Year C, SUNDAY 32  

6-12 November

 

Luke 20: 27-38                                                                                    (Sermon 1: “God of the Living”)

2 Thess 2: 1-5 & 13-17

Haggai 1: 15b to 2:9                           (Sermon 2: “Remember Your First Love?”)

Psalm 145: 1-5 & 17-21

 

PREPARATION

 

We are here

in the name of Jesus Christ,

to worship the God who gave us life and who sustains our every breath,

and to praise the Spirit who enlivens our hearts and enlightens our minds.

 

Great is our God and deserves our greatest praise,

   God is awesome beyond all our imagining.

Each generation shall pass on the good news to the next,

   and shall publicly celebrate God’s saving actions.

 

OR–

 

The Eternal God is near when we call for help,

near to all who cry out with sincere hearts.

Such worshippers shall have their needs met,

their cry is heard and God saves them.

 

Our mouths will sing your praise, O God!

Let all living things bless your name forever!

 

Let us worship God.

 

PRAYER OF APPROACH

 

Most wonderful God, you are Holy and your name is Love. By your Spirit unite the many melodies of our separate lives into one holy harmony of worship. In this hour prepare us for all the other hours of this week, that every place and every task may be holy. Let your name be our inspiration and your glory our highest joy. In the name of Christ Jesus.

Amen!

 

CONFESSION AND ASSURANCE

 

 

“The Lord our God is just in all his ways,  and kind in all his doings.”

 

Let us pray

 

Most Holy God, we confess to you and to each other that we are rarely just in all our ways, and far from being kind in all our doings. What we want to be and what we actually are, are two different things.

 

Our lives are a miss-mash of astuteness and stupidity, of moral strength and cowardice, of kindness and meanness, of openness and cunning, of sincere love for you yet also of conniving self interest.

 

We need both your justice and your kindness to convict us of our sins, to forgive and cleanse us, and to save us from the power of evil in the days that lie ahead. We need your mercy to wipe away shame and disabling regrets, your light to give us our bearings, and your friendship to delight with us in our happiness and to comfort us in our sorrows.

 

Please grant to us, loving God, the grace of a new beginning and the joy of an enlarged love for you. Give us a passion for all your loving ways. Through Christ Jesus our Brother and Redeemer.

 

ASSURANCE

 

Sisters and brothers, Holy Scripture says: “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all and his mercy is over all his works.”

 

In the name of the living God, through the grace of Christ Jesus the Son, and with the authority of the Spirit, I declare to you the forgiveness of sins and the life that is eternal!

 

We will extol you, our God and Saviour,

and glorify your name forever and ever!

Every day we will praise you,

and glorify your name forever and ever.

 

PRAYER FOR CHILDREN

 

            Blow Away Our Fear

 

Dear God,

whenever we think about being dead

and a cold shiver runs up our back,

come liek the wind and

please blow away our fear.

 

Remind us that you have prepared

a bigger, brighter, life ready for us

on the other side of the door of death.

 

Thank you for raising Jesus from the dead

and for promising that we shall live

with him.

Amen!

 

PSALM  145: 1-5 &17-21

 

 

I will extol you, my God and humble King,

I will adore your name for ever and ever.

As each new day dawns I will adore you,

            and sing your praises to the end of time.

 

Great is the Lord Jesus, and deserves our greatest praise,

            he is wonderful beyond all our imagining.

Each generation shall pass on the good news to the next,

            and shall publicly celebrate his saving actions.

 

I will think long on your radiance and beauty,

            I will dwell on the lovely deeds you have done.

You give better than justice wherever you go,

            you are firmly loving in everything you do.

 

Our Messiah is close to all who call his name,

            to all who speak to him from the heart.

He satisfies the hunger of those who bow in awe,

            he hears every cry and saves them all.

 

The Lord Jesus stands by those who love him,

            but all wickedness must be wiped out.

My mouth will always sing praises to Messiah!

            Let every living thing adore his name for ever!

                                                                                                ©  B.D. Prewer 2000

 

THE DEAD DON’T CLING

 

  Those who attain the resurrection

   do not marry or are given in marriage”.

 

The dead don’t cling

            to less than perfect joys,

or bind themselves

            to vows that might disable.

