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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Do you believe in the Resurrection?

“In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be?”Luke 20:27-38
XXIV Pentecost
November 11, 2007
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul
(the Rev’d) Elizabeth Kaeton
rector and pastor

Do you believe in the resurrection?

There is a story told about a certain bishop of England who once declared that he did not believe in the resurrection. When news of this spread to a certain seminary, the young men there were deeply troubled. The more they discussed this heresy, the more anxious they became.

Finally, a large group of them stormed the Dean’s office and implored of him, “Good sir, a bishop in the church has said he does not believe in the resurrection. Whatever will happen to the church?”

The seminary dean, a man made wise by years of careful study of the human enterprise of faith and belief, took a few puffs on his sweet-smelling pipe and said, “Not to worry, men. One day, that bishop, too, shall die.”

Do you believe in the resurrection?

This is the question behind the seemingly ridiculous question which lands offensively sexist on post modern ears.

Can you believe that religious men, men who have been given the sacred trust of the holy lives of the people of God should concern themselves with the minutia entangled in their question? Well, believe it. Religious men – and women – still do. Some are even in The Episcopal Church.

You can almost see a smile come across the lips of Jesus as he answers their question. Look, he seems to say, once you’re dead, everything is different. You don’t have to worry about whether or not people will marry once they die and are resurrected.

Well, the exact words of Jesus are: “Once your are dead, you cannot die anymore,” (Duh!), because, he says, “they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.”

The idea of an afterlife has caught the imagination of countless generations of people. Poets and writers have written volumes about how they see life after death. Some have written with the same painstaking attention to detail as expressed in the question asked by the Sadducees.

That fascination continues today. There are lots and lots of television shows which feature people who are clairvoyant or ‘mediums’ who can communicate with the dead, and an entire section of this writing at Borders or Barnes and Nobel book stores.

As a pastor who has worked in a variety of settings, there is an amazing consistency to the questions I am asked, despite social or geographical location, race, ethnicity, or age. I have always gotten questions about what happens after we die. It makes no difference the age of the person asking the question. Grown men and women ask me the exact same question posed by a 5 year old: “Do you think there is a heaven? Is there a hell? What happens after we die?”

Do you believe in the resurrection?

Writer Robert Fulghum tells a humorous story about baptism and the afterlife in his book “What On Earth Have I Done?” A good Unitarian Universalist, he talks about both baptism and resurrection in terms of ‘metaphor.’

That’s okay. I think there’s much to be said about employing metaphor as the defense of the intellect against the depth of mystery. It’s the difference, I think, between faith and belief.

Fulghum has spent a great deal of time in Greece – in Crete, to be exact – a place he first discovered when his wife (who is a doctor) was doing a medical residency there. He has formed warm relationships with the people there, even being asked to weddings and funerals, and yes, to ooh and ah over the newest born citizens of Crete at their baptism in the Greek Orthodox church.

He writes of his observation of that very elaborate ritual: “I speak as an insider. Once upon a time, I was baptized. According to the rules of the church of my childhood. Not sprinkled like the Methodists as if you were going to be ironed. Not just dipped in an indoor pool for the sake of convenience. Baptized according to scripture – outdoors in a river, following the example of John the Baptist and Jesus.”

“My mother was a serious Southern Baptist. And her cousin from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, urged her to take no chances and do it right. The cousin, it seems, was a “Two-seed-in-the-spirit, Foot Washing, Flowing Water Baptist.” When she sang the old hymn, “Shall We Gather at the River,” it wasn’t about a picnic.”

“The summer I was twelve, dressed in white shirt and pants, I was properly baptized in the Brazos River – more formally named by the Mexicans, “Brazos de Dios” – the Arms of God. My mother was pleased. I was not."

"I was scared. My uncle Roscoe had told me to stay out of the river because there were alligators and poisonous snakes in it. But I lived. Was thereby “saved”. And was told I would therefore be going to heaven. When I tell the Greeks about my baptism, they are impressed. Like I’ve got a platinum membership card. An insurance policy that can’t be canceled.”

“I don’t’ believe one can save one’s soul. I don’t know what that means,” writes Fulghum. “I believe one can only live one’s life, saving nothing, spending it well. But it’s comforting to have my after-life contingencies covered."

"And. If it should prove to be the case that there is a heaven and I go, I imagine my mother pointing me out in the great golden hall. “Look, there’s my boy, Bobby Lee! He may have lost his mind when he grew up, but he was properly baptized and so he gets to sit very close to the front. The dippers and the sprinklers and child-washers are way back there – up in the bleachers.”

Fulghum has a belief about resurrection. And, that’s fine. What Jesus calls us to is faith in the resurrection. There’s a difference between being called into believing something particular about what we can’t know and the solace one receives from faith. Belief satisfies the mind. Faith comforts the soul. While they are distinct, I happen to believe that you don’t have to give up one in service of the other.

Ultimately, what I believe about what happens in life after death and the resurrection matters little to anyone else but me. My faith, however, matters a great deal to my soul and the souls of those whom God has given me to tend and feed. And, what I believe about the resurrection has everything to do with the faith I have about the resurrection.

Our Bread of Life Stewardship asks us to consider the question: What do you do with all that you have after you say, ‘I believe.’ Belief is what you do with your intellect. Faith is what you do with your life. We can talk about what you believe. I want to know about your faith.

I’ll let Fulghum have the last word, not because I believe what he believes, but because what he articulates about his belief is, well, universal enough to satisfy my faith. Our Eucharistic prayer reminds us that “life does not end, it changes.” Fulghum says, “The great Law of the Conservation of Matter and Energy says nothing is ever lost. Everything is saved. Everything comes and goes. It only changes form.”

Now, aren’t you glad that our Eucharistic theology can be proven by a law of science? While I believe it to be true, that fact has little or nothing to do with the faith I have in the Eucharist.

He writes: “Don’t get me wrong. Baptism is a serious spiritual ritual. No disrespect intended. As a metaphor for reawakening, it can be meaningful if it makes you think about keeping your path on this earth a righteous one. And that’s a good thing, no matter which religious club you join. There are many ways. Some wet. Some dry. Some lost. Some found. And if the Way works for you and for the common weal, then do it.”

Fulghum ends with these words: “Water is essential to life. As is earth, and energy. We exist in the flow of the mud and light. That I believe.”

Now, whether or not he wants to admit it, there is a man of faith.

Do you believe in the resurrection? Ah, but do you also have faith? Amen.

1 comment:

Jim said...

I am a tribal person. That comes from my Rom heritage. And I suspect it means that I understand tribal folks better than you nice Christians in the villages. (That is how my grandma distinguished between us: the folk of the wagons and the nice Christians in the villages.)

Bedouin say they are the 'faithful of Allah.' They do not mean they 'have faith' in the sense of a set of beliefs. Rather they do faithful things. Rom be they Christian or followers of the Mother, tend towards the same perspective in my experience.

So, in one sense, I do not understand faith. I am not sure I even have one. I am however, to the best of my ability, faithful. I fail at times, but I keep getting up and trying again.

Do I believe in the resurrection you ask. Hmmm... I believe in it the way Paul described it. Which is NOT the way the fundamentalists tend to think of it. I believe I guess in doing the kingdom and letting God take care of the next world until God tells me to get busy in it.

Does that make me orthodox? Not in Nigeria I am sure, but I think in terms of what Paul wrote, before the Gospels were written, I think it will do.


"Never trust the nice Christians in the villages Jamie, they are always afraid and looking for someone to blame." Grandma.