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Choose Life

by Susan in SanPedro

based on Luke 20:27-38

 

“They cannot die anymore, because they are like angels.”

Has anyone else noticed that you can’t seem to go anywhere lately without running into angels? Angels are “in” in much the same way sunflowers all of sudden appeared and those black and white cows were “in” a while back. The Hallmark shop down the street from me has a whole aisle devoted just to angels: on posters and greeting cards, tee-shirts and lapels, angels are everywhere. Our culture has adopted them as sort of pseudo-spiritual companions ... and folks who don’t seem to want to have much to do with GOD have latched onto angels in a big way.

In this morning’s gospel the Sadducees -- a sort of Jewish denomination that didn’t believe in resurrection at ALL -- were trying to catch Jesus up nit he details of resurrection with a long, rather convoluted question about a woman and her seven husbands. Jesus -- who was one step ahead of his questioners, as usual -- skipped past all their distractions to the bottom line: Forget the marriage part, he told them. “Being children of the resurrection they are like angels and are children of God.”

So how are we -- in the midst of all this cultural angel-hype -- to hear Jesus’ words with any kind of particuarlity? How are we -- as Christians -- to “be like angels?”

Well, first of all, one of the few things I remember from my first year in seminary Greek class was that the word for angel (angelos) means -- literally -- ‘MESSENGER.” The tradition we inherit understad angels in scripture as not just messengers but as messengers from GOD: angels who can be visible or invisible and take human and non human form. SO to be like an angel is not to chub out, put on a loin-cloth and sprout wings. To be like an angel is to be a messenger. Then what, it might be fair to ask, is the message?

First, the good news/bad news part. The good news is that the message IS “Good News.” The bad news is that it usually starts our “Fear Not.” Check out the scriptural encounters with angels ... nine times out of ten it starts with the angel trying to calm the fears of the human half of the conversation -- they are not usually met with an ecstatic individual jumping ups and down in eager anticipation ofhow God inteds to turn their life upside down! Because when you recognize the messenger as an angel -- when God enters your life -- your life IS going to change. And the most common reaction to change is not enthusiasm ... it is FEAR.

I remember all too well what that feels like. Facing a multiple of impending changes in my own life, I realized I was feeling SCARED TO DEATH. Immobilized by fear, I sorted through the various options available over and over again and did nothing -- stuck in a sort of anxious limbo. The message I finally got ... brought to me by an “angel” in very human form .... was that being scared to death was not exactly the life abundant God promises. To be scared to death is to allow fear of change -- fear of the unknown --- to have the power to drown out God’s promise of life. To be scared to death is to settle for less than life.

And life is what God promises us -- THAT is the message! Today’s lessons are filled with words of hope and certainty: with the conviction and rock-like faith of those who heard the message and claimed God’s promise: whose stories inspire us to do the same.

“I call upon you, O God, for you WILL answer me,” writes the psalmist.

“The Lord is faithful -- he will sustain you and guard you from the evil one, “ promises Paul.

“I know that my Redeemer lives,” proclaims Job

And soon it will be Advent, and we will listen once again as the angel says “Fear Not” to the young woman from Nazareth -- and we will hear once again the story of how she refused to be scared to death ... but dared to choose life. Dared to be the bearer of the life that would end death for all time.

That’s the promise we inherit. Thanks be to God. That’s the life we claim. Alleluia.

And having done that it’s smooth sailing, right? Right ... until the next time life throws me a curve -- the next time I’m called to venture in faith into the unknown -- the next time God’s plan for my life turns out to look different than what I had in mind. The next time I have to face CHANGE!

“O that my words were written down” cried Job. “O that they were engraved on a rock forever!” Thank God they were!

“Stand firm and hold fast to the traditions you were taught,” Paul tells the Thessalonians -- and me -- in today’s epistle. Turn back and re-read the stories of your spiritual ancestors. Listen to Job and to Mary ... to Paul and to Luke ... and to all those who went before you in faith. Listen to the song that’s been running through your head all week -- listen to the message it has for you today.

I go to the rock of my salvation I go to the stone which the builder rejected I go to the mountain and the mountain stands by me All around me is shifting sand On Christ the solid rock I stand When I need shelter When I need a friend I go to the rock, rock, rock, rock, rock

For many of us, the sand seems particularly shifty this morning. We are losing jobs and seeking jobs; buying houses and selling houses; beginning new relationships and grieving old ones. Some of us are new to the congregation and not sure where we fit -- and some of us have “been here forever” and are not sure where we fit anymore. We are stunned by the devastation wrought by the violence in nature as a hurricane raveges Central America -- and uncomprehending of the violence in humanity directed at a college student in Wyoming and a doctor in New York. Some of us are scared to death. Shifting sands, indeed. And yet, we are called to stay centered on the rock -- on the stone which the builders rejected.

So how do we do it? Well, we don’t do it alone. In a world that sometimes seems to be more shifting sand than solid rock we rely on a community of faith to help us stand fast. In community, a friend or neighbor, spouse or child ... sometimes even a priest ... will act as angel -- as messenger -- as they remind us of God’s promise of abundant life. And then WE are to be like angels -- bearing a message of “fear not” in a way that it can be heard in the midst of those shifing sands -- in a world that has settled for the Gospel according to Hallmark rather than the rock of Job’s Redeemer.

I remember so clearly the memorial service for Bishop John Krumm held a few years ago at the Cathedral Center. I had the privilege of hearing Bishop Barrett reminisce about their 60 year friendship. “John,” he said -- stabbing his long, boney finger into the air for emphasis, “was never disillusioned by the church because he never had an illusions about the church!” Yet John Krumm loved this church -- served it joyfully and well. Because he had no illusions he was free to focus on the ideal. Because he had his feet firmly planted on the rock, the shifting sands did not overwhelm him. I’ve thought a lot about John Krumm in these last few weeks. I thought about his long and faithful life and the many changes he must have seen over the course of it. I thought about his willingness to be an agent of change -- to venture into the unknown future God called him to. And I thought about the many fears he must have overcome in order to respond to that call so bravely and faithfully.

“Doubt is not the opposite of faith,” writes Anglican theologian, Verna Dozier, “Fear is. “

“Fear will not risk that even if I am wrong I will trust that if I move by the light that is given me , knowing that it is only finite and partial I will know more and different things tomorrow than I know today, and I can be open to the new possibility I cannot even imagine today.”

My prayer for all of us today is that we be given the grace to “be like angels” -- to be the messengers of God’s Good News not only to all creation but to each other. To speak the words “Fear Not” whensomeone needs to hear them .. and to thank God when someone is willing to speak them to us. To refuse to be “scared to death” ... but to choose life. I ask you to trust that God has not brought us this far not to have somewhere for us to go next. And as we approach Advent -- the season of expectancy -- let us focus on the new possibilities God has in mind for us ... possibilities we cannot even imagine today.

We need not fear as we venture into the future because of the promise that God is already there waiting for us. I close this morning with an assurance of that promise, summed up in the words of a blessing attributed to the Bishop of Newark:

O Lord our God, Send us anywhere you would have us go, Only go there with us. Place upon us andy burden you desire; Only stand by us to sustain us; Break any tie that binds us, except the tie that binds us to you. And may the blessing of God Almighty Be with us this day and forevermore. Amen