|Published by Josh Hosler on Sun, Nov 10, 2019 2:45 PM|
sermon preached at Church of the Good Shepherd, Federal Way, WA
by the Rev. Josh Hosler, Rector
The Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 27C), November 10, 2019
Haggai 1:15b-2:9; Psalm 98; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17; Luke 20:27-38
Over the past three weeks, I’ve told you that building A Place to Belong requires Justice, Humility, and Inclusivity. Now we’re on the fourth and final week of our annual pledge drive, so it’s time for part four of this sermon series. We’ll get there through the lens of today’s gospel reading.
The resurrection of the dead was a fairly new idea in Jesus’ time. Jesus shared a belief in resurrection with the Pharisees, but another Jewish group called the Sadducees disagreed. They thought resurrection was an untrustworthy, new-fangled, pie-in-the-sky notion. Why should anything happen to us beyond the grave? Do we have any evidence of this?
So today the Sadducees saddle Jesus with a ridiculous straw man argument involving one bride for seven brothers, and they challenge him to defend it. Once the story’s characters have died and they’re all living together in this resurrected life Jesus speaks of, whose wife will the woman be? Well?
Actually, though, maybe they have a point, and you don’t need seven consecutive spouses for it. It could apply to anyone who is widowed just once and remarries. Whose spouse will you be in the afterlife? Have you ever wondered about that? But the nature of marriage is not Jesus’ concern here, and neither is the nature of resurrection, really. He knows he’s dealing with people who aren’t arguing in good faith.
It’s like if an atheist were to ask you to defend your belief in an invisible imaginary daddy in the sky who grants you wishes and zaps people with lightning bolts, and who tells you that if you score enough goodness points then someday you’ll get to walk in Birkenstocks while playing a harp and singing hymns with eighteen verses in a cloudy place that will remain exactly the same level of boring forever and ever. There’s so much wrong with the way the challenge is even framed that you know it’s better to unplug than to engage. But Jesus engages. Maybe he’s learned from his fisherman friends that sometimes you can take the bait and not get hooked.
First, Jesus calls out their nonsense. Like a flustered Jedi master, he opens with, “Everything you just said was wrong.” Whatever you think resurrection looks like, it doesn’t look like that. For one thing, in the resurrection the woman won’t be the property of any man at all. But what matters most is that death has no power over God.
Jesus makes his point by a clever appeal to Scripture. He remembers that God said to Moses from the fire of the burning bush, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Well, by Moses’ time, all three of those guys had been dead for hundreds of years. Yet God also saw fit to lead living, enslaved people out of Egypt. In Jesus’ time, all of Moses’ generation were long dead, not to mention all the prophets of old. Yet if God is their God—the God of the living—and God is also the God of the old, revered patriarchs, and of Moses, and of the prophets, and of Jesus—then surely we and they are all in the same boat. God is the God of all of us, of every generation at once.
So forget all those weak, pop-culture stories about heaven. Whatever resurrection really is, it’s way better than anything you have yet experienced.
It’s one thing for Jesus to talk about resurrection. But for Christians, thanks to Jesus, our entire faith is built on it. We claim that Jesus came back from the grave to usher in resurrection for us and for all creation. We put our trust in Jesus, who we understand to be the resurrection and the life for the entire cosmos. By what right do we claim this?
I think most Christians limit their understanding of resurrection to something like the Sadducees’ version: the continuation of our life, on a timeline, beyond death, in a different form. There’s nothing wrong with believing in this. But is that all that resurrection is? If so, then no wonder so few people want to play with us. Even if you don’t think it sounds like mere wishful thinking, you don’t have to be part of a church to believe that you’ll go to heaven when you die. What’s wrong with just believing it privately and doing whatever you want with your Sunday mornings?
Besides, if resurrection is only for after we die, plenty of straw-man arguments begin to clamor for our attention. What’s to keep you from committing murder all your life and then repenting on your deathbed, huh? If God is always forgiving of everyone, then why would it ever matter what we do? If heaven is the consolation for those who suffer now, then why should we even worry about their suffering? These are all real questions I have been asked … but they depend on a terribly unimaginative notion of resurrection!
