Last Monday my mom would have been eighty-four. Using Joshua’s phrase, she went the “way of all earth” in 2003. I miss her—though I know she is in the arms of the One whom death can no longer touch. Before that, my wife lost her father in 2002 and then her step-mother in 2007. It’s been a tough decade.
Most of us have lost someone we love; and all of us eventually face—though reluctantly—the end of our own lives. Richard John Neuhaus wrote, “we are born toward death, and in each of our lives the work of dying is already underway.” Most of us work very hard to keep death’s shadow distant. I’m not speaking in the positive sense of staying safe and healthy. Rather I’m referring to how we deny and fear death.
Yet, as we will see in today’s readings, not everyone fears going “the way of all earth.”
INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS
Joshua 22:21-23:16. Joshua is making final preparations for Israel before his death. Unlike when Moses died, God has provided no new leader. So, Joshua concentrates on getting each tribe its inheritance and reminding them of their need to follow God and of God’s faithfulness. They are to be “very strong.” This strength is not in military might but rather in obedience to God.
Luke 20:27-47. The Sadducces and the Pharisees represented two different political, theological, and philosophical viewpoints. Both groups based their lives on the Law (the first five books of the Bible). But their interpretations varied vastly. The Sadduccees leaned more toward the belief we call “materialism” today. That means they largely believed only in the material world they could see and explain. Thus they didn’t believe in resurrection. What they had in common with the Pharisees—and us—is that they go to complicated lengths to prove their own view of life and struggle grasping God’s view.
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THE WORD MADE FRESH:
In the movie “Places in the Heart” Sally Field plays Edna Spalding whose husband is killed. It’s 1935 and Edna locked in undeniable grief lays her husband’s body on the dining room table to prepare him for burial. Eventually his coffin takes up the front room. No hospital, no funeral home, no distance. How gruesome. How real. How beautiful.
I must confess I prefer death, and other of life’s difficulties, keep its distance, in hospitals and funeral homes. But it seems our modern distance from death may have disabled us when dealing with it. Has this distance kept us from thinking about and understanding death, and life as well, especially from God’s point of view? I believe it has.
I would love to be able to face death with the nonchalance and faith Joshua did. But to do so I would have to, as Joshua did, walk with the reality of death—and God—in daily life. No easy task.
Jesus explains to the Sadduccees that death is not final and therefore life is more than putting time on the clock. God “is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.” Jesus claims that through him life can overshadow death. Turning Neuhaus’ phrase upside down, the work of living, not dying, should always be underway. Last Monday, in what we call life, my mom would have been eighty-four. In what we call death Jesus pronounces her ageless.
- What did you see and hear in today’s reading?
- Are there any links between these four readings?
- What other is God calling you to be strong in obedience to?
- How has God been there for you in your times of loss?
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Eugene Scott co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado.