Saturday, 6 November 2010

Live the interruptions


Sunday 7th November 2010

Readings: Job 19 v 23-27
               Luke 20 v 27-38

Have you ever had one of those days when everything you start to do gets interrupted?
At the end of the day, you’ve done loads of things, but nothing that you actually set out to do?
It seems to me that I’ve not had a day like that, or even a week or a month, but at least a year.
But-  those places and situations that we consider temporary or simply way stations often turn out to be the places or situations that hold the most significance for
Henri Nouwen once said that in his ministry he found himself becoming frustrated and resentful that his work was constantly being interrupted by people who wanted or needed something from him, until one day the Lord spoke to him and revealed that his real work was in those interruptions.
Don’t we all have days when it seems there just isn’t enough of us to go around?
Maybe we have to pay more attention to those transit points on our journey.
It just may be that we'll discover someone, perhaps even
ourselves, who is out on a limb and needs some attention.

That last week of Jesus’ life was a week of interruptions.
Interruptions in which Jesus revealed to us the whole point of his being among us.
It doesn’t make comfortable reading.
There are harsh lessons to be learned in the teaching that Jesus gave then.
He made the most of the interruptions to make clear the challenging path that we are called to embark on for the sake of the kingdom.

I spent Thursday and Friday this week, working with some friends on a new all age worship curriculum.
We were putting together material for next Lent and Easter – publication deadlines mean we have to write it now.
As we considered the lead up to Jesus’ death, we were thinking of all those things we have read that emphasise Jesus’ mildness and Jesus’ innocence - that almost make Jesus sound inoffensive and ineffectual.
Jesus was anything but!
Jesus constantly rubbed people up the wrong way, upset the great and the good, provoked strong reactions.
So, it is not hard for us to see why people would hate Jesus.
So much so that they crucified him.
Yes, he loved and healed.
He was, in essence, a pacifist.
But Jesus constantly challenged the old ways.
He hung out with the wrong folk.  
Jesus predicted the destruction of the Temple and when he drove the moneychangers out of the temple, that cast him as anti establishment.

So, it was that in the last week of Jesus’ life, a conference was called not in an attempt to plot to assassinate Jesus but rather to discredit him.
The authorities did not want a martyr on their hands. They would much prefer to make Jesus look like a fool.
Let’s give him enough rope and he may just hang himself. Thus, they decided that each group would in turn ask him a question, not because they thought that they could learn from him; they did not think that Jesus could teach them anything.
But they hoped to trick him.
They were hoping for that one slip of the tongue.
Each group would ask him a question that would be dear to their cause.

So as Jesus nears the end of His ministry, wave after wave of religious storm troopers launch their attacks on Him.
He’s just silenced a combined assault of Herod’s supporters and Pharisees about paying taxes.
The Sadducees were watching the whole thing and now that the other groups had been driven off, they decide to launch their assault – and they had a good one – a theological brain teaser. They had probably used it many, many times before. It had always stumped their competitors. Surely it would have the same results with Jesus, this carpenter from Nazareth.
So we have that question from the Sadducees that we read this morning.
They asked Jesus a hypothetical question about a woman who was widowed seven times in succession.
In heaven, whose husband will she be?
The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection.
And to them this was a question that pointed out the total absurdity of the thought of an afterlife.
Jesus answered the Sadducees’ question by saying: In the resurrection people will neither marry nor will they be given in marriage.
In other words, Jesus is saying that heaven is on another dimension.
It will not be there like it is here.
The Sadducees’ question is based on the assumption that heaven will be based on something we can recognise – based on life here on earth.
Jesus gives them their answer about marriage.
But then Jesus goes on to address the real issue that is being raised.
Jesus said: God is the God of the living and not of the dead.
That is the real issue.
Jesus is saying to the Sadducees: You are concerning yourself with the afterlife and the problem is that you have not yet learned to live life here and now.
Heaven is not our responsibility. That is God’s responsibility. What is our responsibility is how we live life here and now.
How we deal with the interruptions.
The Sadducees were at a loss for words, and quietly they returned to their seats.

God is the God of the living, not of the dead.
Of course our family responsibilities are very important on this side of heaven.
A minister was speaking to the children one day about the things money can’t buy. “It can’t buy laughter and it can’t buy love” she told them. Driving her point home she said, “What would you do if I offered you £1000 not to love your mum and dad?”
Thee was silence for a moment. And then a small voice queried, “How much would you give me not to love my big sister?”

