Proper 27c, November 10, 2013

November 11, 2013

Some Things Do Change
Luke 20:27-38

27 Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him 28 and asked him a question, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; 30 then the second 31 and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. 32 Finally the woman also died. 33 In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.” 34 Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; 35 but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. 36 Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. 37 And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. 38 Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”

Barbara Brown Taylor is a gifted Episcopalian preacher, writer and educator. She tells the story of a parishioner she once knew who had been diagnosed with a terminal form of cancer. While this woman only had months to live her husband died very suddenly from a massive heart attack. While at the graveside, a well-meaning friend attempted to console her by saying, at least you’ll be together again soon. After the service, Rev. Taylor dropped by her house where the woman broke down in tears and said, I’m never going to get away from him, am I?

I don’t know what Barbara Brown Taylor said in response to her despair, but I’m sure it was some reassurance that she would not continue to endure whatever pain that relationship brought into her life. I don’t understand much about the resurrection, but if there is any truth to it – which I believe there is – I don’t believe we will suffer the same pains in the world to come that we experience in this one. Some things will change!

Jesus had enough to say about the resurrection to keep the Sadducees from asking him any more questions, but I wish he would have said a little bit more about it. Jesus didn’t shy away from this question that was generated in an attempt to make him look foolish. He didn’t back away from his clear belief that our relationship with God continues after death, but he didn’t define it as clearly as I wish he had.

Of course a lack of understanding can be a good thing. If we knew too much we might bypass some of the places we go in life that aren’t necessarily easy or pleasant, but that contribute to the process of refining our souls and softening our hearts. If we knew too much we might avoid stepping in to situations that cause us to exercise creativity and to make new friends.

I can tell you I really didn’t know what I was stepping in to when I agreed to help build a life-size model of an isolation cell. You probably have no idea what an isolation cell is, but there are nearly 600 of them at the Super-Max prison complex down at Varner, and it’s a cell that many prisoners spend years within. Some students at Philander Smith College are trying to bring attention to the cruel and inhuman nature of these cells, and to do that they decided to build a life-size model of one. They needed some help on the project, and my name came up as a person who has been known to build unusual things.

We haven’t finished this project, but it’s due to be unveiled on Nov. 21st, and I’m committed to making that happen. As I say, I don’t know that I would have done this if I had known how little I understood about how to do this, but it has put me in touch with some great young people, and it has also been an interesting engineering project. We’ve all learned a few things in the process, and I hope it will bring some good attention to a bad problem.

I think the Sadducees represent people who are much too comfortable with their understanding and their position in life. They had an enterprise that adequately provided for their self-serving needs, and they had an understanding of ultimate reality that justified their self-absorbed lives. The Sadducees were the priests who ran the Temple in Jerusalem, and they ran it like a business. It was their tables that Jesus would later turn over, and you might say he did it because he was more comfortable with the life to come than he was with life as it was currently operated.

Believing in the resurrection can cause great disruption to life as we know it. Jesus didn’t go in to detail in regard to what it will look like, but I don’t think we should let that get in the way of our actions to support what we hope it will be. I’m not saying we should turn the concept of the resurrection in to anything we want it to be. Just because you believe something doesn’t make it real, but I think Jesus wanted us to live with trust in the power of God to extend our lives beyond death, and I think that has a lot of bearing on how we live our lives now.

I don’t think we should use our trust in the resurrection to keep us from searching for as much meaning and joy and satisfaction as we can in this world, but our belief in the resurrecting power of God should inform all of the ways in which we pursue those experiences in this world. Of course I’m not willing to define what I mean by this very clearly. I can tell you, I struggle to find meaning, joy, and satisfaction in this life and my belief in the resurrection doesn’t give me a whole lot of guidance.

If I truly trust in the resurrection of life how much attention do I need to give to this body I currently occupy – and more-so to my house and my career. What does it look like to live with trust in the resurrection of life? The most immediate answer I have to that is that I don’t know, but I think it has something to do with embracing all the ways in which we see life emerging in this world. It isn’t easy to define the life-giving realities of this world, but we often know them when we encounter them.

I think we know when we are serving life and when we are doing damage to life. But we don’t always know. I was feeling so calm and well rested when I arrived at work last Monday morning. That fall time change makes it so much easier to get up for a day or two. I had gotten our stewardship letters out on the previous Friday. I had taken last Sunday off, and as I say, I was feeling pretty good when I got to the church last Monday. I poured some hot water in my coffee cup to get last week’s stain off of it. I went to the door that opens in to the alley behind the church to toss it out, and I encountered a man laying on a blanket smoking a cigarette surrounded by a weekend’s worth of junk food trash and cigarette butts and I exploded.

I didn’t treat him with what you generally think of as pastoral care. Honestly, I don’t know what I should have done. I had told him on the previous Friday he couldn’t sleep at the top of our steps near our office door, and he had taken that to mean he could stay on our back steps. I feel bad that he didn’t have a better place to stay than our steps, but I felt like I had been very clear that sleeping on our steps was not acceptable. It may well be that my passionate display of displeasure with the mess he had created was a message he needed to get and a bit of a wakeup call to move in a better direction. But it could also be that I screamed at a child of God who really doesn’t understand how to navigate this world and who runs in to inhospitality everywhere he goes.

This world is a messy place. And in many ways it’s hard to find ways to serve life. It’s always a good thing to be kind to children, but after that it’s hard to know what the rules really are for people who seek to serve life. We often stumble in to doing the right things, and we can do the wrong thing while seeking to do something right. The person who tried to comfort the terminally ill woman who’s husband just died with the assurance they would be together again soon had no idea what kind of terror that generated in her heart.

The good news is that the resurrection is not in our hands to botch or to stifle. We can get in the way of life being served in this world, but we can’t stop God from doing what God wills to do for all of us in the life to come. Some things never seem to change in this world. Institutions expand in bad ways and support for vulnerable people shrinks. I can find a lot of fault in the people I know who are in leadership positions, but I also know that I struggle to know how best to seek and serve the fragments of life that are available to me.

Gratefully, we have these stories of Jesus to help guide us in the direction of life, and we have the Holy Spirit to help us understand how we can best serve in God’s life giving ways. This world is not entirely ordered by God, and unfortunately there are these things that never seem to change – within our own lives and within this world, but those things do not have control over God’s ultimate design for life.

Some things do change. The forces of death and destruction do not have the last say. The people who are in charge of this world are not in charge of the next one. The things that are most valued in this world are not in the next. The failures that haunt us in this world will not be there in the next. The people who torment us in this world will not play that role in the next, but I trust that the people who love us now will continue to love us in the world to come..

The message is good. Jesus didn’t just tell us to trust in the resurrection. He actually did trust in it. He didn’t step away from losing his life, and we continue to be touched by the way in which the resurrected Christ is alive and in our midst.
And thanks be to God for that!


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