The Road Home: Are We There Yet?

Canyon Country

Psalm 32, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Definition: God’s righteousness consists in the promises God makes to us and keeps, in this world and the next.  Our righteousness consists in the promises we make to God, to ourselves, and to one another, and keep, in this world. Eternity belongs to God by right; but not to us. Eternity is God’s gift to us.

In his novel, The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck traces the journey of an Oklahoma Dust Bowl family to California, which they regard as the Promised Land.

Tom Joad has just gotten out of prison, where he has been serving a sentence for manslaughter. Tom arrives home to find out that his family has lost their land and is about to embark on a journey to a new life.  The traveling company includes three generations of Joads, Tom, who is breaking parole by going, his parents, his grandparents, his brothers, Floyd—and little Winfield, his sister, Rose of Sharron, her husband Connie, and a one-time preacher, a friend of the family, Jim Casey. They all join an exodus of “Oakies” following Route 66 west in hope of finding work in the fields and orchards of California. As the journey unfolds, the Joads make common cause with other families living at the margins, are courted by communist agitators, and find themselves constantly abused by unscrupulous farmers, bosses, and crooked lawmen, who serve not justice but the powers that be. Before the story is over, Tom’s grandparents die. The preacher is arrested and later killed. Both Floyd and Tom leave the family unjustly pursued by the law. Rose of Sharron’s husband Connie abandons her, and her baby dies. As the book draws to a close, the few remaining Joads have lost everything. They have taken shelter in an old barn. They are not alone.  There is a dying man and his son. The boy pleads for his father’s life, saying, “He ain’t ‘et for six days. He gave me all the food.  I didn’t know. I stole some bread last night, but he couldn’t keep it down.  He needs milk. You folks got any milk?”  In the final scene of the novel, in a supreme act of grace and humanity, Rose of Sharron nurses the dying man upon the milk that her baby will never need. Continue reading

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“God is Good!” “All the Time!”

Genesis 15:1-6, Psalm 27:1-14, Philippians 3:17-4:1, Luke 9:37-43a

In Psalm 27:13, the Psalmist confesses, “I believe that I shall see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.”

If you attend a United Methodist Church on any given Sunday you are likely to hear the pastor say, “God is good!”  And the people will respond, “All the time!”  Let’s try that:

“God is good!”

“All the time!”

We are sure to confess that God is good when our prayers have been quickly answered or even anticipated. Continue reading

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Two Veils

Exodus 34:29-35, 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2, Luke 9:28-36

This morning we are talking about two veils. Moses used one to cover his face, and Paul says that the same veil, or one very much like it, now covers the minds of many. Let me explain.

In Exodus 34, Moses came down from Mount Sinai, and the people of Israel were afraid to come near him, for Moses had been talking with God and his face shone with God’s glory. So, because the people were afraid, Moses covered his face with a veil. Thereafter, in the presence of the glory of the LORD, Moses removed the veil; but in the presence of the people, he put the veil on his face again. The text is clear: Moses covered his face so the people would not be frightened.

In 2nd Corinthians 5, St. Paul says something that the text of Exodus 34 does not. Paul says that Moses put a veil on his face in the presence of the people because he did not want them to see “the fading splendor,” (RSV) meaning the fading splendor of his face, and the fading splendor of the Mosaic dispensation or time. Paul used the story of Moses and the veil to explain why most of the people of Israel continued to reject Jesus. He says that when those who reject Jesus hear the Hebrew Bible read, the same veil that once covered the face of Moses now lies across their minds. Thus, for them, nothing has changed, and they read the Law as they have since the time of Moses. Paul says this will not change until the veil is lifted, and the veil will not be lifted until they turn to the Lord, for it is only the Spirit of the Lord who can remove the veil. Continue reading

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Resurrection Faith: 1st Corinthians 15:3-11

Listen to the service and the sermon live at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nRncGcR3EDI

The idea that human beings survive death is nothing new. In 399 B.C. Socrates thought that we had at least a fifty-fifty chance of life after death, and he was cautious. Many ancient civilizations believed in an afterlife, including the majority of Sumerians, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans

Ironically, the ancient Jews were harder to convince than their pagan neighbors. The vast majority of Old Testament texts affirm that every person is a unity of body, mind, and spirit, and when the spirit, the breath of life, the soul, leaves the body the whole person is dead.  They are consigned to Sheol where there is no activity, memory, or praise of God, but only endless sleep. The intertestamental book of Sirach summed it up nicely when it said: “The living may debate whether life is for ten years, or a hundred, or a thousand, but … the dead are just dead.”

We know from their debates with Jesus that the Sadducees of the New Testament Era taught God’s blessing was for this life only and denied life after death. Once, at a wedding, a devout Jewish man, knowing I was a Protestant clergyman, said, “Worth, has it ever occurred to you that, though there is a God, God may not choose to raise the dead?”

Now do not despair! As Jesus said, you may have to search for it (John 5:39), but there is a thin thread of hope in the Hebrew Bible. In Isaiah 26:19 we read:

(O Lord) Your dead shall live, and their bodies shall rise. (Those) who dwell in the dust, will awake, and sing for joy!

Likewise, in Ezekiel 37 the prophet has a vision of a valley of dry bones brought to life by the breath of God.  And Job declares, “I know that my redeemer lives, and without my flesh, I shall see him.” And who can forget the very personal confession of Psalm 16:

(O Lord) You will not give me up to Sheol or let your (holy) one see the Pit. You show me the path of life; in your presence, there is fullness of joy, in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

We know from the gospels that the Pharisees of the New Testament Era believed in life after death and looked for a General Resurrection at the end of history when God would raise the unrighteous dead to the Judgment that they escaped in life and the righteous dead to eternal life in the heavenly Kingdom. Continue reading

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