Multi Hat Pastor: The War on Christmas

Wonderful stuff. See what you think.

enhanced-31786-1446915453-14History would agree it was really no contest: Jesus won the war on Christmas. He reigns today, but in the same way he always reigned: subversive, serving, sacrificing, forgiving, inviting. His yoke is easy and his burden is light.

But Jesus is not at war with a retail establishment and nor should his followers be. The job of a retail establishment is not to proclaim the peace of Christ, the good news that brings great joy.

That’s our job, Christians. We really shouldn’t be outsourcing the bidding of peace to retail. If history is our guide, anytime the church outsources the gospel, the message gets confused. Do we really want our retail establishments proclaiming the message?

Please. Please. Christians. Stop outsourcing the gospel and stop expecting your retail neighbors to proclaim the good news of Jesus.

Instead, learn to love your retail neighbors. Not by boycotts and letters and web rants, or worse yet, by accosting some local barista who is just trying to make 40 cups per hour, hit the store metrics and pay her bills. But by simple courtesy, gratitude and kindness. More listening, less speaking. More care, less heat.

Read it all and go and act accordingly if you are a Christian!

Giving Thanks for Veterans Known and Unknown

I am thankful that God has blessed us with so many brave men and women who were willing to sacrifice and to serve this great country of ours. I am thinking today especially of my dad, John F. Maney, who fought in Europe during World War II.

John F. Maney

I am also thinking of my grandfathers, John S. Maney and F. Earl Shaffer, who served in the army during World War I. Grandpa Maney also saw combat in Europe.

I am thinking of my uncle, W. Everett Jones, who served in the army in Europe during World War II.

I am thinking of my father-in-law, Donald E. Traylor, who served in the army in Germany during the Korean War.

I am thinking of my dad’s best friend, Dale Terry, who served in the navy in the Pacific theater during World War II.

I am thinking of my friends John Falor, Tod Tapola, Jim Lytle, and Jerry Gallaway who served in Vietnam.

I am thinking of my friend, Col. David Mullins, who served in Iraq.

I am thinking of all the men and women who are currently serving in our armed forces, some in very dangerous places, and ask God’s blessing and protection for them.

Thank you veterans, both known and unknown, for your valiant and heroic service to our country. God bless you all.

Which veterans are you thinking about today? Sign in and tell us about them.

A Short History of Veterans’ Day

As you pause this day to give thanks for our veterans, past and present, take some time to familiarize yourself with the history of this day.

World War I – known at the time as “The Great War” – officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles outside the town of Versailles, France. However, fighting ceased seven months earlier when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. For that reason, November 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars.”

Soldiers of the 353rd Infantry near a church at Stenay, Meuse in France.

Soldiers of the 353rd Infantry near a church at Stenay, Meuse in France, wait for the end of hostilities.  This photo was taken at 10:58 a.m., on November 11, 1918, two minutes before the armistice ending World War I went into effect

In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…”

The original concept for the celebration was for a day observed with parades and public meetings and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11:00 a.m.

Read it all.

A Prayer for Veterans’ Day

Governor of Nations, our Strength and Shield:
we give you thanks for the devotion and courage
of all those who have offered military service for this country:

For those who have fought for freedom;
for those who laid down their lives for others;
for those who have borne suffering of mind or of body;
for those who have brought their best gifts to times of need.
On our behalf they have entered into danger,
endured separation from those they love,
labored long hours, and borne hardship in war and in peacetime.

Lift up by your mighty Presence those who are now at war;
encourage and heal those in hospitals
or mending their wounds at home;
guard those in any need or trouble;
hold safely in your hands all military families;
and bring the returning troops to joyful reunion
and tranquil life at home;

Give to us, your people, grateful hearts
and a united will to honor these men and women
and hold them always in our love and our prayers;
until your world is perfected in peace.

All this we ask through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever. Amen.

Remember, Remember the 10th of November

Apologies to the Brits. From the pen of my mama. Check it out.

