The Ultimate Word

"The ultimate Word is not a paragraph but a person. If Jesus is the Word of God incarnate, then the heart of proclamation is personal and relational, not propositional."

Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki * God, Christ, Church, page 135

Saturday, May 31, 2008

November 11, 2007
24 Pentecost, Proper 27C
Luke 20:27-38

In the Name of God: One, Holy, and Living. Amen.

“POP!”… Could’ve had a V8.

I’d bet you all know the commercial I’m talking about. A young man, probably in his 40s, dressed in a conservative, black business suit, is sitting in a nice looking restaurant, at a round table. He’s talking with other clean-cut, well-dressed, professional looking men. The waiter comes by, points to the man’s plate and says, “You still working on that?” The man politely says “No.” The waiter then removes it and notices a large, untouched pile of broccoli on this otherwise empty plate. With not a word, and only the slightest roll of his eyes, the waiter reaches over to the man and – “POP” – he pops him on the forehead producing a sound strangely similar to the sound made by the breaking of the vacuum seal of a V8 bottle when it’s opened for the first time. As the waiter turns from the now-confused patron we hear a voiceover reminding us, “Could’ve had a V8.”

It’s a good commercial. Not only is it simple, fairly entertaining, and informative, but like all good advertising, and for that matter like all good teaching and even preaching, it meets us where we are. It connects with us on a level that we can all understand and relate to. I mean, I suppose it’s not likely that you’ve ever been enjoying a meal in a restaurant when you were inexplicably assaulted by the wait staff, but we have all had those moments in our lives when we were going along, not even paying attention to what we were doing, when seemingly out of nowhere some flash of realization hits us – a moment of clarity – like a pop on the forehead.

I often have those flashes of new sight when I take the time to hush those busy and anxious thoughts that are usually swirling about in my mind. When I surround myself with quiet and allow myself to become still my mind will usually follow along; and, through that stillness I can sometimes see the busy-ness that tends to swirl about me with new, calm understanding.

It also happens when I listen to music – particularly music that I know well. It’s not uncommon for me to listen to something that I’ve heard hundreds of times before when suddenly some lyric or musical phrase will stand out for me as if I had never heard it before. I’ll hear something new amidst the old and wonder how I could have looked past it before.

This is what happens in today’s Gospel lesson – Jesus, like the waiter in the V8 commercial, smacks the heads of the Sadducees into a new way of seeing what was always in front of them. They were trying to trip him up by proposing a riddle that would challenge his teachings about resurrection. They said, “There were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, whose wife will the woman be?” But Jesus could see beyond their words. He recognized that they weren’t asking about marriage customs or laws as the façade of their words might have suggested. Instead, they were speaking out of their deep fear that the new way of thinking that Jesus proposed would upset the thin grip that they tried to hold on their understanding of reality. The worldview of the Sadducees insisted that life ended at death. Jesus threatened to upset that worldview and it scared the Sadducees to death – and not life after death, just death.

But why were the Sadducees so afraid of Jesus’ ideas? For most of us, the idea of life after death breeds comfort, not contempt!

Sure, it’s true that most of us take comfort in the idea of resurrection; but, isn’t it also true that there can be a part of each of us that can be tempted by the idea of the finality of the physical realm? At first glance, you might disagree, but look closer. Life can be challenging. Every day we struggle to ensure our security. In that struggle we face countless obstacles – jobs, mortgages, raising children, passing tests, caring for ailing parents, difficult bosses, difficult clients, difficult spouses, and the ever-difficult New Jersey driver. The list could go on all day. In the face of this onslaught of obstacles, it can begin to seem that our only defense is logic. If that driver would just follow the rules… If my boss or client or spouse would just listen to reason… Finite problems demand finite solutions. Right?

When people and things die we see them no more, so they must be no more. Right? Jesus said no. “POP!” Your question about death, and husbands, and ownership isn’t even the right question. That’s not what resurrection is about. Resurrection is about life, just as God is about life. Moses spoke of the One that he met at the bush as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. So God is God not of the dead, but of the living! To God, all of those saints that we name are living!

It’s a departure from logic. Truth often is. Last week we called out the names of those dear ones who have preceded us in death. To the casual observer it might have seemed that we were engaging in that prayerful ritual because they had died. But all of us who offered names know that’s not true. The truth is, we did that out of our profound gratefulness that they live on in our hearts and even in some aspects of ourselves. It may not be exactly logical, but it is true.

We are people of resurrection. We practice it in all of our saint’s day’s liturgies, and each week we stand in solidarity with the saints of the ages in saying “We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” But even so that twinge of doubt lingers. In each of us there can be that little Sadducee inside who would rather have clarity and logic even if it means we must bind God into too small of a box for the sake of our own simple understandings – even if it means we must sacrifice truth. In so many of the anxious moments of our lives we will find that our anxiety is borne out of dissonances between our understandings of what is logical and what underlies as truth. Think about it. What makes you anxious? What makes you angry? What makes you afraid? Perhaps your anxiety, anger, and fear are healthy responses to the situations that you face – sometimes they are – but sometimes they are signs that our faith has been misplaced. For the Sadducees, their faith was misplaced in the limits of the world that they could see. When I’m anxious, angry, and afraid I usually find that the same is true for me – I’ve somehow grown too faithful in my own limited perspective. And I usually don’t even notice it until I slow down and make space for God to pop me in the forehead with some new clarity that I wouldn’t allow myself to see before.

How will you be open to the new perspectives that God longs to show you? What effect might that have on the anxiety, anger, and fear that swirls about in your head?

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