Thursday, November 25, 2010

Please and Thank You -- A Thanksgiving Homily


Luke 17:11-19

We’ve gathered together to ask the Lord’s blessing and to give thanks for the bountiful gifts of God. Giving thanks is deeply rooted in our faith tradition, going all the way back to our Jewish ancestors who heeded the Psalmist’s call to make a joyful noise, worship with gladness, and come into God’s presence with singing, because the Lord is God. Yes, we’ve heard the call to “enter the gates with thanksgiving, and the courts with praise . . . For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever and his faithfulness to all generations.” (Psalm 100 NRSV).


1. Being Thankful

Thanksgiving is a national holiday, but it has a strong spiritual dimension. For some this is simply an expression of civil religion that can be quickly dispensed with before watching the game and digging into the feast. For some Thanksgiving will offer a rare opportunity to gather as family or with friends for a time of merriment and sharing, that may or may not have any spiritual dimension. But, it also could provide an opportunity to stop and give thanks for the blessings of life, even if done briefly. We’ve come here because we believe that giving thanks has a broader, more spiritual sense to it.

Tonight we gather as a Christian community, but I’d like to link this observance to another gathering that some of us participated in this past Sunday evening. That event was interfaith and it reminded us that ours is a diverse nation, made up of people who share many different faith traditions. That event reminded us to give thanks for the freedoms provided by this nation to people from a multitude of religious traditions to safely gather together for prayer and worship and service in a way that is appropriate to that tradition. Our gathering this evening may be a Christian one, but it shares in this broader dimension of freedom. Therefore, as we gather in the name of Christ, let us give thanks for the freedoms we share with fellow citizens whose beliefs are different from ours, knowing that around the world there are many who do not share in the protections of our nation’s Constitution.

But, whether or not there is government sanctioned freedom to worship, we still can give thanks that God is present in our midst. Our ability to give thanks doesn’t ultimately depend on such freedoms. Therefore, we gather to give thanks to the God we know in Jesus Christ for the steadfast love of God that endures forever, not just for Americans but for all of creation. And in that spirit, we’re able to sing the words of a Thanksgiving hymn:

Now thank we all our God with heart and hands and voices,
who wondrous things has done, in whom the world rejoices,
who, from our mothers’ arms, has blessed us on our way
with countless gifts of love, and still is ours today. (Chalice Hymnal, #15)


2. The Meaning of Thanksgiving

If our calling is to give thanks, then we must ask – what does this involve? As I considered this question, I realized that it would be easy to fall into a discussion of niceness and politeness. That is, I could focus my attention on the importance of saying please and thank you. Like many of you, I was taught as a child to even say thank you to Aunt Martha for that hideous sweater that you would never, ever wear in public. You see, if you use these words with practiced efficiency, you’ll be successful in life. Although, there’s nothing wrong with being polite or saying please and thank you, even to Aunt Martha for that sweater, I don’t think that is the point of this season of Thanksgiving?

I raised this question of politeness because tonight’s gospel reading for tonight is a bit odd. If we’re not careful, we could end up with an Emily Post kind of interpretation and use it to reinforce the principles of proper etiquette. But if we did that, we’d miss Luke’s point.

In this story, which appears only in Luke’s gospel, there are ten people with skin diseases, making them spiritual and social outcasts, who came to Jesus as he was wandering along the border regions of Galilee and Samaria. Wherever this village was located, it appears to be one of those places where Jew and Samaritan mingled, and where disease seems to have transcended ethnicity and religious observance. They cry out from a distance, because they knew that it wasn’t appropriate to approach people who weren’t infected: “Have mercy on us!” We’re not sure what they wanted. It could have been money, or maybe they’d heard rumors that Jesus was a healer and hoped he would heal them. Whatever the case Jesus simply tells them to go and show themselves to the priest, directions that they chose to obey. Now, the reason Jesus sent them to the priest, was that priests served not only as religious functionaries, like we clergy do, but they were also public health officials. Since the Temple was far off, maybe they headed off to a branch office to get their all-clean report, and in the moment that they left to see the priest, they were healed. And as Luke notes, while nine of them continued on, one returned to give thanks. That one person who turned back to Jesus was, Luke says, a Samaritan and a foreigner. When the Samaritan returns to Jesus and offers his word of thanksgiving, Jesus wonders out loud where everyone else had gone, even though they were doing what he had told them to do. Could it be that this man returned to give thanks to Jesus because he was a Samaritan and didn’t have anywhere else to go?

