Year C — The Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Commentary for November 3, 2013
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

Click here for today’s readings
Click HERE for the Lectionary Lab Live podcast

The Lec Lab Live podcast for this week will discuss preaching for All Saints Day. The commentary below is for the 24th Sunday after Pentecost. Also, for an All Saints Day sermon, see Dr. Chilton’s offering below.

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
We previously commented on this text here

Psalm 119:137-144
There are some things you can count on: what goes up, must come down; you win some, you lose some; and, one of my favorites, if you are working on your car and drop a tool, it will always hit the pavement and roll directly under the middle of the car (Murphy’s Law of Auto Mechanics.)

Actually, there are exceptions to all of the above “rules” — there is very little that is certain in our world. But, the psalmist asserts that one of the constants we can count on is the righteousness of the Lord. Everlasting, true, and well-tried are the descriptors he chooses. 

Yep, all of those apply. That is why we can find delight even in the midst of trouble and anguish.

Isaiah 1:10-18
God gets pretty weary — one might even use the technical theological term “pissed off” — at our worship arising from insincere hearts and empty practices.

God’s evaluation of true worship? “learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” 

Then come back to the sanctuary and sing me some songs, okay?

Psalm 32:1-7
There’s a reason that confession is good for the soul — and the body, too. 

What we hold on the inside tends to affect us in every way — mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Unconfessed sin is akin to an infection, or an abscess. It has got to be treated and drained.

2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12
I think that some of Paul’s best work, particularly his prayers, come in the opening sections of the epistles. Here, as he speaks with Silas and Timothy, he gives a heartfelt testimony of the Thessalonians’ love and faith and offers a prayer that should resound through all of our congregations: 

“…we always pray for you, asking that our God will make you worthy of his call and will fulfill by his power every good resolve and work of faith, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Luke 19:1-10
While much of our time in church can — if we let it — become an exercise in missing the point, the story of the “wee little man” named Zacchaeus instructs us in what happens when we manage to GET the point.

Zach internalized the message of Jesus to such a point that he opened his pockets and gave 50% of his wealth to the poor, and used a great deal of the rest of it (his wealth) to repay what he had wrongfully taken from his tax-collection clients (with considerable interest!)

Jesus says this is salvation in motion — that Zacchaeus got it as he got real about what following Christ would — and should — cost him. That’s an awful lot to learn from the man who has heretofore dwelt mostly in the realm of a cute children’s Sunday School song!
Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton
NOTE: Today’s sermon is for All Saints Day, which technically is to be observed on November 1; however, many pastors and parishes will observe it on the first Sunday in November.
Texts: Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18; Psalm 149; Ephesians 1:11-23; Luke 6:20-31
I have, in my thirty-six years as a pastor, lost count of the number of funerals I have conducted, probably in the range of three or four hundred. And at every one I have assured the family of the promise of the resurrection. I have preached it, I have counseled it, I have prayed it, I have believed it.Ten years ago, when my Daddy died, I walked up to the coffin and saw him there, waxy and still, cold and formally attired in white shirt, tie and dark suit; and I stood there a moment and all I could think was “I sure hope it’s true, this resurrection business I’ve been preaching all these years. I really hope it’s true.” I have found there many times in the last few years, looking down at the body of a beloved aunt or uncle, cousin or in-law, friend or parishioner.
And every time I find myself hoping it is true. There is a vast difference when the “dear departed” is one of your own, connected with you through blood or marriage or other deep commitments in ways that mean “until death do us part” to a degree the law can’t impose or disentangle.What I knew in the moments that I stood before those coffins, knew for  hard, cold fact, was that my Daddy was dead, my wife’s mother was dead, my cousin, her uncle were certifiably dead. Their bodies had ceased functioning. They were encased in the ground to slowly, oh so slowly, rot away, and I will never see them again. These are the facts; the hard, cold, empirical facts.The hope of the Gospel is that God has somehow reversed that, temporarily with Lazarus, permanently with Jesus, and, so the story goes, permanently with all of us.

And I believe that promise. I don’t know what it means, I don’t know how it works. I can’t hold forth on what a resurrection body will be made of, or what the streets of heaven are paved with, but I believe the promise that beyond this life, there is another existence with God, and that the way to that existence has been cleared for us by Christ.

In the meantime, the life of faith is lived in that space, that emotional space, before the coffin of a loved one. We carry on between what we know and what we hope for; poised between the cold hard facts of death and the bright shining promise of eternal life. We live out our trust in God in the ambiguous territory between what can be proven and what can be believed. All the most important words; freedom, love, compassion, sacrifice, are no more provable than resurrection. In a purely rational world, none of them makes any sense. 

But we carry on, each day creating a faithful balance between what we know and what we hope. We know people die, we hope in the Resurrection; we know people sin, we hope for redemption; we know people get sick, we hope for healing; we know the world teeters on the edge of destruction, we hope for a new heaven and a new earth. 

Amen.

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