Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
2 Thessalonians 2:1-8, 13-17
He hath also established them for ever and ever: He hath made a decree which shall not pass away.
One of the biggest problems with the internet is the fact that once something is in cyberspace, it is there forever. Oh, your average person might be able to delete a post on a thread on Facebook and it will never been seen again, but it is likely that the post has been archived somewhere for eternity. I donít know who will ever see that post, but once it has been written, I canít be completely dismissed. Thatís why so many people are warning the young to be careful what they post. Racy pictures, inappropriate comments, negative comments about a boss or friend can come back to haunt you. The judges are constantly warning litigants about this, especially since some come armed with printed copies of posts that help their case, even though the other party deleted the posts long before the court could see it.
It is especially important for websites that receive a lot of traffic to be sure that they are posting information that is true and right. Iíve seen a lot of stories about journalistic articles that claimed something outrageous but eventually deleted the false comments. There are people who constant capture screens and repost them on the internet, especially when the lie is blatant or the information is unwarranted. They watch the sites that are the worst and repost those pages so that others can see how they try to manipulate and fool their readers. You canít always take back something youíve posted on the internet, thatís why you should always be sure what you are posting is true and worthwhile. Everything you post can become eternal, and it can become a legacy you do not want.
Now, I think we all pine for a legacy of some sort. Most of us do have an impact that will reach a few generations ahead. We have children who will share our stories and who will enjoy the fruits of our labor. Our gravestones will be witness to our lives as long as the weather doesnít erode the words. Some are able to leave a legacy that lasts much longer; they have the means to build buildings or have roads named after them. Even those monuments are not eternal. Buildings fall and cities often change road names to honor a new hero.
I have to admit that I hope one day one of my paintings will hang in a museum. Will I ever be famous like Claude Monet or the other great painters? I doubt it, but I would like to know that my art has impacted someoneís life in some way. The same is true of my writing. Iíve often wondered what will happen to my website when Iím gone. Will it stay? Will my devotionals continue to impact people as they did on the days they were written? I know that some of my words have been copied into other websites, and Iíve had a few published into hard copy, so if everything disappeared today, my stories will continue to exist somewhere.
The Sadducees were concerned about the lasting legacy of a person. They didnít believe in the resurrection of the dead; they believed that a personís eternal life is found in the impact theyíve had on the world, particularly in procreation. A person lived forever because they begat offspring to carry the family name and estate into the future; when a person died they were dead unless they had children. To them, the idea of resurrection was just foolishness and easily ridiculed. They thought their logic was solid enough to make a fool out of Jesus with their questions. After all, resurrection of the dead made no sense because it caused all sorts of problems in the afterlife, such as this situation presented to Jesus.
They painted a picture that was beyond ridiculous, and they did it on purpose. They presented Jesus with a case of one bride for seven brothers, none of whom were able to provide an heir. After she was given in marriage to all of them, she died, and the hope for eternal life died with her. The Sadducees wondered, ďWhose wife will she be?Ē They assumed that the resurrected life would look exactly like life on this earth. Jesus answered their foolishness with the truth: eternal life is not like the here and now. There will be no marriage. There will be no children. The life that we will live after death is different. It is eternal, not because we have procreated a legacy, but because we will live forever in the presence of God.
To make His point, Jesus pointed back at our passage from Exodus, where Moses met the God of his forefathers in the burning bush. When Moses asked the name of God, He responded ďI am who I amĒ and then told Moses to tell the people, ďThus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, Jehovah, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name forever, and this is my memorial unto all generations.Ē Jesus pointed out to those Sadducees that God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. So, how could He be the God of men who had died if there was no life beyond death?
The Sadducees were left speechless. They couldnít argue with Jesus over His statement because Jesus pointed to Moses. The Sadducees did not hold most of the Hebrew Bible as canon; they only referred to the five books of Moses, the Pentateuch. There may be other places in the scriptures that Jesus might have used, but He understood their understanding of faith. He understood their narrow focus. But even keeping within their understanding of the scriptures, Jesus was able to prove that they were wrong about the resurrection. In the process, He showed them that they were missing out on something of great value, faith in a God who does not stop being God when you die, but who embraces you into a new life. This is the life that Jesus came to guarantee for all of us, and which we embrace by faith. Jesus came in the flesh to free us from our sin and give us everything we need to serve Him. In Christ we stand in the presence of holiness, we are embraced by God himself, just like Moses did on that mountaintop.
The church year follows a constant pattern. We begin with Advent, a time for waiting on the coming of the King, both as a baby born in the manger and as the eternal King of Glory. Advent is followed by Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter and finally Pentecost. We are still in the days of Pentecost, a time when we learn what it means to be a Christian in this world, but in this last month we also look forward to the day when we will no longer be in this world. It is a period when we will see text about the end of the ages, ending with Christ the King Sunday. The focus during this month is a little different from that in Advent, in that we do face the frightening uncertainty of the end of days.
Paulís second letter to the Thessalonians addresses that time. Most of us would rather not discuss the end times; the language of eschatology is difficult even for theologians. Which images are literal, which are figurative? When should we be concerned about the prophecies? Were the warnings written for our generation or has it all come to pass in a way we did not recognize? Who is the man of lawlessness? Was he a character in the days of Paul or is he someone yet to come? Will the coming of Christ be a physical return or spiritual? While there are those who will insist they have the answer, there are perfectly acceptable arguments from many different points of view. We argue about what is true. We even argue about the definition of the terms. I suppose that is why it is so confusing to the average Christian, and why it is something that most Christians would rather not discuss.