What should we do with this text? Should we use it to reinforce proper etiquette, using the Samaritan as our model citizen? Or do we take it a step further and deeper, and hear in this story a call to give thanks to a God whose love is inclusive, a God who reaches out and touches the lives of citizen and foreigner alike? It matters not to God whether, one is Jewish or a Samaritan, God’s bounty is poured out on both without discrimination. It’s this indiscriminate love of God, which draws us from the margins back into the center, that calls forth words of thanksgiving. It matters not to God, why society chooses to exclude us, whether it be disease, ethnicity, or religious differences, for God’s love covers us all, and therefore we can and should give thanks to God. And what better words to use in closing this meditation than the doxology, which so many of us sing each Sunday:

Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.


Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church
Ecumenical Thanksgiving Service
Lutheran Church of the Master of Troy
November 23, 2010



Sunday, November 21, 2010

Give Thanks for God's Bounty -- A Sermon

Psalm 145:1-5, 17-21

We began our journey through the Stewardship Season on Halloween, and we end it today on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. The first holiday suggested that stewardship might be a bit spooky! But, we haven’t let this spooky feeling keep us from hearing testimonies about the importance of stewardship. Each voice challenged us to consider the blessings God has poured out on us and they called on us to respond through the sharing of our lives and resources with others through the church. The Stewardship team led by Felicia sent out letters that invited members and friends to consider how they might give to the congregation’s ministries during the coming year. And, now it’s time to bring in the harvest!

A month ago, in that “spooky sermon,” I talked about God’s abundance that has touched our lives. I pointed out that this year’s stewardship theme is “More than Enough.” Of course, in these difficult economic times, not everyone feels like there’s “more than enough.” There’s a lot of anxiety out there, even if the stock market is up, the economy is growing again, and Michigan can expect to add more jobs than it loses for the first time in a decade. For many among us these continue to be lean times, and so it’s difficult to affirm the idea that there is really “More than Enough.”

Despite this sense of anxiety, this congregation has maintained a strong giving record. We’re holding our own, in part because we’re careful about what we spend, but also because you are faithful givers. And even as the pledges remain fairly steady, the amount of unpledged income has grown. That may mean that there are new people in the house who are contributing to the church’s ongoing ministry. All of this means that not only can we continue to maintain our ministries, but we can even expand them. We’re able to do this, not only because you believe in this ministry of this place, but because you also believe that God has blessed you and you want to offer a sign of your gratitude to God.

Yes, there is a practical reason for our annual stewardship “campaign.” We all know that there are bills to pay and that the Council needs to know how much income to depend on in the coming year. So, because you are faithful in your giving and others had the foresight to remember the church in their estates, we can pay salaries, maintain the building, offer programming for all ages, and engage in missional outreach, here in Troy, in Metro-Detroit, in Michigan, in the United States, and around the World. That’s the practical side of things, but that’s not the whole story. We take up the offering in the context of worship, because giving is an act of worship.

We bring this stewardship season to a close on the eve of a national day of Thanksgiving, but we also gather to bring closure to a liturgical year that begins anew every year with the first Sunday of Advent. Therefore, next Sunday, we’ll turn the page, and restart our journey with an Advent celebration that includes decorating the church in preparation for Christmas. But, before we do all of this, we need to first celebrate what is often known as Christ the King Sunday. We started this celebration of the reign of Christ with our opening hymn – “Rejoice the Lord Is King!” Listen again to the first stanza:

Rejoice, the Lord is King! The Risen Christ adore!
Rejoice, give thanks, and sing, and triumph evermore:
lift up your heart, lift up your voice
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice! (Chalice Hymnal, 699)
This message of thanksgiving comes through clearly in Psalm 145. The verbs are clearly stated: Extol, Bless, Praise, Laud, and declare. These are strong, active, verbs, but there is another verb that may not seem so active, but it’s the foundation for our ability to offer praise and thanksgiving to God. That word is “meditate.” As we meditate on the things of God, we’re able to discern God’s blessings, which in turn leads to praise and thanksgiving. Let us, therefore, look at three important verbs that emerge from this Psalm: Extol, Meditate, and Bless.

1. Extol

The Psalm begins: “I will extol you, my God and King” The verb “extol” carries the meaning: “to praise highly.” That is, when we extol someone or something, we’re not just offering half-hearted praise. No we’re offering the highest forms of praise, worship, and thanksgiving that is possible for us. Some of the synonyms for this word include to bless, to glorify, and to laud. Think of that Palm Sunday Hymn: “All Glory, Laud, and Honor.”

