The Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost
10 November 2013
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.
Throughout the Gospels, in each of them, in fact, we hear stories of people trying to trick Jesus into saying things that could get him into trouble. Over and over again, various individuals and groups seek to question Jesus about this issue or that one, this technical aspect of Jewish law or that. Today’s Gospel is one such instance.
The Sadducees, a Jewish sect active in Jesus’ day, one of whose beliefs (in opposition to the Pharisees) denied the resurrection of the body after death, seem to want to trip Jesus up. If Jesus believes in the resurrection of the body, they wonder, then how does the Jewish law about widows marrying their late husband’s brother(s) work? If a woman has had several husbands in turn during her lifetime, in the resurrection, whose wife is she? It is a logical question if you follow the logic of the law coupled with a belief in resurrection. It is also an absurd question, meant to make belief in the resurrection look foolish or implausible.
At first it seems that Jesus will answer their question at face value. He acknowledges the importance and reality of marriage and affirms his belief in the resurrection. Just as quickly, however, he begins to turn the question on its head. As soon as he acknowledges that the children “of this age marry and are given in marriage,” he states categorically that at the resurrection such matters are no longer important, as all are “equal to angels and are sons [and daughters, I might add] of God, being sons [and daughters] of the resurrection.” What Jesus says next is even more subversive.
Rather than further trivialise our human lives and relationships in the light of the resurrection, rather than say that even in the here and now only heavenly things matter, he completely up-ends the Sadducees initial question. After all this talk about death and resurrection, after saying that in the resurrection marriage does not matter—or at least that the identity of the person to whom you had been married is not a significant issue—Jesus makes this stark pronouncement: “Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living; for all live to him.” In the end, Jesus has told the Sadducees that their trick question missed wide of the mark, that it was completely beside the point. Yes, Jesus came up with an answer to their question about marriage and the resurrection, but it is purely academic, if you will. What really matters, Jesus tells them, is what we do now. The real answer to the question is suggesting to them that they should get their heads out of the clouds—out of their law books and other-worldly trick questions—and focus upon the living, in the here and now, because this is what God really cares about, because this is what really matters, this is what really matters to God.
I have been talking for a couple of months about the earthy quality of our Christian spirituality. I have been reminding us how the matter and occasions of creation have importance and show us, are revelatory of, the divine. We are called to pay attention to the stuff of the world. We are not called to lives detached from this reality and focus upon heavenly matters. While Christians are called to spiritual lives of detachment, the detachment to which we are called leads us back to caring profoundly about what happens in the world. Detachment, as my old friend Pierre Teilhard de Chardin suggested, is not the path out of the world into the self. It is not walling ourselves off from others and ignoring what is unfolding in the here and now, suggesting that these things are unimportant in the face of the Eternal. Real detachment is seeing that the occasions of the world—material possessions, the things we do, our relationships—point us towards that which is really important. The material world, seen rightly, shows us God, shows us Love. Each occasion, especially each creature, has value and is an expression into time and space of Divine Love, an expression of the image and likeness of God. Weeks ago I preached: “We know that we are indeed called to spiritual things, into the heart of God, of Love itself, and that that call summons us back into the heart of creation, into the thick of life, into the midst of the City and that our call is to serve God, serve the cause of Love.” This is the God of the living, not of the dead.
Focussing on obscure points about the law and wondering about what comes next after our earthly pilgrimage are certainly interesting matters to consider. They are not, however, the object or focus of our life’s energies. We are called into the thick of life to cooperate with the God of the living in doing God’s works of love.
This parish church exists so that those called to the worship of the God of Love can gather and be turned into the very body of Christ. We exist to energise and empower, to inspire our ministry, our Christian ministry in our several vocations. We are here, I am here, to build up the Body of Christ and equip the saints, equip you and me, for the work of ministry. We need those of us who consider this church to be our parish home to put the matter of our lives to the service of our common life and its work as the body of Christ incarnate in this place. We need you to make your commitment to the work we are doing together, especially for the service of those not already a part of our community, At this time of year we ask you to make your annual pledge of financial support for the coming year so we can prepare a budget and ensure the continuity of our work together.
The matter of life ... matters. What we do with our resources, with our talents and skills makes a difference. It shows us what we believe. In another Gospel, Jesus tells his friends, “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Those places, Jesus tells us, in which we invest our resources show us, show the world, what matters to us. It is a significant decision how to invest our time, talent, and treasure, and one that is revelatory of our most deeply held beliefs. Our God, the God of the living, calls us to put the goods of this world, those goods earned by and entrusted to us, to the service of Love and see that in and through all creation, in and through all matter and earthly occasions, the hand of God is beckoning us deeper into relationship with God and one another in lives of mutual and generous Love and service.
Andrew C. Blume✠
New York City
The Octave of All Saints, 8 November 2013
© 2013 Andrew Charles Blume