Year A: The First Sunday of Advent (December 1, 2013)

Click here for today’s readings
Click HERE for the Lectionary Lab Live podcast
Click here for previous Year A Commentary and Sermon

Teaching the Text
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

There are many advantages to having a chance to sit down and discuss these texts outside of the worship service; chief among them, most likely, is the opportunity to engage the minds and hearts of all of us as listeners to an ancient story — one that, somehow, over many years and through the pens of many authors, manages to hold together with an amazing level of consistency. Therefore, a key question in coming to the discussion of these texts is, “What do you see as a common theme in each of these readings?

Of course, the answer to that question will sometimes be, “I’m not sure!” And that’s a good answer…we don’t want to be guilty of the perennial tendency of every answer to a children’s sermon question somehow ending up to be “God.”

One connection that suggests itself to my mind as I read the texts for this Sunday is the fact that there is an awful lot of action in these verses; one might say there’s a great deal of “going” and “coming” as this season of Advent commences.

Isaiah says, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord….” (v.3); the psalm invokes a joyous attitude with “I was glad when they said unto me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!'” (v.1) The Apostle Paul reminds the Roman Christians that the night is “far gone” and that the day is near — even day and night are active here! And, in the gospel lesson, Jesus is busy telling the disciples that they must all stay ready — no one knows when the Son of Man will come back and the kingdom of God will be inaugurated in full!

It can all seem a bit wearying, don’t you think? Kind of like the holidays themselves? As we approach Advent — which supposedly serves the purpose of helping us learn more about waiting and watching, rather than scurrying and hurrying — what can we learn from these ancient texts? Is there some method to the madness? Is there a message here for people who are always on the go (often, I’m afraid, to our detriment)?

Look carefully — for in the midst of the “busyness” there are places where peace and quiet break out. Can you find the “quiet” or “hopeful” phrases in each of these lessons, as well as the active, busy ones? They’re there, I suspect…and they are words of comfort and hope.

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

In our Gospel lesson we read, “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” That day?  What day?  When is that day?  What’s going to happen then?

Several years ago on Thanksgiving weekend my father told me about an incident late in the World War II, when his company spent a night in an abandoned village in Germany. The squad had bedded down in a large, two-story house. The officer had posted guards in the doorways. About 3:00 AM the guard at the front door walked away from his post, down a central hall to the back to get a light from Daddy, the other guard. Just as he reached the kitchen, a shell exploded in the doorway where he had been standing five seconds before. Only five seconds between life and death.

Truth be told, the question we face is not,” when will Jesus come back?” The question is, “how does the fact that none of us lives forever change our behavior?” The Scriptures continually remind us that one day God shall, as Isaiah puts it – “.  . . judge between nations and shall arbitrate for many people.”   In light of which we are reminded by Paul that “. . . it is now the moment for (us) to wake from sleep” and “put on the armor of light,” and “the Lord Jesus Christ.” Jesus reminds us that “about that day and hour no one knows,” so we must “keep awake therefore,” because, “you do not know on what day your Lord is coming, “ and “the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

In short, on this First Sunday in Advent, we are called upon to take our God and ourselves seriously. We are called upon to recognize that life can be snuffed out in an instant and to live accordingly.  We are to stay awake, to watch out for signs of God’s activity in the world.

This is a difficult thing to do in the midst of modern, secular, consumerist, Christmas.  After 2000 years, we’ve sort of stopped looking for Christ to come, and we’ve settled for a pale, weak, neon lit imitation. We schedule office Christmas parties and celebrate family dinners. We buy presents for our husbands and wives and children and significant others. We decorate our homes with lights and trees and ornaments. We send out holiday greeting cards to people over the country and we hope that our sanity and our bank account will hold out until New Year’s Day. The church’s plea during Advent  is that in the midst of all the “Holiday Hoopla” we will remember to look for Christ, to seek signs of his coming, to be alert for his presence “in, with and under” all the gifting and decorating and partying.

Sometimes in the midst of our very modern, secular, materialistic world it’s hard to find signs of life in an old faith. Sometimes it feels like God is either dead or sleeping.  This is not a new problem.  Isaiah preached for forty years to a people who mostly ignored him.  He preached in a world full of war, economic uncertainty, and political upheaval.  He continually balanced his prophecies of destruction with promises of hope, but the people ignored him because the promises of hope were so seldom fulfilled.