They don’t seek love

            that’s limited by years

and meet no more

            at just one kitchen table.

 

The dead don’t cling

            to loving that excludes,

or seek one soul

            to be the only friend.

They now belong

            to a much larger whole,

and love the One

            who links the one to all.

  

                                    ©  B.D. Prewer 1993

 

COLLECT

 

Author of life, nurturer of those live lovingly, please increase in us the capacity to live it to the full. Let no voice misguide us, no fancy delude us, no sight confuse us, and no setback delay us as we travel towards the beauty of your kingdom of light. Through Christ Jesus, the pioneer and finisher of our faith.

Amen!

 

 

SERMON 1: GOD OF THE LIVING

 

Luke 20:38

 

“He is not the God of the dead but of the living”     Luke 20: 38

 

 

It’s hard to be wise when others people are critical, and place us under pressure.

 

            (In fact, I have an undeveloped theory that for many people their apparent IQ will vary

            largely according to the level of security they are feeling in a particular situation)

 

Jesus handled pressure situations magnificently/creatively/daringly.

His brilliance is, I believe, closely linked to his utter trust in God; his abiding sense of security.

 

THE GOSPEL FOR TODAY

 

In the Gospel today Jesus was being “set up” by the conservative Sadducees.

 

These men dogmatically rejected all Scripture except the first five books of the Old Testament. As they saw it, there did not appear to be any belief in eternal life in those five books.  Sadducees enjoyed poking fun at those who believed in a resurrection.  On this day they had Jesus in their sights.

 

They try a ridiculous hypothetical:

 

Teacher. Moses wrote that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man must marry her and rear children for his brother. Now, there were seven brothers. The first took a wife and died without children. And the second, and the third brother married her, and finally the whole seven  married and died without children. After this the woman died.  When the resurrection happens, whose wife shall she be? All seven had her as wife.”

 

Silence. Can’t you picture the crowd listening , some shaking their heads, and maybe some critics starting to smirk as they think: “Get out of that one, upstart carpenter!”

 

Jesus bounced back at those Sadduccees, with two counter attacks:

 

1/ He did it by using a passage from one of those first five books which they did hold to be God’s word. He quotes from Exodus chapter 3.

Even Moses showed that the dead are raised, in the passage about the burning bush, where he calls the Lord “The God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” See now, he is not the God of the dead but of the living; for all live in him.

 

In effect he said: “Don’t play funny games with me.  Your own Scriptures condemn you.”

 

2/ What is more, resurrection life is not a projection of this life; not things as they are now going on and on forever! It is something utterly more wonderful. A transformation.

 

The people of this old world marry and are given in marriage, but those who are worthy to achieve the new age and resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage. They cannot die any more. They are like angels and are children of God when they are children of resurrection”

 

“But as for the question as to whether the dead are in fact raised, even Moses in the passage about the burning bush, speaks to God as being at that moment ‘the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’. If God is still their God, they must be still living. God is not the God of the dead but of the living; to him all live.”

 

(This argument of Jesus may not convince your agnostic acquaintances; but it was perfectly logical within the framework that the Sadducees were using.)

 

Some of the Pharisees, who did believe in resurrection, gave a begrudging acknowledgment: “Teacher, you have spoken well.”

 

The Sadducees however, publicly humiliated, moved off to finalise their plot for the death of Jesus.  There is a sharp irony here: Because the Sadducees did not believe in any possibility of life beyond death, they thought that by having Jesus killed he would be silenced for ever. How wrong they were!

 

I WANT TO UNDERLINE THREE THINGS

 

1/  Jesus strongly affirmed God’s gift of eternal life.

 

            Don’t you be put off by today’s distant cousins of the cynical Sadducees; who want to make fun of eternal life.  God’s love is faithful-love; CHESED!  Dependable for ever! ‘They cannot die any more, but are like the angels and are children of God, having become children of resurrection.”

 

2/ We are foolish to try and predict, or picture, the nature of eternal life. 

 

            The Sadducees made themselves look ridiculous with all that stuff about one bride and seven husbands. Any picture we try to draw with pen or words, must depend on images from this mortal life. Projecting that on to eternity it will always look pathetically ridiculous. Eternal life must be other than this life. In his poem “One Day” Ray Matthew highlights this fact:

 

            For nothing that I have now as my self

            Is like what one day I will have to be.

