Sunday, November 27, 2016

Advent I

Matthew 24
36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son,[a] but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.
42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

Noah’s ark comics seem to write themselves, and you don’t even need to see them, really.

Couple of lions waiting to board the ark: "This is great! I had no idea it was a dinner cruise." (MG)
Picture of a large arch with animals entering, voice from above says "An ark you fool! I said build be an ark." (Jantoon)
Couple of dinosaurs look on as the ark leaves, saying "Oh, crap! Was that today?" (Regan)
Noah's son says to his dad: "How long are we going to be gone, dad? That's an awful lot of food." (Bizarro)
Unicorn reading the newspaper says "Big storm's a brewing” and the reply from the second unicorn: "Then I'm glad we didn't go on that cruise thing with your whack-job friend Noah." (Edecatn)
Picture of the ark, a stone and a handsaw, caption reads Little rock, ark and saw." (Curier Black)

Maybe you had to see them.

And the ark isn’t just a fun source of countless comics, it’s also an easy way to underline the gravity of the situation. So, Jesus says “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.” Everyone was having a good time, right up to the day that Noah sealed the hatch and waited. The people had no idea what was coming, until it came.

Heavens, this isn’t the ‘here, let me help you get ready for Christmas’ Jesus. This is a rather gloomy Jesus, like clouds forming over an unsuspecting world as Noah and Mrs. Noah are hold-up in their ark. We’re getting ready to welcome the season of hope and all we got was this lousy t-shirt with a Noah’s Ark comic on it.

But look again, because there is more going on here than mass destruction amid the apple jelly-jam and Barb’s best chili. Jesus is doing a thing (he’s always doing a thing) that’s supposed to stop us and make us think. So here’s the thing:

How do you underline the gravity of any world-ending turn of events? Noah’s Ark!

How do you defeat the certainty of the very same argument? Noah’s Ark!

You see, we can read the latter half of Matthew 24 and the seeming world-ending ending that awaits us, until we remember some divine legislation that comes from the very same story. You remember, the ark landed and the dove returned and the rainbow shone and God said “never more will I destroy the earth.” That’s not just a tidy ending to the story of Noah and Co., it’s also divine legislation, defining a rule that even God must follow.

But wait, you are going to argue (maybe over Barb’s best chili), I thought God was omnipotent—all-powerful—and a mystery to us mere humans. And you make a good point, but the counter-point is that God imposes some very strict limits on God’s own power, and this undermines the very concept of omnipotence. I’m not saying God’s not, I’m just saying that if God is omnipotent as the creeds insist, it must be a mystery, because there are a few very important pieces of divine legislation found in the opening chapters of Genesis, and they cannot be overcome.

So working backward, we have God’s promise to never again destroy the earth. And if you wonder if it is truly binding legislation, recall Exodus 32 and the famous episode of the golden calf. Moses is up the mountain and suddenly someone gets the bright idea to gather the gold an make an idol, breaking the second commandment that they haven’t even received yet, and God says to Moses ‘look what YOUR people have done.’ And in an obvious reference to Noah says ‘I’m going to destroy the lot and make you a great nation instead.’

But Moses fights back, saying ‘no LORD, these are YOUR people,’ and besides you made a covenant with Abraham and Sarah that they would be parents of a great nation. Oh, and add to that you would look foolish in front of the Egyptians. So, it’s not clear what won the day: shaming God in front of Pharaoh, letting God sit with the comparison to Noah, or citing the Abrahamic covenant, a second piece of divine legislation.

But there’s more! The time spend in the garden wasn’t just fun and fig leaves, it was also the source of two more laws. The first might be in the category of ‘I guess I wish I’d never said that,’ the moment God said “you are free to eat any fruit of the garden except that one over there.” Well, that was a mistake, since free is free and as soon as you say free it generally means completely free as the story ultimately records. So free will, that thing we enjoy but wish our kids didn’t have, appears early and is completely binding, now and forever.