All glory, laud, and honor, to you, Redeemer king,
to whom the lips of children made sweet hosanna’s ring!
You are a child of Israel, Great David’s greater son;
you ride in lowly triumph, Messiah, blessed one! (Chalice Hymnal 192)
When we come to the 3rd verse in this Psalm, we get a sense of what the psalmist is after in extolling his God and King:

Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, his greatness is unsearchable.
And that declaration leads to this one:

One generation will laud your works to another, and declare your mighty acts.
Each of these sentences gets at the heart of worship. We come into this place, not primarily to fellowship, or learn, or enjoy good music, though we do all of that. No, we come to this place to declare before the world that our God is great and wonderful, and we promise to pass this on from one generation to the next. Everything we do “in church” and “in life,” is caught up in this call to extol our God and King who provides us with “More than Enough!”

2. Meditate

We make this declaration – that the Lord our God is Great and that God’s acts are mighty -- because we have first meditated upon God’s “glorious splendor,” majesty, and wondrous works. If you go back and read the verses that we omitted from this Psalm in today’s reading you’ll find other reasons for giving thanks to God. These include Grace and mercy, God’s slowness to anger and steadfast love, as well as God’s goodness and compassion for all.

“All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord, . . . They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom, and tell of your power.” (Vs. 10-11).
We offer thanks to God, because God’s dominion endures forever and God is faithful, even lifting up those who are falling and those who are bowed down. Yes, “the eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season” (vs. 15). We give thanks to God, because we have meditated on the bounty that is God’s gift to us.

As you begin reading this psalm, your mind may drift off to a throne room scene. There, with the people singing out “All Glory, Laud and honor,” sits the King, high and lifted up. Every knee is bent and every head is bowed, for great is the Lord and greatly is God to be praised. And yet, we’ve also been asked to meditate upon this: “The Lord is near to all who call on him.”

If we were to use theological terms to describe these two very different visions of God, we would use the words transcendence and immanence. More often than not, our theologies ask us to choose between these understandings, but here in this Psalm we’re reminded that the great and wonderful Lord of all Creation, the one who sits upon the throne of heaven, is also present in our midst, sharing with us the bounty of creation, and if truth be told, this God is also sharing in our times of grief and suffering. Therefore, if we’re willing to attend to this message, if we’re willing to meditate on it, to chew on it, as some might say, then we’ll begin to recognize that not only is there “more than enough” to go around, but we’re also in a position to share our bounty with others. We can do this because God in Christ has already shared with us the abundance of heaven, providing us with the opportunity to share freely this abundance with our neighbors. Upon these things, do we meditate, day and night, so that our hearts might be transformed.

3. Bless

We started by extolling God because of God’s many great works, then we meditated upon God’s blessings, and now at the end, we stop to offer God a word of blessing. To bless is similar to extol. But, just maybe, the act of blessing someone or something, carries with it not just a sense of words expressed, but also actions directed toward the other.

In both word and deed, which includes our giving through the church, we offer a blessing, a word of thanksgiving, that extols God’s greatness. And we don’t do this alone. As the closing verse makes clear:

My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord, and all flesh will bless his holy name for ever and ever!
Stewardship is an act of worship that brings blessing not just to God nor just to the individual, but it also brings a blessing to all flesh. Yes, we gather together in the presence of the living God, the God who is our creator, our provider, our protector, and yes, even our fellow traveler, to offer a blessing and in doing so offer praise to the Lord forever and ever.

May we meditate upon these things and then act in accordance with the leading of God. For as Paul says, “God loves a cheerful giver!” Yes, “God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.” (2 Cor. 9:7-8).
 
Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, Michigan
Thanksgiving Sunday/Christ the King Sunday
November 21, 2010

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A New Creation -- A Sermon

Isaiah 65:17-25

When I opened up my Bible on Monday and turned to Isaiah 65, the message of this text leaped out at me. What I heard from this prophetic text was our missional calling to join God in ministry in the world. My thoughts quickly ran to a book that I’d just finished reading that talks about the future of Detroit. The book is called Reimagining Detroit, and it’s written by Free Press journalist John Gallagher, who lays out some of the directions that the city and people of Detroit could take if they hope to experience a renaissance or rebirth. I also thought about the conversations we’ve been having about Motown Mission. As my thoughts ran back and forth between this text and the world in which we’re living, I saw in a clearly stated fashion the biblical foundations of our call to ministry. In reflecting on this conversation between the text and our world, I heard this message: God is about to do a new thing in this world and we get to participate in that new thing.

