A Sermon by The Rev’d Adrian Stephens
Jesus shared human flesh and blood “so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.” Hebrews 2.14-15
This reading reminds me of the ancient understanding that people had of death. In the book, Odysseus, there is terrifying description of Hades. It is a place where people wander in isolation. The wounds with which they have died continue to cause pain and bleed. There is no peace or comfort, there is only isolation. It is from this image that we discover our understanding of hell.
In ancient times the primary goal of life was to create something during earthly life for which we will be remembered. This grows from the understanding that there is nothing more to come. Death is death and it is eternal. Such was the understanding that drove people to great lengths to leave something tangible behind. It also drove the desire to produce a son so that the name would continue to be spoken and remembered.
Underlying this community understanding of death was a great fear of death itself. For them there was no promise of more life to come. There was no gift of eternal life to bring them courage and understanding. Death became for them an eternal nothing.
Death for us is very different. Thanks to the life, passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we approach death from a very different understanding. We accept that the timing of death can be terribly inconvenient, but death itself is not something to be feared. We know that we will miss the family and friends that we leave behind, and friends and family will miss us terribly when we go. But we carry with us that great hope of eternal life. For us death is not the end, but in many ways is an exciting and new beginning.
The strength of this belief is founded on our faith in God, through Christ. There is a distinction made between belonging to a religion, believing the teaching of that religion; and having faith in God. Faith in God will always be more powerful in our lives than our belief in a religious structure and compliance with the inherent rules and regulations.
We find this distinction to be very clear in the life of Job. In the reading today Job is having something of a bad day. “Let the day perish in which I was born”. “Why did I not die at birth, come forth from the womb and expire?” He then elaborates on his depressive feelings.That sounds like a very bad day to me. He is exhibiting all the signs of depression and hopelessness.
The bottom line for Job is that through all of his difficulties and problems; even though he has spent seven days sitting in ashes and dressed in sackcloth; his faith in God never fails. His constant cry is “Why?” in crying out the “Why?” it is evident that he is asking the question of God. A God in whom Job has great faith.
His wife tells him to give up on God. His friends attempt to console him. They begin with a gentle approach and eventually their contribution just dissipates. They are obviously at a loss as to how they will raise Job’s spirit. They discover that there is nothing they can do that seems to help. No doubt their presence helps; their concern and compassion helps; but their words are hollow and unhelpful.
In all this experience Job remains faithful to God. We recall that when things were going well with Job, and he had no problems, and life prospered, the devil pointed out that believing in God was easy under such circumstances. Job does not know suffering and his every need is met. The inference is that God ensures that Job’s life is good and that he never suffers. The devil suggests that if Job were to suffer, his faith would collapse.
The reality is that the faith that Job held did not waver. He suffered terribly with sores on his skin and poverty in life. But, even in suffering his faith held strong.
This raises several matters for us to consider. The first is that in life there will be suffering and joy. The suffering may well test our faith. There are plenty of people who demand to know why a God of love would allow all the suffering around the world. Why does God allow wars and violence? Our questions of “Why” will reflect the call of Job. Why is this happening?
The reality is that in life people will suffer, some more than others. This is not in any way a test of our faith implemented by God. These things happen and we may well suffer. It is our faith in God that will give us the strength to persevere. It is unfortunate that the times when we need God the most are often the times when we will turn away. Our faith in God is the one factor that will raise us above the difficulties in this life. It will not take our problems away, but our faith will give us the strength to overcome.
This does raise another point made in the readings today. The reality is that when Jesus died on that cross and rose to life in the resurrection, he defeated both death and the devil. The devil has absolutely no power over our lives. the devil has been defeated by God. Even in the conclusion of the book of Job we see Job raised from suffering, and depression, to joy and fulfilment. In the strength of faith Job overcame the difficulties that were a part of his life for a time.
I have said it before and I say it again, when someone does something offensive and then claims that the devil made them do it, they are very mistaken. The devil cannot make us do anything. What the devil can do is tempt us. Remember that the devil is described in scripture as a liar, as deceitful, and many other less than charitable things. Importantly he is also described as defeated. He has no real power over the lives of people.
Today we rejoice in the presence of God giving thanks that we are no longer slaves of a fear of death; and we are certainly not controlled by the devil.
Let us give thanks to God for all the blessings we have received and for the strength and courage we have in our daily lives. Praise God.