And then there is the final bit of legislation found in Genesis, this one the result of the free will we just received and have barely tried out. There is some sort of episode with an undisclosed type of fruit (apple-jelly jam?) and more law-making follows. “You are dust,” God says, “and to the dust you shall return.” God tried to dress up the bad news in a fancy metaphor, but it’s still bad news. Down to today, human mortality is still running at a perfect 100 percent.

To recap: never again will God destroy the earth, Abraham, Sarah and the rest will number more than the stars in the sky, you will always have free will and we’re all gonna die. Isn’t Advent fun? Don’t you wish we could have Advent I every week?

37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.

So knowing that all this divine legislations still stands, and further knowing that “as it was in the days of Noah” doesn’t mean a sequel to the first flood, what can this possibly mean? I’m going to suggest ignorance. Not ignorance in the sense that I don’t understand (though this could be true) but ignorance in the sense that flood people “knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away.” ‘As it was in the days of Noah’ means people will be ignorant, they won’t understand what’s happening until it’s too late.

But there’s no new flood. So what are people ignorant of, here in the run up to the holidays? I think the answer is Christmas. Somewhere between “Isn’t there anyone who know’s what Christmas is all about?” and “that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown” lies the answer, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laying in a manger.

The world-ending, life-altering, ever-present meaning is that God entered and enters our world, not just one time in Bethlehem, but always.

Born of Mary, vulnerable as we are vulnerable.
In the world, healing the sick and making us whole.
Dying for us, ending sin and sorrow and death itself.
Risen and alive in this place, the head of the body.
Coming again, on the clouds, but in a manger too.
The Word made flesh, dwelling with us forevermore.

It falls to us to name ‘the reason for the season,’ but not with bitterness at the world’s seeming determination to misunderstand, but with generosity and an open heart. Our task is to be Christ to others, to underline his abiding presence and his willingness to return to us again and again—by being his hands and feet in the world. When we show Christ, the meaning of Christmas becomes clear. May it always be so, Amen.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Reign of Christ

Colossians 1
15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

It feels unfair to use the pulpit to single out individuals.

People who are convinced of their own certainty.
People to develop a position and suggest it’s the cure for everything.
People who attack elites and suggest they know better.
People who know how to attract a crowd and mesmerize them with their self-made philosophy.

Yes, I’m talking about you, Phineas Quimby. Do you know about Phineas Quimby? You may not know the name—unless you’re time-traveling in today from nineteenth-century New England—but you will likely have heard of some his disciples: Mary Baker Eddy, Norman Vincent Peale, and most recently Rhonda Byrne, author of the insidious—but highly lucrative—book called The Secret.

All of these people, Quimby, Eddy, Peale and Byrne are adherents of the New Thought movement, a movement that begins with the idea that we are imbued with divine intelligence and generally culminates in the idea that we make our own reality. For the New Thought crowd, illness begins in the mind and “right thinking” is the secret to healing and wellness.*

But more about Quimby. Born the son of a blacksmith, he survived childhood tuberculosis without any real help from the doctors of his day, and seemed to discover the pain relief that comes with shot of adrenaline, this through riding his horse recklessly. His interest in alternative medicine led him to the work of a certain Dr. Mesmer (as in mesmerized), and the new practice of hypnosis and soon the general belief that most diseases begin in the mind.

Now, if you think it’s unfair to attack a man that has been dead for 150 years, I give you a tweet from @thesecret sent yesterday afternoon: “Remember, life is mirroring back to you what you are holding inside you. Therefore, your happiness is an inside job.” In other words, what every befalls you, disease, poverty, depression, even violence is your own fault—according to the New Thought people—because “life is mirroring back to you what you are holding inside you.”

And this false belief is so dangerous, and so enduring, that even St. Paul (may) have had a go at it. I say ‘may’ because the scholars can’t agree on precisely what Paul was railing against in Colossians, but “creating your own reality” is a leading contender. I will let you decide.

