Sunday, November 10, 2013

25 Pentecost

November 10, 2013

Luke 20.27-38

+ Lately, I have been in some strange mood. Well, stranger mood than usual.  Anyway, I have been downsizing considerably lately. I realized one day that I had too many books. It’s a good problem to have, I know.  But I realized I need to start going through and cutting back. I sometimes do this.

I start feeling at times before I do downsizing as though I am some kind of hoarder.  I just have more books than I will ever read or re-read. It’s a good problem.

Well, some of the books I ended up shedding were some of those theologians I was reared on.  I have, as of this morning, commended them to a very safe home—to very own Cathy McMullen.

One of the theologians I have commended to Cathy is a theologian who captured my imagination in my twenties—John Shelby Spong, the former Episcopal Bishop of Newark, New Jersey.  One of the first books of his I read in my twenties was called Resurrection: Myth or Reality? I don’t think I’m giving the end away by saying that Bishop Spong’s answer to that question was: Myth.

Bishop Spong believed that there was no resurrection—rather that whatever resurrection one believed in was purely metaphorical.  Yes, Jesus died on the cross.  Yes, he lives on among those of who believe in him. But there was no bodily resurrection.

In fact, in this book, Spong asserts his belief that Jesus’ body was probably taken down from the cross and given to the dogs to feed on. The tomb is empty, Spong said. But not because of any supernatural events. The tomb is empty and Jesus is not here because he was never there in the first place.

Certainly the Sadducees in our Gospel reading today viewed the Resurrection of the body in a similar way. Now, to give them credit, the Sadducees were smooth and they were smart. They knew how to present a sly argument without being blatant. And they did believe that by bringing up the resurrection, they would show Jesus to be the fool and the charlatan.

For the Sadducees, the resurrection of the body was a fairy tale.  It was something gullible people hoped in. It was absurd and ridiculous.

I’m not, of course, saying Bishop Spong sees it as absurd and ridiculous. He does not. But he does not see it as a litmus test for our faith in Christ.

But there are some circles in the Church, for whom belief in the Resurrection is a litmus test for one’s orthodoxy. I know of a former parishioner who later joined the Eastern Orthodox Church over his belief in the Resurrection.  He refused to receive Communion from priests whom he knew did not believe in the Resurrection of Jesus.  In fact, one of the first questions he would ask a new priest when he would meet them is: So what do you believe regarding the Resurrection? I luckily passed that test, but many other priests did not.

So, what do we believe about the resurrection? Certainly we profess our collective faith in this every Sunday in the Creed. But have we really thought about it?

Well, of course,  one of the best places to look when we are our examining our faith is, of course, our trust Catechism, found in the back of the Book of Common Prayer. So, let’s take a looksee at what the Prayer Book says about the resurrection. If you will take your Prayer books and turn to page 862. There we find that question:

What do we mean by the resurrection of the body?
The answer:
We mean that God will raise us from death in the fullness of our being, that we may live with Christ in the communion of the saints.

I love that definition of resurrection. God will raise us up in the fullness of our being, that we live with Christ and the saints. I think the imagery of that sort is beautiful and at least helps us to wrap our minds around the resurrection.  But I also believe that our understanding of such things allows for a certain freedom of movement.

I often use the image of jazz to explain what it is we believe. In jazz, there is a certain musical structure one has to abide by. There’s a frame work, shall we say.  Within that framework, a jazz musician has the freedom to do many things. But they still have to stay within that basic framework.

I feel the same way about our faith as Christians. The Creeds, scripture, even a definition from our Catechism such as this helps form that very basic framework.

But, when we start becoming too specific, we start losing something of the beauty of our faith.  We lose the purity and the poetry of our faith.  When we start trying to examine too closely how the resurrection will happen and when it will happen and how a pile of bones or cremated remains or a body destroyed in the sea can be resurrected into another body, we find ourselves derailed.

What we do know, however is that what the resurrection promises is raising up in the fullness of our being.  The whole basis of what Jesus is getting at in today’s Gospel, in this discourse on marriage, is that the resurrection is , as the great theologian Reginald Fuller said, not “a prolongation of our present life, but a new mode of existence.”
 We will still be us, it seems from what Jesus is saying, but we will be living into that fullness of our being—with a different understanding of what it means to be alive.  Issues like marriage will no longer be an issue.

Now some of us might despair at that fact.  We want to know that when we awake into the fullness of our being, into that resurrected life, we will have our families there, our spouses and our loved ones. I have no doubt that our loved ones will be there, but it seems that it will be different. We will have a truly fulfilled and complete relationship with all of our loved ones, and also with those who we may not have loved.

What this leads us to is, at the same time, a glimpse of the freedom that we will gain at the resurrection. Just as some things such as marriage will no longer be an issue, all those other issue we are dealing with now in our lives and in the church will also no longer be with us. The issues that divide us as a church, as a community—issues of sexuality or differing religious views or race or culture, will all be done away with at the resurrection.

And these bodies too will be done away with as well.  These bodies that will fail us and betray us—these bodies that will die on us and be buried or be burned will no longer be a part of who we are anymore. We will, at the resurrection, be made whole and complete and perfect, in Christ, who is perfect.

The reason we know this is because the God we serve—the God we have gathered together to worship this morning, is not a God of the dying bodies we have with us now. The God we serve and worship is a God of the living.  When Jesus identifies God as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, he is saying that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are alive and that their God is the God of the living—the God of us who, because of Christ, will not die.

So, Resurrection is important to us. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.  Resurrection is so important to us, despite what the Sadducees in our midst tell us. Resurrection is essential to our faith, because in it we have met and faced death. Death no longer has control over it. It longer has any power in our lives. The power and strength of death has been defeated in the resurrection. In the resurrection, we have the almost audacious ability to say, at the grave, that power-packed word of life: Alleluia.

So, let us ignore the Sadducees in our midst—those glitzy, smooth voices of supposed reason that lull us into believing that the resurrection is a fantasy. Resist any voices that wrestle hope away from us. Because it is our faith in the resurrection that will truly sustain us in those moments of doubt and despair, in those moments when death and darkness seem to have won out, when our hope has waned.  For our God is not a God of the dead, but of the living. Our God is a God of life.   And only in life can we fully and truly serve our living God.


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