One thing I thought I could do during WWII was to find out the customers of the O.P.C. [Ohio Power Company, now AEP] who had sons in the service, learn their names and ask about them when the customers paid their bills. Few checks were used back then so we were busy with cash customers. I always asked John’s Dad [my grandpa Maney] about John [my dad] and he would reply. Then, one day, he volunteered that John was on his way home! That’s why when I saw John in at Dolly’s [a now extinct local restaurant], I stopped to tell him his dad had told me he was on his way home and I wanted to thank him for all he’d done for our country–and for me. I shook his hand as my Dad had taught me, got my Coke and went to a booth to look at the Saturday Evening Post, a magazine I dearly loved for its funny cartoons. When I left to go get [my sister] Betty at Thomas’ Jewelry (I’d worked there Saturday afternoons and evenings for quite awhile) John was still sitting up front on a bar stool. I stopped to show him a cartoon, he asked me if I’d like to go to the movie and I said yes after I’d told Betty I wouldn’t be walking home with her. John wasn’t really sure who I was ’til he walked me home and saw Dad’s picture. I knew he hadn’t been with a girl for over 2 years so when he was leaving I kissed him on his lips (yips as [granddaughter] Bridget used to say) and I suppose it turned out to be too much for him.

Heh. Classic mama. I’m still trying not to think too much about that kissing stuff, though. Kinda disgusting, even at this stage of the game. 🙂 Remember, remember the 10th of November, a key date in Maney family history.

FN: Edmund Fitzgerald Sinking Remains a Mystery 40 Years Later

Hard to believe it’s been 40 years. I remember that day well. May her crew rest in peace and rise in glory.

1447172640695It was exactly 40 years ago Tuesday when “the winds of November came early” and took the legendary Great Lakes freighter Edmund Fitzgerald and 29 souls to the bottom of Lake Superior, a disaster memorialized in book and song that remains mired in maritime mystery.

The 729-foot ore-carrier, called the “Queen of the Great Lakes” sank during a brutal storm on the eastern section of the lake, but the exact cause of its demise continues to elude experts and historians. From the plausible explanations offered in Gordon Lightfoot’s haunting classic, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” to crackpot theories involving space aliens, theories abound as to what caused one of the 20th century’s best-chronicled American shipwrecks.

“There were no survivors and no witnesses and we will never know, definitely, what happened on Nov. 10, 1975,” Fredrick Stonehouse, the author of the 1982 book “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” told “We do know that the crew must have thought, ‘We’re hurt, and there’s not a damn thing we can do about it.'”

The storm that day, by any measure, was horrible. But despite boasting 90 mph winds and waves measuring 25 feet, the vessel, laden with taconite pellets and headed from Superior, Wis., to Detroit (and not Cleveland, as Lightfoot sang), should have been able to survive, according to many historians. Its captain was the experienced E.R. McSorley and it was being followed by another ship, the Arthur M. Anderson, which never heard a distress call.

Read it all.

Terry Gatwood: Being Part of God’s Family

Sermon delivered on the third Sunday before Advent, November 8, 2015, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of this sermon, click here.

Terry Gatwood is our seminarian in residence. He attends Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA.

Lectionary texts: Ruth 3.1-5, 4.13-17; Psalm 127.1-6; Hebrews 9.24-28; Mark 12.38-44.

In the name of God: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Ruth is a great little book tucked in our Bibles right between Judges and the Samuels. Its story follows a woman, called Naomi, whose husband and two sons die, and her two daughters-in-law, Moabite women, and their decisions to depart (Orpah) and to remain (Ruth).  In the passage we’ve heard this morning we find Naomi giving directions to Ruth to present herself to Boaz, the man in whose fields she had been working, so that it may end up in a marriage to one of Naomi’s kinsmen and a comfortable life for them going forward.

Let me pause for a moment and tell you a story. Sixteen years ago I met my wife at a teen ministry event called Bible quizzing. We were both fairly quiet, she more than I. But we ended up becoming friends because of a mutual friend who is an extreme extrovert who thinks everyone should be pals. I ended up getting an invitation to Deanna’s sixteenth birthday party; we started a friendship there that has been a great blessing for now more than half of my life.