 

            And all that I have now as my very own

            Will one day be as alien as the sea.

 

When it comes to talking about the hereafter, I resonate with the words of St Paul: “What eye has not seen nor ear heard nor the mind conceived, God has in store for those whom love him.”

 

3/ Resurrection is not some natural ability that we have.

 

Resurrection is not native to us. It is a remarkable gift from the grace of God. Absolutely free! Always in the gospel we get back to grace.

 

Some ancient Greek philosophers believed that we are, by nature, immortal spirits; the human body and life on earth was a crude prison. We are like caged eagles.  For them immortality was our right, which at death could be restored as we escape to our true element.

 

Others, like the Oriental pessimists and cynics went the other way. These said we die like any animal and that is it.  Look at Ecclesiastes and you will find this pervading mood of weary despair.

 

But the Christianity that flowed from Jesus said two things —

 

To the pessimists:  “No! You are wrong. We are not like a dead dog or lion. There is a gift of life after death. God offers it through faith in the resurrected Christ.”

 

To the immortals:  “No you are wrong. The body is not a cage; it is a good gift for now. Death is for real; we really die, not escape through a loophole.  But God gives us anew gift of life: Resurrection life: Gift! Bonus! Grace!”

 

Jesus made the difference. This faith in eternal life is consistent with everything Jesus was, did and taught. It is consistent with what happened to him, and with the amazed disciples as they joyfully floundered around in the reality of Christs’ resurrection.

 

THIS I BELIEVE.

 

I believe. I believe that one day ( in a day beyond all days) you will be wakened as from a deep sleep, unlike any other sleep you have known before.

 

You will be wakened, not by sunshine filtering through blinds; not by the call of a magpie or the song of a thrush; not by an alarm clock or a radio. Not even by the gentle kiss of a loved one.

 

But you will be wakened by the steadfast-love of God who will lift you up with the gentleness of almighty power into a new life, which nothing is this world has prepared you for except love.  Only love!

 

All doubts and fears will be gone. You will be elevated by “the God of the living” to a joy and peace beyond anything that mortal minds can conceive.

 

When that happens, the words of this little sermon will seem paltry, and even the visionary words of the Holy Bible will seem an inadequate echo of the real thing. Now we see dimly, as through a smoked glass; then we shall see with absolute clarity – face to face. Thanks be to God!

 

 

SERMON 2: REMEMBER YOUR FIRST LOVE?

 

Texts: Haggai 1: 2-11-.

 

A funny thing happened to me on the way to this sermon: I was mugged by an inconvenient few verses form  the Bible.

 

I had misread the chapter and verse in the Book of Haggai as listed in the lectionary for this Sunday. Instead of commencing at chapter 1 verse 15, I started at chapter 1 verse 2. I’m glad I made the mistake. For those verses hit me between the eyes.

 

It’s a remarkable thing that! The Bible has a way of getting past our defences and hitting us with a sharp insight. Just when we are going along smoothly, and we think we know what we are going to say or do, the Living Word can leap at us from our blind side and bring us to our knees.

 

HAGGAI’S MESSAGE?

 

The burden of the brief Book of Haggai is the need for rebuilding the temple of God in Jerusalem; this happened during the 2nd year of the king Darius the Mede, a Chaldean emperor who ruled over a mighty empire of subjugated kingdoms like Judah. Previously the Jews had been conquered and scattered, their temple plundered and destroyed. Now the tide was slowly turning. 

 

Little by little some of the Jewish population had returned. They came back home from exile and rejoined the survivors. A new governor had been appointed , and a High Priest invested. Farms were again producing food, markets were well stocked, comfortable homes were being built, and some businesses were thriving. Many Jews were again prosperous.

 

Yet the temple still lay in ruins.

Prophets like Haggai, burning with the word of God in their guts, said:  “This will not do!  Why is the house of God the last thing to be rebuilt? Is that how much God means to you? You live in houses panelled with the cedar of Lebanon, while God’s house is still rubble. Don’t expect to find happiness while this state of things continues.”

