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All Saints' B 2009

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Theme: God’s purpose for us is life

Let us pray.

Most holy, Lord God, we give you thanks and praise for your continual blessings of the saints; we are saints by virtue of our baptism, bless us and keep us this day and always, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Keith Wagner shares his views of blessings. “The problem with our society is that we don't understand the power or the dynamics of giving a blessing. We underestimate its power and we are not in the habit of giving empathy. Few people are tuned in to your feelings of rejection. Most ignore them completely. Many simply ‘stuff’ them, hoping that they will go away. We are a people that want to fix or problem solve.

“We want answers and a rational explanation for everything that happens. Or, we believe that hard work and discipline will make everything turn out right. Do you think that the skier that crashed on the ski slope was not disciplined? Did he deserve to slip and fail because he didn't work hard enough?

“I heard a story this past week that illustrates how our society treats personal rejection. A man with a critical illness was lying in a hospital bed, desperately wanting some word of encouragement. A nurse said to him, ‘you just need to work harder.’ This man had undergone multiple surgeries and is critically ill. What he needed was a ‘blessing.’ What the skier who crashed on the slope needed was a blessing.”

No matter how hard life can be. No matter what befalls us, we all need blessings. We need blessings by other people. We need to remind ourselves that we are always blessed by God. In this life and the next, we are blessed by God. After all, we are the saints of God. Our reading from the Wisdom of Solomon describes God’s abiding blessing.

It is and was traditional to attribute biblical wisdom literature to Solomon, though in many respects Solomon was not very wise. The apocryphal book, The Wisdom of Solomon, was not written by Solomon. Scholars are not sure of the year of authorship, but it was sometime after Egypt was annexed into the Roman Empire (30 BC) to the late first century AD. One prominent scholar places the writing of the book during the reign of Caligula (roughly 39 AD). It is written by an unknown Jew living in Alexandria.

Though the early chapters of the Wisdom of Solomon may be in response to the riots against the Jews of Alexandria, we can look at chapter three in a more generic way. There are obviously two sides at work here: the righteous and the foolish. The author is on the side of the righteous and offers comfort for the righteous, who in spite of their righteousness, have and are suffering greatly.

This is in a way, a postscript to the Job readings we have heard the past few weeks. Bad things happen to good people, but God will bless the righteous.

This is how chapter three begins. The righteous are protected by God and they will not be tormented. We might say, “Yeah, but righteous people do get tormented and God doesn’t protect them.” That’s not what this is saying. What it is saying is that the dead are with God and they cannot be hurt again.

The foolish, on the other hand, think the righteous are dead and that their lives meant nothing. But unknown to the foolish, they are at peace. Why are the righteous at peace in death? As long as they were alive, the righteous warred with their evil impulses. In death, they rest from this internal conflict.

Even though they appear to be punished, they have immortal hope. Job’s so-called friends thought Job was being punished for his sins. Yet, Job was the most righteous person on earth. Job had a hope of justification, if not in his lifetime, then in the next life. Job knew his friends were wrong. Job knew he was a good person. Like Job, the righteous will be tested and they will receive a great reward.

The righteous are tried as gold is tried. It wasn’t just the Jews who thought like this. Seneca, the Roman philosopher wrote, “Fire test gold, misfortune brave men. . . . God does not make a spoiled pet of a good man, he tests him, hardens him, and fits him for his own service.”

It was common in inter-testamental Judaism to see an early, unexpected punishment from God as a sign of righteousness. Maybe it was seen as a divine smack to keep us in check. But those not favored by God, such as anyone who persecuted Jews, they will get theirs in the end and it will be a sudden and total devastation. This thought is repeated in 1 Peter 1:6 and 5:10.

The righteous are also tried like a sacrificial burnt offering. It is this kind of thinking that connected Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross with the Jewish sacrificial cult. Just as God is appeased and pleased through the sacrifice of animals on the temple altar, so was Jesus’ sacrifice made to end our estrangement with God. In the same way, the righteous are found accepted by God. But through Jesus, we don’t need to undergo such a test. We are found acceptable by God already.

The righteous will blaze forth like sparks in stubble. Sparks in stubble creates a fire, as we in California know all to well. But, I think, all of us have seen sparks fly into the air when the logs in a fire are moved around. This is the imagery used here. Pre-Christian Jewish apocalyptic saw themselves as a star-like future of righteousness, as seen in Daniel, 1 Enoch, and other writings. Sparks from a fire do look like a miniature night sky.

The righteous will govern the nations of the earth, with God as king or emperor. In Daniel, “. . . judgment will come to the saints and they will possess the kingdom” (Daniel 7:22). This verse from Daniel is almost repeated verbatim in Matthew, 1 Corinthians, and Revelation.

Those who trust in God will receive true understanding. They will live with God in a state of love. God will give them grace and compassion. God will visit his chosen ones.

Life is not defined by death. Death is not divine judgment. God created us for life eternal. Our destiny is to be in righteous relationship with God and with one another. God does not instigate suffering. God desires to work with us through suffering. Mercy and love are God’s gifts to us in this life and in the next. The foolish are blind to God’s desire for creation. Creation is designed for life with God.

And we, who are baptized, are called saints. And as saints, we inherit an eternal place with God with grace and mercy.

We now pray: Gracious God and giver of all good gifts, thank you for the gift of grace, through which we receive your loving presence in good times and in bad times, may we also reflect your grace in how we deal with others, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Text: Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9 (NRSV)
3     But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,

and no torment will ever touch them.

2     In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died,

and their departure was thought to be a disaster,

3     and their going from us to be their destruction;

but they are at peace.

4     For though in the sight of others they were punished,

their hope is full of immortality.

5     Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good,

because God tested them and found them worthy of himself;

6     like gold in the furnace he tried them,

and like a sacrificial burnt offering he accepted them.

7     In the time of their visitation they will shine forth,

and will run like sparks through the stubble.

8     They will govern nations and rule over peoples,

and the Lord will reign over them forever.

9     Those who trust in him will understand truth,

and the faithful will abide with him in love,

because grace and mercy are upon his holy ones,

and he watches over his elect.a[1]


a  Text of this line uncertain; omitted by some ancient authorities. Compare 4:15

[1]  The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. 1989. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

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