Many of us have for many years held onto a vision of a hopeful future, a future in which no children starve or fall victim to curable diseases, a future in which people lay aside their differences to worship a common God at a common altar, a future in which peace reigns, where military budgets are empty and schools and hospitals are fully funded, which is what I believe swords being beat into plowshares and spears into pruning forks really means.  And yet we wait, and we wait, and we seek to stay awake, and we seek to trust and hope and believe that God is coming; God is really coming. And we continue to look for signs that God is just around the corner.

Let me suggest that instead of looking for signs of Christ’s coming – our more important invitation is to be a sign of Christ’s coming; in our families, in our communities, in our world.  I am inviting us to a season of active waiting, of busy anticipation, of involved preparation, of participatory readiness.
As we enter this season of Advent, I invite each of us to not only see the signs, but also to be the signs.

1) Take five minutes every morning and make a Christmas list. Not a list of things to buy, or things to do, or things you want; but a list of blessings in your life, a list of people you love and who love you in spite of yourself, a list of the signs of God’s presence in your life. After you’ve made your list, pray a prayer of thanks for each thing on the list

2) Take another 10 minutes and read a chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. There are 24 days until Christmas and 28 chapters in Matthew, so you should be able to finish it. By Christmas morning, we will be reminded of why Jesus came and of what he did for us. By Christmas morning, we will be ready to celebrate with thankfulness and praise the Coming of the Messiah, Emmanuel, God with us.

3) Pick out five names from our Christmas card list. Pick out five people that we have almost lost touch with, five people we seldom see or speak to. Call them up or write them a personal letter or send them an email and tell them how much they mean to us and why. Thank them for being a sign of God’s presence and love in our life.

4) Perform a totally new act of charity this year. Reach out and surprise someone with the unexpected love of God. Give a part of ourselves to someone in gratitude for the fact that Christ gave himself for us.

5) And finally, spend the last five minutes of every day asking God to come into our life in a fresh, new, unpredictable way this year.

But I must warn all of us to be careful. Watch out! God just might explode into our life at a time and in a way we would never expect!

Amen and amen.

What’s Up for Year A (2013-2014)

A new church year brings a new format to The Lectionary Lab.

Having now written our way through the three-year cycle of the Revised Common Lectionary, the Bubbas are going to shift our approach just a bit (in the interest of keeping our own thinking as fresh as possible, and in continuance with our mission of covering the text, the whole text, and nothing but the text!)

We will provide links to our previous Year A commentary and sermons each week; all archives are also accessible either by means of the menu on the left or the “Search” function appearing there, as well. (Search is also great for checking on specific texts!) We would also like to remind you that the entire Year A — with comments, stories, and sermons for every Sunday (observed or not) — is available in book and Kindle format here as The Lectionary Lab Commentary with Stories and Sermons for Year A.

It’s a pretty good book, if we do say so ourselves; we both got some preaching inspiration from reading it the other day!

So, here’s what you can expect for the next trip through the scriptures and seasons of Year A:

  • Teaching the Texts (John Fairless reflects on the texts from the perspective of leading an Adult Education session each week)
  • The Lectionary Lab Live podcast will continue to focus on emphases for preaching each week, pretty much in its current format
  • The Sermon each week will be a new creation by Dr. Chilton; after 30 years, Delmer’s sermon file is thick, but he remains committed to the “fresh encounter” with the text. Bubba says he’s going to try to work in a few more Hebrew scripture texts and epistle texts and such during this coming year. And, there will be stories….

All righty, then — there you have it! Your feedback and comments are always, always, always welcome. Leave us a post here on The Lab, find us on Facebook, or shoot us an email (john@lectionarylab.com or delmer@lectionarylab.com.)

Year C — The Reign of Christ

Commentary for November 24, 2013
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

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

Jeremiah 23:1-6
God’s “shepherds” over his people are the kings and leaders (such as priests and prophets and all.) They are to guide and guard the flock of God’s people in God’s place — on God’s behalf. They have not done well with this task, and God is “woefully” upset with them!