I mention this because of something her mother did. It might have been because my favorite things to do were more akin to what people two generations older liked doing (a benefit of having lived with my grandparents and learning how to do and enjoy things their way), or that I was one of the very few boys who actually tucked his shirt in for church, or the fact that I was one of the teen boys who just didn’t act like a nut all of the time. What she did was tell us when we were still young high schoolers that we would be married someday. We weren’t even dating yet! I don’t think I had even held her hand yet at that point.

We didn’t end up actually dating one another for another decade after we first met. But we continued on as friends as her mother continued praying every combination of words, I’m sure, to get us to finally marry. But because of her mother the thought was always in my mind. I loved Deanna long before I knew I loved her and wanted to be married to her. I loved her because her mother introduced to me the idea. Once it finally hit me, it was only thirty days after we went on our first actual date that I proposed to her. Thanks to the ole’ mother-in-law and her scheming on our behalf, seeing that we would be able to love one another and take care of one another the way that we do.

In a way my mother-in-law was taking a great risk here to try to present to us the idea of marriage at such a young age. She risked looking like a crazy person if our relationship had gone awry; but it didn’t. She did some motherly scheming as an act of care and peace of mind, but it seems that she was speaking providentially when she did.

Ruth also had to take a huge risk in this passage; and so did Naomi. It was one woman looking after the best interests of another because of love and deep devotion.  And it nearly didn’t work out; there was another in line to redeem the lineage of Naomi’s dead son and husband by purchasing the estate of Elimelech, and with it the duty to marry Ruth and provide for her, as well as care for Naomi. But, it would have interfered with his own inheritance. Because of this both Naomi and Ruth are saved from a terrible future, and Ruth is blessed with a son to continue on the lineage. The house of this family continues to be built by what looks like human effort in a great and meaningful scheme to ensure a more comfortable future, but that is only the surface of the thing: the genealogy tells the greater story. We’ll come back to that in a moment.

We’ve just had a snippet from the writer of Hebrews. He speaks of the sanctuary that Christ has entered. It isn’t the holy of holies that the high priest used to enter year after year, offering sacrifices that the writer will tell us in the next chapter can never take away sins, but has entered into the presence of the Father in heaven itself. His one sacrifice of himself at the end of the age to remove sin is sufficient. The Temple and the sacrificial system was merely a copy or shadow of what God was intending to do on behalf of humanity. This system was carried out in a building built by human hands, and by priests who, even being sinful themselves and having to offer their own sacrifices for their sins, could not fully remove the issue of sin from the life of the people. But Jesus’ sacrifice does.

God used this system to prepare his people for the sacrifice of Jesus. God was working out that which we could never work out on our own. He was aiming to save our lives. Jesus came as the one with the cure that no dead person could ever give to him or herself. No amount of sacrifice by humanity on behalf of humanity could ever save humanity.

The presence of God no longer resides in the Temple built by human hands. It is present in the Church, the gathering of the saints everywhere who have received God’s Holy Spirit. This isn’t a gathering that we have forced together as a builder does with stones, but something God has done. For the Psalmist writes: “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” God has built his house in us, and choses to dwell therein.

This house is built from living stones that come from every race, gender, and class of people. In this house, built and still being built by the Lord, there is no distinction such as “Jew or Gentile, slave or free,” to recall the words of the Apostle Paul, but “we are all one in Christ Jesus.” We are one house, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, designed and built by the Lord.

I recall those words of Paul this morning because of the story of Naomi, Ruth and Boaz. Ruth was a Moabite, not a Jew. She chose to follow Naomi’s God, and, if you’ll recall the genealogy at the end of the book of Ruth, became part of Jesus’ family line. What appeared to be a scheme to secure a bright future, which is what many of our evangelistic programs and practices sometimes look like as we press forward to build up congregational numbers, was really the moving of the providence of God to save not only Ruth and Naomi, but also through the line of Ruth and Boaz to bring into the world Jesus, who redeems us.

This providence of God emerges today in the Gospel passage. Mark shares with us the story of the rich people putting their money into the treasury immediately after Jesus taught about the Scribes and their practice of making themselves look and feel good. What an object lesson here! But Jesus doesn’t stop at complaining about the self-serving nature of those whom he was observing, but he points out how it should be. The poor widow, only have two pennies to rub together and likely a pocket with holes in it that couldn’t even contain them without loss, dropped into the treasury absolutely everything she had to live on.

We have given to us here the anti-Jesus, and the pro-Jesus models of religion. One does for themselves and gives what is left over to God, consuming without regard, but the other in weakness and poverty, much like Jesus’ sharing in our humanity with all the pain and grief that comes with it, gives up everything for the sake of God’s house, God’s family, God’s chosen.

We learn from this poor widow so much about our God, whom we follow, and who has redeemed us through his son, and who blesses us to continue to build his house with living stones.  We learn that his providential care is always present in this world, even if we think we are succeeding by our own scheming and effort. Nothing we have, not one thing at all in the entirety of creation, is beyond God’s sovereignty and his providential care. In flesh he sent his son, and this son gave up everything to redeem us, even his own life.

God has always been designing something for us, that we might become part of the bride of his son, the Church. And someone told us about this wonderful man, Jesus, that we might become his bride in the Church, with all the saints scattered around the world in all places, at all times. Someone schemed on our behalf, through some sort of evangelistic method or technique, because God had already been doing the work of wooing us into his Church, to become his Temple where his Holy Spirit would dwell. And this Church has been called to bear fruit, to make new spiritual children in the faith because of God’s great love. “Children are a heritage from the Lord,” writes the Psalmist, “and the fruit of the womb is his gift.”

Let us take up this ministry given to us, and to bear children in this Church. Let us tell someone this week, this day even, of how much loves and cares for him or her, and wants to be with him or her. We cannot practice our religion in just this hour and in a few meetings throughout the week and hope that people will simply turn their lives towards Jesus Christ. As the wonderful man and faithful Bishop, Alden Hathaway used to say so often while preaching at the Parish Church of Saint Helena’s in Beaufort, SC: God does not have any spiritual grandchildren. Only children.

It is our calling, those for whom Jesus gave all he had so that this Temple of the Holy Spirit might be built, to live like this poor widow to build up Christ’s Church. It’s antithetical to much of what we understand to be prudence regarding our resources; and maybe God isn’t going to ask you to empty your IRA and put it in the plate, but I’m willing to bet that he’s going to call many of you to sacrifice your time, that most precious resource you have that you many never again recover, to share the gospel message with someone who hasn’t heard it. To invite them to the banquet with Christ. For what is evangelism other than one beggar, who we once were, telling another beggar where to find food, shelter, and a change of clothes

Take up your part in this work God is doing. Ask him to show you where and what it is that he is blessing that you might take part in this great ministry of creating new spiritual children for God. Then do it. Love someone enough that you want them to be a part of your family, the family of the redeemed, that they may spend their lives being fed and cared for by this Jesus who cares for his bride, the Church.

May the Lord himself give us a vision for ministry, and a burden for the lost, that they might become part of God’s providential story in this world with us.

In the name of God: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Archbishop Cranmer: We Will Remember Them, Won’t We?

Tomorrow the English will observe Remembrance Sunday. Although his grace writes about what is going on in England, the same thing is going on in this country. Will we be part of the problem or part of the solution?

Remembrance-Sunday-4aLife isn’t really much to lose when you’re old, but it’s an awful lot when you’re young. We don’t send the old to war: we send the young so that the rest of us can grow old, and then we can build our marble monuments and write our paper memorials to remember the glorious young dead with honour and solemnity, religiously, every year. And then the politicians come along and remove those monuments and re-write those memorials because.. well, times change and we must move on. If not this generation, it’ll be the next. Or maybe the one after that. Old enemies become friends, and old friends become enemies. Memories must be erased because good is re-evaluated and evil is turned to dusty myths.

Read it all.

St. John Chrysostom Reminds Us Who We Are

iurNothing is more frigid than a Christian who is not concerned with saving others. You cannot in this respect plead poverty; the woman who contributed her last two copper coins to the collection box will rise up to accuse you. So will Peter who said: “I have neither silver nor gold,” and Paul who was so poor that he often went hungry for lack of necessary food. Neither can you point to your humble birth: for they were also little people of the lower class. Ignorance will serve as no better excuse for you: they also were unlettered. Even if you are a slave or a fugitive, you can still do your part; such was Onesimus, and look to what he was called. And do not bring up in?rmity: Timothy was subject to frequent illness. No matter who you are, you can be useful to your neighbor if you are willing to do what you can.

