February 20, 2022
So… our reading from 1 Corinthians about resurrection… how about that one? Those verses Meg just read illustrate… I think… how we like to talk about theology. Keep theology distant. Separate. Theories and concepts that are out there that we can argue about and debate without any real fear of connection with our own lives and our own personal choices. My experience has taught me that we don’t mind so much the theology that’s kept at arm’s length… it’s safe. “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body?” Bad… dead end questions like these that frankly take us nowhere closer towards understanding resurrection and what it might mean for us outside of literal, biological life and death… questions like these are the bread and butter of so much of what passes for theological discourse these days.
In this instance… “How” is the wrong first step. “Why” is the better question. Why resurrection? Why is this even a part of our theology? What is resurrection about? Why doesn’t it frame more of our own personal faith today? Those are better questions for us.
What is it about where we find ourselves these days in Christianity where the right questions seem to be discouraged? Where our own interests and curiosity don’t stretch too far from the surface or the same answers that seem to take us nowhere. Why don’t we employ more imagination when it comes to our faith? Sometimes I feel like we’re a bit afraid of what might be found. So we ask the safe questions like “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body?”
I guess what’s still got me a bit wound up this Sunday is left over from last week’s readings from Luke’s gospel… the verses that set up the teaching section we’ll be reading this morning. Last week I was struck by how it seemed everything I read in preparation about the blessings and woes section of Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain in Luke’s gospel, just immediately treated that section like it was just a different version of the Beatitudes that are found in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount over in Matthew’s gospel. It was like there was no further discussion necessary. The answer wasn’t questioned. Jesus was saying the same thing… even though he wasn’t… the same lessons are to be learned… even though they are not. Not if you look at them for what they are. The Beatitudes have a different quality to them altogether. For example… the Beatitude “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” is not the same as “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.” Especially when mirrored by “Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.” The two couldn’t be further from one another. But… again… everything I saw… even from different sources and places… all anyone really wanted to talk about was the message of the Beatitudes… which… don’t get me wrong… are good messages… it’s just not what is being said here in Luke.
Here in Luke, Jesus is breaking the cycle… the usual response to the same problem… the usual answer to the same question… that is likely not the question we need to be asking in the first place. Listen carefully as we pick up our reading in Luke right where we left off last Sunday with verse 27 of chapter 6.
I think what I like so much about this whole section of teaching is that it isn’t overly clever… meaning it’s not some amazing tapestry of thought and concept about some theological point that is nothing but speculative to begin with… it’s not wrapped in a parable… or otherwise presented in a way where interpretation is heavily required. These words are clear in their meaning… clear in their purpose… clear in the desired outcome. It doesn’t take much to see the world Jesus is describing. Do you see it? I hope so.
Now hold onto that picture… because I just want to go back to Paul for a second… those verses we heard today are not Paul at his theological best. I mean… “Not all flesh is alike, but there is one flesh for human beings, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish.” That bit doesn’t really hold up, does it? He was trying his best in using the best knowledge of his day… but that knowledge itself wasn’t timeless. He did, however, start down the right road talking about how what you sow does not come to life unless it dies. Not exactly right in the literal sense of how a seed works… but the idea moves us forward. Resurrection… the qualities of resurrection… can only come about with the death of something. Not necessarily physical death. Don’t want to get trapped in those “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” nowhere questions. But for the qualities of resurrection to exist… to have life that has the quality of the eternal… other qualities that do not take us forward to the divine will have to die. The old world has to pass away for the new world to take hold.
Jesus proclaims the kingdom of God… and this kingdom is not just another kingdom like the other kingdoms we have experienced. And it isn’t just this supernatural place that exists elsewhere without connection to the here and now. Too much bad theology likes to throw the kingdom out to someplace that lies beyond our lives now… turn it into a place of reward for the faithful after death. The kingdom of God is meant to exist in the real world… for lack of a better word. There is a different quality to the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God… or the kingdom of Heaven… we use the two words interchangeably… is the term we use for the overarching idea of God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven… that thing we pray for every week. So… inside the Kingdom the word “resurrection” is a means for us to talk about the ways of God that bring life… that replace the old ways of death. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. The old way of death sets the hungry against the full and the full against the hungry. The division never ends. The way of death is constantly created in new enemies and new battles that must be fought… well… to the death. The hungry are told that the full have what rightfully belongs to the hungry and it is their greed that sets them eternally against you. The full are told that the hungry only want to take what the full have and it is their own laziness and other attributes of personal failure that sets them eternally against you. Two enemies constantly locked in a never-ending cycle of death. Have you ever witnessed such a thing? Heard such things said? Do you see it happening around us still? What will free us from this never-ending cycle of death? Maybe faith has an answer that is at once easy to understand… and revealing of our own addiction to death. Ask yourself… at what point did hunger and fullness stop being about food… a quantity that can be shared through systems we are able to construct… at what point did it turn into an opportunity for our contempt for neighbor to thrive? Contempt is a product of our addiction to death. We are drowning today in a culture of contempt.
Resurrection is life free from death. Not just the biological form of death that likes to ask the question of “how are the dead raised”. Jesus gives us some good practical theology that is grounded in the life-giving quality of resurrection. Now’s the time to bring back to your mind the clear meaning of these teachings we’ve read this morning. But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. Do to others as you would have them do to you. Or… in other words… put away those things that keep you dead and separate from one another, so that the resurrection life that comes from God can grow in you and among you and bring life eternal… of quality of life that is divine.
It's breaking the cycle of death… breaking our addiction to death. Love those who only love you. That’s not going to do it. The quality of resurrection is not in that. Do good to those who do good to you. No, that’s not enough. Lend to those you hope to receive. No. Not going to cut it. Not going to break your addiction. Expecting that something in return… that’s the hook isn’t it? And we project that into our theology… don’t we? How many believe that having religion is about getting that reward in return. God is a god of rewards and blessings to those who believe as they rightly believe. Let’s fight to the death with one another over which religion is the right religion… because if God didn’t reward only the faithful alone… then what would be the point? That would tarnish or diminish the value of the reward. That’s the death we can’t let go of… which is why we have to always talk about grace. Grace has the quality of resurrection… why… because grace expects nothing in return. Grace can’t function in a religion of death that expects a reward… expects God to see our good deeds and reward us when we step away for a moment from loving those who love us… and we express a moment of tolerance for our enemies. The reward in loving your enemies is the love. The reward of doing good to those who hate you is the good that is done. I mean… come on, saints… you know that the embarrassment… the cringeworthy shame that comes from good Christian people saying, “I’ll pray for you” is that prayer is being used as a means of abuse.
Or… how many words have I read about “If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also…” and the focus is all about the which way the hand strikes… is it with the palm or the back of the hand… or is it the left hand or the right hand… or there’s the cultural deep dives about how something or another brings shame on the person who strikes in such a way. Lots of words trying to discern “how the body is raised from the dead”… when maybe the point is simply not to return in kind… to break the cycle of death… to put grace and mercy to work in the real world… create space for resurrection to bring life out of death… shine some light on what it means to be the kingdom of God. Maybe its as simple as that… and maybe that’s why we would rather complicate it, so our inability in offering the other cheek isn’t revealed. But truthfully… it still is.
Next week is Transfiguration Sunday, so we will leave chapter 6 behind… so to finish our sermon time this morning, I want to go back and I want read from this chapter again… starting with verse 27 to the end. And I just want you to imagine… without worry… without trying to bring some condition to it… just imagine the world these verses would create. Listen and know what it is to have resurrection life in God.
READ Luke 6:27- 49