Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sermon; Proper 27C; Job 19:23-27a; Luke 20:27-38

The connection between this reading from Job and the reading from Luke is resurrection.

If I were to ask, “What is resurrection?” how would you answer? And yes, you can go ahead and answer that question. As Christians, we believe that all faithful departed will be raised to new life in Christ Jesus. Many Jews also believe in a resurrection of God's people at the end of the age; but for us, the deal was sealed when Christ was resurrected on that first Easter. And yes, we do debate whether this will be a bodily resurrection or a spiritual resurrection that exceeds the limits of the body as we know it.

The more important question, though, is, “Why is there a resurrection?” And yes, you can answer that question also. Why is there a resurrection? The answer, I believe, is this: New life. We are resurrected by the power of God's infinite love to a new life. A new life where there is no more pain or sorrow, but life everlasting. A new life in God's kingdom where there is no death or crying, but the fullness of joy. Why resurrection? New life.

New life is ultimately what we are about.

The problem, though, is when we let the What question dominate the discussion. When we give the What more weight than the Why, we are missing the point. What is resurrection? Life after death. Why resurrection? New life. We can get so bogged down in the details of the What that we miss the importance of the Why.

Why resurrection? New life.

I spent the better part of three days east of Portland at the Menucha Retreat Center with a gathering of clergy from around the country. It's a place where we discuss issues that affect the church at all levels and where we get some ideas or resources on how to get better at what we do.

There was talk about what various churches do. Some feed people. One had land and turned it into senior housing. Some give blankets to the homeless. Some run preschools and daycare centers. This is what they do. But any agency can do those things.

The question then becomes, “Why? Why do they do these things?” Answer: Resurrection and new life. The church is the only organization that offers the hope of resurrection and new life. And if we ignore the Why, we miss out on so much. If we ignore the Why, then we simply wait for the What after we die. But the Why of resurrection allows us to see resurrection all around us – if we are willing to see it.

Our world, currently and in the northern latitudes, has entered autumn; a season of hibernation and death. Leaves wither and die, leaving trees bare. Crop fields are empty, or have the remains of the harvest left behind. We know how the cycle works. In this time of natural death and when sunlight is scarce, we know that spring will come. That knowledge comes from the hope of eons. Spring will come, and with it new life. If we pay attention, there is resurrection right before our very eyes.

So on Monday I'm at this conference of national clergy discussing faith, creativity and accountability in the missionary church. That night I get a text from Jen Roberts: Miriam has been diagnosed with a brain tumor. We are on our way to the children's hospital in Portland.

Tuesday morning I drove into Portland, found my way to Doernbecher Children's Hospital and, with the help from a guiding angel dressed as a long-bearded, tattooed construction worker, to the pediatric ICU. I met and prayed with the family and watched as they wheeled Miriam off for brain surgery.

The surgery went well and by Wednesday she was up, eating and walking, no worse for the experience. And on Thursday she was discharged. In the face of a potentially deadly brain tumor, Miriam has experienced resurrection. She has experienced new life. And Tim, Jen and Lucy can see that new life, that resurrection, with the healing of Miriam. Resurrection is right before their very eyes.

When I arrived back in my office on Thursday, there was a note on my door. A parishioner from St. Matthew's in Gold Beach was at Three Rivers being treated for a brain tumor. The outlook for her, at least with regards to this body and this life, is, bluntly, not good.

But during my visit she exhibited a strong and sure faith. She knows her days here are limited; however, she is not giving up the fight. And even though she fights the tumor in her head with radiation and chemo, she knows. She knows resurrection is new life. She may not know what that looks like at this point, but she is confident in the hope of the resurrected Christ and the new life promised. Resurrection is right before her very eyes.

In churches around the country, people are trying to figure out how to increase attendance, attract families, be vibrant and return to the glory days of 1957. The problem with that is that those congregations want to go back to the way things were. They want to capture that magical moment and stay there. But you know what? That's not new life. That's not resurrection.

For us to move forward we need to come to terms with death. We need to come to terms with the death of old ways and methods, with the death of how things used to be, and with the death of the idea that things would be better if we could only go back.

Resurrection is moving forward. It's seeing things in new ways and with a new vision. It's understanding that things won't look like they used to. Remember, Mary didn't recognize the newly resurrected Christ either.

For I know that my Redeemer lives, and in my body I shall see God. It's time for us to remember why we are here. We are here for new life. We are here to be resurrected. And it's time to stop chasing what was and begin living for what is and what can be. It's time to start living for resurrection.

Resurrection is right before our very eyes. The question is: Are we bold enough to live into that new life of resurrection?



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