Sermon preached by the Reverend Cindy Stravers
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost – November 10, 2013
In the name of the living God with whom and in whom all things are alive. Amen.
Two old men had been best friends for years, and they both live to their early 90’s, when one of them suddenly falls deathly ill. His friend visits him on his deathbed, and while they’re reminiscing about their long friendship, the dying man’s friend asks, “Listen, when you die, will you do me a favor? I’d like to know if there’s baseball in heaven.”
The dying man said, “We’ve been friends for such a long time; I’ll do my best.” And then he dies. A couple days later, the surviving friend is sleeping when he hears his friend’s voice: “I’ve got some good news and some bad news. The good news is that there’s baseball in heaven.”
“What’s the bad news?” “You’re pitching on Wednesday.”
If you’re like me, you, too, have questions about what’s ahead – what we might expect when we are no longer on this earth, in these bodies.
I was doing a little straightening up around my apartment this week and realized that I had four books on my nightstand – three of them dealing with death. It’s not surprising given the number of deaths we have witnessed recently, I guess: spouses, parents, friends, neighboring children, our four-pawed partner, Angel, not to mention the thousands of our not-so-near neighbors in the Philippines.
This wondering about death and what comes next is part of the story we hear in our readings today – but it is not the only wondering that is piqued by these lessons. Behind the question of “what’s next” is a more profound wondering that has to do with time itself. How do we understand time itself?
For the most part, I think we understand time as a linear phenomenon. We think in terms of the past, the present and the future – three distinct phases. We think about how things were back in the day, we try to understand and make sense of what we are experiencing now and we imagine what things will be like in the future.
There’s nothing wrong with this, of course. It makes perfect sense to organize our lives and our understanding according to an historical timeline.
The Hebrew people did it: according to the Old Testament, in the beginning there was nothing but primal chaos. God acted and the world as we know it emerged – and God said it was good.
The Hebrews were always interested in the past in its relation to the future; they were keenly aware that what had happened in the past might very well happen again. Their responsibility in the present was to remember their past, celebrate the good things that had occurred and then look forward to God’s blessing in the future.
Through the words of the prophets, they became acutely aware of the brokenness of the world – especially the brokenness of their relationship with the Creator. They looked forward to the day when God would make all things right, when the Messiah would come and all the evil in the world would be destroyed.
That was what Job was waiting for – deliverance and the experience of seeing God in the flesh. And that’s what today’s psalm points to – a future that is brighter than the past, an experience of God’s power and victory over evil – over all the bad stuff.
The understanding of time changed significantly during the first century for a couple of reasons. First, the philosophical and theological trends were being set by the Greeks. Their understanding of time originated in the experience of the fundamental rhythms of human life, night and day, seasons of the year and the cycles of heavenly bodies, the moon and the stars.
They saw birth and death, growth and decay, waxing and waning in the world around them and assumed this circular rhythm was applicable to all of creation, humankind included, always pointing to an over-arching, all-embracing eternity. In this circular view of time the rich and complex experience of the eternal “now” became as important as remembering the past or as anticipating the future. The past, the present and the future were all connected in a new way.
Enter – Jesus.
No longer was it necessary to look back to see God’s goodness and glory – nor were God’s people called upon to simply wait it out and watch with longing for the fulfillment of God’s promise.
Jesus’ life – his birth, his ministry, his death and most importantly, his resurrection were seen by his followers as the fulfillment of God’s promise of a new creation – a reality – THE reality – where death does not have the final say.
Of course, many believed that Jesus was nothing more than another Jewish Rabbi with some new ideas. The Sadducees, a religious sect more concerned with politics than spirituality, denied any form of physical resurrection. Their questioning of Jesus that we heard in our Gospel lesson had nothing to do with really wanting to know about life after death – they were trying to point out how ridiculous the whole idea of resurrection was.
But for those who believed and for those who now believe, the incarnation – the embrace of humanity by God – God’s putting on flesh and blood in the person of Jesus changed everything. The looking back and the waiting were over.
God had come into the world and all the colors of past, present and future began to bleed together creating something new: something new, but not something completely unfamiliar.
Will there be baseball in heaven? Who knows – I’m sort of hoping I’ll have a chance to learn how to kite surf!
What we can be sure of is that the God we worship today is a God of the living – just like Jesus said when he identified God as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who were as dead as anyone ever was by that time.
I like to think of it in this way – all things are alive to God at all times. And because we believe in a God who loves us enough to have become one of us, I don’t think we need to worry about what’s ahead. It may very well have a lot of the same colors and textures as the past and it may well be as bright as the incredible colors of the trees that surround us today. But over time, I’ve come to believe it will be – and just like the first creation, it will be good.
May our Lord, Jesus Christ himself and God our Father/Mother, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort our hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word – today and forever. Amen.