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.


Post a Comment

<< Home