Sermon

November 10, 2019–The Rev. David Rider

By November 14, 2019 No Comments

C Proper 27
Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost 2019
St Michael’s Church, NYC
The Rev David Rider
November 10, 2019

Luke 20:27-38

Let me break it to you gently: the Christmas holiday season beckons from just beyond the horizon

Soon, you’ll receive some number of invites to parties large and small, those from the office, neighbors or loved ones (take a deep breath and relax)

Statistically speaking, I bet you will stumble onto a fellow party-goer who lives back in the day, who has one too many drinks, and begins to lament that family values and social mores have gone to hell in a hand basket

If that happens to you, consider ditching the guest in favor of someone more interesting

Alternately, if you choose to engage the lamenter, boy, do I have a Bible text for you, which we just heard from Luke’s Gospel

Today’s text comes from the section of Luke in which Jesus teaches in the Temple and spars continuously with religious authorities on topics like his authority, paying taxes, and—today—the resurrection

This time, the Sadducees take their turn of adversarial engagement with a creepy story of unbridled patriarchy that—according to a modern ear—borders on domestic violence

Now the Sadducees appear only today in all of Luke’s Gospel, though they show up a half-dozen times in Matthew’s Gospel and the Book of Acts

They are elitist 1%ers who become Temple aristocrats for about 100 years and have a strident teaching against resurrection

They love exaggeration, too, shown today by foisting seven brothers upon this exhausted widow who seemingly has little say about her body or destiny, all based on one verse in DT 25 that suggests a duty to produce offspring for a deceased brother as an act of continued lineage as an old-school form of resurrection

In other words, this model rejects pie-in-the-sky life beyond death in favor of continued family lineage as one’s legacy mark on the world

Jesus responds with paradoxical interpretations of marriage, the present/future paradox, and resurrection that could keep us deciphering here until sunset

Must we marry in the first place, or should we skip it altogether?

In the resurrection, will we recognize and affiliate with loved ones (or, for that matter, with enemies)?

Does God recognize us—and do we recognize God—differently postmortem from now?

Both now and postmortem, what does it mean to be made alive in God?

No doubt, these are big questions that might make you shrink back to something more concrete like what’s for lunch

However we get our minds around these big-ticket items, we share common individual and communal stakes in topics like healthy intimacy—whether we never marry or end up with seven spouses—our current and long-term relationship with God and our ultimate place in the universe as the ultimate trajectory of this journey

Most of us like more bite-sized understandings of success and meaning—if I struggle to get my laundry clean, how can I have time or energy to figure out with whom I will be hanging in the resurrection?

Whether we go with the long game or prefer shorter-term G&Os, we believe that God loves us and equips us to manage daily life with joy and integrity

When we are honest, we recognize that we never are fully in charge of this life, from our medical status to our loved ones and our plans for the future

Yet this does not mean that we schlep through the day with our only goal to be landing our head in our pillow at bedtime

To invoke a theme with deep biblical roots and more recently captured in our parish core values, we function as stewards who work on behalf of another—God—in whom we have deep trust to move us into the future

To function as a steward becomes a bit counter-cultural to our postmodern age, in that we don’t have to make up all reality and we don’t have to live completely absorbed in ourselves

As a wonderful antidote to a world of me/myself/I, stewards embrace a derivative identity of working for another, again, for God

In this biblical spirit, stewards till ground owned by another and remain open to guidance and accountability to someone beyond our own nose

Stewards live into careful boundaries and guidelines—by design, the Ten Commandments are not called the Ten Suggestions—rejecting a vapid narcissistic notion that I do whatever I want because I want it

Stewards live beyond themselves and remain accountable to a divine force larger than their own egos

Our generous stewarding flows from the abundance of a God who loves us radically and calls us each by name

The beauty of this vision provides a fugal theme through our parish core values

It certainly permeates the multitude of ministries that pulsate through this parish and through our engagement with this City via our work and volunteer efforts

When we metabolize the grace-filled abundance that God gives us in baptism, then our biggest risk comes in hoarding it

Our biggest joy comes in stewarding it through our time, talent and treasure—through our ministries both inside and outside these walls

As John puts it elsewhere in nearly every paragraph of his Gospel, we lead fruitful lives

We don’t suck up to God in a self-serving effort to secure a place in the resurrection—rather, we give to the world because God first gave to us

We do some heavy lifting in this life in response to the profligate love that God sends our way as modeled in Jesus Christ

In an earlier chapter of my life during a 10-year stint in Washington DC, I trained and functioned as a psychotherapist, a role that enabled highly structured and deep conversation with people over many months of time

Whatever the presenting issues that brought clients into this relationship, we often weaved our way back to family-of-origin concerns that could be stripped down to scarcity vs. abundance

When you think way back, was there enough food or money or love or time or energy to go around—or was it a zero-sum-gain about one sibling’s getting something at the expense of another?

These initial building blocks equip or impair us throughout life as we project them in positive and negative ways onto new relationships and life tasks

Our families of origin get it joyfully right and painfully wrong in myriad ways—each of us has a unique therapeutic story

Our most generous families embrace the reality that one plus one equals three, equipping us with identity, courage and generosity that we take into adulthood and our core relationships

Same with our church

At St Michael’s, we celebrate the Good News (not strident hectoring) that God loves us beyond measure and shapes us into abundant stewards for the needs of our households, our faith community, our work commitments and our world

Our core values embrace discipleship, spiritual growth, diversity, community, joy and stewardship as a way of life and commitment

As stewards, we become beacons of hope and reconciliation in a world gone mad

At least on our good days, we find moral ballast for our individual ethics and communal justice, rejecting fake news and self-serving rationalizations

When we screw up—a colloquialism for sin—we ask forgiveness, make restitution, and embrace amendment of life

At least, we do no harm: we steward our shadow side, too, so that we not injure others with our potential for harm

If the party season lies just over the horizon, so does Advent, a time to start anew with brooding cosmology and our need for a Savior

We recognize that we need a Savior and not an occasional life coach

As stewards, we live into God’s abundance and rejoice that we work for a larger cause in the reconciliation of this world

At the end of Advent, we’ll celebrate the greatest act of abundance in all creation, with the simple mandate not to hoard it but to steward it in our daily lives

Steward—the job description rocks, and we give thanks for the opportunity to serve in God’s name

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