Colossians begins with the moving passage Lang read this morning, literally a hymn to the ‘firstborn of creation,’ the visible image of an invisible God, Jesus the Christ. He is ‘before all things, and in him all things are held together.’ He is the head of the body, the church. God’s fullness is pleased to dwell in him, and “all things are reconciled by his death on the cross.”

We can’t know for sure if Paul is writing a hymn or quoting a hymn, though scholars suggest the latter. What ever the origin, his words are the counter-argument presented by Paul before he defines the problem. Maybe he knew the readers were self-aware enough that he didn’t need to state the problem, or maybe Paul was practicing some kind of rhetorical strategy—either way, Paul begins in song and then turns to the vexing problem in chapter two.

“See to it,” he says, “that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.” (2.8) And then he loops back to his introduction, restating this high sense of Christ and Christ’s meaning:

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority.

So what is this “hollow and deceptive philosophy” from human tradition, a tradition that points to the “elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ”? We don’t know—it’s not clear.

Some scholars look at the totality of Paul and suggest this is another dig that the Law of Moses, another attempt to discredit strict adherence to the law as practiced in homes and synagogues. And there is no question that this was an issue for Paul, particularly since tension between Jews and Jewish Christians was an abiding theme for the group we will come to call the early church. But if Paul is talking about the law, why wouldn’t he just say it? A tradition that points to the “elemental spiritual forces of this world” rather than to Christ sounds different—something more fundamental than adherence to the law.

What we need are clues and context, and maybe then we can find the answer. We need to look for another place where some sort of failure is corrected by the idea that Jesus is “visible image of an invisible God.” So our first clue is found in 2 Corinthians 4:

The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers so they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake... (4-5)

We do not proclaim ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord. Good clue, since the problem “depends on human tradition” and nothing depends on human tradition more than proclaiming ourselves rather than God. So we seem to have a sense of the direction of the problem, and we have another clue. This one comes in Paul’s closing remarks:

After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans (lay-odd-di-see-an) and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea. (4.16)

And why would he ask that? I gonna go way out on a limb here and suggest whatever was troubling Paul about the church at Colossae was also troubling him about the church at Laodicea. And to follow this clue, we’re going to need a map. Just ten miles downriver from Colossae, in the heart of the Lycus Valley, is Laodicea. Famous for it’s hard to pronounce name, it’s medical school, and (mostly) for this rather unflattering mention in the Book of Revelations:

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ (15-17)

Yikes! And the history back this up. In 60 AD, this area of what we now call Western Turkey was devastated by a massive earthquake, and Laodicea was completely destroyed. Imperial aid was offered—neighbouring Hierapolis took it—but Laodicea refused to take it, they could rebuild themselves.** They didn’t need the help.

So we’re looking for a “hollow and deceptive philosophy” from human tradition, a tradition that points to the “elemental spiritual forces of this world” and I’m going to call it wealth. Or more precisely, the sense of self-possession that comes with feeling self-made, not needing others, and making sure everyone knows. Here we are, 2,000 years on, and we’re still aware that Laodicea didn’t need imperial help. Why? Because they told everyone who would listen. Or as the author of Revelations has them say “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.”

And I’m going to go even further out on a limb and suggest that these lukewarm Laodiceans and their equally smug neighbours in Colossae wore it like a philosophy. The “elemental spiritual forces of this world” was probably just some New Thought nonsense that they were prosperous because they thought wealthy thoughts, or attracted money to themselves through the power of positive thinking.

And Paul understands these people and knows that only the highest sense of Christ and his place at the moment of creation is the antidote to this type of thinking. Writing today he might say ‘don’t call on the universe to answer your problems, call on the ‘firstborn of creation,’ the one who made the universe and all the blessings found there in.

I want to finish with another song, a song I may be guilty of choosing too often, and therefore we aren’t singing today. When the author of Revelations has such unkind things to say, he goes even further than what I shared a moment ago. His critique of the Laodiceans goes like this:

You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.

