Quality Over Quantity
Monday of Pentecost 5
10 July 2017
Life of great length is now being held out to humanity as a great good. I am not speaking of reaching the age of 90 with our modern routine frequency, but rather the extraordinary advances in medical technology that threaten to double or triple present life expectancy. Perhaps in a golden future we shall even be able to recapitulate the 900-year life spans of the patriarchs of Genesis (Gn 5). More years of life are thought to be a great gift to humanity. More must be better, right? Not necessarily.
All of us can think of conditions upon which a longer life would not be desirable. Would we desire to have a life of a much greater length at the cost of other persons, sucking life from them to extend our own; a technological vampire drawing life from others? Most of us would question the value of a life in which we might accept a restriction of experience in trade for great length of life. For example, we might reject the rigors of child rearing for the promise of a longer life. Even more radically, we might place ourselves into a hermetically sealed environment to avoid germs, like a "bubble boy," completely cut off from normal human discourse including human embrace. Under normal circumstances, this would be understood as a less than human experience. A golden age of unlimited life spans might turn out to be a tarnished hope.
A life of an unlimited span could easily become unbearably miserable. So it is for the fallen angels who are immortal and yet live in the misery of unending conflict with God their creator. Life's value is not defined by its length, but its connection with God the Holy Trinity through divinely wrought fellowship with our Creator in Christ. So it is for the promise of eternal life. The intense communion the faithful will experience in God's presence, not its unending length, values life eternal with Christ. When people ask, "Won't we be bored being in heaven forever?" they show a basic misunderstanding about that life, as though its major characteristic is its unending time. Nothing could be further from the truth. The quality, not the quantity, of fellowship with God tells us its worth. A short life full of Christ is a full life. A long life devoid of Christ is devoid of life.
The Bible describes blessedness in a long life in terms of the quality of that life. The promise attached to the fourth commandment (Eph 6:2), is a promise of a life full of the gifts of God, not one merely of great age. The Messiah is said to have a life prolonged by God, even though He has been cut off from the land of the living, "He shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand" (Is 53:10). In the case of the Messiah His true blessedness is defined by His willing self-sacrifice for the sake of His offspring, children who spring from the font.
Our blessedness consists in Christ. He ended our misery through His defeat of death. The perfect immortality which He Himself possesses by right we participate in by grace. Christ lowered Himself unto our mortality that we might be raised to His immortality. Through Christ we do not share the misery of the demons, with whom we share a created nature and could share a perverse immortality, but rather the immortality of perfect quality, which is Christ's to confer. Quality is better than quantity.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Augustine of Hippo

"What means shall man, who is mortal and miserable and far removed from the immortal and the blessed, choose by which he may be united to immortality and blessedness? The immortality of the demons, which might have some charm for man, is miserable. The mortality of Christ, which might offend man, exists no longer. In the one, there is the fear of an eternal misery. In the other, death, which could not be eternal, can no longer be feared, and blessedness, which is eternal, must be loved. For the immortal and miserable mediator interposes himself to prevent us from passing to a blessed immortality, because that which hinders such a passage, namely, misery, continues in him. But the mortal and blessed Mediator interposed Himself, in order that, having passed through mortality, He might of mortals make immortals (showing His power to do this in His own resurrection), and from being miserable to raise them to the blessed company from the number of whom He had Himself never departed. There is, then, a wicked mediator, who separates friends, and a good Mediator, who reconciles enemies. And those who separate are many, because the multitude of the blessed are blessed only by their participation in the one God, of which participation the evil angels being deprived are wretched, and interpose to hinder rather than to help to this blessedness. By their very number they prevent us from reaching that one beatific good, which to obtain we need not many but one Mediator, the uncreated Word of God, by whom all things were made, and in partaking of whom we are blessed.
"I do not say that He is Mediator because He is the Word, for as the Word He is supremely blessed and supremely immortal, and therefore far from miserable mortals. But He is Mediator as He is man, for by His humanity He shows us that, in order to obtain that blessed and beatific good, we need not seek other mediators to lead us through the successive steps of this attainment. But that the blessed and adorable God, having Himself become a partaker of our humanity, has afforded us ready access to the participation of His divinity. For in delivering us from our mortality and misery, He does not lead us to the immortal and blessed angels, so that we should become immortal and blessed by participating in their nature. He leads us straight to that Trinity, by participating in which the angels themselves are blessed. Therefore, when He chose to be in the form of a servant, and lower than the angels, that He might be our Mediator, He remained higher than the angels, in the form of God, Himself at once the way of life on earth and life itself in heaven."

Augustine, The City of God, 9.15
Hebrews 1:1-14

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. 
 For to which of the angels did God ever say, "You are my Son, today I have begotten you"? Or again, "I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son"? And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, "Let all God's angels worship him." Of the angels he says, "He makes his angels winds, and his ministers a flame of fire." But of the Son he says, "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions." And, "You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end." And to which of the angels has he ever said, "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet"? Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation? (ESV)
Lord Christ, You became lower than the angels that You might raise us to share fellowship with You forever. Help us to love that fellowship so passionately that we cannot help but share it with those who know not perfect blessedness in You. Amen.

For Pastor Ian Pacey, who has declined a call to be pastor of West Portal Lutheran Church, San Francisco, CA, in thanksgiving to God and that the Lord of the church would be with and encourage the people of West Portal
For Pr. Robert and Amy Paul and children, who have arrived in Houston, as Pr. Paul takes up his post as Headmaster of Memorial Lutheran School, that the Lord would give them much joy in settling into a new home
For the people of Syria who are suffering violence, that Christ would quell the murdering madness by placing all things in His compassionate hands
For the catechumens of Memorial Lutheran Church, that they would continue to grow in grace until the day the Lord brings them into His kingdom by baptism
Art: Albrecht DURER,  The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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