 

Let me now read you verses 4, 5 & 6.

 

Is this the right time for you to live in timber panelled houses while the house[of God] lies in ruins? Therefore says the Lord of hosts: Consider how you have fared. You have sown much and harvested little; you eat but never have enough; you drink but you never have your fill; you clothe yourselves but no one is warm; and he who earns wages puts them into a bag with holes.”

 

There are two possible interpretations for these words.

 

1/ The first is that God was punishing them by sending poor harvests. Against this interpretation is the fact that Haggai speaks as if many are already well off. His reference to their houses panelled with expensive timber confirms their present prosperity.

 

2/ The second interpretation features the discontent of materialism. Because they have not got their spiritual priorities right, they will never be content with any amount of prosperity. Until they start giving rather than grasping, until they give time and money to rebuild the temple of God, they will remain miserable “critters.” Their wallets will always seem to have holes in them. They will think they never have enough. Without God central in their lives, they will always be disgruntled.

 

THE SEED OF DISCONTENT

 

This second interpretation is the one that hit me between the eyes, when during last week,  I read this passage. It spoke directly to me and the acquisitive culture in which I live.

 “You have sown much and harvested little; you eat but never have enough; you drink but you never have your fill; you clothe yourselves but no one is warm; and he who earns wages puts them into a bag with holes.”

 

God was low on their wish list.

 

Those Jews who after chaotic, destructive times had re-established themselves in the promised land, had given their God, the Lord of hosts, low priority. Me first, God later. Therefore true happiness would elude them. They would end each day feeling they had not received enough of the good things of life. The harvest, no matter how good,  would never seem to be the bumper one they wanted. No matter how much gourmet food was on their dining table, they would finish a meal still feeling strangely empty. Even with the best available wines served at their dinner parties, those wines would not come up to their expectations.

 

Although they might be dressed in the best clothes, in the very latest fashion, they would not be happy with what they had. They would bring home a full pay packet but the cash would be spent so quickly that it would seem that their purses had holes in them.

You have sown much and harvested little; you eat but never have enough; you drink but you never have your fill; you clothe yourselves but no one is warm; and he who earns wages puts them into a bag with holes.”

 

Haggai saw through their outward prosperity to their spiritual poverty. The fact that the temple lay in ruins while they built themselves up-market houses (Mc Mansions!)was a barometer of their spiritual poverty. God had been moved from central place in their lives; the Lord has been pushed to the margins. The word God had become a pious irrelevancy. To rebuilt the temple would be a costly exercise; yet it would prove that God was no longer marginalised.

 

THE PROPHET WORD TO US

 

Maybe we need a few prophets like Haggai among us today. If ever there was a possession-glutted society it is ours.

 

This not only applies to the most wealthy, it goes for nearly all of us. “Things” and yet more things are our lust. A multitude of foods and drinks are our fascination. Clothes are marketed to “make us feel good.” Motor cars are a status symbol. Our houses and furniture are supposed “to make a statement.”

 

But is our society a happy one?

 

I think not. Snowed under a plethora of possessions, we are a miserable lot of critters! So miserable that we are looking all the time for new diversions, be they entertainment, tourist destinations, internet “affairs”, alcohol or other drugs, or just another dose of “shopping therapy.”

 

As a society we are such a miserable and mean lot.

We seem to deeply resent social welfare being provided for the poor, homes and hope being given to refugees, land being returned to native peoples, and rehabilitation being given to prisoners. The wealthier we are the more we want to avoid the taxes that provide for the welfare of all.

 

As a community and nation we never have enough!

 

Therefore says the Lord of hosts: Consider how you have fared. You have sown much and harvested little; you eat but never have enough; you drink but you never have your fill; you clothe yourselves but no one is warm; and he who earns wages puts them into a bag with holes.”

 

Without God we become a rabble of malcontents; only held together in the semblance of a community through proliferating laws and regulations, larger prisons and more police officers on our streets..

 

AND THE CHURCH?

 

My friends, I fear we in the church also get caught up in this mania.

 

Outwardly we keep the faith. Yet God becomes increasingly  marginalised and we embrace the material things that lead to discontent. Society is pressuring us all the time to adulterate our first love for God.