The question the Sadducees posed that day was absurd.
It was based on the presupposition that life in the resurrection is an exact counterpart to earthly life.  
They were trying to demonstrate the absurdity of the resurrection by this type of anomaly it might cause in a future life.
They were not truly looking for an answer -  they just wanted to stump Jesus.
But by asking their question, they instead demonstrated two things about themselves:
They demonstrated that they were ignorant of God’s Word, and they were ignorant of God’s power.
The Sadducees were supposed to be the teachers in Israel!
They were supposed to be teachers of the Word but they were ignorant of the Word – not only ignorant, but also irrelevant.

Let me ask you:
When you use aluminium foil, what side do you leave out – Is it the shiny side that has to be on the outside – or the dull side?
We all have an opinion.
But, in fact, it doesn’t matter:
Because, when aluminium foil is made, it’s rolled. One side of the foil becomes shiny because it comes in direct contact with the heavy roller. The other side stays dull because it never makes contact with the roller...but both sides produce the same results!

Similarly, most of us today will happily debate trivialities in God’s Word while God just wants us to use it and apply it to our lives. Then we’ll know God’s Word and God’s power!

We often make the same mistake the Sadducees were making, we create heaven in our the image of earth.
Their perceptions of heaven had evolved through what they knew of earth.
Folk have always done that.
Native American hunters looked at death as going to the “Happy Hunting Grounds.”
The Vikings, who were warriors, saw death as “Valhalla”, where they would fight all day, and where at night the dead would be raised and the wounded healed so that they could battle again.
Muslims see death as a place where folk would live in a place where every physical and sensual pleasure would be satisfied.
Our tendency has always been to conjure up a heaven from our earthbound experiences.

The Lord Jesus was an advocate of a “new age” movement. While “new age” has confusing connotations today, the fact remains that Jesus was teaching a “new age” that was very distinct from the “old” order.
Resurrection is not the restoration of life as we know it; it is entrance into a new life that is different.
What is this new life going to be like?
There will be no marriage in heaven and no concern about past husbands and wives, but that does not suggest in the slightest a reduction in love.
There will be no death in heaven. Marriage and procreation are essential to this earthly life so human life can go on. But since there is no death in heaven (we “no longer die”), marital intimacy will be surpassed by spiritual intimacy. Heaven has no coffins or cemeteries. There will be no gray hairs or bald pates on the heads of God’s immortals.
We will be like the angels. Now Jesus does not say we will be “angels” but like them.
Like the angels, our character will be faultless. The angels perfectly do God’s will. We now have to pray “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” there we will always do God’s will!
Like the angels, we will perpetually worship God.

So in heaven we will worship God for all eternity.
Wouldn’t we do well to start practicing down here?
I like the church billboard that said:
Come on in and we’ll help you revise for your final exams.

The living God is the God of a living people.
Our hope and confidence in the resurrection rests upon the Word of God and God’s infinite power.
To believe the Word of God and to trust in the power of God is much more than a head game – it should change both our beliefs and our behaviour.
Our confidence in the resurrection should radically change the way we live.
So - Do we really believe in the resurrection?
The degree to which we believe in the resurrection of the dead will determine the way that we presently live.
If we truly believe in the resurrection, then we will boldly stand for Christ.
If we believe that this world is not the end, we will look at this life very differently.
It will totally change our “investment strategy” – of our time, our money – our very lives.

Today we are still asking the wrong questions and trying to find out the right answers.
We talk about pollution and race relations and war, and world hunger and all the while we skirt around the really important question: what does it mean for us  to be called children of God?
How do we show in our daily lives our faith in the God of the living?

The story is told of a preacher attempting to put the finishing touches on his Sunday sermon but who was constantly being interrupted by his 6-year-old daughter.
I know the feeling well.
Anyway, to keep her busy, he found a picture of a globe and he cut it up into little pieces, thinking that that would keep her busy for a long time.
To his surprise, within minutes she had completed it. Asked how she did it so fast she replied: Simple, there was the picture of a man on the back, so, once I put his face together the world fell right in line.
That is what Jesus was saying to the questioners and to us as he was interrupted that last week of his life.
God is the God of the living.
Live believing that and other things will fall into place.
Jesus called on his followers to be peacemakers, and told them that they would be called the children of God. This promise still exists for us today. 
These are simple but powerful words. 
If they worked in Christ’s time, why shouldn't they work today as we struggle to rid the world of terror? 
It is easy to pay our taxes, abide by the rule of law, and otherwise dutifully give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. 
In the end, only when we each become a peacemaker will we achieve the unity that politicians of all stripes are fond of giving lip service to.
God is the God of the living.
How that manifests itself in your life and in mine will determine how our world will be shaped.
God is the God of the living.
May we live as children of the living God, in all of life’s interruptions - for the glory of God.

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