Job 19: 23-27, Luke 20:27-38
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Back with the Alternative Service Book produced in 1980, the weeks we are now in, in the church year became the kingdom season – the time between All Saints on 1st November prior to the beginning of the new year in church terms on Advent Sunday. Most recently it is described as All Saints to Advent and provides an opportunity to change the colour to red. Things are hotting up! It is a time of remembering, walking with the saints and acknowledging Christ as King of our whole beings. It is also the time when we understand and look at questions of the kingdom of God.
Now the kingdom of God is not a particularly easy topic to get our head around! The kingdom of God can be describing the eternal kingdom open to us when we die, when we will experience the awesome love of God more fully. We sense that this will be a wonderful and awesome thing to come standing before the amazing goodness of God revealed fully and finally when we die, but there is also a sense that the kingdom of God also describes the situation in our experience now. We live as part of God’s kingdom in our day to day lives, living guided by his Spirit. We have glimpses of what is to come – which inspire us and help us keep going and live assured of God’s love for us and going about doing his will for us and his purposes for us. Living the abundant and fulfilled lives he intends for us.
In all of this there is something of a now and also not yetness about describing the kingdom of God. We know when we have experienced very special moments and had more closeness and intimacy with the love of God in this world. When things have joined up, when we have felt truly and completely and wholly loved. The prospect beyond the life of living surrounded in that love for perpetuity is quite overwhelming and awesome.
Anyway, this side of the great divide it is from memories of encounters of God that our first reading has echoes. Job is speaking in the midst of his great angst, and in response to another of his friends telling him that he must be to blame for the woes that have befallen him. Job rises above all this and in those very memorable and well-known words. Memorable and well known – partly courtesy of Handel’s Messiah. Job says if only my words could be maintained forever as I would want them to be I know my redeemer lives!
This is Job’s way of explaining what is happening to him and what he believes. The words I know that my Redeemer lives – these are simple and straightforward words. Words straight from his heart about the importance of God to him, and his place in the order of things. In a way it means I know God loves me and will meet me more fully when I die. Job knowing this in the midst of his very great troubles, which would have been enough for many of us, including me to have walked away I suspect, as such this is quite a stunning and profound example.
Today of course we read into this sentence – I know that my Redeemer lives – an understanding of Jesus as our redeemer. Redemption – being saved – is a work of God’s grace. Godly love that stoops down to our level and loves us beyond our capacity to love in return. Redemption can mean literally deliverance by payment of a price. In the New Testament, redemption refers to our being saved from our sin, death, and the wrath of God by Christ’s sacrifice. In the Old Testament, the word redemption refers to action by another, rescue or deliverance and even payment of a ransom. Ultimately it is God who redeems us in Christ. There is nothing to be done beyond what Christ has done. Though we still await the final consummation of God’s new creation for us in Christ and what it will be to be held in God’s loving hands the other side of death. We experience his overwhelming love, comfort and care for us in this life and strength to take every step on the journey he has for us. .
Our second reading, in its own way, though for us with even more difficulty, is actually Jesus making a similar point to the one Job is making. About matters of life and death and what it is important and trying to describe something of the now and not yetness of the kingdom of God. We are somewhat limited by not being 1st century Sadducees. To understand the thrust of the argument – but I hope what I now say will help us dig a bit deeper. In the gospel reading Jesus is being set up. We are used to Jesus being asked trick questions by the Pharisees, but today it is the Sadducees who are posing the teaser! They have a slightly different starting point.
The Sadducees were very fond of Moses and if Moses hadn’t said it or encountered it, they wanted no part of it. We will have met people like this not probably about Moses but about other things or influential folk. One of the things they were particularly against was any notion of resurrection – understanding resurrection at some level is not an option for followers of Jesus. Any way for the Sadduces – Moses hadn’t mentioned resurrection, so for them therefore it didn’t happen. The Sadducees were also amongst the very powerful, priests and the very wealthy. They wanted to keep in with the Roman authorities (as they had the most to lose) and they also opposed any revolutionary ideas which might offend the Romans. They set Jesus this teaser all about the story of the seven brothers who all one after another married the same woman. In their minds they were testing Jesus, so Jesus would have to say there was no resurrection and that they were right and the pharisees and everyone else were wrong! I suspect as I have said before we have all met people like the Sadducees at some point!
But Jesus didn’t do what they wanted. He started from their favourite starting point – i.e. Moses! Hence the reference to Moses and the story of the burning bush. The bush said to Moses – when attempting to convince him to follow what God wanted. I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. To show he was part of his line, his heritage and part of the promises made to his people – he was part of the past, but also theirs and Moses’ present, and wanting to guide him and the Israelite people into the future. Then Jesus goes on – Now he is God, not of the dead (Eg Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and even Moses).
Putting that in language we better understand today, God is not interested in presiding over a kingdom of corpses. He wants living people to love and who love him in return. So there must be life after death, continuing that love for everlasting, because that is what God made us for. Jesus is very brave here and takes them on their own ground and in their own terms. As a result of not being 1st Century Sadducees – we do find the reasoning rather difficult. He was using a live philosophical argument for this time period called the ad hominem argument. This means addressed to person– an argument directed towards the feelings or even prejudices of the hearer. This is still a common ploy today – and the basis of many an advertising campaign to persuade us using our own terms!
He was trying to win them over on their own ground and help them see beyond themselves and their limited vision. What he said was very challenging to them and needing them to prepare for resurrection to be very much part of the future. Part of their understanding of things for the living and what happens when we die, which is never an easy topic to address.
These words of Jesus like Job’s words before were there to persuade everyone that God loves them fully and completely. It is interesting that Jesus did this and took the time to do this and used pertinent examples and the thought processes the Sadducees were familiar with and relied on. We can learn a lot from this in our encounters with others and when talking about our faith. We need to start from their starting point and not ours, and look for ways to make God’s love real to people and ways they will really understand and can relate too! Real people with all their quirks and oddities – Just like our own – Need to start from where they really are with questions of God. We need to help them understand how much God loves them as they are and as they were created – unique and special every single one.
Everyone needs to be free to love God without trying to be somebody different. God put us here to learn to love and to share that love and God’s love with others. We need to be ready to be fully part of his amazing love for us when we encounter God more fully when we too die. We are here as conduits of God’s amazing love for us. We are the only soldiers God has to spread his love more widely and we would do well to take the message of the ad hominem argument Jesus used on board. Trying to reach others in terms and examples they will understand. We would also do well to want as Job wanted his lasting and only legacy to be sharing the knowledge that his Redeemer and our Redeemer lives. Amen
References:: The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicised edition) © 1989, 1995