 

A temple is a good start. Yet it is not enough that we have a building dedicated to God, nor that we pay for its upkeep. Building temples does not entirely solve the problem. Something more basic is needed.

 

Without doubt, most church people are utterly committed. I have been humbled by the devotion of many who will give their all for God, not counting the cost. Some are amazingly self-giving and extraordinary happy people.

 

But far too many of us have a foot in two camps, God is among our priorities, but not in the top position. As a result we may be wistful, dutiful Christians rather than buoyant ones.

 

For over 40 years I have been aware of some generous aged and invalid pensioners; many devotedly give a tenth of their meagre income to God, and with a big smile still have room for yet more generosity. At the same time the overall giving of a congregation indicates that many other affluent members have other priorities. Some offer God ‘tips,’ as if he were a taxi driver, waiter in a restaurant, or room service in an hotel; or they may offer the loose cash or small notes they may happen to have in their pockets at the time.

 

If we wait until we have what we think is enough

before we start putting God first, we will never get there. And I mean never! Our money bag will always seem to have holes.

 

TWO OLD SAYINGS

 

I am reminded of two old sayings, one from Scotland and one from Africa.

 

In English one from Scotland goes:

“A man’s hunger will never be satisfied until his mouth is stuffed with worms.”

 

The second from St Augustine is better known:

“God, you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”

 

When one’s inner spiritual house, our soul,  is not in order,

then no amount of money, possessions, holidays, power, or popularity will relieve our inveterate discontent.

 

Therefore says the Lord of hosts: Consider how you have fared. You have sown much and harvested little; you eat but never have enough; you drink but you never have your fill; you clothe yourselves but no one is warm; and he who earns wages puts them into a bag with holes.”

 

THANKSGIVING

            # for 2 voices

 

We thank you generous God, we are embraced by the Gospel.

We rejoice in the story of the liberating life of Jesus, the son of Mary:

who although he was rich, for ours sakes became poor.

 

We recall with gratitude how he spent time with ordinary folk, and the care he took with the weak, the meek. the confused and the abused.

We rejoice in the story of his patience with all kinds of mentally ill people, for his healing of the diseased and the disabled people.

 

We give thanks for the  forgiveness and peace he brought to troubled souls, and his compassion for those whom religious communities scorned.

For the mystical paradox of self sacrifice, for his suffering and death, whereby abundant new life has been established on earth.

 

We rejoice in how he surprised the disciples on that first Easter Day, and in his promise that he would continue to be with them to the end of time.

We give thanks for the never-ending story of his Presence with us now, as he promised; and the eternity that is around us and within us as we meet together in his name.

 

We thank you, wondrous God, that although the story is wonderful, we have seen hardly anything yet compared to the joy that is in store for us.

Praised be your name for ever and for ever.

Amen.

 

INTERCESSIONS

 

Our needy neighbours around the world are far too numerous for us to be able to assist them all.

But having given what practical aid to the few we can, we can then go wider and include all in our prayers.

 

Let us pray.

 

God our most holy Friend, your Spirit fills all things, no newborn baby cries without you caring, and no elderly person sighs outside your loving providence.

 

You are the resilient Energy that creates and recreates life. Please let your fecund power be with all creatures and all people.

 

Please germinate seeds

            of new health in the sick,

            of hope in the despondent;

            seeds of comfort in the sorrowing,

            of faith in the confused,

            of courage in the frightened,

            and of joy in the faithful

 

Please germinate your seeds

             of peace among the warring,

            of forgiveness within the embittered,

            of humility among the strong,

            and trust within the reconciled.

 

With your seeds of saving grace,

            please redeem and heal us all.

 

Loving God,

let all things pulse with the energy of your boundless love,

and earth become a mirror of the kingdom of heaven.

Through Jesus Christ our living Lord.

Amen!

 

SENDING OUT

 

As you go to love and serve the Lord, I offer you this old Celtic benediction.

 

God bless to you the earth beneath your feet,

            the path whereon you go,

            the place wherein you rest.

Evermore and evermore, God bless the way you take.

 

God bless to you the faith whereon you set your mind,

            the love whereon you set your heart,

            the hope whereon you set your life.

Evermore and evermore, God bless to you your life.

 

AMEN!