If these words sound vaguely familiar, it may be because Charlotte Elliot included then in her most famous hymn, “Just as I am.” Those who describe the hymn most often say it was ill-health and depression that inspired the hymn, but reading Revelations, seems more likely it was her wealth. She too understood the peril of Laodicea, and Colossae, and everyone who credits their success to themselves, and she wrote for them:

Just as I am - poor, wretched, blind;
Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need, in Thee to find,
-O Lamb of God, I come!

**Ross Lockhart, “Lessons from Laodicea”

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Isaiah 65
17 “See, I will create
new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
and its people a joy.
19 I will rejoice over Jerusalem
and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
will be heard in it no more.
20 “Never again will there be in it
an infant who lives but a few days,
or an old man who does not live out his years;
the one who dies at a hundred
will be thought a mere child;
the one who fails to reach[a] a hundred
will be considered accursed.
21 They will build houses and dwell in them;
they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
22 No longer will they build houses and others live in them,
or plant and others eat.
For as the days of a tree,
so will be the days of my people;
my chosen ones will long enjoy
the work of their hands.
23 They will not labor in vain,
nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune;
for they will be a people blessed by the Lord,
they and their descendants with them.
24 Before they call I will answer;
while they are still speaking I will hear.
25 The wolf and the lamb will feed together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox,
and dust will be the serpent’s food.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,”
says the Lord.

So here I am again, in this tiny wooden fortress called the pulpit.

Funny place, the pulpit, a place where themes develop and ideas reappear, stories unfold and events are discussed. So, for example, it was October 2 that I suggested the measure of a candidate is not his ability to quote scripture, but his behaviour. On October 23, I suggested that anyone looking for Jesus on the trail would likely find him tailgating and listening to Trump supporters, looking for an opportunity to share a word of life. And just last Sunday, I shared the suggestion that 2016 is more like 430 AD, and whenever barbarian hoards appear, we must strive to leave the world a better place than we found it.

Today I have nothing to say.

Today I have nothing to say, except—imagine an election where 100 million people stayed home. What would be the result? Life is not a spectator sport, nor is politics, nor is a life of faith. More people voted for the American Idol in 2008 than voted in the general election, and only now can we see the full extent that reality TV has taken over everyday life.

Today I have nothing to say, except—that one of the burdens of doing an advanced degree in the United States is that I now have beloved colleagues in Michigan, Ohio, Iowa, Missouri and even some blue states and they need our prayer. They are serving sharply divided congregations and sharply divided communities and they need our prayer.

Today I have nothing to say, except—the answer is always in the Bible. Every situation and every challenge we face appears in one form or another in scripture, and the task of the reader and the preacher is to make connections between the Word of God and the word on the street. We can do no other—if we trust in God to provide the way forward.

So, for example, we hear an extended poem and we ponder a vision and we try to understand the context of that vision. The prophet Isaiah and everyone writing in his name have taken us through the full sweep of exile, from the unheeded warnings of the early chapters, to the comfort declared for those losing hope, to the unexpected delight of return. This surprizing God has chosen a Persian king to lead the people back, and now—two generations later—the exiles must confront the reality of being home.

It was never going to be easy, and the dream was never going to match reality. The ruined city was rebuilt, but it was never the same. The great temple of Solomon was replaced ‘on the cheap,’ as more effort was spent (appropriately) on the walls of the city. Those left behind forgot who they were, so Ezra and others undertook the difficult project of reminding them. The place of great longing—the Zion they wept for—was their home once more, but it was diminished, and shabby, and any thought to “make Jerusalem great again” was largely unfulfilled.

So enter the prophet. Enter the prophet of God, not to offer local ordinance, but to cast a vision. The topic remains Jerusalem, and the people remain God’s people, but the vision is bigger and more profound than temple, and walls, and what mortals call Jerusalem. God speaks and says ‘there is more:’

See, I will create
new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
and its people a joy.

This is more than what’s found atop a plateau in the Judean mountains, more than the region between the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea, more than even the land itself. This Jerusalem has no walls and no gates, and extends far beyond what we can see to become a world made new:

I will rejoice over Jerusalem
and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
will be heard in it no more.