The real import of Jeremiah’s message is that God has come to be THE SHEPHERD of God’s people — “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock.” By asserting God’s direct shepherdhood and responsibility, God also lays claim to the ability to raise up a ruler from David’s line who will assume the tasks at which the other shepherds had failed.

The name of this Shepherd will be “The Lord is our Righteousness.” Nice.

Luke 1:68-79
In a text that most often surrounds the Christmas story, we have the father of John the Baptizer — Zechariah the priest — raising his voice (which had been lost to him for pretty much the nine-month term of his wife’s pregnancy) in praise of what God is doing through the life of his son, and of the Son who would come after him.

Zechariah’s words are a beautiful canticle of praise during the days that are darkening around us, for they speak of the coming of the light. JTB will, of course, reappear shortly in our readings during the season of Advent. He may not have the eloquence of his pappy, but what he lacks in tact, he makes up for with force!

Psalm 46
On this very “kingly” day, we are reminded by the psalmist of the protection and strength of the true King. It is the “Lord of hosts” who is our strength and refuge. This strong God is quite capable of being our “very present help in trouble.”

Colossians 1:11-20
An awesome passage for our further consideration of the Christ who is our King. He has both strength and power on his side and is, in fact, the very fullness of God dwelling bodily in our presence. Sounds like a setup for a great superhero movie, does it not?

And this King certainly conquers and triumphs — but, strangely, does so through sacrificing his life — shedding his blood, as the cup reminds us — on the cross.

What kind of King is this?

Luke 23:33-43
Those unfamiliar with the rhythms of the church year and the lectionary are somewhat jarred by the “unexpected” reading of the crucifixion story on this day. Aren’t we supposed to be getting ready for Thanksgiving and the holidays? Why would we read a story from the passion of Christ?

Again, we remember that this Jesus, this King of the Jews, is no ordinary king. He appears powerless — in this story, he speaks only twice. Both of his sayings are of peace and forgiveness, even while he is mocked, tormented, and dying. Hollywood wouldn’t make much of this kind of king (if it weren’t for Mel Gibson.) No swords, no chariots, no loyal subjects by the thousands rising up to attend to his victory over incredible odds.

But his is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever and ever! How can this be? Only by the power of God, as Jeremiah and the prophets foretold. It’s quite a story, isn’t it?

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Today is Christ the King Sunday. It is an odd sort of celebration for this time of year, with this story of Jesus’ crucifixion popping up just before the Feasting of Thanksgiving and the Joy of Advent and Christmas. And the very idea of kings, and Jesus as our King, is very hard for us to get a handle on in America in 2013. After all, we got rid of kings in this country over 200 years ago. What do kings have to do with us?

Luke’s story of the crucifixion is very spare and simple; “they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his left and one on his right.” That’s it. Very simple, very plain, and very clear to the people to whom Luke was writing.  Luke was a Greek, his main audience was Greco-Roman in culture, not Jewish, and they knew exactly was Crucifixion was, they didn’t need to have it explained to them. It was very common throughout the empire; which was Luke’s point.

Jesus, the supposed Son of God, Lord of Lord and King of Kings, executed like a common criminal with a couple of petty criminals. Not very kingly, is it? And then, more indignity, more shame; the soldiers kneel at his feet while he’s still alive. Not to worship, but to gamble for his clothes. And people laughed at him, “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen One.” There it is, the crux of the matter for the people then, and if we’re honest for us now.

We don’t want a suffering and dying God. We want a strong and powerful one. We want a Savior who can not only forgive our sins, but who will make us richer and prettier and more popular and help insure that all our plans work out for the best.

One of the popular TV preachers was  interviewed on National Public Radio a few years ago. After the pastor talked about his books and sermons, the interviewer pointed out there was almost nothing in his preaching and writing that had to do with God, or theology, or Christ or death and resurrection. The interviewer said, “It seems to be mostly pop psychology with a Bible verse attached.” And all the preacher could think to say was “Well, what I teach them helps people.”

Yes, we want a powerful savior, a helpful God, a conquering Messiah, a King who conquers. That’s why they were mocking him. And the Romans made fun of him too, for different reasons. It amused them to see this carpenter; this rustic preacher wrapped in purple, with people claiming he was the king of the Jews, the rightful king, the representative of God on earth.