Do you see how sturdy, fair, well-shaped, graceful, and magni?cent are the trees that do not bear fruit? Yet if we have occasion to possess a garden, we prefer pomegranate and olive trees ?lled with fruit. Sterile trees are there for appearance rather than utility; and if they can be useful, it is only in a very limited way. Such are those persons who consider only their own interest. And such persons do not even attain this end, for they are good only to be rejected, whereas the trees can be used to build houses. The foolish virgins had purity, grace, and modesty but they were not useful to anyone because they saw themselves rejected.

Such are also those persons who do not assuage Christ’s hunger. Note well that none of them is reproached for private sins—fornication, perjury, and the like—but only for not having been useful to others. I ask you, is someone who acts in this fashion a Christian? If the leaven mixed with the flour does not cause it to rise, is it truly leaven? If perfume does not have apleasing fragrance for those who come near, do we call it perfume?

Do not say that it is impossible to lead others into the fold, for if you are a Christian it is impossible not to do so. Indeed, if it is true that there is no contradiction in nature, what we have said is just as true, for it stems from the very nature of a Christian. If you claim that a Christian cannot be useful, you dishonor God and you behave like a liar. It is easier for light to be darkness than for a Christian not to send forth light [emphasis added]. Do not declare something impossible when it is the contrary that is impossible. Do not dishonor God.

—John Chrysostom, Homily 20 on Acts 3-4: 60, 162-164

We are Resurrection Peeps

Sermon delivered on All Saints’ Day, Year B, Sunday, November 1, 2015, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

And by all means, check out this short but excellent video on the Resurrection by Dr. Ben Witherington.

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 25.6-9; Psalm 24.1-10; Revelation 21.1-6a; John 11.32-44.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today is All Saints’ Day, where we observe and celebrate the Communion of Saints: The Church Triumphant, consisting of those Christians who have died in Christ, and the Church Militant, consisting of folks like you and me who are also in Christ and who strive to lead faithful and good lives in the power of the Spirit. Today is an appropriate time for us to stop and reflect on exactly what is our Christian hope that allows us to have such a belief in the Communion of Saints. Those of you who are familiar with my preaching know this is a topic near and dear to me, in part, because the Church in recent years has done such a terrible overall job in teaching its people sound creational theology—that creation is good and matters deeply to God, so much so that God intends to redeem it and us—and about the Christian hope of life after death. This has led to all kinds of bizarre funeral and burial practices, among others, and continues to rob Christians of real hope and power when death confronts them and they need that hope and power most. So today I want us to focus on what the NT has to say about life after death. Where are our loved ones who have died in Christ now and what is their (and our) ultimate fate?

Before we answer these questions, however, it is once again necessary for us to stop and remind ourselves exactly who God the Father is. If we labor under the false notion that God is some kind of angry tyrant who is bent on punishing us for our sins and who will gladly consign us to hell for even the smallest offense, is it any wonder that we would be fearful of our eternal fate? After all, who can measure up to a perfect and holy God? This is precisely the reason God gave Moses the sacrificial system to be used at the tent of meeting and later at the temple in Jerusalem, so that sinful people could come into the presence of a just and holy God and not die. To be sure, God hates sin and evil, and cannot be a partner with us in any way, shape, or form when we willfully sin or act evilly. But this same God who hates sin (but not sinners) has moved in a decisive way to deal with our sin. God became human and died on a cross to condemn our sin in the flesh so that God would not have to condemn us. So let us first and foremost wrap our minds around this great truth. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus because of his blood shed for us on the cross (Romans 8.1-4). Punishment for sin there will be, but not for those of us who are in Christ. This isn’t because we are somehow more special than others, but because God is who God is. Elsewhere in Romans, Paul talks about being united with Christ in our baptism so that we put off our old lifestyle and put on a new lifestyle patterned after Jesus himself. In other words, in and through the power of the Spirit we are slowly (and sometimes maddeningly) transformed into becoming just like Jesus so that our future is life, not death, precisely because he is life (Romans 5.6-11, 6.3-7). God did this because God loves us and wants us to live life as he created and intends for us to live. So for those of us who are united with Jesus in baptism and faith, there is nothing to fear in death. And if we are still worried about being punished after we die or worry that our Christian loved ones who have died are now suffering at the hands of an angry God, it says more about our lack of faith in what God has done to punish sins on the cross than it says about God’s real character.

