Resurrection

Today, I was blessed to worship with the Church of the Apostles, in Seattle, WA.  Here is the “reverb” (sermon) I shared.

Readings:

Ezekiel 37:1-14 (The valley of the dry bones)

Psalm 130 (“Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord”)

Romans 8:6-11 (“you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit”)

John 11:1-45 (“The raising of Lazarus”)

Sermon:

Do you believe in resurrection?

This is not a minor question.

Do you believe in the resurrection of the dead?

 

There is a strange disparity between the concepts of life and death.

You see, dead is not the same as not-alive.

Let me demonstrate with a thought experiment.

First, think of a dead body:

Lazarus, for instance.

Lazarus’ body stank.

So, as a good biologist, I have to admit, there was life there.

There was something growing –

it just wasn’t the man we know as Lazarus.

It’s not a pretty picture.

Lazarus was once alive,

and much of what we associate with death,

is really the residue of life.

The body, once vital, now decaying.

The familiar face becoming less familiar.

Even the crucial role he played in the life of his family, his community,

that gap would slowly close over.

Lazarus was once alive,

and then he was not.

Second, I want you to think of a vitamin,

perhaps a mineral supplement.

I want you to think of something that is going to be alive,

something that is going to be you,

but is not yet.

My first thought was food, but most of the food we eat

comes from the remains of something that was once alive.

In many ways, our life comes from the pieces and products

of plants and animals.

I’m thinking, instead, about what goes into making those plants and animals alive.

Again, as a biologist, I would point to the sunlight,

which gives plants energy

and the carbon dioxide in the air,

from which plants get their structure,

their material.

 

 

In English, there is no word for “going to be alive”

but there is a word for “used to be alive.”

Dead is something after, not something before.

 

And so I’ll ask you again.

Do you believe in the resurrection of the dead?

 

There was an idea, popular at least from the time of the Greeks

until the 19th century

called Spontaneous Generation.

Spontaneous generation suggests that worms

arise from the soil,

that non-living things give rise to living things.

This idea was ruled out by Francesco Redi and Louis Pasteur

and countless other scientists, who put the theory to the test.

They created sterile, life-free environments

and watched to see if life would arise within them.

It never did.

And so, we ruled out the idea that life could come from non-life…

At least until we decided we wanted a scientific answer

for where life came from in the first place.

That raises some serious problems.

Most scientists now believe that life arose from non-life

at some point early in the history of Earth,

but that it doesn’t happen any more,

though we can’t say why, exactly.

Perhaps it’s very rare event,

or perhaps new life is always gobbled up

by the more efficient, more evolved modern life.

It’s a fascinating idea and a fascinating history in philosophy and science.

It’s a mystery in many senses of the word.

 

I’m a fan of “origin of life” research in science.

I also think it had something to do with God, the life of the world,

at least from the perspective of theology.

For now, though, I just want to say this.

Spontaneous generation or “abiogenesis”

is not resurrection.

As important as first life is to Christians –

as important as the Creation must be to our understanding of the world,

it may not be as central as recreation and resurrection.

 

 

Resurrection is messy.

When you create something for the first time, you can set the rules;

it’s clean and safe,

but when you resurrect something,

it comes with baggage,

it comes with smell and wounds and history.

Perhaps this is why the story of Noah has such an appeal,

despite the rather scary things it says about God

starting over.

We know that in the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

God did a new thing.

God redeemed us instead of wiping us out and making something new.

 

That kind of resurrection takes courage,

both for God and for us,

to redeem what was lost,

instead of replacing it.

Do you believe in the resurrection of the dead?

 

There is another idea that I want to distinguish,

an idea related to, but not, I think, central to

Darwin’s concept of evolution.

Remember I said that life feeds on life.

We live by the consumption of animals and plants,

many of which live by the consumption of other animals and plants.

Lazarus’ body stank because something was living off of his body

and much of what we associate with death,

comes from the idea of one life feeding off of another.

The political philosopher Thomas Hobbes called it

Bellum omnium contra omnes,

the war of all against all.

More poetic, light-hearted, and possibly oblivious songsters

call it the circle of life.

Whether you believe in this or not,

whether it gives you hope in the passing cycles of the Earth,

or encourages you that competition and self-interest

produce the best outcome,

this is not resurrection.

There is an immense difference between

living off of what came before

and living again.

 

 

Resurrection does not give us an excuse to feed off of others.

It is not a conquest of the old world by the new.

And it is not an excuse to armor ourselves against suffering

or harm anyone for the sake of what is to come.

 

This kind of resurrection requires patience

to seek out the spark of life amongst the dry bones

and breath life onto it.

 

Do you believe in the resurrection of the dead?

 

The psalmist says,

“For there is forgiveness with you; therefore you shall be feared.” (130:4)

Who is this God who has the power to bring life from death?

What could be more frightening,

and what could be more hopeful,

than this resurrection?

In words that should be familiar around here:

this could change everything”

 

We must take seriously the idea that we are a resurrection people.

We must take seriously the notion that we are raised with Christ,

neither spontaneously generated,

nor feeding on the past,

nor even having slumbered.

We are quick from the dead.

We are the ones who have died and risen again,

and in that rising, we have such life in us,

that it cannot help but overflow.

 

Do you believe in the resurrection of the dead?

 

We find ourselves, as Ezekiel did,

surrounded by the remains of life.

This is not to say that we are not living,

perhaps even thriving atop the ruins.

But that is not the same as resurrection.

That is not the same as putting flesh back on bones.

Ask yourself what you would like to see remade,

refreshed, refleshed?

 

 

Each of us goes through life,

suffering the tiny deaths of disappointment, fear, loss.

Sometimes we hurt one another intentionally.

Far more often it comes from the tragic accidents

that occur when we do not see one another clearly,

the apathetic or simply tired collisions

between our priorities and those of others.

We find that it is not enough simply to live,

we must learn to overcome death.

We must find ways to experience one another,

suffer one another,

love one another

with all the losses that entails,

and then forgive one another,

and be reborn.

It’s not easy.

It’s not forgetfulness or endurance.

It’s not spiritual armor or blind faith.

Though each of those has their time and place.

 

It’s genuine, no holds barred resurrection.

I know you.

I remember when we called COTA

“the last stop on the way out of the church.”

We’ve struggled with addiction and need,

feeling neglected and feeling alone.

We’ve weathered broken relationships and broken promises.

And we were reborn.

 

We have that to share,

a body still bearing the scars of the past,

but miraculously whole at the same time.

 

And so I must ask you,

Do you believe in the resurrection of the dead?

Have you seen it?

I have.

 

 

We wait for miracles to happen,

but we don’t just wait for miracles to happen.

We look for the resurrection of the dead,

but we aren’t passive spectators.

We are the dry bones enfleshed,

but we are also the wind the blows over them.

 

“This could change everything”

Do you believe that?

Are you willing to be the flesh and the breath?

Are you excited enough about the resurrection,

to claim it as the central truth in your life?

Not the claim that you have been saved,

but that your resurrection is part of something bigger,

part of something profound,

part of the coming kingdom.

 

I have come to realize that not dying is not enough.

Even being alive is not enough.

Being alive has to do with chemistry and entropy and messiness.

It’s a wonderful blessing.

I am a part of the world God has made,

but that is not enough for me.

I have come to realize that there is more.

 

I believe in the resurrection of the dead

and the life of the world to come.

 

Do you?

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Resurrection

  1. Pingback: REVERB, REV LUCAS MIX: 06 APRIL 2014 + LENT 5 (YEAR A) | COTA blog

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