The Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 25)
11 November 2007
A Sermon Preached by the Rev'd Dr Andrew C. Blume
O God, whose blessed Son was manifested that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us the children of God and heirs of eternal life: Grant us, we beseech thee, that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves even as he is pure; that, when he shall appear again with power and great glory, we may be made like unto him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where with thee, O Father, and thee, O Holy Ghost, he liveth and reigneth ever, one God, world without end. Amen.
Although there are only a few weeks left before we begin a new liturgical year on Advent Sunday, I wanted to share with you all some of my reflections on the Gospel of Luke. This text, which we have been reading most Sundays since last Advent Sunday, is, I believe, particularly important for those of us who make the city our home. I think it is also especially appropriate to talk about Luke and his intended audience on the Sunday when we begin our Stewardship Campaign for 2008.
Most of us believe that Luke was himself an educated, upper-middle class resident of one of the urban centres of the Eastern Mediterranean, perhaps Antioch (home of our own patron, Ignatius). Tradition, of course, holds that Luke was a physician. There is, however, really no evidence to support (or disallow) this claim. We do know that he could write decent Greek—better than either Mark or Matthew—and that he wrote a two volume history of the church—now divided in our Bibles into the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. We know that he intended this work to be marketable, salable in the bookshops of the Roman Empire because each volume is the conventional length of a scroll. Written in good Greek and available in bookshops, the Gospel of Luke was written, therefore, for people not unlike ourselves—an educated, urban audience that read widely.
Luke’s parables, the choices he makes about examples, and his characters also tell us that he was trying to connect with people of privilege—either educational or economic. He spoke of lawyers, landowners, kings, and merchants because he was speaking to professional people, people in business, and community leaders. As I discussed two weeks ago, Luke would speak to people in ways that connected their own life experience to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Good News that God had acted in history and shown that Love was that towards which we must move. It was in this way that Luke spoke to urban elites and shared the Gospel with them. As my wife once put it, he is trying to help people with privilege be good, to use all the gifts that have been given to them in accordance with God’s purposes.
All his stories about wealth and power, and about how people abused them, are not intended to romanticise poverty—far from it. Rather he was calling those with something to give—whatever that may be—to account; to call them to convert, which means to turn their lives, towards fulfilling the great commandment to love God and love our neighbours. Luke believed that what happened on earth, in time, mattered. Luke believed that what people did with their money and with their education and in their labours and with their bodies mattered. It matters to him, it should matter to us, and it absolutely matters to God.
In a funny way, that is what the story from today’s Gospel is about. On the face of it, it seems like one of those stories in which the Sadducees—who did not believe in the Resurrection of the body (as the Pharisees did)—are trying to trick Jesus into making some crazy pronouncement about the Law or make some wild theological claim. They ask him how does the law that requires the brother of a man who has died to marry that man’s widow jibe with the possibility of the resurrection of the dead? If this woman has married all these men in turn whose wife will she be in the end when all are raised on the Last Day? We all know that this is an absurd question, one of those seemingly childish “what ifs” that reduce any argument to ruins, but Jesus neither tells them that they are being silly, nor does he give them a casuistical, clever answer. Rather, he tells them plainly that marriage is a fact of human life. It is what people do, tacitly acknowledging the Law. At the same time, he tells them that in the Resurrection these petty squabbles about the law no longer matter, that in the resurrection there is new life and new relationship, Our human relationships will be changed in the resurrection in ways that we can not know so that it really does not matter who stands next to whom in the great Group Photo in Heaven. What will happen to us in the end will happen and God will take care of all this.
What we need to worry about is what we do in the here and now, for “he is not God of the dead, but of the living; for all live to him.” “Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living; for all live to him.” All of us who are living, all the creatures of the earth, live in relationship with God. It matters to God what happens in our lives, it matters to God how we live and how we treat each other. When we die, we will also be in relationship with God, but it will have been too late for us to worry about what we did whilst we lived, whilst we had the opportunity to serve God and each other in our human, mortal, imperfect bodies. This frail and flawed life of ours matters to God and this is why life is Good. In our bodies we have the opportunity to serve and love and care for each other and in doing so serve and love and care for and about God.
In our lives, we have been given much, and I am not talking about money or privilege. We have been given all the tools to Love. We have been given all our senses and set in relationship with others and with creation. We have been given the responsibility of having our senses and of being set in relationship with others and with creation. We have been given the freedom to choose what we are to do. This is the part of the Gift that shows that God truly made us in His image and likeness. Every day we have the choice and if we mess up, we always have the chance to try again the next time. This is the part of the Gift that shows us how much God loves us,
When we recognise how much we have been given and remember, as Luke also tells us, “every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required” (Luke 12:48), we need to make some choices about how we use these gifts. This choosing should be, in fact, part of our spiritual practice and not something about which a priest reminds you once a year when it is time to pass the hat. A part of each of our Christian practice, our working at living in relationship with God in Christ, with the God who loves us so much, each and every one of us should be thinking about how we are to use our resources rightly, how we may support with those gifts that we have been given—love, time, talent, education, and, yes, our money—those things that matter to us and that matter to God. This parish church, I am discovering, is a wonderful and supportive community that seeks to show forth God’s beauty and love into our City. This parish church is a place where people may come and be touched in a visceral, corporeal way, by God’s love as shown in the beauty of our worship and music and in the love and fellowship of our brothers and sisters in Christ. This parish church is important to you, it is important in the life of our city, and it is important to God, and I pray that each and every one of us will earnestly pray how we may best and most fully support the work that goes on here, may support the and brighten the love that emanates from this corner of Eighty-seventh Street and West End Avenue.
Andrew Charles Blume+
Willibrord, Archbishop of Utrecht, 7 November 2007
©2007 Andrew Charles Blume