Sermon - 10th November 2013
Redemption and Remembrance
Scripture - Job 19:23-27; Luke 20:27-38
Rev Andy Braunston
[An audio version of this sermon is available. Please go to Spirituality > Audio and Video.]
This is a sad time of the year. The clocks have changed – those of us who don’t like darker evenings have noticed, perhaps, more than others. Today is Remembrance Sunday and we have reflected on all those who have died as a result of war and terror – we think of those on active service and those who were caught up in war but weren’t part of the armed forces. We think of human sin which leads to war and terror and try to make our world a better place.
Last week those from more Catholic backgrounds would have been aware that the Church marked All Souls’ Day when people remember those we have loved and lost to death. Those who have been bereaved this year are facing their first Christmas without those they love and many face Christmas in circumstances which are far different to the myth portrayed in the media of happy families having perfect days. So the year turns and many find this time of year hard and yet those of us who are Christian want also to experience and proclaim hope even in the midst of pain.
Job and His Context
Our first reading today was from the book of Job in the Bible – has anyone ever read it in its entirety? Job is an interesting story. Job was a man who had everything but whom, in the story, God tested to see if he would still love and obey God in adversity. So, bit by bit, everything that was foundational in Job’s life was taken away from him. His property, his children, his wealth, his health – all these things were taken from him yet he still asserted his faith in God and God’s redemption. Some of you commented that you liked Richard Church’s sermon a couple of weeks ago – in part because he was emotional. Well if you want emotion listen to this passage from Job – it comes from just before the bit that Busani just read to us and is a long lament which describes Job’s suffering.
“How long will you torment me, and break me in pieces with words?
These ten times you have cast reproach upon me; are you not ashamed to wrong me?
And even if it is true that I have erred, my error remains with me.
If indeed you magnify yourselves against me, and make my humiliation an argument against me, know then that God has put me in the wrong, and closed his net around me.
Even when I cry out, ‘Violence!’ I am not answered;
I call aloud, but there is no justice.
He has walled up my way so that I cannot pass,
and he has set darkness upon my paths.
He has stripped my glory from me,
and taken the crown from my head.
He breaks me down on every side, and I am gone,
he has uprooted my hope like a tree.
He has kindled his wrath against me,
and counts me as his adversary.
His troops come on together;
they have thrown up siege works against me,
and encamp around my tent.
He has put my family far from me,
and my acquaintances are wholly estranged from me.
My relatives and my close friends have failed me;
the guests in my house have forgotten me;
my serving girls count me as a stranger;
I have become an alien in their eyes.
I call to my servant, but he gives me no answer;
I must myself plead with him.
My breath is repulsive to my wife;
I am loathsome to my own family.
Even young children despise me;
when I rise, they talk against me.
All my intimate friends abhor me,
and those whom I loved have turned against me.
My bones cling to my skin and to my flesh,
and I have escaped by the skin of my teeth.
Have pity on me, have pity on me, O you my friends,
for the hand of God has touched me!
Why do you, like God, pursue me,
never satisfied with my flesh?
Job hits the bottom of his suffering and is fed up with his friends telling him that he must have committed some sin to have been treated in this way. Job knows that he has done nothing wrong, that his suffering is not related to his behaviour, that he is innocent and yet suffers.
Many people still think that people are to blame when they suffer. They think that they have done something wrong and are being punished by God – it’s a natural thing to think but isn’t how God works. God doesn’t punish people who have done nothing wrong – to believe otherwise is to distort the picture of God that the Bible gives us. We can’t think of the suffering of the people of the Philippines and think that this is God’s punishment on them anymore than we could think that the earthquake and Tsunami in Japan was God’s punishment on the Japanese. The book of Job helps us realise that sometimes we just suffer and that, sometimes, there is no answer as to why.
In the face of his suffering Job longs and hopes for God’s deliverance. Job knows that he will stand upon the earth and that Job will see him in his body. This is both a hope for resurrection when God will dwell with his people and a hope that redemption will be experienced now. It’s a both/and not an either or.
In our reading from St Luke we meet the Sadducees. We don’t hear much of them in the Gospels which is interesting as they were the dominant group in Jewish life before the Romans destroyed the Temple in 66. The Sadducees were upper class, they were drawn from the priests who ran the Temple. They were, liberal in some ways and fundamentalist in others. They believed they had to accommodate themselves to the Romans and saw Scriptural justification for this.
They believed in preserving Jewish identity and religious life as best they could. They thought the demands of the Law were too much for everyday people. They realised that the oldest parts of the Old Testament didn’t mention the resurrection of the dead so they didn’t believe it. In contrast to them were the Pharisees who believed that everyone could live by the dictates of the Law and who believed in an afterlife, angels and resurrection – all these things are found in later parts of what we call the Old Testament. Jesus seems to have identified with the Pharisees – his criticisms of them indicate he knew them well and had some sympathy which what they were trying to do.
In today’s passage the Sadducees try to show in their question that the idea of the General Resurrection was nonsensical and used the Law which prescribed that a brother had to marry his dead brother’s wife as an example of this.
Jesus sidesteps the question by and points to a wider view of resurrection – saying that they don’t really understand what it is.
Jesus’ strategy with the Sadducees was to sidestep their question by expanding their notions of resurrection. Of course it’s about new life and being raised from the dead but it seems to be more than what was once called a “conjuring trick with bones”. It’s about a different type of life, something similar but different to what we’ve experienced before and, it seems, patterns of human relationships will be different too.
One of the reasons I chose each of the hymns for today’s service was that they, like Jesus, expand on our notions of resurrection. We’re used to thinking about Jesus’ resurrection but not so used to thinking what that might mean for us. We’re not so used to thinking about our own resurrection at the end of time.
The authors of the hymns recognise that our liberation, our redemption is bound up with Jesus’ resurrection, his victory over the powers of death, defeat and darkness. They realise that, like Job, if resurrection and redemption is to make any sense it has to be lived now.
Drawing the Threads
And so in these dark days of winter our faith reminds us that Jesus is risen, that death and defeat isn’t the last word and that there is always hope for new life. That hope will look different to each of us depending on our own contexts.
- There is hope for a better relationship
- There is hope for leave to remain in the country
- There is hope that the violence in our world, and in our lives, will stop.
- There is hope that health will improve, or that we’ll be given the strength to cope
- There is hope that justice will one day prevail
- There is hope for an end to depression.
Our faith makes us affirm, like Job did all those years ago:
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,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see on my side,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.