Friday, November 22, 2019

Children of the Resurrection

Proper 27C | November 10, 2019 | 7:30 a.m.
A sermon preached at All Saints Church in Pasadena

None of us can really know what happens after we die until we get there ... that’s part of the "mystery of faith" we proclaim.  But that doesn't stop us from wondering.

In the Gospel this morning Jesus is in Jerusalem teaching in the Temple. 

Our All Saints mission statement includes the phrase "following a revolutionary Jesus" and being a revolutionary -- running up against the protectors of the status quo -- is one of the hallmarks of Jesus' ministry. And in today's Gospel he runs into the Sadducees.

The Sadducees were a Jewish that disagreed with their cousins the Pharisees about a lot of things -- but one thing they both agreed on was that neither one of them liked what this radical rabbi from Nazareth was saying.

The Sadducees were a conservative, politically powerful cohort of religious leaders, wealthy men who mostly hold themselves to be superior to the common folk and were focused on the practices at the Temple. And -- germane to our Gospel today -- they don’t believe in resurrection at all.

So it’s no surprise that they show up to question Jesus while he’s teaching. And it's no surprise that they’re out to trip Jesus up.

And not for the first time we hear undertones of impatience as Jesus continues to contend with those who keep missing the point of what he's running out of time to teach them.

And the point is that Jesus is offering them a different way of seeing things: of seeing things as a child of the resurrection.

Last week we gathered for our parish feast day: the Feast of All Saints -- remembering those who have left their mortal bodies and our physical company, those whom we grieve and miss: opening our hearts to admit our pain and loss for those we love and see no more -- even while celebrating our hope and faith in the love of God that is greater than death.

To hold both grief and hope at the same time is the central paradox and fulcrum of the resurrection life we live as followers of the revolutionary Jesus.

And on this twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost in this year of our Lord 2019 ... two days away from the start of Impeachment Hearings on Capitol Hill and 360 days until the next presidential election ... I also believe we are grieving a deep societal sense of loss in our nation.  The raised tensions, the assaults on the rule of law and constitutional protections that have arguably been aspirational yet served as the guard rails for our fragile democracy, the veiled and not so veiled threats; the anger, polarization and division ... well, I could go on and on.

It’s a whole different kind of death.

The German theologian Dorothee Soelle wrote more than 30 years ago about how we can be living and dead all at the same time. Soelle says “Death is what takes place with us when we look upon others not as gift, blessing, or stimulus, but as threat, danger, competition. It is the death that comes to all who try to live by bread alone.”  It is not, she says “the final departure we usually think of when we speak of death; it is that purposeless, empty existence devoid of human relationships and filled with anxiety, silence, and loneliness.”

We all know that sort of death. We learn it in our earliest days and most of us – ironically – live with that sort of death for all of our days.

What does it mean for us to choose life in the face of that kind of death?  Jesus tells the Sadducees that they just don’t get it. They are thinking of life and death in wholly mortal terms. They are holding so literally to such a small vision that they are missing not only the bigger picture but the treasure of God’s love promised through the resurrection.

Jesus says that it’s really a whole different thing. The resurrection life is not just getting some version of your old life back. Nor is resurrection the same thing as immortality. This is not just a question of what happens to your physical body after you die.

My favorite Easter card puts it this way: "The great Easter truth is not that we are going to live newly after death, but that we are to be new here and now by the power of the resurrection."

We can’t know what happens after our bodies die. We know that people live on in our hearts and our memories. We know that they live on through their influences on us, in the ways that they have shaped our lives -- and I think this morning in  particular of the influence of Rabbi Marv Gross ... whose influence through his work at Union Station is a legacy that will continue to give life long after his untimely death this week.

We hear that assurance of Jesus last line in this passage – God is the God of the living – and to God all are living.

But what does it mean for us in this moment to live as a child of the resurrection?  How does the experience of Jesus, this example of Jesus-  live on through you? And how do you bear witness to the resurrection in your experience of others?

For us in this moment, in this time and this place, to live as a child of the resurrection is not a matter of physical life and physical death. It is to be transformed by the witness of Jesus and to live anew in that spirit. It is to be transformed by the Incarnational Jesus’ words and deeds.

It is a rejection of the death-dealing of this world. It is moving from death into new life. It is the realization that nothing, not even death, can separate us from the love of God.

And because of that, because of the constant presence of God and constant love of God  for us as living children of the resurrection, the constant challenge to us is to allow that love to flow through us and out into the world.

Our practice of love in this world must be modeled on God’s love for us and it is active and engaged and ever-oriented toward justice and mercy for all God’s children and for this beautiful earth.

We know that we are surrounded by death. We are surrounded by polarization. We live enmeshed in a system that devalues human life and destroys the earth. We are soaked in fear until it seeps into our pores. We are taught to hate. We are robbed of our trust.

But through the love of God and the example of Jesus, we can move from death to life as children of the resurrection.

The lectionary passage leaves off the concluding two verses of this episode. Those versus are 39-40 and they read: Then some of the scribes answered, ‘Teacher, you have spoken well. For they no longer dared to ask him another question.”

Some of these folks heard Jesus. Sounds like some of them were transformed by his words and his witness. And the others at least realized they’d come up against a force to be reckoned with.

My brothers, sister and gender fluid siblings, living into the promise of resurrection will make you a force to be reckoned with. Not in the conventional ways of the world of smack downs and verbal violence. Not in the competitive market of unchecked consumption. But in bearing the heart of God, the force of justice, the sacred sense of compassion, and a deep vision for a better world right here and right now.

Our world needs that kind of spiritual force. It needs it today. It needs it on Wednesday. It needs it on Thursday. And it needs it each day going forward.

And the question before us this day is are we prepared to live that way? And are we prepared to help each other live that way?


Portions of this sermon inspired by and adapted from "Child of the Resurrection" by Jennifer Sanders: 11-6-2016

No comments: