First Fruits of the Resurrection
“First Fruits of the Resurrection”
by The Rev. Tracy Dugger, Proper 27C, Job 19:23-27a, Psalm 17:1-9, 2 Thess 2:1-5,13-17, Lk 20:27-38
How many of you have a favorite book of the Bible? What is it? Last week I told you about my favorite verse coming from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians and how my work was “to equip the Saints for the works of ministry.” But despite my favorite verse coming from Ephesians, that’s not my favorite book…My favorite book of the Bible is Job…yes Job that 42 chapter book of the Bible that basically details the outline of one man’s downfall, suffering, and how his friends came to kick him while he was down and tell him he must have done something to deserve it, and it is in the midst of his trials, temptations to blame God and his suffering that he cries out centuries before the life, death and resurrection of Jesus: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the Earth; and after my skin has thus been destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, I will see God on my side, my eyes shall behold God, and not another.”
Most people don’t seem to like Job, and I kinda don’t blame them, endless passages about how bad things, evil, and tremendous human suffering can come to good people is not a message many of us want to dwell on, but for me it was a message of hope. I grew up in a chaotic home, by the age of 14 I had already been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder type C. From a very young age I knew that evil was real…and as I began to discover faith I needed a God who was bigger than evil, and I needed a faith that could account for evil’s existence and persistence in a world that could also be beautiful and lovely. Throughout the ages humans have been dealing with the problem of evil, and every generation will face two temptations, two great deceptions.
The first lie is that there is no force of evil. There is no devil. There is no evil one. And that through science and human advances in education we will transcend the reality of sin and suffering in the world and enter into a new era of human flourishing. The persistence of bigotry, hatred, human trafficking, modern day slavery, and ideological persecution is enough to expose this lie.
The second lie told in every age is that almost everything is evil, and that we are living in the end times and the Antichrist is here and now: this claim was said in the age of Roman persecutions and the emperor Nero, it was said of the Pope during the reformation, Napoleon’s attempt at European dominance, it was said about Hitler and the Nazis for obvious reasons, It was said about political figures Henry Kissinger in the 70s and Mikhail Gorbachev in the 80s, and it’s been said about virtually EVERY U.S. President but most notably FDR, JFK, Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama, and Donald Trump.[i]
Why does this persistent trumpet of doom and gloom and end times and unconquerable evil keep sounding? I think because it keeps us hopeless, and it keeps us powerless. It transitions us into the thinking that our ONLY hope for good to win over evil is for Jesus’s immediate return. It transitions us from being Christ bearers equipped with the full armor of God, to people who simply stand on the sidelines crying out for help. You wouldn’t think that the evil one would encourage us to look to the end times, but it is a very insidious lie. By the nature of its repetition, by the nature of its relegating us to a state of powerless crying out ‘Where are you God?’
The evil one invites us to observe the genocide of Christians, to observe that Christianity is being wiped out in parts of the middle East. In Iraq the population of Christians has fallen from 1.5 million before 2003 to less than 120,000.[ii] 250 people were killed and 500 wounded in attacks on churches on Easter this past year in Sri Lanka, India. We are invited to observe that abject poverty still exists in the same world where a small select percentage of the world live in palatial and unchecked wealth. We are invited to observe a rise in fear through acts of terrorism, hatred, racism, nationalism, fascism. We are invited to observe and experience personal, financial and medical trauma, and in the midst of all that we are invited to ask, “Where are you God?”
Which leaves the door is open for the insidious whisper of “No where” to creep in. The whispers of “he isn’t coming back” “God doesn’t come when you call.” Gives room for the even uglier deceptions “God is not good.” “God does not care” “Your hope in Jesus isn’t real.” And yet still, in the midst of our trials, and temptation to despair we are invited to like Job, cling to the hope and knowledge that “I know that my Redeemer lives. It is in the story of Job that we first learned that God had placed boundaries on the evil one, you may go this far and no farther.
But again, in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians we hear a message that God is still putting boundaries and constraints on the evil one. Paul’s letter contains both a sense of urgency and a word of warning: there will be an end to the world we know now, Jesus Christ is coming back again to judge the living and the dead, but it is in the midst of that judgement that all things will be set to right, swords beaten in plowshares, and lions will lie down with the lambs, but how then are we to live in the meantime?
And Fleming Rutledge does such and excellent job of distilling Paul’s words that I cannot help but quote her…Paul teaches us that we are to live with the knowledge that “God has an active, personal enemy who works tirelessly to distort, contaminate, and destroy God’s plan for Salvation.”[iii] Paul takes the problem of radical evil in the world very seriously, and so should we, but while we are to take it seriously and not deny its existence, we also should not allow our faith to be shaken by it.
It’s funny that the verses of our Lectionary this morning cut out the description that the lawless on will be conquered in the last day when the Lord Jesus Christ will slay him with nothing more than the breath of his mouth. (Exhale and your dead…)
But until then yes evil remains, but it remains somewhat in check, moving in secret, but there are already first fruits of that final victory, good works and good words for the sake of the world are the signs that our Redeemer lives, and is not just alive, but active in the world through the body of Christ. Evil may be piling up, and yet, in tiny little human acts done by the power of Christ working in us, evil is restrained.
The distinction between the injustice of man and the justice of God is the heartbeat of Advent. It is the living truth and the lights that exposes the true great lies we are told: 1 There is no force of evil, and human progress can overcome all problems, therefore we have no need of God, and the second lie that evil is rampant, abundant and too powerful to overcome, therefore God is powerless in the face of evil therefore God is not God…
Advent shines the light and exposes the truth that yes evil exists, but so does God, and God has a plan. In the face of global and cosmic scale of good and evil, God’s plan and claim is this. We matter! We are people who belong to God and are indeed children of God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We matter to God, and it is in the simple everyday act of claiming who we are, claiming our identity as beloved children of God, that shadow of evil is overcome and driven back. Paul writes to the Thessalonians and he praises their enduring hope. Their enduring hope in the face of trials and persecutions and sufferings brought light, life and hope to the region around them.
We are called to be like the Thessalonians, assured in our baptism that we are beloved children of God, to be people of enduring hope.
In the face of evil and suffering, we dare to believe that we are called to be living Saints, and that as living Saints our simple small acts of resistance to evil matter.
We are called to small acts of resistance when deny ourselves, and set aside a portion of our income to the Lord’s work here in Port St Lucie. By our tithes, pledges and offerings we practice self-denial, and place the betterment of the common good above the temptation to maximize our own desires. Also, by our giving we resist the idolatry of consumerism that demands more faster, better, newer and is rapidly stripping the Earth of its resources. We dare to say we have enough, not only enough for ourselves, but enough to provide for others too.
We resist the evil of violence when we, especially as we enter into an election year, resist the urge to demonize and dehumanize people for their differences in race, creed, country of origin, and sexual or gender identity.
Jesus is coming, sooner now than before, and yet not yet. God and God alone is creating the future new Earth and New Jerusalem. Let’s not deceive ourselves into thinking it is our works that will do it, for we’ve already discovered there is no hope there. But let us also not be deceived into hopelessness. Let us cling to the enduring hope of a living God, a Redeemer that lives, that is at the work of resisting evil, and by our first fruits of the work, let’s shine the light of Christ.
The light of glory that dares to pray today’s collect “O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life: Grant that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves as he is pure; that, when he comes again with power and great glory, we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”
 Rutledge, Fleming. 2018. Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Christ. Grand Rapids: Wm. B Eerdmans.