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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Dead or Alive

 
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Dead or Alive (Luke 20:27-38)
A Sermon by the Rev’d Dr. Elizabeth Kaeton
All Saint’s Episcopal Church, Rehoboth Beach, DE
November 10, 2013 – Proper 27C

Prayer (sung) “When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing there will be! When we all see Jesus, we’ll sing and shout the victory.” In the name of Our Risen Lord. Amen.

Well, you'll excuse me for bursting into song like that. It’s just that, when I’m wrestling with the Gospel – or, some of the characters in the Gospel – I sometimes have to sing an old, old hymn in order to stay focused on the Gospel message.

I don’t know whether to be annoyed or amused by the Sadducees in this morning’s Gospel story. They are the very definition of tedious. One of my friends from Texas says that "you can always tell a tedious person because they actually enjoy separating fly poop from pepper".

Isn't that just like a Sadducee?

As you may recall, both the Sadducees and the Pharisees were religious parties in Jesus' day. Both were critical of and were criticized by Jesus.

But, since the Gospel mentions them today, let’s focus briefly on the Sadducees. They thought of themselves as  the "conservatives” of their day. I think of them as the “fundamentalists” of their time. They accepted only the written Law of Moses as authoritative and rejected subsequent revelation.

As a result, the Sadducees denied many of the doctrines held by the Pharisees and by Jesus, including the resurrection of the dead, the existence of angels and spirits, and the meting out of rewards and punishment after death (heaven and hell). Although a religious party, the Sadducees were more important as a political force.

Is this beginning to sound even vaguely familiar? Who said, “The more things change, the more they stay the same”? And, just as the fundamentalists of our day are overly concerned – even obsessed – with all things pertaining to sex and sexuality, so too were the Sadducees – the fundamentalists of antiquity.

In this morning’s gospel, we are privy to the first time the Sadducees have come before Jesus to ask a question. Let me point out that this is Chapter 20 of Luke’s gospel. Just to put this in context, let’s briefly review Luke’s gospel to this point.

Let’s set aside the rumors about his birth and his baptism which take up the first couple of chapters of Luke’s gospel, certainly caused a stir. The first time we hear that Jesus is causing a buzz in the community is in Chapter 4 when Jesus, “full of the Holy Spirit”, returns to Galilee and preaches his first sermon back in his old hometown synagogue. That sermon, by the way, got so many people so filled with wrath, they rose up and chased him out of the city and threatened to throw him over a cliff to his death.

Then, he went to Capernaum where he went to another synagogue and healed a man with an unclean spirit and healed Simon’s mother-in-law of a fever. He ended the day by healing “multitudes” of people who proclaimed, “You are the Son of God!” That’s just the first 4 chapters.

By chapter 5, Jesus has healed a man with leprosy and even the Pharisees had come out to see the man from Galilee heal a man so crippled by infirmities he had to be lowered in from the roof.

That was the Pharisees. But not the Sadducees. Oh, no. They are nowhere to be seen. They are, no doubt, in the Temple, praying. Like all good pious people should. But, Jesus goes on preaching and teaching, healing and performing miracles, attracting disciples and believers and causing quite a buzz.

Finally, in Chapter 20 (TWENTY!), the Sadducees make their appearance. Which is more than annoying. I mean, you might think they would have ask him something – SOMEthing – about the miracles of healing or the precepts of his teaching. No, here’s what they ask:

"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. Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her."

Honest to Pete! Really? Seriously? Are you kidding me?

I tried to imagine one of the disciples reporting this scene using a Twitter account. I imagine their “tweet” might go something like, “Tedious! All these boyz want to know is which husband will be first in line to have sex with his wife when they are in heaven. SMH (that’s Twitter talk for Shake My Head). #unbelievable. #sexobsessed #bostonredsoxrule.” (Oh, no, wait. That last one was my tweet! Sorry.)

Jesus sets them all straight – but it’s more than 16 characters, so it wouldn’t fit in a Tweet. He brushes aside the foolishness of their tedious question and makes it absolutely clear what he thinks about the resurrection and angels and spirits as well as rewards and punishments.

Jesus says, “Now God is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to God all of them are alive."

That’s not only a great Tweet, that’s the sermon. That’s it, right there.

To God, whether we are alive or dead, we are always alive in the Lord of Life. The God we worship, the God to whom we sing praises and hymns, the God to whom we offer our prayers and supplications -  that God loves us, dead or alive.

As a Hospice Chaplain, that’s probably the one thing I hear myself saying over and over again to my Hospice patients and their families. That’s because the one thing Hospice patients are concerned with – in addition to what will actually happen to them, physically, when they die, and whether or not there will be any pain – is this: What will happen after I die?

In that way, we share the same concern with the ancient Sadducees and Pharisees. We want to know if there is life after this life. We want to know if there really is a heaven and hell. We want to be reassured that we’ll see our loved ones after we die – if we’ll all be together again in that great by-and-by.

