November 7, 2010: Hope That Lies Before Us


Sermon
The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

She put me on the spot. She holds up others behind her to ask, “Will I still be married to Bob in heaven?” Her husband had died recently – no children, no family near-by. She grieves, feels alone and misses him. What do I say? This is not the time or place. I know what Jesus says. She wouldn’t like how Jesus answers some Sadducees who ask him a resurrection question. They don’t even believe in a resurrection.

A woman’s husband dies, and according to the Law, the next brother is to marry her so they can produce an offspring for the dead brother. In all, she marries seven brothers, each die after they marry. Something’s not right with this gal. And now she dies. They ask, “So Jesus, who wins her in the resurrection? Whose wife is she?”

Jesus says none of them. In the resurrection world women aren’t property, and earthly social structures, like marriage, are not needed, nor will you keep having babies – and death is no more. Wedding planners, funeral directors, obstetricians and probably clergy will be out of work. It’s a world we cannot understand. My friend didn’t a world she couldn’t understand. She wanted facts and reassurance. Telling her not to worry wouldn’t be enough to reassure and comfort her: “God seems pretty reliable. Just trust God.” Jesus isn’t trying to fix the Sadducees’ doctrine of resurrection, but rather broaden their understanding of God. So his answer isn’t going to touch her grief.

Jesus brings heaven to earth, bearing God’s nature in human flesh – to bring back what’s lost, heal the sick, raise the dead, welcome sinners, only to suffer and die on a cross for loving us so. God responds by raising up Jesus – who comes back from the dead to assure us, love, forgive and let us glimpse God’s larger world. That’s the God we understand in Jesus – the God we sing about, speak and hear about in worship and Bible study. The closer we come and the more we learn of God, the more we will respond with thanksgiving and gratitude to God’s wondrous goodness. God’s new reign, resurrection’s world, is the place of God’s final triumph where death is no more and injustices end.

Today we baptize August and Baylor. We mark them as Christ’s own, seal them in the Holy Spirit. God grants them “resurrection world” citizenship while they are still in this one. We pledge to support Scott and Carrie, Pickett and Lee Anne, their parents, as we help them raise up their children in Christ. In baptismal vows, we commit to help build Christian homes, to assist parents, to teach all who come here, and respect the dignity of all people. Everyone is welcomed here, an outpost of God’s coming reign.  That’s our mission, and to be able to carry out this mission we give our time and money. That’s stewardship. We do this because in Jesus we glimpse the goodness, generosity and love of God for all. When God is before us, commitments of money and time will follow. The problem is not that we lack the resources.

What we do here matters. God entrusts us with a story to tell and faith to live. We may need to try harder. Fewer people are hearing it in our culture. We need to go where they are, not expect them to fall through our doors. Fewer church members attend worship regularly these days. Stewardship is first, our commitment to God, not giving money. Do we love those whom God loves, and what will we do about it? In a changing culture, we go, listen, hear their stories, and invite them into this larger world of God’s everlasting love and life. We align our priorities with God’s; get our hearts beating in rhythm with His.

Here’s the hard question – what are we willing to give to a God who gives us everything? Does love for God motivate us? I’m afraid that too often God gets our leftovers – time if we have better things to do, our money after we’ve shopped and paid the bills. If God is first, we’ll give God our best. Study how you spend your time, and your money – to see where you heart is.

We are asked to make a pledge so the Finance Committee can make responsible decisions as to the level of ministry we can support next year. Increase what you give. Some will pledge for the first time. When we pledge and give to God through the church, our stake in God’s reign here grows – you feel more like you are part of St. Paul’s. You may not know what you can give, or if you can. Put in a zero, and sign the card and return it. Pledge prayers, time given to God to grow your faith, serve the hungry and those in need, attend worship faithfully – whatever you can offer, do that. You are part of St. Paul’s mission. Everyone can do it.

Jesus gives us this mission – go, baptize, make disciples and teach. That demands our best of time and resources.

Stewardship – our response to God, measures our love returned to God, and helps us see how we are managing our lives in this world. We give back, not because we have to, or to earn bonus points. We give because God has first given to us. Before you decide what you’ll do this year, think about what God means to you. Remember times when you experience God’s closeness, ways God sustains you. Remember these children we baptize, the families and people that come be part of St. Paul’s, the hungry we feed. Think of all that God has given us – which is everything – even to die on a cross to let us know how much we are loved, a love that never ends. A larger world surrounds the one we see. We are here to help bring God’s reign, that new world, more fully into this one. That takes more than coming, sitting, listening and leaving. It takes commitment.


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