Now, when I came to Michigan two and half years ago, I assumed that my job was to pastor a suburban church that needed to engage its suburban community. I still believe that this is part of our missional calling, because the key to our growth as a congregation is being a transformative presence in the city of Troy and its environs, what we’ve called the “five-mile radius.” But our ministry as a church doesn’t end at the boundary of this five-mile radius, and not just because many of you live outside that radius. If Acts 1:8 offers us a guiding principle for missional engagement, and I believe it does, we need to remember that the Holy Spirit pushed the church out beyond the city limits of Jerusalem, so that it would minister in Judea and Samaria, and then from there move out to the ends of the earth. If Troy is our Jerusalem, then perhaps metro-Detroit is our Judea and Samaria, and if this is true, then our participation in the work of Motown Mission is just one way in which we are engaging in ministry beyond Jerusalem’s borders. 


1. The Future is in the Dream

If Acts 1:8 defines the “boundaries” of our ministry, Isaiah 65 offers us a vision of what God is doing in the world. It is a vision of new creation, where the old things are no longer to be remembered, but we are to rejoice in what is about to happen. Our hope is found in the vision that God has laid before us, and it is a vision that can be summarized in a quotation from Eleanor Roosevelt:

So, what is the dream that guides our future?


“The Future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

When I came here two and half years ago, I didn’t see how ministry in Detroit would fit into our missional calling. But, somewhere along the line something happened. First there were the conversations I began to have with Pastor Eugene James not long after I got here about building a partnership in ministry between our congregations. Then, there was what could be called a vision that occurred in the midst of a conversation about ministry in the region at my first regional clergy retreat. Some Christians might speak of what happened that day in this way: “The Lord laid it upon my heart.” On that day I asked the question: Why aren’t there any Disciples mission teams coming into Detroit? The answers I got were varied, but the one that stuck out to me was that many of our Michigan churches would rather send their youth to New Orleans than to Detroit, because Detroit is so dangerous. What I heard from them was that Detroit was beyond redemption, but that wasn’t what I was hearing in my own heart. Now, mind you, I still didn’t know what this would involve, or if it would even involve me or this church. But I was deeply uncomfortable with that sentiment.

Then, while I was contemplating all of this, “I stumbled upon” Motown Mission. I began with a conversation with Carl Gladstone, and that led to conversations with Diana and with Eugene James, and then that led to conversations with other people from the region and also with representatives of the General Church. Oh, and in the meantime God seemed to be laying something similar on Alex’s heart. As Alex shared with the East District meeting, her experience with City Year not only expanded her sense of call to ministry, but it gave her an arena in which to do ministry. As you all know, Alex grew up in the suburbs, but as she worked in Detroit, God opened the eyes of her heart to the needs of the city and then laid it upon her heart to begin building bridges between the city and the suburbs. You see, God is at work doing a new thing, and we’ve been invited to participate. And this vision is making itself felt, beyond the walls of this church. As Nancy Zerban, our Regional Moderator, shared in her letter to the East District Assembly, our participation in Motown Mission is one of the new things God is doing in our Region.

2. Naming the Vision

Isaiah 65 is the work of an anonymous prophet living in post-exilic Judea. The prophet is doing ministry in the midst of a land that is desolate. The city of Jerusalem lies in ruins. Its walls have been torn down and its Temple destroyed. There may be plans to rebuild, but nothing has happened yet, and the people are getting discouraged. What we need to hear in the background of this text is these are not good times for Jerusalem, and the people are crying out to God in despair. Where, they wonder, is God in all of this?

The prophet brings a word of hope to a discouraged and fearful people, and that word is this: Be glad and rejoice, because God is about to recreate Jerusalem as a joy and its people will become God’s delight. Times maybe tough and there may be very little that suggests that there’s hope to be found, but in the midst of this despair comes the promise that something new is about to happen. When God brings into existence the new heavens and the new earth, the people will no longer weep or cry out in distress. In that day infants will no longer die prematurely and the aged will live out full lifetimes – indeed to die at 100 will be considered dying as a youth.

And then as we move through this passage we come to the kinds of work that groups like Motown Mission engage in. According to Isaiah, the people will build houses and they’ll inhabit them. Could this be a word about the foreclosure crisis? And they’ll plant vineyards and eat of the fruit of the vine? Do you hear in this a word about urban gardening? One of the chapters in John Gallagher’s book talks about the possibilities and the problems that go with urban agriculture. While there are many issues to be resolved, the fact is, Detroit, and many cities like it, are food deserts. So, could urban gardens that are scattered across the city provide nutritious food for the people of the city, and maybe even jobs and income? Only time will tell, but the possibilities are there.

