This is our culture... If you’re sitting at a table with friends…and you're not sure of something, look it up. And not in an encyclopedia that sits at home, requiring you to wait, but immediately, at dinner with friends, a question comes up and we google the answer. Which at times can be fun. So fun in fact, that I’m often the first one to do it because being the one with the answer comes with a thrill. And if there’s someone else at the table who has discovered the same thrill, like my friend Bentley, then there’s a secondary thrill of racing one another to the answer.
But there’s a different kind of thrill that’s been with us since the beginning of time. Not knowing. And the value that brings. First, there’s the moment at the table where no-one knows the answer….the pause, and silence. Sitting in that silence and wondering out loud together what the answer might be…is a kind of art…We’re losing the art of conversation in many ways, and this is just one. Instead of looking up the answer, there’s a beauty in wondering out loud together. Maybe this is the answer…”Oh yea,” says the person across the table, “or maybe this.” And a third and fourth possibility, each person building upon the other’s wondering, into a beautiful imagined answer, a collaborative imagined answer, every bit as real, in that moment, as anything else. We are, as a whole in our culture becoming less tolerant of the not knowing that leads us into wondering and the imagination. I’m on a mission to bring those back, but I might have to throw out my phone in the process.
To just wonder...is a gift, like a muscle that needs exercise…it’s a gift we’re born with…why is the sky blue? the grass green, where do the stars end and why is the moon round? It’s not lost on me that we have a lot of engineers in our congregation who can give me answers to all those questions, but my point is that we were born with the ability to wonder and there’s wisdom in not knowing….. And Jesus knew it.
The Sadducees in this mornings scripture are testing him.
They start off reasonably, by pointing to the Torah in the Hebrew Bible. This is what Moses taught us, they say. If a man’s brother dies and leaves behind a widow with no children, the brother is obligated to marry the widow. And if that brother dies, and the next brother marries her. And they do this seven times. Finally, they turn to the real question, only they aren’t interested in the answer. They’re making a point….If there is a resurrection of the dead, then who exactly does this woman belong to when they are resurrected? Maybe they start to walk away, hands in pockets, proud of the point they made. Or maybe, they lean in, like a fisherman waiting to see if Jesus will take the bait.
Jesus responds without falling into the trap the Sadducees set. He meets them where they are. He points them back to the Torah, the book they themselves first pointed to. He points to the next age as a place that moves out this age of marriage and beyond to the resurrection, where they are…and I quote… are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons[b] of the resurrection. But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.”
God is a God of the living.
Living now, and living in ways we can’t possibly understand. With no road map, no GPS, no google, we trust in a God who is eternal and eternally holding us in this life and after this life in a life we can’t see or taste or touch, but that we trust with our whole being the same way we trust that God is with us now. It’s not a perfect road map, and we get lost for sure, and we doubt and we wonder but are given everything we need to live and to die and to trust in love, which is the same as trusting in God, a love that never dies but stay with us eternally.
There’s a beautiful interpretation of the psalm you heard the morning…As you might remember the word God, or Lord, in Hebrew is YWHW and it’s not translatable. And this interpretation uses the world eternal for Lord…
I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Eternal
the Maker of heaven and earth.
The Eternal is your guardian, The Eternal is your protection
The eternal is a word that’s difficult to wrap our heads around. So I googled it. And ironically, the definition opens up the imagination, rather than shutting down the conversation… Without end or beginning. Which means it’s timeless.
God is a God of the living. Without end or beginning…Now and eternally.
I’m reminded of my high school friend Linda whose father Mr Cramer, used to ask me the same question every time I saw him. “What do know, Nicole?”
Here’s what I know, only I don’t know it, but I believe it with all my heart should and strength… Death is a part of life. As natural as anything else. And the more we accept that and examine that, the more the road map points us back to the direction of our life, not our death. Accepting death allows us to embrace our life.
After she was diagnosed with metastatic cancer that ultimately took her life, author Nina Riggs said, “Dying isn’t the end of the world. There are so many things that are worse than death: old grudges, a lack of self-awareness, severe constipation, no sense of humor, the grimace on your husband’s face as he empties your surgical drain into the measuring cup.”
If we get any road map it’s the one that directs us back to this life, the one we’re living. And the loved ones who have gone before us point us time and time again back to this life, and the ways in which we love now, is in direct relationship to the ways in which we continue to love them.
PAGE 592 (Mishkan Hanefesh)
They are with us, and the choices we make about how to live the good life now… are in direct relationship to how we honor their memories. Even when things were imperfect between us, as love often is. But if we've learned anything, it’s that we tend to forget the imperfections over time, and we remember the good. This is especially true as a parent. I don’t remember the tantrums and the sleepless nights nearly as much as I remember the first birthday cake, or the first steps.
If there’s one book in the bible that searches the existential question of why we’re here it’s the book of Ecclesiastes.
The book struggles with the meaning of life in light of death. Again and again it repeats the refrain “Vanity, vanity, all is vanity,”But King Solomon, to whom the book of Ecclesiastes is traditionally attributed, is not just pessimistic. He sees a way out of the abyss…The solution is to embrace the temporary nature of life, and without looking beyond, to savor the moment. One must focus on the here and now. Indeed, there is no permanence.
Bt there’s something else in our bible that brings comfort. It lives in the second half. It lives in the life of Jesus Christ and in the death of Jesus Christ and most especially in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It lives in a resurrection we can’t wrap our heads around nor should we try to google our way into understanding, but rather sit with it, in the silence until the silence is no longer uncomfortable but becomes a comfort in the wisdom of imagining.
Jesus Christ, from death lives eternally in our lives here and beyond, just as our loved ones live eternally here and beyond through our love. God is indeed a God of the living, and Christ, is our living gift for the eternal love of God.
This life, the life after, neither one comes with google maps. We have this moment, we have this love, and each time we fill it with love, reconciliation, forgiveness, kindness, Jesus is alive, surrounding us, eternally present, and with us.