And, I tell them the truth: I don’t know. No one knows, really. I only know what I choose to believe. And, I believe the teachings of Jesus who says, “Now God is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to God all of them are alive."

I tell them that they don’t have to believe what I believe, but if they don’t know what to believe, then believe in my belief and that will give them the hope they need. As author Annie Lamott writes, “Hope is not about proving anything. It's about choosing to believe this one thing, that love is bigger than any grim, bleak stuff (actually, she says 'shit') anyone can throw at us.”

You know, I don’t believe God cares two figs about who we married or how many times we married or if we were celibate or sexually active. I believe God cares whether or not we loved one another, and tried to love each other as God loves us.

Dead or alive, God loves us. That’s what I believe. That’s because I believe that God’s love is unconditional. That’s a great mystery to me. God loves me as much as God loves you. And, God loves the Sadducees and the Pharisees as much as God loves the disciples.

I know, right? How can that be? God loves Jerry Falwell as much as God loves Mother Theresa? Why, yes. I believe God does. God loves Gandhi as much as God loves Desmond Tutu? My answer would be an unequivocal and resounding “Yes!”.

Oh, but wait! There's more. You mean, God even loves that foul-mouthed, drunken old coot of an Uncle Arnold and his tedious, persnickety wife Mabel who will be at Thanksgiving Dinner again this year? My answer is “Yes, and not only that, but you better get ready because Uncle Arnold and Aunt Mabel will also be with you in heaven.”

Oh, noooooo!?!?!?

Oh, yeeessssss!!!!!!!

I know, right? When I began to really enter and explore the great mystery of God’s love for me – broken, foolish sinner that I am – I also came to the realization that if God could love one such as me, then God loved everyone. Even people I don’t like very much.

I was doing okay with that for awhile, until I realized that God loved them so much that they were going to go to heaven, too. In fact, like it or not, we were all going to be together in heaven one day. 

Even people I don’t like. Even people who don’t like me.

Wait a minute! How crazy is that? See also: The Great Mystery of God’s love.

As Annie Lamott writes, “You can safely assume you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”

That’s when I realized that I had to learn how to forgive. That holding on to grudges was killing me, and killing my soul. In many ways, I had so much pent up anger that my soul was already dead.  As I learned from one very wise friend in a 12-Step program, “Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.” 

Wen I started to learn how to forgive, I learned to live. And yet, here’s what I learned: dead or alive, God still loved me. That opened my heart to love myself and others.

I think the Psalmist must have been thinking of that Great Mystery of God’s love when she or he wrote down the psalm we heard this morning:

Sing to the LORD a new song, *
                                    for he has done marvelous things

Shout with joy to the LORD, all you lands; *
                                    lift up your voice, rejoice, and sing.

When you are confronted with the Great Mystery of God’s Love, there’s really only one thing you can do. Love God and all of God’s creation right back. And that makes you want to sing a new song and shout it out with joy.

Which is why, whenever I find myself in the midst of tedious people, like the Sadducees we encountered in this morning’s gospel. Or, with people who tell me I’m going to hell because of who and how I love. Or, with people who take what they believe and use it to pass judgment on others, telling them with absolute certainty who will get to heaven and who will go to hell.

In that moment, I find myself humming that great old Gospel hymn. And, I find my heart softens and my anger melts. I just imagine being with them in heaven. Both of us perfect. Both of us healed.  Both of us now knowing The Truth. Both of us standing in the radiance of such amazing, divine Love that nothing else matters any more. Not who was married to whom  or how many times they were married or how they prayed.

It won’t matter who you loved. All that will matter is that you loved.

And, dead or alive, God loves you.  And, isn’t that absolutely amazing?

So, I leave you with this thought and this song. It works for me. I hope it works for you the next time you have to deal with a tedious, judgmental person.

“While we walk the pilgrim pathway, clouds will overspread the sky; but when traveling days are over, not a shadow, not a sigh.”

“When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be. When we all see Jesus, we’ll sing and shout the victory!”

Somebody in the church give me an Amen.

10 comments:

Kay+ said...

Fabulous sermon, and "When We All Get To Heaven" is a fabulous bonus - one of my favorite hymns from my fundamentalist past!

whiteycat said...

Great sermon, Elizabeth! Definitely filled with truth and so life giving.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hi, Kay,

Thanks. I love taking something - anything - that was intended as fundamentalists and give it the widest possible, unintended, application. Tee hee.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Whiteycat,

My favorite part of the sermon was when the 10 o'clockers - all 125 of them - starting singing with me.

Made my eyes sweat.

Jim said...

What a wonderful way to take the edge off of someone's fundamentalist sword.

Thanks for it.

FWIW
jimB

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I'm sure that wasn't the original intention of the lyrics, but it IS wonderful to co-opt them for expansion in the opposite way that fundgelicals co-opt scripture for their narrow purposes.

Martie Collins said...

Wonderful sermon!

Thank you.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Martie.

George Waite said...

I don't believe in any of it.
Why you do is anyone's guess.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

You don't have to, George.