It amused them because they were Romans and they knew what a real king looked like, and this  definitely was not it. A real king had power and arrogance and a hint of cruelty, and this Jesus had none of that. So they mocked him. This first part of the Scripture shows us a man who is not anything like what anyone believes a king should be; not the Romans, not the Jews, not us.

The second part, verses 39 through 43 shows us what kind of king Jesus was, and is. One of the criminals crucified with Jesus joins in the derision. He sees Jesus the same way everyone else does, as a self-deluded failure, as a pitifully deranged religious fanatic, as a nut.

But for some reason, the other thief sees Jesus with the eyes of faith. He starts out simply by reminding the other man that while they are guilty, Jesus’ himself is innocent and does not deserve to die. So far, just a compassionate and honest thief taking pity on another condemned man.

Then he does this astounding thing. He turns to Jesus and says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Where did that come from?  How can he hang there on the cross and look over at a man dying beside him, and see in him a savior, a messiah, a king with a kingdom?

More importantly, how can we look upon this same man, this same small town carpenter and preacher, this same little Jew from 2000 years ago, and see in him not only the savior of the world but the savior of our souls?

It is because of something the Jews introduced to the world, something that Jesus taught and lived out and died for, something that has become a part of our modern world; the idea that the true leader, the true king, is the one who serves, the one who suffers for the people.

The Jewish idea of a king was that the king ruled under God, not as a God, that the king was  responsible to God as were the subjects. This idea was taken further by the prophets, in particular Isaiah, who saw the king, the messiah as the one who suffers on behalf of the people, as a suffering servant.

Jesus frequently said things like the true leader is the one who serves others. The one who takes up the burdens of others is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Particularly in the upper room, when he got down on his knees and washed the disciples’ feet, Jesus showed what true leadership, true kingship, is about.

And somehow, the second thief got it, saw what Jesus was doing, saw that here was the Lord of the Universe, the King of kings, refusing to swat his oppressors, dying so that they could be forgiven, dying so that by his suffering their suffering would be healed.

We celebrate Christ the King today, not because of his regalness, but because of his humility; not because of his power, but because of his compassion; not because of his triumph, but because of his travail; not because he fixes our lives, but because he shows us the way to live.

Amen and amen.

Okay — It’s HERE!

AN EARLY BIRD ANNOUNCEMENT FOR LECTIONARY LAB READERS

Bubba and Bubba are proud to announce the publication of our first book, The Lectionary Lab Commentary with Stories and Sermons for Year A. (Click on the title to view the details…)

What we have here is a collection of our web posts — freshly updated and revised — and “the good stuff” from Delmer’s sermon file for every possible Sunday in the Year A cycle. That means the book contains material never before seen by human eyes or heard by human ears — AMAZING!

The general public will be exposed to this homiletical masterpiece beginning Friday, November 15 — but we are announcing it early to you, our faithful readers and friends. We would be more than a mite honored if you saw fit to view the website and order a copy. We would be doubly honored if, after doing so, you would take a minute or two to offer a review on Amazon’s website.

Just to let you know, the “real copy” (an actual book) is available now by clicking HERE;  there is also  a Kindle version available (which saves you $5.00 and spares a tree!) available HERE.

Over the course of the next few weeks, the book will be available in bookstores and on websites EVERYWHERE — tell your friends and neighbors!

Seriously, we could never have accomplished this without the encouragement and feedback of so many of you; we hope you will share our joy in the birth of this new addition to the Two Bubba’s family.

Delmer and John

Year C — The Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Commentary for November 17, 2013
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

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

Isaiah 65:17-25
It is important to note, I believe, that God’s act of creating heaven and earth is not simply a fact of the far-distant past; rather, it is ongoing and, perhaps, somewhat progressive. God is still creating a world that will be as God has always intended it — free from sin and death, the great plagues of our existence.

I am particularly moved by the line, “no more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days….” Few things are more tragic than a child’s passing; parents are inconsolable, families and communities are caught up in grief. Yet, even in these most difficult of times, God hears and sees our prayers (yes, God SEES our prayers, especially when we have no words!)

God’s answers are already on the way, before we can even finish praying them according to v.24. Now that’s something only God can do!

