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Be Ye Doers of the Word and Not Hearers Only

Pentecost 23 – Year

Most of us could be Sadducees. Sadducees were very wealthy, religious people who lived mostly in the capital of their state–in their case it was, of course, Jerusalem. It wasn’t that they were bad people at all. They all came from good families. You had to come from a good family in order to be a Sadducee. It had to be a family with a name, with a history and a tradition. They were educated. They didn’t believe much in change or new ideas. They especially didn’t believe in the resurrection, because there was no proof.

There was this wandering, rather popular preacher from the Galilee named Jesus–you have, no doubt, heard of him. He was willing to live his life in response to God, because he loved life, and people, and God. Jesus talked about a lot of things that were quite hard to prove, not the least of which was the resurrection. Jesus was killed because the society in which he lived was threatened by his vision. They demanded he conform. Jesus thought it was more important to align his life with God. As a result, God has used Jesus’ life, ever since, as a tangible sign that God loves us and will not leave us in death.

Most of us don’t believe that message. We don’t believe it because we cannot prove it. At best we’re a little like the comedian Woody Allen, who says, “I don’t believe in the afterlife, but I’m bringing a change of underwear just in case.” A lot of us hope that, by coming to church, we can pick up our change of underwear, in case there is something to this talk about resurrection. It’s called hedging our bets.

In the year 270 B.C. a man by the name of Aristarchus of Samos saw a footprint on the sand and deduced from all the evidence to the contrary that the earth might go around the sun. People thought he was crazy. Centuries later Copernicus read Aristarchus and found some footprints of his own. He believed against long accumulated negative evidence that the earth did indeed go around the sun, but when he said so, they wanted to put him in jail even though he was dying. In every century there are always a handful of people who have the courage to believe that truth could be larger than anyone dared imagine. In the case of religious people this means that love is always more powerful than the evidence would suggest.

The Sadducees came to Jesus trying to trick him because their system of believing was so small. Jesus tried to get them to see that the love of God was far beyond anything they could dare to imagine. I love what Albert Camus has said: “Great ideas come into the world as gently as doves. Perhaps then, if we listen attentively, we shall hear, amid the uproar of empires and nations, a faint flutter of wings, the gentle stirring of life and hope.”

Job speaks of invincible trust against insurmountable odds. “For I know that my Redeemer liveth and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth; and though this body be destroyed, yet shall I see God; whom I shall see on my side and mine eyes shall behold, and not as a stranger.” Every time I read those words at the beginning of a burial service, I get goosebumps. Just reading those words I believe them. Job lost everything, and still, he believed. He didn’t even have Jesus.

Jesus tells us about this God of the living to whom all people–every person, the wounded and the victorious–are alive. He offers his life as a ransom, that through him, we can dare to believe in the goodness of God. In this Christ we see evidence of hope amid the wreckage, sunlight in spite of the shadows.

There used to be a course in theology at Harvard entitled “God the Problem.” Isn’t that typical Harvard arrogance? Presumably, if God were a problem, then Harvard could solve it, and we could go on to some higher level course with other problems and other fields to conquer. The notion of God suggests to me something other than a problem. For God is a mystery, not waiting for our intellect to solve its identity, but waiting for our hearts to enjoy its inexhaustibility.

Diogenes Allen, an old friend and Cowley Father, wrote,”We do not solve mysteries, we enter them. The deeper we enter them, the more illumination we get. Still greater depths are revealed to us the further in we go. In contrast to this, when a problem is solved, it is over and done with. We go on to other problems. But a mystery once recognized is something we never finish with. It is never exhausted. Instead we return to it again and again and it unfolds new levels to us.”

God is an eternal mystery; a relationship in which you and I are eternally bound together, each with one another and with God. We return to that mystery over and over again because we are engaged, tantalized, stimulated, overwhelmed, and impressed by that relationship. It is a relationship that draws us in and sustains us at the same time. It does not give us answers; it does give us meaning. The mystery of divine love and human life, the mystery of our creation, preservation, and redemption, the mystery of the cross and the savior who hangs upon it, the mystery of wrestling with Satan and prevailing, the mystery of our very lives calls us to be open to new possibilities. It is the mystery that moves our hearts, not by fact, reason, or analysis, but by holy love. It is that same mystery by which at our death our fears are overcome and transcended by a peace which the world cannot give and cannot take away.
The Resurrection is like God’s kiss to us–a promise that God’s love is intimate, eternal, and will never let us slip away. A kiss, after all, from someone you love is a tangible sign of a mystery that cannot be defined by words. It is a promise, a commitment, an intimate gift of love from one person to another; which is precisely how I would describe the resurrection.

I have told you once before the story of Thomas Moore, not the one of Henry VIII fame, or the modern author, but the 19th-century Irish poet. Returning home from a business trip to the continent, he was met at the door by the village doctor and not his beautiful new bride. The doctor told him that his wife was upstairs but she did not want to see him. While he was gone for several months she had contracted smallpox. Her once beautiful skin was now terribly flawed, marked by the pox and scarred. She had taken one look at her reflection in the mirror and commanded that the shutters be drawn and her husband never see her again.

Moore would not listen. He ran upstairs and threw open the door to his wife’s room. It was black as night inside. Her face was buried in the pillow. Not a sound came from the darkness. Groping along the wall Moore reached for the gas jets. A startled cry came from the bed, “No Thomas. Don’t turn on the lamps! I beg you! “He knew she was crying. Moore hesitated. Her voice pleaded with him.”Go!” she said, “Please go. This is the greatest gift I can give you now. Remember me as I was, not as I am.”

Moore did go. He went down to his study where he sat all night writing. Not a poem this time, but a song. He had never written a song before this night.
He not only wrote the words, he wrote the music, too. And the next morning, as the sun was coming up, he returned to his wife’s room. It was still dark and shuttered. He asked if she were awake. Her face was still buried in the pillow. “I am,” she said, “But please, Thomas, do not look on me. You must not see me like this. Do not press me, Thomas, I am quite sure.” “I will sing to you then,” he said. And for the first time Thomas Moore sang to his wife this song:

Believe me, if all those endearing young charms,
Which I gaze on so fondly today,
Were to change by tomorrow, and flee from my arms,
Like fairy gifts, fading away;
Thou wouldst still be adored, as this moment thou art;
Let thy loveliness fade as it will…

As he sang and she listened, he heard her move as he continued, “Let thy loveliness fade as it will. And around the dear ruin each wish of my heart Would entwine itself verdantly still.” The song faded and his voice trailed off. She got up. Slowly she crossed the darkened room, reached up and opened the shutters and looked upon her husband. And he kissed her.

Resurrection is love. When we think we have lost everything, we are embraced and surrounded by God’s love. It is God’s enduring kiss. And it is his promise to human life. When someone loves you, it means they carry something of who you are in them. It means that they can summon a part of you up in them when they need you. It means you are never entirely lost or alone, so long as you trust in that love. It is a love that helps us to know who we are and to remember that we actually do exist.

God carries a piece of each one of us in God’s soul. God never forgets who we are from the moment we are born. God’s love never leaves us. It’s a little like Thomas Moore waiting for his wife to realize that love, real love, holy love, is stronger than death. Once we throw open the shutters, there is no stopping that resurrected love. And the glory of it all is that we do not have to wait until we die to see God, for God is seen and felt and heard among us. Alleluia!

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