So what’s really important here? What was Jesus trying to express when he answered the Sadducees? What matters is that death has no power over God. Because we are created beings, God has access to all of us, at every time in history, all the time. And not only that, but since we are all connected to God in this way, we are also connected with each other. Our home is with God because, as we hear in the Revelation to John, “the home of God is among mortals.” We don’t have to go to God; God comes to us.
Oh yeah? Well, can you prove it?
No, I can’t—I can only build on logic and reason and on the hunches of a great many peers and predecessors. And that means it’s time for the fourth piece of the puzzle: Trust. A Place to Belong is built on Justice, Humility, Inclusivity, and Trust.
First comes Justice. God has given us everything we need, so when there are some who have while others don’t, it’s on us to fix it. And a lot more of that than we’re comfortable with has to do with money. This is why economics and politics and diplomacy are spiritual issues: we can’t achieve justice without them. And no place can truly be A Place to Belong unless it’s clear that we’re at least striving for equity for all.
Second is Humility. We don’t have all the answers. We don’t get to control everything and everyone, and this makes us afraid. But love is worthier and more reliable than fear. We can shore up our own safe little worlds, but this is arrogance and is subject to God’s judgment. Humility is the opposite: We are a small but indispensable part of a world that runs on love.
Third is Inclusivity. Since we are all works in progress and none of the stories of the living are yet finished, we are to let the weeds grow among the wheat. We are to figure out how best to welcome everyone placed in our path, that we may seek and serve Christ, who is at work in them. We are to let grace and forgiveness bloom in our communities.
And finally, we come to part four: Trust. Life is hard. God set up the world to make pain possible, and just maybe we can forgive God for that when we cultivate trust. Trust is a lot to ask of creatures who never asked to be here in the first place. It’s a lot to ask of creatures to whom God has never given clear, undeniable instructions that would be interpreted the same way by every one of them.
Trust is a lot for God to ask of us, and it’s a lot for us to ask of each other. Nevertheless, God asks for our trust, and with God’s grace and with practice, sometimes we find that we do have some after all. In fact, it turns out that trust is a worthwhile human endeavor. Despite our natural inclination toward fear and suspicion, a surprising amount of trust really does happen in life. Better yet, even broken trust can be met with surprising occurrences of grace and forgiveness. We know that the strongest and best of our human relationships are the ones that have endured hardship. Where there has been betrayal and forgiveness, relationship can be strengthened—whereas easy friendships don’t tend to run very deep.
So trust justice. Trust humility. Trust inclusivity. Trust becomes possible through God at work in us, God who gives us strength and courage. God whispers that it will be worth it, in ways we can’t see now. All this pain will pale in comparison with the joy God desires for us—not just beyond the grave, but in this life, right now. Can we trust in this promise together?
In Christianity, we believe that God has sent us a definitive sign to inspire our trust: the resurrection of the dead. And we don’t only find it in an isolated, hard-to-believe story from two thousand years ago—it’s happening all around us right now. When a seed sprouts into a plant, that is resurrection power. When people are suddenly, surprisingly transformed, that is resurrection power. When people are slowly, quietly, haltingly transformed, two steps forward and one step back, all the while upheld by patient, loving people, that is also resurrection power. When we catch ourselves loving people not only despite their faults, but because of them, that is resurrection power. When we set aside self-interest and self-protection for the sake of protecting the interests of others, that is resurrection power.
And when we lose all that we held dear and feel that we can’t go on, that is resurrection power, too, because trust is all that remains to us. A helpless baby can only trust, even when trust seems unwarranted. The same thing happens to us even as we grow. When we are empty and dry, trust may be our only path toward wholeness. And when finally faced with death, we can only trust and fall into God’s arms.
So let’s make Good Shepherd a place for Trust—a place to try, and fail, and be forgiven—a place to reach out in vulnerability and to be received with gentleness. Let’s do justice, love mercy, walk humbly, include others, and trust that this is indeed a Place to Belong on the Way of Love. Amen.