That God takes no pleasure in the death of anyone, even evildoers (Ezekiel 18.23, 32), is poignantly and powerfully on display in our gospel lesson. We see Jesus, God the Son, confronted with the ugliness and evil of death. And let’s be clear about this. Death is the ultimate evil because it robs us of everything God created us to be. We don’t see Jesus react to Lazarus’ death by saying good riddance. Dude got what he deserved. Nice. No, the first reaction of Jesus is anger and indignation over Lazarus’ death. The Greek word for Jesus being deeply distressed can actually mean snorting like an animal. Jesus, God become man, was visibly angry twice over the death of his friend and he was going to do something about it, just like he has done something about our own future death and the death of our loved ones who have died in him.

But anger isn’t Jesus’ only emotion. Moved by the grief of those who loved Lazarus, Jesus wept too, just like we weep in our grief and loss when those we love die. Nowhere does the NT tell us that our Christian hope of eternal life makes us immune to the grief and sorrow and sense of loss that accompanies death. To make such a claim would be ludicrous and cruel. In fact, grief could almost be described as the form love takes when the object of our love is removed from us. It is love embracing an empty space. It is us kissing thin air and feeling the pain of that void. So Jesus too wept for his dead friend. And while John does not tell us this, could it be that Jesus was also weeping for himself and the death he would soon have to suffer for our sake so that we could live? If Jesus was and is the embodiment of God as we believe, here is a picture, not of an angry, vengeful God who delights in our death or in punishing us. Here is a God who created us to have a relationship with him that not even death can sever, and who has acted to ensure that our future with him is life, not death, thanks be to God!

So Jesus prays to the Father and commands Lazarus to come out of his tomb. As we watch in awe and amazement with the others, we realize we are seeing a sign and foretaste of our own future as Jesus’ people. One day Jesus will call us and our loved ones out of our graves and give us new life, just like he did for Lazarus. But unlike the raising of Lazarus, our bodies will be transformed bodies, impervious to death and sickness and disorder and all the nasty things that can afflict our mortal bodies. This is what resurrection is and what it means. By definition, without a body, there can be no resurrection. So technically speaking, Jesus resuscitated Lazarus instead of resurrecting him. But if we get lost in the technicalities, we miss the point of the story. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Those of us who believe in him will live, even though we die, and those who live and believe in him will never die (John 11.25). Resurrection isn’t a theory. It’s a person and his name is Jesus. Without Jesus, there is no hope of life, only the prospect of death.

Listen to Paul describe the nature of our promised resurrection bodies in 1 Corinthians 15 (this chapter should be a chapter we read so often we can almost commit it to memory).

So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body.

What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:

“Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” —1 Corinthians 15.42-44a, 50, 53-55.

When Paul talks about a spiritual body (pneumatikon soma), he is talking about what powers or animates or gives life to the body. Just like our physical bodies (psychikon soma) are powered and animated naturally by our bodily processes, the spiritual body Paul is talking about is powered by God’s Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead. That is what will make our new bodies patterned after Jesus’ resurrection body imperishable and that is why flesh and blood cannot inherit God’s kingdom—because God’s kingdom is imperishable and needs imperishable bodies to live in it. Whatever those bodies look like, the point is that they are bodies, not disembodied spirits floating around for all eternity. That’s a teaching from Plato, not the NT!