And I hear a word too about the educational system in the city. Isaiah says that the people won’t labor in vain or bear children for calamity. Instead, they shall have offspring that are blessed by the Lord. One of the projects that we’ve discussed is partnering with Northwestern Christian Church to reestablish a computer lab at the church. We live in age when computers are essential to the future well-being of younger adults and children. If people living in the city are on the wrong side of the digital divide it will make life more difficult, but here is a possibility that God has laid upon our hearts to create a space for people to learn how to use computers as well as find access to them.


3. A Dream of Peace

One of the first projects that we have embraced as part of our Disciples partnership with Motown Mission is the sponsorship of Peace Week. This will happen during the first week of the Motown Mission’s summer season, and as we’ve talked about what should happen it has become clear that our focus should be on racial reconciliation. We hope that partnerships will emerge between the suburbs, as well as rural areas, and the city. Someone asked a question at the East District Assembly about why Disciples can’t seem to work together? Well, here is an opportunity for us to begin building those relationships as we work side by side.

As we consider our calling as a people to engage in these new ministries, we don’t know how everything will work out. There will be difficulties to overcome, but our text ends with a vision of God’s future for the world. The prophet speaks of the Lion and the Lamb feeding together, with the Lion eating straw like the ox. No one, the prophet says, will be hurt or destroyed on God’s holy mountain. If Detroit is, for us, the place in which God is at work doing a new thing, then it is a dream that will be life-changing. The barriers between suburb and city can be torn down, and we’ll be able to dine together, for as the author of Ephesians puts it – the “dividing wall of hostility” will be torn down (Ephesians 2: 14). And as Paul puts it in the second Corinthian letter:

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; . . .” (2 Cor. 5:17-19a).

Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, Michigan
25th Sunday after Pentecost
November 14, 2010

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Resurrection Living

Luke 20:27-38

In our opening hymn we remembered the saints of God, “who from their labors rest, who thee by faith before the world confessed, thy name O Jesus, be forever blest!” Because today is the Sunday after All Saints Day, it’s appropriate for us to stop and remember all the saints of God who no longer walk this earth, including those who have impacted our own lives in powerful ways. Each of us can name a saint of God, whose life has exemplified the grace, mercy and love of God.

Therefore, I would like to remember the Rev. LLoyd Saatjian, who served for many years as pastor of First United Methodist Church in Santa Barbara. LLoyd died in July of 2009, but in life he was my colleague in ministry, friend, and mentor. He encouraged me to become a leader in the local faith community and stood by me when I experienced difficulties in my ministry in Santa Barbara. After I left that pastorate, he continued to stand with me, helping me to consider what my call to ministry might look like as I moved into the future. Perhaps the most powerful memory I have of LLoyd was his willingness to make space in the worship of service at First Methodist for me to pin Brett with his God and Country award at a time when I was between churches. LLoyd is one of God’s saints who in life stood strong in his confession of faith and in his love for all God’s people, and who now rests from life’s labors. Having shared my memory of LLoyd, who is it that you would name today as a saint of God?

As we remember God’s saints, we come to hear the message of the Gospel, which declares to us that our God is “God not of the dead, but of the living.” This powerful statement comes to us from out of a conversation between Jesus and a group of Sadducees. If you remember the discussion from Ron Allen’s lectures, the Sadducees were religiously and socially conservative, and didn’t believe in the resurrection. They also controlled the priesthood and the Temple, and their Scripture was limited to the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. When they looked into their Bible, they claimed not to find the resurrection, but they were also of the mind that this doctrine, which Jesus shared with the Pharisees, wasn’t all that reasonable either. I mean, imagine what would happen if a woman who had married seven brothers and hadn’t produced a child for any of them? If there is a resurrection, then to whom would she be married? In his response to their question Jesus suggested that maybe we’re not married in the next life, but more importantly, Jesus offers an answer out of the very text of Scripture that they affirmed as being authoritative. He reminded them that when God appears to Moses in the Burning Bush, God claims to be the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Therefore, if God is the God of these three patriarchs, then surely "he is God not of the dead, but of the living."

The debate over the resurrection continues to this very day. Although many find it a compelling doctrine, there are many others who find it rather unscientific. Instead of focusing on offering a defense of the doctrine of the resurrection, however, I’d like to consider how the message of resurrection affects the way we live our lives in the present.