What follows is a litany of a world without war: children will grow to adulthood, people will live to old age, those who build a home will long enjoy it, those who plant will reap the harvest. No one will be “doomed to misfortune: they will be a people blessed by the Lord, they and their descendants with them.”

But even this vision is too small. The prophet shares a final word, this time a vision of God’s peaceable kingdom, where nature will be at peace with itself (Newsome) and shows the very heart of God:

The wolf and the lamb will feed together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox,
and dust will be the serpent’s food.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain.

The New Jerusalem is an idea, a hope in the heart of God, a hope that says “thy kingdom come, they will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We are people of that hope, given the blessing and burden of carrying it forward. We carry it with us through time and the various trials we face, knowing that there always remains something larger, something more tangible than what the world can see.

This may also be the moment to share the secret of what I call ‘scripture for preachers,’ words from Martin Luther King Jr., words that Dr. King gave to everyone but words that seem to fall more heavily on the preacher. They say, in fact, that Dr. King had about ninety sermons, more-or-less, and that he reworked them as the situation demanded, always speaking to the moment.

I say ‘scripture for preachers,’ because we need help to find that place between ancient words and the present day, between the Bible call and what we say, between the city we serve and the New Jerusalem of Isaiah 65.

On March 25, 1965, Dr. King spoke in Montgomery, Alabama, at the end of the march from Selma into history. Historians call this sermon “Our God is Marching On!” but most know it as “How Long, Not Long.” In his message he describes the meaning of 8,000 marchers, the power of non-violent resistance, and the response they met on the way, how “the brutality of a dying order shrieks across the land.”

He shares the question his congregation asks: “How long will it take?” How long to reach the vision of a society at peace with itself? He asks for them again, “how long?” and the answer is “not long.” And then he shares a quote: “How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

May we continue to dream of the New Jerusalem, and may it soon come into sight, through God alone. Amen.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Remembrance Sunday

Luke 20
27 There came to him some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, 28 and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies, having a wife but no children, the man[a] must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife, and died without children. 30 And the second 31 and the third took her, and likewise all seven left no children and died. 32 Afterward the woman also died. 33 In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as wife.”
34 And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, 35 but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, 36 for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons[b] of the resurrection. 37 But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. 38 Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.”

It seems DNA isn’t just for cop shows anymore.

Now anyone can get in on the action, send in a wee sample, wait a few weeks, and voila! all is revealed. And the more people do this, I suppose, the more accurate the determination of where you’re from. Check your DNA and you’ll discover you’re a bit of this, and a bit of that, but it won’t replace the hard work of investigating your family tree.

Your family tree, the two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents and so on is not really a tree so much as an inverted pyramid. Take, for example, you’re 6th great-grandparents. Born about 200 years before you, there are 256 6th great-grandparents in your family tree. And only one of them has your surname. The rest of the people led to you and the countless people to you can somehow describe as a cousin.

It’s worth reflecting on as we think about All Saints’ and Remembrance Day and the various ways we honour those who came before. From here at Central, and Mount Dennis, and Westminster, we also have a church-tree that stretches back to the earliest days of our fair city—and again—connects us to a vast number of saints.

How appropriate, then, that the passage Joyce shared this morning begins with perhaps scripture’s most awkward hypothetical family tree: seven brothers for a single bride. It’s all a genealogical trap, is seems, set to get Jesus’ opinion on one of the key philosophical questions of the day: what happens when we die.

The Sadducees, the passage notes, did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. They saw it as extra-biblical, meaning they couldn’t find it in the five books of Moses. The Pharisees, their rivals, were busy developing a tradition that expanded Torah, and which did include an afterlife, but the Sadducees couldn’t see it. And into this argument wanders Jesus.

And one of the ways to discredit someone, of course, is to show that they hold the same view as your rivals. So a group of Sadducees come to Jesus and pose the unlikely scenario that a woman would follow the law and marry seven brothers before becoming the source of a confused mess in the afterlife. It fit their agenda perfectly, and used a classic bafflement argument to demonstrate their point. If an afterlife exists, they argued, then such an absurd situation could come to pass, and therefore no afterlife can exist.

