February 14, 2007

Immanuel Presbyterian Church


Trust In God

I almost went to bed last night without having a sermon prepared.  That's the reason I chose the title I did.  I've cut it close before, but never this close.  I knew Thursday evening that John was ill and that I would have to preach this morning, but I had two full days worth of commitments on Friday and Saturday and even a commitment to usher at Out North theater last night.

About four in the afternoon yesterday, I called John, hoping that he like Lazarus, had miraculously come forth ready to expound on great thoughts this morning.  He assured me that he and Lazarus were still "moldering in the grave" and needed a couple more days to resurrect.  Trust in God, I whispered to myself.\

I also turned to my international friends on the Internet to see what they were preaching about this morning.  Well into the night, I was reading sermons from Australia, New Zealand and Scotland, as well as Poland, Indiana.

I was fascinated.  These preachers and others were talking from the same texts in Jeremiah, Psalm I, and Luke.

Those who trust in human power to manage life are like barren bushes wasting in a desert place, according to Jeremiah.  Whereas, those who trust in GOD are like trees flourishing beside a hospitable stream -- even during a dry season!

Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners treat, says the Psalmist.  They, too are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season and their leaves do not wither.  In all that they do, they prosper.

And then there was Luke:

"Blessed are you who are poor, who are hungry, who weep.  Blessed are you when people hate you, exclude you, revile you, and defame you."

"Woe to you who are rich, who are full, and who are laughing.  Woe to you when all speak well of you."

There the preachers explained that what Jesus was really saying to us was "Watch out! Four your seeming blessedness is in truth a great danger."  Our earthly good fortune can and will lead us to imagine ourselves as safe and secure and in control of our lives.  We constantly stand in danger of assuming, consciously or subconsciously, that we can work our way into happiness or buy our way into joy and peace.  Trust in God, was the message here, too.

But somehow I didn't want to preach on any of these things.  Seemed like I preached it before and you've heard it before.  We need to trust in God and not ourselves.  We need not to chase after earthly wealth at the expense of our relationship with god and neighbor.  There, I said it.  But it just didn't seem like the sermon for me, not today.

I looked back over the lectionary readings and realized there were four suggested readings.  But the Internet preachers had all chosen to base their sermons on only three of them.  They all left one out.  It was the Corinthians passage -- on the resurrection of the dead.  Curious.  Why didn't they choose to preach on this passage?  Lent in coming up; Easter is coming up.  Do we really believe in the resurrection or not?  Shouldn't we think about it once in a while?

That's one of those "great mysteries" that the Adult Forum was assigned to talk about this morning.  That's worthy of staying up all night and writing a sermon about, I decided.  And stay up a while longer, I did.

Would you believe there is an Internet blog entitled, "The Saturday Night Theologian?"  I couldn't believe it, there was someone else out there struggling with the Corinthians passage -- and he'd left some notes.

Believe in an afterlife has been with humanity for tens of thousands of years, this guy reminded me.  Neanderthals buried their dead over 100,000 years ago, arranged their loved ones' bodies in a sleeping position, buried tools with them, and left flowers at the gravesite.  Modern Homo sapiens have done the same thing for 30,000 more years.  Believe in an afterlife is not new.

The earlier sections of the Old Testament paint an image of the afterlife as a world of shadowy existence and separation from God, but some alter passages off hope of a better post-death experience (e.g.., Psalm 139:7-12).  Finally, in Daniel 12:13, one of the latest portions of the Old Testament, belief in the resurrection of the dead is stated explicitly.

By the time of Jesus, belief in the resurrection was common among the Jews, accepted by the Pharisees and rejected by the Sadducees.  In Acts, Paul is portrayed as throwing the Sanhedrin into a tumult with the claim that he was on trial for the resurrection of the dead (Acts 223:6).  His strongest statements concerning the resurrection are found in I Corinthians 15 -- our passage for this morning.

After providing the evidence of tradition for the resurrection of Jesus in I Corinthians 15:1-15, he shifts to a logical argument based on the common experience of believes, and he broadens his scope to include the resurrection of the dead, in general.  If the dead are not raised, then neither has Christ been raised, he argues.  And if Christ has not been raised, then our faith in futile.  We may differ on whether this resurrection is literal or spiritual, but the question is one with which most Christians have struggled.

A man recently died after several months of declining health.  One of the last times he used his computer, he modified his screen saver to display the following message:  "Credo - Deus providebit - Credo!"  I " believe - God will provide - I believe!"  He knew that he had only a short time to live, and he put his trust in God.

Back in 1999, I was preaching at the Church of the Covenant in Wasilla.  It must have been a startled group when they first read my sermon title ... On Death. It was a good sermon.  I re-read it last night.  My mother had just died; my uncle had just died; and I was still a hospital chaplain dealing with death on an almost nightly basis.  Death was on my mind.

The Church of the Covenant folks had been discussing the book, "Why Christianity Must Change or Die."  As often happens, the discussion had turned to social justice issues.  But at one point, I heard myself saying, "there are aspects of the faith that speak to each of us in different ways in different times of our lives."  And then someone said, "The early Christians were drawn to the faith because of the promise of Life After Death."  This promise of a new and better life after death for the faithful was the new component.  Well, as we have just reviewed -- belief in life after death was NOT new -- but it WAS and IS a major component of the Christian faith.

During much of my adult life, "Building the Kingdom" here on earth has been a primary focus of living out my faith.  But as I told the Covenanters in 1999, "Even so, I can't imagine preaching a Gospel without the Afterlife."

And I feel the same way today.

I closed that sermon in 1999 with a letter from Benjamin Frankly on the death of a friend.  It's good theology and I will share it with you this morning.

Benjamin Franklin on Death

I console with you.  We have lost a most dear and valuable relation.  But it is the will of God and nature that these mortal bodies be laid aside when the soul is to center into real life.  This is rather an embryo state, a preparation for living.  A man is not completely born until he be dead.  Why then should we grieve that a new child is born among the immortals, a new member added to their happy society?

We are spirits.  That bodies should be lent to us, while they can afford use pleasure, assist us in acquiring knowledge, or in doing good to our fellow creatures, is a kind and benevolent act of God.  When they become unfit for these purposes, and afford us pain instead of pleasure, instead of an aid become an encumbrance, and answer none of the intentions for which they were given, it is equally kind and benevolent that a way is provided by which we may get rid of them.  Death is the way.

We ourselves, in some cases, prudently choose a partial death.  A mangled, painful limb which cannot be restored, we willingly cut off.  he who plucks out a tooth parts with it freely, since the pain goes with it, and he who quits the whole body, parts at once with all pains and possibilities of pains and diseased which it was liable to or capable of making him suffer.

our friend and we are invited abroad on a party of pleasure which is to last forever.  his chair was ready first, and he is gone before us.  We could not all conveniently start together; and why should you and I be grieved at this, since we are soon to follow, and know where to find him?

Saint Paul couldn't have said it any better.  Amen.

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