Isaiah 12
These lines function as a psalm portion for today’s worship; they make a great congregational reading, either in unison or responsively.

Malachi 4:1-2a
“The day” here will automatically carry overtones of the ending of time in the minds of the hearers, especially in light of the gospel’s apocalyptic tense. The fiery judgment of God contrasts nicely with the “sun” of God’s righteousness — a fire that does not consume, but rather brightens and shows the way.

Psalm 98
There are previous comments on Psalm 98 found here and here.

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
“Don’t run ahead of God!”

I remember those words from a sermon I heard long ago (most likely in my youthful days of evangelical fervor!) The point was, I think, that we should not presume to know how best to find our own way, but that we should wait on the Lord and allow God to direct our paths.

Well, perhaps this same advice could be applied as Paul’s wisdom to the Thessalonians, some of whom were assuming that Jesus was about ready to come back and take them home — so they had decided it was okay to quit work and just wait. Perhaps Paul is saying, “Don’t SIT ahead of God!” Jesus will come when God is good and ready for him to come…in the meantime, you should work steadily and do what is right.

Or, you might get hungry!

Luke 21:5-19
The church is not the building, it’s the people. Many congregations have been called to learn that somewhat difficult-to-appropriate lesson upon the leavetaking from a former, beloved location. (My church certainly had to wade through it a few years ago!)

Jesus stood with the prophets of Israel in trying to help people understand that it was not “the Temple of the Lord” that was actually their source of peace and security — it was the Lord of the Temple! They had gotten more than a tad attached to the Temple, its beauty, and its apparent strength.

This passage has also been used by countless evangelists and end-time authors to describe what life will be like “when Jesus comes back.” Methinks that the emphasis is not so much on what will happen when Jesus returns, as it is on what we (the church) are supposed to be doing until he does so.

“Before all this occurs…,” Jesus says, “you will be given an opportunity to testify.”

Our profession of the faith — daily — is what matters most to Christ.

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

About fifteen years ago I was driving my son to school in Nashville, TN; bogged down in the usual 7:15 AM commuter mess on the freeway  when I saw a bumper sticker that expressed my frustration perfectly:  FORGET WORLD PEACE; VISUALIZE USING YOUR TURN SIGNAL!

There you go, I thought to myself. Forget the big stuff, like “Visualizing World Peace,” that’s too much, and too hard, and too unlikely to contemplate.  But I can visualize (and actualize) using my turn signal; just do the little things that make life a little easier for everybody.

“Who knows?”  I thought, “Maybe if everybody in Nashville, and Tennessee and “the south” and the United States, etc. etc. – would use their turn signals properly, it might be a real start toward World Peace. I know it would reduce my animosity toward my anonymous neighbors.

When I read today’s Gospel lesson, I thought about that bumper sticker. In the midst of all that big talk about big doings, Jesus sprinkles hints that it’s really about the simple behavior asked of us when such things inevitably happen.

Many people get all excited about that prophecy stuff in the Bible, all these dire predictions of awful things soon to come. Me? I think with the government shutdown, and the war in Iraq, and the falling apart of the ozone layer and global warming and, healthcare debates, and, and, and; we have plenty of things to worry about in the present without fretting over predictions from the Bible.

One of the real problems we have is that all these things are so large and global and unmanageable and we are so small, that our temptation is to throw up our hands in despair and bury our heads in the sand and hope against hope that it all turns out alright.

But it is important to note carefully what Jesus says in today’s text: Verse 9: “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified.” Verse 14: “So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance, for I will give you words and a wisdom.” Verse 18: “Not a hair of your head will perish.” Verse 19: “By your endurance, you will gain your souls”

We have a tendency to hear bad news, but these texts are really about good news, about the Gospel. Jesus isn’t preaching gloom and doom; Jesus is preaching reality. Jesus was not predicting some far off day of ultimate battle; he was talking about the reality of life in Israel, which was an occupied country and had been buffeted about by war during its entire existence.

Jesus’ words remind us of our call to a life of endurance, patience and faith in the midst of a world that is often difficult and confusing. We are called to a faith that looks above and beyond our personal circumstances to the promise of God to hold us and keep us safe forever. We must not forget about “World Peace,” but we must remember that we move toward world peace in little things, like remembering to use turn signals.

