Saturday, November 08, 2014

God of the Living

God of the Living
Matthew 22:23-33[1]
I grew up playing the game “Monopoly.”  In fact, my cousins and I would play it like it was going out of style!  In later years, when I actually read the rules of the game (!), I learned that we had “cheated.”  You see, the game of monopoly operates in a fixed world with a closed system.  There are only so many properties, only so many houses and hotels, and only so much money to go around.  Now, of course, my cousins and I didn’t invent new properties on the board.  But we didn’t abide by the limitations on cash and improvements.  The way we played the game, if a person had the money to buy a house or hotel, they got one.  And when we ran out of cash, we just made more.  We created $1,000 bills and $5,000 bills and we had double hotels on Boardwalk!
When I found out that we had actually “broken” the rules, I began thinking about the world and how it operates.  There are those in our world who operate from the assumption that there’s only so much to go around.  What that usually means is that I have to get mine so that I don’t wind up empty-handed!  And the assumption is also that it leaves others without enough.  When you look at our society in comparison with the rest of the world, it’s easy to conclude that we are hoarding an inordinate amount of the world’s resources.
But there’s also another way of looking at things.  When I shared my analogy with a friend who was in finance, he enlightened me regarding the way a market economy works.  Other systems of economics operate on the basis of the fact that there’s only so much to go around.  But a market economy works on the principle of creating wealth—by starting businesses, by filling a niche that hasn’t yet been filled, by tapping a previously undiscovered source of revenue.  Instead of a principle of “hoarding,” a market economy works on the principle of “investing.” You see a niche, feel a need, or uncover an opportunity.  You come up with a business plan.  You raise the funds you need. Then you risk the whole thing in a new venture.  Will it succeed?  You’ll never know until you make the leap! But if it does, it creates jobs and opportunities that didn't exist before.
I think that illustration from the world of economics has application other areas of life.  In our gospel lesson for today, Jesus was dealing with a group of people who basically operated within a closed system.  The Sadducees, as Matthew tells us, did not believe in things like “resurrection.”[2]  They operated within a closed system—they believed only what they saw and what the past had taught them.  They used the Scriptures as a kind of rule book that strictly prescribed for them what they would and would not believe in.  They were the guardians of the past, the protectors of the status quo.[3]
But when all you have to go on is the past, then death and decay reign supreme. In due time, everything and everyone that ever was, is no more.  If the system is closed, then everything inevitably deteriorates.  But Jesus reminded them that God does not operate within a closed system.  God is the God of the living, not of the dead! The Bible points us to a God whose work in the world is based on promises that point toward a future with hope and life.[4]  Promises like “I will wipe away every tear,” and “they will beat their swords into ploughshares,” and “I am making everything new.”  The Christian faith is at heart the hope that God has begun to do just that through Jesus Christ.[5]  The Christian faith is at heart the faith that God is already fulfilling those promises through the Spirit of Life poured out on all creation.[6]  Our faith insists that from God’s perspective, the fundamental reality that defines us all is not death, but life.
I think that how we choose to look at this makes a profound difference in our attitude toward stewardship. In the Reformed Tradition, we believe that stewardship is not just about money, but it’s about how willing we are to see our lives as a gift from God to be invested for the sake of the Kingdom. Remember, investing always entails a risk. If we choose to live within a closed system and assume that there’s only so much to go around, we’re probably not going to be willing to take much risk when it comes to our lives. But if we can look at things from the perspective of God’s open future, a future in which life is the prevailing force, then perhaps maybe we can step out in faith. If we can see the future as one in which our “labor in the Lord” as something that is “not in vain” but rather makes an important contribution to advancing God’s purposes in our community and our world, it puts stewardship in a whole different perspective.
When it comes to how we live our lives, we can choose to play it safe or we can choose to risk it all for the sake of the God who promises to make everything new. If we think that our best is back there somewhere in the past, which means it’s gone, I doubt that we’re going to be interesting in risking anything for God’s Kingdom. But if we can live our lives on the basis of the faith that the “God of the living” is continually at work around and among us to make everything new, then maybe we can have the courage to stake our lives on God’s promises.[7] If we can embrace God’s open future, we have no idea what God can or cannot do in our lives, in this congregation, and in this community. If we can take that leap of faith, perhaps we’ll be more willing to view our stewardship as a choice to see our lives as a gift to be devoted constantly to promoting what the God of the living is doing in our world.

[1] © 2014 Alan Brehm. A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 9/2/2014 at Hickman Presbyterian Church, Hickman, NE.
[2] Cf. Jürgen Moltmann, God in Creation, 163: “A world without transcendence is a world in which nothing new can ever happen It is the world of the eternal return of the same thing.”
[3] Cf. Douglas Hare, Matthew, 255-56.
[4] Cf. Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 25: “Hope alone ... takes seriously the possibilities with which all reality is fraught.”
[5] Cf. Jürgen Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 95: “The gospel is the light which salvation throws ahead of itself. It is nothing less than the arrival of the coming God in the word.”  Cf. also ibid., 171: Easter “endorses and fulfills” the course of Jesus’ life; “the resurrection the beginning of the new creation of all things.”
[6] Cf. Jürgen Moltmann, Church in the Power of the Spirit, 191: “The presence of the Holy Spirit is to be understood as the earnest and beginning of the new creation of all things in the kingdom of God.” He also says that the Spirit “makes enslaved creation live and fills everything with the powers of the new creation.”
[7] Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 14–28, 642: “Long after the death of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, God revealed himself to Moses as the God of the patriarchs. This implies that they are still alive since it would mean little to say that God ‘is’ (εἰμί, present tense) the God of dead men.”

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