven?

Without downplaying the sanctity of marriage Jesus shifted the conversation to the nature and reality of heaven. Earthly marriage will be superseded in heaven by the union between Christ and His bride, the Church. Marriage in the here and now is a reflection of a higher reality. As with the angels, human marriage will not exist in heaven. More importantly, He affirms the resurrection.

Jesus was not revealing secrets but opening their minds to what the Scriptures had always said. By the time God met Moses at the burning bush the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had been dead for hundreds of years. But they were not dead; they were alive in God! Here Jesus makes a stunning declaration. Deceased believers have not ceased to exist. They do not reside in some type of spiritual coma. They are alive. They await the general resurrection of the dead. And they can no longer die!

Do you hear what the Lord is saying here? Death has been rendered powerless. God is the God of the living. This is the answer to the deepest human dilemma. Oh the grief, pain and loneliness of death. The separation it causes is one of the great adversities of human existence. Everyone must face it. For many it is the ultimate cause of despair. But in Christ death has been overcome.

Matthew tells us that the primary criticism of Jesus is that these Sadducees didn’t know the Scriptures. Or maybe they didn’t really believe them. “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.”4 How appropriate is that critique today! There is such a widespread loss of confidence in the Scriptures that hardly anyone takes notice of it or sees it as a serious problem. Dare we admit that even many of the most ‘committed’ Christians today seldom worry about the integrity of biblical truth or the following of God’s will?

Do the Scriptures inform and empower our beliefs and actions? Or do we just use them to defend what we’ve already decided we’re going to do? We don’t need the powerful Word; we have prosperity! We don’t need the mystery of the Almighty’s creation; we have the answers of science. We don’t need to honour the sacredness of life; we have the convenience of abortion, euthanasia, and suicide. But when Christ comes, who will stand at His summons? Who will give account: The self-made millionaire, the scholar of evolutionary theory, the architect of secular social engineering?

Though the Sadducees were reluctant to believe God could raise the dead the greater threat to Jesus’ teaching was the Pharisees. They vehemently opposed the gospel. And they had far more influence over the common people; those who sought to be god-fearing, especially. And so it is that those controlled by the principles of secularism and the pursuit of innumerable idols will always replace God with other forms of security; but those who seek salvation through their own goodness assault the very reason for which Christ died. It is no small thing to attempt to rob Christ of His glory.

Dear friends, the temptation to which the Pharisees succumbed is a constant danger. A sanctified life is not about reaching a point where you feel that you’ve so gotten the upper-hand on your sins, your short-comings and your weakness that sin is no longer a major concern. There is no threshold where you become godly enough that forgiveness becomes an unnecessary formality. There is no baseline of civility and good-manneredness that can give you confidence that you’re keeping yourself in God’s good graces.

Rather, as you accumulate the scars of life, as you struggle again and again with your own temptations and doubts, your anxieties and fears- the more you see the power of sin for what it is. The more you recognize your own failings. Life is abrasive. It wounds and scars; not by accident, but because of the destructive force of sin. You cannot stand aloof from it. No one is an objective observer. And no one is exempt from bearing their own guilt.

The gospel confronts the darkness of unbelief and superstition but also the self-righteousness of those who either foolishly or ignorantly presume to contribute all, or in part, what only Christ can provide. Grace tolerates no augmentation. He hung alone on the cross. Only He could. He was crucified for you. He rose for you. You are baptized into His death and resurrection. You are fed with His body and blood. His mercy meets you are every opportunity.

We’re not playing a spiritual or religious game here. The absolution announced to you from the “called and ordained servant of the Word” is not merely some therapeutic ritual honoured for the sake of decorum. The keys are exercised as Christ’s instruments for binding and losing sins. Recall what the catechism says, “I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command…this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.”5 The need for divine pardon never becomes obsolete. How appropriate and powerful are the words of the prophet Haggai, “‘I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And My Spirit remains among you. Do not fear…In this place I will grant peace.”6

God doesn’t have secrets per se. We might do better to use the term mystery. Christ is the perfect revelation of God’s compassion and glory. He is the crucified, scarred, but living Saviour. It’s just that the facts of our sinful condition prevent us from fully appreciating this truth. Hence the Holy Spirit gifts us with faith. Faith waits steadfastly and waits eagerly for these mysteries to be resolved. In God’s time they will. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Twenty Fifth Sunday After Pentecost
10 November 2013
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Mark 4:11
2 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3
3 See Deuteronomy 25:5
4 Matthew 22:29
5 Luther’s Small Catechism, Confession
6 Haggai 2:4-5, 9

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