In “Everything I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” Robert Fulghum tells the story of a medieval stonecutter who was working on a Cathedral. An interested bystander saw the man working day after day carefully cutting and shaping and polishing one modest sized piece.  Finally the watcher said to the cutter “This stone must be very important.  Is it a part of the baptismal font?  Is it the base of the pulpit?  Is it the front of the altar?’

The cutter got up from his knees and wiped his hands and lead the man around the scaffolding and pointed out a very obscure corner of the building, “It goes there,” he said.  The onlooker was astounded, “Really, you’re working so hard on something nobody will see?” The stonecutter smiled and said, “God will see it.  We’re not building this cathedral for nobody; we’re building it for God.”

Our Gospel lesson is a call to faithful living, to endurance, to hanging in through tough times, to having faith in the God who has faith in us. It’s about building our life into a house for God. And we move from that to making our congregation a cathedral, a place for God, a place where  God rules in every heart, where Christ’s love motivates all actions, where we remember it’s about God and not about us.

And we then move into the world, carrying this ministry of cathedral building with us, building networks of connection in the world, networks that share God’s love with those who need it most, those stepped on by war, those persecuted by oppression, those rejected by society, those  left wounded and bleeding outside on the doorstep  of life. And it is our call to do the little things that open the door so that they may come in and be received into the arms of God’s love.

Amen and amen.

Year C — The Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Commentary for November 10, 2013
by  the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

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

Haggai 1:15b-2:9
Haggai speaks to a community that was discouraged, downtrodden, and that faced a daunting task in the rebuilding of the temple destroyed by the Babylonians. No money, not enough people to help, lack of sufficient leadership resources…hmm, sound familiar?

God’s words through Haggai speak to practically any and every situation we might face in our congregations today. “Take courage…work, for I am with you.” God still “shakes the heavens” when they need shaking — and it’s not bad to notice that all the silver and the gold belong to God, as well. The good news is God has all the money we need to accomplish the purposes God has for us.

Of course, as the punch line to the old preacher joke goes, the bad news is “it’s all in your pockets!”

Psalm 145:1-5, 17-21
By now, we should all be pretty familiar with the computer jargon acronym, GIGO — it stands for “garbage in, garbage out.” Despite the incredible technological advances and ultra-high speed machines that are a part of our daily lives, computers still can’t think for you. They will only do exactly what you program them to do. (And, that’s a good thing, as any Terminator fan will tell you!)

Our brains function pretty much the same way, when you stop and think about it. If we are dumping negative thoughts and unhelpful information into our systems all the time, it will be almost impossible to produce a life that is positive and uplifting. GIGO when it comes to what you allow into your head and heart.

The psalmist proposes a better approach: GSIGSO. “Good Stuff In, Good Stuff Out.” Verse 5 says, “On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.” Meditate — think — ponder — analyze — appropriate. Put the good stuff in your brains, people — and you’ll be amazed at the good stuff that will come out!

Psalm 98
Of all the reasons to worship God, steadfast love and mercy certainly rank right up there!

Job 19:23-27a
This passage from Job (perhaps the Bible’s oldest book, in terms of the time it emerged from oral tradition to written form) is often used as evidence of belief in a resurrection in Hebrew scripture. That may be true, though the translation of these verses is particularly tricky.

That does not stop it from being an assertion of Job’s firm faith in the eternal purposes of God. Job had some pretty tough things to say about God’s treatment of him (see v.6 in this same passage, for example — “…know that God has wronged me and drawn his net around me.”) But, he never did give up and he never cursed God (though he was certainly urged to do so.)

Maybe that’s the word of the Lord for us this day!

Psalm 17:1-9
More awesome descriptions of the ways that God works in our lives — God really is a God focused on the good of the Lord’s people. However, an interesting detail caught my eye: notice in v.1 that the prayer that God is able to hear is one that comes from “lips free of deceit.”

Deceit? When speaking to God? Surely none of us would hold anything back, or misrepresent our situations, or “bend the truth” when speaking to God…would we? As Psalm 19:14 teaches us — “May the words of my mouth…be acceptable in your sight.”