Paul writes in this letter the message that really matters: God loves you and He chose you to be fruit, sanctified by the Holy Spirit and called by the Gospel to obtain the glory of Christ. Paul also reminds us that though it is God who chooses, sanctifies and calls, we are called to faith. It is up to us to believe. The scriptures make it clear: our eternal life is not dependent on anything we do in this world, but on the grace and mercy of God. We canít imagine that our life now will just continue on in some way forever; eternal life is completely different.
I always wonder about the images we have of that life. Will we really spend the rest of eternity worshipping God? I remember that as a youth I used to get bored with an hour worship service, easily distracted by my thoughts. Iím not that much different today. My mind still wanders. I still think about the busy-ness of the upcoming week and I bookmark my hymns for the day during some other moment in the service. If we canít possibly sit through one hour of worship, how will we do it for eternity?
The point that Jesus makes in todayís Gospel lesson is that it will be different. Imagine if it had been you on the mountain instead of Moses? How would you have reacted? How would you have answered His call? Moses was in the presence of God Himself, hearing His voice and witnessing a form of His glory. ďMoses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God.Ē Despite Mosesí fear, he was even more afraid of what God was calling him to do. He had many excuses. He was not eloquent enough. He was not important enough. He was not informed enough. ďHow can I do this? What should I say?Ē God answered with a promise, ďCertainly I will be with thee.Ē
It was not easy. Moses faced a people who had become comfortable in their discomfort. He was facing people who had more power than he did. He was proposing the impossible to both the Israelites and Pharaoh. Why would anyone follow him? And yet, even today, we remember Moses for his faith and for his obedience to Godís call. Moses established a lasting legacy. But do we remember him because of his own work and righteousness? Do we remember him because he left behind the Pentateuch? Or do we remember him because he humbly followed Godís word and acted as Godís chosen one despite his own fears and uncertainty?
We all want to leave a lasting legacy, something that will keep our memory alive for a long time. We seek to have that eternal life that comes with having an impact on the world. I am sure most parents see that in the lives of their children, just like the Sadducees, but Jesus points out that eternal life is something much different. We might be remembered for a long time for the things that we have done, but thatís not the promise of God. Once we are dead we will never know whether our paintings hang in a museum or our words are repeated or if our tombstone epitaphs have eroded away. But we will know what it is like to stand in the presence of God, to stand on holy ground, to hear His voice with our own ears and see His glory forever.
We might not look forward to the end of days because the promise of the end is frightening to those of us who still feel the need to have an impact on the world. I once had a friend who hung out in an Internet chat room I frequented who was dying. We did not know it; she never revealed her pain or suffering. She simply shared the Gospel with people. As her days drew short, she became desperate. She was changed by her fear and it was like she was trying to reach a quota. Instead of sharing the message of mercy and grace, she was threatening those who would not change to her point of view with a warning of impending danger. She was angry. She was passionate to the point of harming the relationships she had built over the years. We did not understand this until after she was gone and her family informed us of what had happened.
There are those who study the end times with a passion that transforms them into a desperate evangelist willing to do anything to get people to believe, even cause people to fear God in a way that never helps them to see His grace. They threaten hellfire and forget forgiveness. They insist on obedience to a narrow understanding and reject mercy. They demand works and ignore grace. The Gospel they preach is a cheap forgery. It is a false gospel, one without good news, one that will never save.
Several years ago there was a story about two men in Australia who decided to get rich quick. They created the perfect one million-dollar bill (American dollars) and took it to the bank to be deposited. They thought that by using a counterfeit American dollar in a foreign bank, they would be long gone before the bank knew it was not real. Unfortunately for the men, the bank teller was smarter and they were arrested for trying to pass off a denomination of dollar bill that did not even exist. The American Treasury department does not produce a million-dollar bill.
Satan is much more intelligent than the two guys in Australia. He does not counterfeit that which does not exist. Rather, he takes the truth of God and adds a twist, and though it appears real, it is not. God did not set the world into motion and then step back to allow it to move on its own. God is amongst His people. He is still changing lives. He is still creating and redeeming His people. He still paints the sunrises and forms the babies in the womb. He is still speaking through His chosen ones so that the world will know He exists. He continues to have mercy on the sinners. And He promises that the day will come when He will be present in a very real way, in a way we will be able to see and hear with our own resurrected bodies. He promises that weíll be with Him for eternity, dwelling in His presence forever.
For now, however, we are called to live in faith in this world. It is up to us to create a legacy that matters: not one that will make us remembered in museums or on the internet, but one that will share the promise with the generations to come. Children might help keep our name alive forever, but thatís not the reason we have children. We procreate because God has created us in His image, as creators. We are blessed with children so that we can pass on our faith to them. Oh, they might reject what we teach. They might be like the Sadducees and trust only in their own understanding. They might have convincing arguments about the foolishness of our faith or the superiority of their ideals. But we can rest in the reality that Jesus has the answers to their arguments and hold on firmly onto our faith in Jesus Christ.
Even now, while we wait for the coming of the Messiah, we are called to share the message of salvation with others. We want to argue with God, claim we are unable to speak or make a difference. We find all sorts of excuses. Weíd rather leave a different kind of legacy. But God does not give in, He sends us anyway. We may not see any burning bushes, but God is still with us, in our presence, moving in and through us for the sake of those He wants to save.
We look forward to the end times during this last month of the Church year as a reminder that nothing on this earth is eternal. Everything created will perish. But Christ will come again, and the last days of this earth only mean that the promises of God will finally and completely be fulfilled. We are called to stand firm in the Christian faith we have been given, no matter the circumstances we face. Christ might return this very minute; He might not return for a thousand years. We may be totally surprised by the way things play out in this world in which we live, but we do not have to be surprised by the outcome. We have been given faith and by Godís grace we have a hope that reaches beyond the mystery of the eschatological promises of God. We have been promised a legacy that will never end: a life dwelling in His glory forever, a legacy we are called to share with the world.
A WORD FOR TODAY
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