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Sunday, November 6, 2016

God of the Living

If you don't have to be afraid of dying, because of God's love in Christ, then you don't have to be afraid of living, either. For the same reason.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   All Saints Sunday, Lectionary 32 C
   Texts: Luke 20:27-38; Psalm 17:1-9; Job 19:23-27a

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

Are you getting the answers you came here for today?

This is a holy day here, a day we remember those saints we love who have gone ahead of us into life eternal, a day we celebrate those we’ve welcomed in baptism into the body of Christ’s saints. It’s a day of great beauty, mixed with both our grief and our joy.

But are you finding the answers you hoped to find? The All Saints liturgy is much like a funeral, it’s a liturgy where we have many questions of God about life and death, about ourselves.

Like the Sadducees had a question for Jesus. It wasn’t sincere; they wanted to trick Jesus into saying something incriminating. Still, the question they asked isn’t far from questions we ask on a day like today.

Of course, the answers we seek depend entirely on whom we ask. And if we follow the Sadducees and ask God’s Son, we might find the Answerer is offering far more than we knew to ask.

We start with the Sadducees’ question, though.

We probably haven’t pondered the heavenly reality for a woman and the seven men she married and buried. But we know what they’re asking. There’s so much we don’t know about the life to come that we wish we did. Every time we bring a loved one before God in their death, we wonder about much.

What is the resurrection like? What can we expect? How do we know? Are the beloved dead with ones they know? Are we still ourselves?

Then there’s the question of whether those who die sleep to the last day and all awake together, or if they are even now awake in God’s presence and aware of us. We can find suggestions for both in the Bible, but not a definitive answer.

Even without the Sadducees’ cynicism, we join them today in waiting breathlessly for Jesus’ answer. But it’s not what we expected.

Christ Jesus, the face of the Trinity for us, tells us we’re missing the point.

He answers the marriage question, saying that in the age to come people aren’t married like they are here, so it’s not really relevant.

But then he says what matters: when we die, we will be raised as children of the resurrection. God is God of the living, and that includes all who have already died. For, as Christ says, to God all of them are alive.

We can’t know all the details about that life, it is mystery. As Paul and the elder of 1 John remind us, here we only see partly; there we will see face to face, clearly, and understand. Jesus knows this is hard for us. But on this All Saints Sunday, Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, would have us hold this confidence firmly, joyfully, hopefully: In Christ all shall be made alive, and brought to resurrection life in the age to come. So we don’t need to be afraid of dying, ever.

But our Lord also wants us to realize this: If you don’t have to be afraid of dying, then you don’t have to be afraid of living, either.

That’s the answer we didn’t expect today.

But it’s Job’s answer, in the midst of terrible suffering: he knows his Redeemer lives, so he can live with hope. It’s in the psalmist’s prayer today, “keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me under the shadow of your wings.” If death has no power over the love of the Triune God for the world and for us, we are freed to live in this world without fear.

We need to know this. Because there are so many things about living that we fear. We fear what might happen to those we love, or to us. We fear sudden illness. We fear job losses, financial setbacks. We fear being a burden to those we love, and we fear others might be a burden to us. We fear the life in Christ to which we are called, because it’s hard and it costs, and we’re not sure we want those costs.

We fear the problems in our world and our country, both for the pain they might cause us, and for the pain they already cause others. But we fear the solutions, too, because they also might cause us difficulty and suffering; there are few cost-free ways to solve all the pain and division and injustice in our world. And even if we know we will be raised, we fear the act of dying, the suffering and pain that might come.

But Christ Jesus says God is God of the living. That’s not just those who have died. God is God of the living. God is our God. Our mother, under whose wings we are gathered for safety and warmth. We are the apple of God’s eye, the delight of God.

We don’t need to be afraid of dying; God’s love destroys death’s power. But we don’t need to be afraid of living, either: the Triune God who made all things is with us always, because God is God of the living.

We know this, even if we’ve forgotten it, because we celebrate Baptism today even as we remember the saints who’ve come before.

Baptism is a sacrament for the living; it is the gift of God that anoints us into the Body of Christ that we might be Christ in this world, bringing God’s light and life. It is our beginning and our call.

So we rejoice on this All Saints Sunday for those brought into this life through the waters of baptism this year. We rejoice on this All Saints Sunday for Harold, who today will be washed into this life. We rejoice on this All Saints Sunday for all the baptized whose names are precious to us and whose baptismal life we give thanks for as we name them before God today.

We rejoice, because on this All Saints Sunday God’s answer to us is this: live, confident in my love and grace and strength. Do not be afraid to die; but do not be afraid to live. I am your God, and I am with you.

This might not be the answer you came here for today.

But it’s the answer that gives us all life and hope.

There’s no denying that this world can be difficult and challenging. As hard as it can be for us, there are millions for whom it’s far worse. So it’s imperative we take Christ seriously and trust this promise, so we might live without fear, even as we know we can die without fear.

In such fearlessness we can risk being the Christ we were anointed to be in our baptism, and, like the Son of God we follow, offer ourselves to God’s world as healing and hope. We can do this without fearing the costs, because God is God of the living and will be with us. We can do this without worrying about ourselves, because God is God of the living and will be with us. We can do this with joy, even when we see just how many problems and pains and sufferings we are called to bring healing to, because God is God of the living and will be with us.

Have you not seen? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, who does not faint or grow weary. God gives power to the faint, and strength to the powerless. *

This is the One who answers our questions today. This is the One who is our confidence and hope. This is the One who will be with us in death and in life.

So we are not afraid.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

* Isaiah 40:28-29

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