Friday, November 29, 2019

Reign of Christ • Christ the King 2019

Colossians 1:11-20

11May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully 12giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13He has rescued [exodus, a new deliverance, a new freedom from slavery] us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.

19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Although Colossians is one of the epistles attributed to Paul of Tarsus, vocabulary, sentence structure, syntax, and overall style indicate he almost definitely didn't write it. Using someone else's name was common, legitimate practice back then, and wouldn't get you in trouble with the law or with the person whose name you used. It was a compliment to the person, and (as Pastor Peg has mentioned more than once) you were more likely to get your writing read if people thought someone well-known wrote it.

Every year the church's year of grace concludes by acknowledging Jesus Christ as Lord of all. This first chapter of the letter to the Church at Colossae brings us the pre-existent cosmic Christ who created everything, who was firstborn from the dead, who reigns over all creation. The Gospel according to John, the fourth canonical gospel, also has the pre-existent Christ: "In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God."

This is the last Sunday of Luke's lectionary year. We've seen how Luke's story of Jesus particularly emphasizes women and other marginalized people, table fellowship, history, prayer, activity of the Holy Spirit. Like Jeremiah and Deuteronomy that also come up frequently in Luke's lectionary year, Luke's Jesus is about the other than us, the neighbor, neighborology. Of course, to everyone outside of us, we are the other, we are their neighbor.

As we hear about and affirm the glorious rule of the Cosmic Christ, we also need to remember how Martin Luther reminds us that in order to see the fullness of God's power, sovereignty, and lordship, look to the Bethlehem manger. Look to the Calvary cross. God's ways are so very different from human imaginings of power, glory, fame.

Last week I quoted from Gian-Carlo Menotti's one-act opera, Ahmal and the Night Visitors:
The child we seek holds the seas and the winds on his palm.
The child we seek has the moon and the stars at his feet.
Before him, the eagle is gentle the lion is meek.

On love, on love alone will he build his kingdom...
His might will not be built on your toil.
Swifter than lightning he will soon walk among us.
He will bring us new life and receive our death.
And the keys to his city belong to the poor.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Pentecost 22C

Luke 20:27-38

27Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him 28and asked him a question, "Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. 29Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; 30then the second 31and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. 32Finally the woman also died. 33In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her."

34Jesus said to them, "Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; 35but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. 36Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. 37And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.

38Now God is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to God all of them are alive."

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem: to his trial, conviction, crucifixion, death, and resurrection. All three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) have a passage similar to this, which means sit up, take notice, and ask why!

We know God as light, love, and life. God has nothing to do with death, nothing about God concerns death. In many ways we can't even contrast God with death, because death and God don't belong in the same sentence or the same thought.

Sadducees were the religious leaders who did not believe in resurrection. Rather than affirming all the [Hebrew] scriptures, their bible was only the Pentateuch or Torah, the "Five Books of Moses" that don't explicitly reference resurrection. The Sadducees assumed that with Moses and God being such good friends, God would have informed Moses if resurrection from death existed. Quite a few of our readings have included Pharisees, another group of religious leaders who were ultra-legalistic and added extra commandments and requirements, though for the good reason they wanted to lead perfect lives and please God. Pharisees did believe in resurrection! The easy way to remember which group was which is to realize the Sadducees didn't affirm resurrection, so they were "sad-you-see."

Today's text: like most humans, the Sadducees who interacted with Jesus had a lot of anxieties about death and about continuing a presence and influence in the world after they died. Sadducees believed death of the human body meant total annihilation of everything that individual had been. In their minds, the only way to keep on "living" was to have kids (posterity, offspring, descendants) who'd keep the family name going and keep doing good in the community. With their preoccupation about death, they teased Jesus' theological sensibilities with a question about seven serial spouses.

Jesus explains God has nothing to do with death; everything about God is deathless, everything about God relates to life. Jesus tells his interlocutors that to God, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (who in human terms died a long time before Moses) still are alive, never had been dead—though as Pastor Peg pointed out, in human terms, physical, biological death still affects us, death is a human reality. Although we humans consider anyone who has died as not alive (true in basic human terms), to God there is no death. God has zero to do with death, so we can trust in life. Resurrection isn't a free-floating, spiritual, disembodied presence; as we confess in the creeds, "I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come." Jesus' friends recognized him in his post-resurrection appearances! His hands carried the scars of crucifixion, but he was totally healed and whole, still the same person, which will be our experience, as well.

The Sadducees' seven serial spouses? For them, marrying and having kids related to their anxieties about overcoming death. In the reign of God, people get married or otherwise form a lifelong public commitment; they often have offspring because it's a way to celebrate life that comes from God and continues forever in God.