1. THE PURPOSE OF LIFE?

As you read this text and hear Jesus speak of the resurrection, what does that mean to your daily life? That question came up several years ago when I was invited to speak about the beliefs of Mainline Protestants to a class studying World Religions at San Marcos High School in Santa Barbara. That wasn’t an easy assignment, since we’re a fairly diverse group. But, I did my best, and when I told the group that most Mainline Protestants are moderate to liberal in their theology, someone asked me about salvation. I told them that there are many Mainline Protestants that believe that the only way of salvation is a direct confession of faith in Jesus as savior. There are others, I told them, who are universalists. That is, these Christians believe that in the end God will reconcile all of humanity to God’s self. Now, this answer didn’t sit well with everyone, including one student who asked me: Why then are we even alive? That is, if God saves everyone in the end, then what is our purpose in life?

This student, who was more conservative in her theology, believed that we’re on the earth to be tested. Either we pass the test, which involves confessing Jesus as savior, or we don’t. If we don’t pass the test then surely there has to be some sort of punishment. I mean, if everyone passes then what’s the purpose in life? In fact, if everyone makes it into heaven and there’s no punishment in the offing, then why even bother being good? So what should conclude? If God is going to save everyone anyway, then maybe we can follow the way of the Epicureans, and “eat, drink, and be merry!



2. RESURRECTION LIVING

What then is the purpose of life? I believe that our text has the answer, and that answer is found in the resurrection. Although the resurrection from the dead remains a mystery to us, because it’s not something we can test scientifically, it continues to stand at the center of the Christian confession of faith. I say that the resurrection is a mystery, even though we’ve all heard stories of people coming back to life and telling about a white light and maybe even seeing loved ones who have already died. Some find these stories compelling, and others don’t, but in the end, we must receive the message of resurrection in faith. As we receive this message, we can find strength in Jesus’ words: God is a God of the Living and not the Dead. Although this message offers hope that there is more to our existence than this life, we must ask the question – does the resurrection have anything to say about life here in this time and this place?

When Jesus answers the Sadducees’s challenge by reminding them that God is the “God of the living and not the dead,” he was saying that life is important to God. That is, God values life, all life, and therefore, we should value life as well. Even if death is a natural part of our existence in this world, God doesn’t rejoice in death and neither should we. If we’re called to embrace the principle of resurrection living, then we should begin to live out the values of resurrection in the present.

To give you an example of what I mean, listen to what Garrison Keillor said at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco sometime after 9/11.

. . . if we want to really understand the truth of this event, we should look to all the men and women who saw that death was near, who called home on their cell phones. And not to express anger or fear or bitterness but, simply, to say "I love you, take care of the children, have a good life." In a moment of great clarity at the end, they called amidst smoke, and confusion and panic to give us their benediction. And we should accept it. Love each other, take care of the children, have a good life. And give thanks to the Lord with our whole heart for his steadfast love and faithfulness and beseech him that we may have a quiet and peaceful life in all godliness and dignity and that in every place men and women should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument. Amen.  [Garrison Keillor quoted in "The Most Important Things," by Russell Peterman, The Wellspring: The Newsletter of Sandy Springs Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), 3 (October, 2001): 4.]

I do think that this is a good description of resurrection living. It answers the question – why are we alive? It’s about living in relationship with God and with our neighbor. It’s a reminder that as the people of God we should value life so much that we don’t think about getting revenge, but instead we would embrace each other and give thanks for the opportunity to be alive, even in the presence of death.

Now, we live in a time of great uncertainty, and many are asking why we’re even alive. What’s the purpose? We seem to be struggling with marriages, jobs, families, and we ask: What do these things mean? Jesus says to us as we ask these questions: Our God is God not of the dead but of the living!

The prophet Haggai spoke to people asking very similar questions after they returned from exile in Babylon. As they looked around they saw that their Temple was gone, and the foundation stones for the new temple, which had been sitting there for years, suggested this temple wouldn’t be nearly as grand as the one the Babylonians destroyed. They wondered – so, what's the point? What they had known before, was now gone. But Haggai responded: Remember, what you build now is a foretaste of what is to come. Take courage and start to build. God said to the Judeans, Take courage and work on the Temple "for I am with you." Yes, remember the promises I made to your ancestors when they came out of Egypt. "My spirit abides among you; do not fear" (Haggai 2).

What does it mean to experience resurrection living? It means that when we’re in the presence of God we don’t have to live in fear and in regret. Indeed, by embracing the resurrection we’re free to love and to live boldly before God.