Living God, burning wild and unconfined, you call us to a new being, free from the fear of death: take away the limits that bind our imagination and choke our compassion that we may feel your pleasure in all that brings us life; through Jesus Christ, risen and ascended. Amen. (Prayers for an Inclusive Church by Steven Shakespeare)
At any given point in time, I think all of us have one burning question we’d like to ask God. When we are infants, the question might be “Why strained peas? Why strained carrots?”
As we grow older, our God questions grow and change with us. Children’s questions about the world around them might include “Why is the sky blue?” “Do dogs go to heaven?” “Are angels boys or girls?”
As we approach adolescence, our questions change. Innocence is often lost and questions about life and death begin to appear. “Why does everyone hate me at school?” “Why do I look the way I do?” “Where are you God, and why do bad things happen?” Often, in our teens we begin to stop asking God questions; and by adulthood, we learn to figure out how the world works (supposedly) understanding there are scientific answers for many of the simpler questions we had asked earlier in our lives.
But those existential questions still remain. “Who am I? Where do I fit in the world? How can I pass on what I am? Was it worth it?”
We grow from a magical world to one that is literal, then multi-faceted, then critical until finally, hopefully, it becomes transparent. We grow from knowing God as a parent, the creator, Jesus, a judge, a friend, a savior, to a blending of all these things with the hope that God is the center of all being.
Many of our questions come down to what we don’t know about ourselves and what is to come. And our faith is often shaken when we can’t find answers or what we have been told turns out not to be true.
Our readings today remind us of the times when we need to hold fast to our faith and trust in the unfailing presence and abundant promises of God.
We hear this in the visions of Haggai. We are reminded of them in Paul’s second letter to the Christians in Thessalonica. Through the action of the Holy Spirit we are made holy with a saving faith. And receiving the good news of Christ, we have a responsibility to hold fast to the traditions we have been given and to continue to live our lives according to Jesus’ example. Even when we have questions. Because we have questions.
Our gospel readings over the past few weeks have focused on Jesus being asked questions – from his disciples, from the Pharisees, and today from the Sadducees. These guys are the power brokers. They are no-nonsense literalists: if it’s not written down in the Law and the prophets, then it’s not true. The Sadducees know Jesus has been teaching about resurrection. They also know that the word resurrection is nowhere to be found in the law and the prophets. So resurrection cannot be true, and they have a sure-fire trap to prove their case.
The Sadducees ask Jesus a question based on a reality they do not even believe.
If a woman is legally married to seven different men in this life, which one will be her legal husband in the resurrected life?
In his reply, Jesus distinguishes between two ages and two kinds of existence. Mortals are part of this world by physical birth and part of the age to come by resurrection. Relationships are different in the age to come, where there is no death.
Lots of our questions, from childhood through adulthood, are often juxtaposed between the meaning of life and what happens after our earthly life as we know it. We ask for deeper understanding of things we do not actually believe are understandable.
For me, the past few weeks have been surrounded by death and the promise of this resurrection that Jesus speaks about. My dad passed away on October 18th, and we celebrated his life at my home parish on All Saints Day evening. He was 89-years-old and had been ill, but fought death up until his last breath. And he was someone who had planned as much as he could of what would happen after his death. He had prepaid his funeral arrangements, he had written his obituary. He had even chosen all the hymns for his memorial service. But I got to choose the readings – from Ecclesiasticus and Revelation – readings about visions, and angels, and praising those who have come before us, and what is to come for all of us.
While we remembered his life, we also focused on the living. The living memories he left with us, the living memories in the generations to come as exhibited by his grandchildren, and the great-grandchildren of his deceased brother who were present, scampering around the back of the church. For God is a God of the living and all people, those who now live and those who have lived before us, live in God.
We focused on new life. While my father’s ashes were interred, he was not present. My faith gives me hope that he is now transformed into a completely different, unimagined state of being. He is glimpsing what the reign of God will be like. Whether he is a transfigured personality like that of an angel, I’m not so sure, but he is where there is no weeping, pain, or sorrow. As Luke says, “Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection” (Luke 20:36).
For we are all children of the resurrection. I am reminded that on more than one occasion Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven belongs to children. Children ask questions, real, genuine questions – no ifs, ands, or buts. They can be more insistent that Sadducees and Pharisees. While these two powerful groups in Jesus’ time were simply trying to trip Jesus up, children ask questions because they really are hoping for answers. Children ask questions because they know that God is a mysterious adventure waiting to be explored. The kingdom of heaven belongs to children because children ask children’s questions. As adults we sometimes ask childish questions, instead of the wondering questions that never had the “correct” answer. We ask for more faith, more trust, more hope – yet often times disbelieve they are truly possible.
When we are honest with ourselves we are honest with God. And God gives us an assurance that whatever may come, whatever life brings, nothing can separate us from the love of God. Whatever questions we may ask – whether it be about life or about death, what we need to remember is that it’s not answers that we need. We need only to become children again, and find our home in the loving arms of God.
We believe in God’s mercy and love – generally speaking. But in the particular stories of our lives, and the life of the world, we tend to act out of our disbelief. Jesus reminds us that God is God – not of the dead but of the living. Resurrection is simply the nature of who God is, and will never be understood when we have anti-resurrection minds (like the Sadducees).
Children of the resurrection are God’s own children who share in God’s eternal life. As one of the scribes declares in the verse that we didn’t hear that immediately follows the end of our Gospel reading, “Teacher, you have spoken well” (Luke 20:39), and they dared question him no more.
As Paul has written: “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Parent, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word” (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17). Amen.
A sermon preached at Church of the Good Shepherd, Lexington, Kentucky on November 10, 2013.