We will need these new bodies, of course, because our final destination is not heaven, but the new heavens and earth as both our OT and epistle lessons attest. In Isaiah there is nothing ethereal about rich foods and the finest of drinks. There is very much a physical quality to the prophet’s vision of what God will one day do for his people and the nations. But it is in John the Elder’s description of the new heavens and earth that we find the most wonderfully compelling vision of our future as God’s people in Jesus. Notice first the direction. The new Jerusalem, the place where God dwells, descends to earth and everything is made new! Previously in Revelation, all evil and the dark powers behind it, have been banished to the lake of fire so that there is nothing left in the new creation to harm God’s people as there is in God’s present creation (Revelation 19.20-21). Sin is banished. So is death and destruction and sickness and sorrow and all that bedevils us. No more is God’s dimension of heaven separated from the human dimension, earth. The two are fused together so that we get to live directly in God’s presence forever. Our memories will be healed and there will be nothing but peace and goodness and happiness for us to enjoy forever. In our epistle lesson, then, we are seeing the culmination of God’s plan to rescue and redeem his good but corrupted creation. There is very much a physicality in this vision. No disembodiment. No hanging out on the clouds playing our harps. Instead, there is only God’s new world with God living with his healed and redeemed people with our new permanent resurrection bodies. That’s why we need them in the first place. If a vision and hope like this cannot fire your imagination, invoke your praise and thanksgiving to God, and serve as real balm for your grief, I don’t know of anything on earth that can.

This, then, is the NT vision and hope for God’s people in Jesus. Resurrection. New bodies and the new heavens and earth. The end game is not dying and going to heaven but rather resurrection and a new, healed creation (cf. Romans 8.22-23)! The former notion is a form of the old gnostic heresy that pronounced things of this world bad and things of the spirit world good. Not so, says the Bible. God created his creation and us good and intends one day to undo all the damage our sin and rebellion have caused and helped cause. And we have hope in being part of that new creation all because of the love and grace and mercy of God for us made known first and foremost in Jesus Christ our Lord! Amen?

So where are our dead loved ones in Christ now? To be sure they are separated from their mortal bodies. But they are with Jesus, enjoying their rest or sleep. Sleep, BTW, is a NT euphemism for death, precisely because of our resurrection hope, which says one day we will awake from our sleep of death. It is not a denial of death or a refusal to deal with it as our culture largely does today. Back to the topic: How do we know where our loved ones are? While the NT is reticent in saying much about what happens to us when we die, it offers some clues. Paul tells the Philippians that he would much prefer to go and be with the Lord than to stay in his mortal body (Philippians 1.22-24), implying that when we die we will be conscious of being with Jesus. Otherwise, how would Paul know it is better to be with Jesus than to stay here? Likewise, in Revelation 6.9-11 we see a vision of the martyrs under God’s altar in heaven calling out to God for justice, another indication that the Christian dead are aware of where they are. And of course, the most powerful testimony is found in Luke 23.43 when Jesus tells the one criminal that today he would be with Jesus in paradise, another term for heaven. If ever we worried that we or our loved ones are going to be subject to more punishment after our death, here is the best reminder that this is not true, that Paul was correct in telling us that when we die we are free of sin (Romans 6.7). The repentant criminal had no time to make amends of his life. He simply asked Jesus for mercy and Jesus granted his request. This is made even more powerful when we remember that Jesus himself was hanging on the cross and dying for the sins of the world when he granted the criminal’s request.

So the Christian hope of life after death goes like this. When we die, we go to be with the Lord where we rest in an intermediate state. Call it heaven if you like. Call it paradise. But this is not our final destination. The new heavens and earth are. Neither is a disembodied eternity our final state. A new resurrection body patterned after Jesus is what awaits us. As Bishop Tom Wright puts it, Christians actually believe not in life after death but in life after life after death! Amen. May it be so.

In closing, we remember today those we love who have died in Christ, the Church Triumphant. They, like we, are saints, not because they were perfect or perhaps even lived particularly well. They, like we, are saints because they put their whole hope and trust in Christ who loved them like he loves us, and gave himself for them, like he has given himself for us. This is why we can rejoice today, even as we miss our beloved in Christ. This is why we have Good News to proclaim to the world, the only Good News there is to have a real hope and a future. Let us, with them, proclaim our hope and future boldly so that the world might hear and see and believe, and thereby join the Communion of Saints, now and for all eternity. What a glorious vision! To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.