But Jesus was having none of it. He created a counter-argument that points to the very heart of Sadducee belief—the centrality of the Torah. But before he does that he shares an another point, reminding them that marriage belongs to this age and not the age to come. In the age to come we’re more like angels, or children of God, and cannot be bound to earthy concepts. Then it’s on to Torah.

Torah is the “foundational narrative” of the people (Wikipedia) that begins and is defined by a covenant between God and Abraham, the father of us all. And while it literally translates to mean “law,” Torah is a summary concept that comes to mean the first five books of the Bible and all the history contained within it. So you could argue that Torah begins with the promise found in Genesis 12 (““I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.”) and finds its conclusion with the passage Jesus cites:

37 But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. 38 Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.”

In other words, the only way to explain who this God is—beyond saying “I am who I am”—is to create a genealogy. God’s other identity is bound in recalling the covenant with Abraham and company as an ongoing relationship. And this, of course, is all the proof Jesus needs to show that there is a resurrection, a life beyond this life, exemplified by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and all the other covenant holders down to today. There can be no death as long as these saints are with God.

So back to our DNA, and the slog involved in uncovering your family tree, it really seems to come back to the fundamental questions “who am I?” and “where do I belong?” Doing your research, finding your tree, begins to answer the question “who am I” insofar as it gives us some past and a bit of context. So when I discovered my 3rd great-grandfather was a Primitive Methodist preacher, I was very excited. When I discovered that my 5th great-grandfather was convicted of assault and trespass, I was a little less excited, and when I further discovered that he served on the wrong side of the Revolutionary War I wondered if I could omit him from my tree altogether. But I can’t.

Our tree is fixed and cannot be altered, but it only defines one part of who we are. The second part of the equation is less “where do I belong?” and more “to whom do I belong?” We can map out the steps involved in our earthy story, but in the end we will be more like angels and children of God, according to Jesus, and therefore belong to God.

And belonging to God, knowing where we’re going, and confident in our identity as God’s children, we also need to consider the idea of dual citizenship. If we are heirs to a covenant, and children of God, and gathered amid the saints in light, then we are in the world by not fully of the world. And this is part of our identity, part of the answer to the question “who am I?” What does it mean to be a citizen of this life and a citizen of heaven at the same moment? How do we do it?

A number of thinkers have pondered this question, but few with the intensity of St. Augustine. Writing in the early 400’s, witnessing first hand the fall of the Roman Empire, he has lots to reflect on as he considered the life of the believer in the context of the sweep of human history.

It would be easy to assume that Augustine might suggest a retreat from the world that was crumbling around him, but he did not. Instead, he would have us engage in new ways. And a good summary of this comes from a recent address by Charles Chaput, the Archbishop of Philadelphia:

“Christians are not of the world, but we’re most definitely in it,” he said. “Augustine would say that our home is the City of God, but we get there by passing through the City of Man...and while we’re on the road, we have a duty to leave the world better than we found it.”*

The Archbishop’s comments, along with observations for a few other Augustinian scholars come from an article published this week called “Is Augustine the patron saint of the 2016 election?” Imagining the seeming end of empire, and the advance of barbarian hoards (that may or may not resemble a certain candidate’s followers) the article tries to find some solace in the great Augustine.

Another scholar shared this: “Augustine, doesn’t celebrate the rise of the barbarians, nor does he shrug off the instability and terror around him. The city of God, [sojourning] as a pilgrim band in this present age, is concerned with earthly peace and flourishing.”

Living in the world but not of the world, children of God who claim dual citizenship, we are obligated to work for the welfare of the city and all her inhabitants. We need to leave the world a better place before we become the angels and children of God of the resurrection. It is not enough to be just passing through. We need to join in the work of the saints of the past, and especially the fallen, in creating a world made new. May God lead us and help us, Amen.