2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
The folks who were following the way of Christ during the 30 or so years after his resurrection and ascension were evidently getting a little nervous about his promise to return and “take you to be with me” (see John 14:3.) Paul is doing a little clean-up work on just exactly how and what Jesus might have meant.

Hold on — don’t get too shook up — or, in the words of the gospel song that came many centuries later — “wait on the Lord, trust His word and be patient — have faith in God!” (Click here for Have Faith in God, by legendary Baptist hymn writer B. B. McKinney.)

Luke 20:27-38
Many are the teachings and interpretations that have sprung from these apocryphal words by Jesus. I ain’t about to get into speculation about knowing your husband or wife in heaven, or how we all may (or may not) recognize one another when we get there. I’m just taking the promise of v.38 to be the gospel truth: “Now God is not the God of the dead, but of the living; for to God, all of them [us] are alive.”

That’ll do!

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

A few years ago the Oxford American magazine had an article about what it called “mysterious traffic stops and starts;” those times when interstate traffic just slows and stops and then speeds back up, though there is no wreck or construction to cause it.  A group of traffic engineers investigated this problem. They tested a number of theories, and here’s their conclusion: they don’t know. They honestly don’t know why it happens. It just does sometimes – for no apparent, detectable reason.

There’s something within me that rebels against the notion that things can happen with no cause and no purpose. But life feels like that sometimes. There are times when it feels like we’re buzzing down life’s highway making good time, purposely going about our business; when suddenly things happen which cause life to appear totally meaningless.

That’s what happened to Job. As the book opens, he’s really making good time on the highway of life; things are great. Wife, kids, job, spiritual life; everything’s wonderful! Then it all grinds to a halt, the wheels fall off, and he’s left sitting on the side of the road in the burned out shell of his life.

No rhyme, no reason, no poetic justice, no novelistic irony, no cinematic climax; just meaningless disaster. His friends explore a number of theories as to the why of his predicament. Most of these ideas have to do with either Job’s hidden sinfulness or God’s lack of justice. Even Job’s wife tells him he should just curse God and die.

And yet, it is at this particular moment that Job makes his impassioned statement of hope,
“O that my words were written down! O that they were inscribed in a book! O that with an iron pen and with lead they were engraved on a rock forever! For I know that my redeemer lives.”
In the midst of his darkest night, Job holds on to hope.

In today’s Gospel lesson, the Sadducees ask Jesus a very silly question about the resurrection. They don’t really care about the answer. They don’t believe in the resurrection. They are simply trying to trap Jesus into saying something objectionable; the way news reporters ask leading questions trying to get public figures to say something that will offend somebody enough to make news.

Jesus’ answer was a firm affirmation of the promise of God that there is life after death, there is a resurrection.  His answer offended some, but gave assurance to others. After his wife of just a few years died of cancer, C.S. Lewis said, “You never really know how much you believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life or death to you.”

The questions before us today are these: Is life meaningless, like the unexplainable fits and starts of interstate traffic? Was Job a fool to continue to hope for redemption in the face of his suffering and loss? And, how much do we, here, today, believe, really believe, the gospel we read and preach and hear and recite Sunday after Sunday?

When we recite the creed – do we mean it, or do we just say it? Is the Gospel of Jesus Christ a matter of life or death to us? Or are we like the Sadducees, making idle chatter and asking silly questions about things which we don’t really care about?

How committed are we, as individuals and as a community, to the most important truth we know; which is the truth that God is love, and God’s love is so deep and so true and so endless that God came and lived, and loved, and taught among us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

The truth that God’s love is so complete that, in a mystery too deep for us to fully comprehend; when Jesus died upon the cross, it was God pouring out his life for us, going to hell for us, fighting sin and the Devil for us.

Indeed, God’s love is so immense that on Easter morning, God brought Jesus out of that tomb, and in that moment broke the chains of Sin, Death and the Devil for all of us.

To have faith, to really believe, to hold on to hope, is to embrace God’s story, as our story, and to see every moment of every day as a moment and a day that has meaning and importance because it is a moment and day lived in the presence of God.

We are called to lay ourselves upon the altar of God and to cry out with Job, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and until the day when He shall stand upon the earth, I will serve him.”

Amen and Amen.