PENTECOST XXII, Sunday November 10, 2019
Gracious and loving God
You call us to be stewards of your
Abundance, the caretakers of all you have entrusted to us
Help us always to use your gifts wisely
And teach us to share them generously
Send the Holy Spirit to work through us
Bringing your message to those we serve
May our faithful stewardship bear
Witness to the love of Jesus Christ in our lives
We pray with intent to offer all things back to you in Jesus’ name.
It’s not every day that someone asks you to come to their place of work to teach the Bible. But not too long ago, one of our dear fellow Emmanuelites asked me to come talk about the Gospel according to Mark. And as our little group waded deeply into some of the really fun background details of Early Christian writings, especially the Old Testament, one of our number came out and asked a very interesting question, which I’ll paraphrase like this: “When God called Abraham, what was compelling about God?” Asked another way, “what did God bring to the table?”
Frankly, I’m still impressed at the directness of the question and less so at my answer. In the moment, I offered that God’s promise to Abraham was compelling; the same promise I told you about a few weeks ago: that God would make a great nation out of Abraham and guarantee God’s own glory to all nations. While I think that’s correct, the question still stuck with me for the rest of the week. What is compelling about God? What would truly motivate somebody like Abraham to leave everything behind and start a new life? To draw our attention to our reading from Job this morning, what would drive the long-suffering Job to make such an incredible claim? Remember that in that wonderful passage we heard these words:
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see on my side,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
As I reflected on what is indeed compelling about God, this reading from Job kept my attention. I admit that the first draft of this sermon got really in the weeds as I walked through something of a mystical, theological process towards considering the ineffable joy of God’s own being. Some of you might find that interesting. When I read it back to myself, I did not. What I really want to say this morning is that Job wanted to see God face to face because he knew in the depths of his heart that God is good, loving, truthful, beautiful, perfect, and so much more. I can’t yet imagine what it would really be like to behold something, someone, that just is those things, and yet that’s what we expect to find when we finally see God. “What does God bring to the table?” our friend asks. And in response, the only real response is God brings Himself to the table.
We actually have a term for this in Christian teaching. What Job wanted to see, what answers our friends’ question, and what was on my heart as I considered this sermon is what we call the Beatific Vision. It’s an impressive Latin-sounding thing, but all it really means is the true vision of God which will make us truly happy and blessed. But we aren’t quite ready for this vision even as we might seek after it in as much as we can in this life. We see glimpses of God’s perfection in the things He produces, in the things He does for us. Even still, now we are limited in our ability to see God as Job expects: as a friend, in close proximity.
And we’ve always had trouble considering God’s perfection. The last time humanity beheld the beauty of God in person, at the incarnation of Christ, most of us pretty much missed it. The Sadducees certainly did. They came to Jesus to trap him with a riddle about how marriage would work when husbands and wives were all raised from the dead. By the way, this was kind of their deal: they didn’t think there would be a resurrection and, like most armchair theologians, resorted to intense hypotheticals to make their point. In any case, when Jesus answered their riddle, he basically broke it into pieces. It turns out that being alive to God in the hereafter is not about tracing the family tree anymore. It is about being alive to God. We might say, that sounds unclear and maybe kind of boring. But being fully alive to God is to have our entire life transformed in such a way that the vision of God will make us happy; and not like how a good dinner, or nice time with our friends or family makes us happy as great as those things are. When we see God, face to face, as a friend and not as a stranger, we will finally know true contentment, true peace, true community, true love, because those things will be present to us before our eyes in the presence of Almighty God Himself.
Which is to say, I realize that this is all kind of a lot. Were Fr. Rob here (he’s helping a colleague this morning), he would encourage us that what I’ve presented to you, the beatific vision of God Himself, is at the heart of Christian contemplation. But every day I think I meet people who in all sorts of ways ask questions like “Why is God compelling?” Another way we might hear that question is “why bother with God anyway?” Perhaps to consider deeply God’s beauty, truth, love, perfection, and more is to be able to answer those questions with those very things. The world around us sadly sees things like beauty, truth, and love as great but ultimately fleeting; perhaps we do too on our worst days. But to live as though God is truly beautiful, truthful, loving, and perfect might yet serve our world and point to that vision that sustains us and comforts us on the road ahead.
I pray that we who seek, Like Job, to meet God as a friend would be inspired reflect Him as Jesus did, loving and serving a world that is so oft in need of real love.
To Him be all Glory; from age to age. Amen.
The Very Rev. David Bumsted
Emmanuel Episcopal Church
1603 E Winter Park Rd.
Orlando, FL 32803