Sunday, November 3, 2019

Phil Kniss: To live again

Death and Resurrection, All Saints Day
John 12:23-26; 1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-44a

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It wasn’t really intentional to have this worship series on creation
overlap with other special days in our church calendar,
but when we got to planning it,
and mapping out the themes,
it became obvious there was a seamless connection
between three other special Sundays
that circle around every fall,
and this sustained focus on Creation.

Partly, because Creation, as a theological theme,
is one of the most expansive, and central to understanding God.
There is very little we can talk about as people of faith,
that doesn’t, in some way, circle back to creation theology.
It makes sense,
because our very identity and vocation as human beings
was set out for us in the Creation narrative.

No surprise, for instance,
that we used World Communion Sunday,
the first Sunday in October,
to reflect on the role that the nations of the world play
in God’s relationship to the created earth and its peoples.

No surprise, either, that our annual fall focus on stewardship,
a few weeks from now,
will tie right in to Creation theology,
since God invited us, Genesis 2, to be stewards of the whole cosmos.

And no surprise that All Saints Sunday, today,
a beloved annual remembrance of those who have died,
will also be enriched by holding it
alongside our celebration of Creation . . . and . . .
that our celebration of Creation will be enriched,
by holding it alongside our remembrance of the dead.

As followers of Jesus,
and as worshippers of the Exalted and Risen Christ,
we all know that resurrection is a major theological theme.

But, resurrection is not something that’s easy and straightforward
to grab hold of,
or make perfect sense of,
or fit nicely into an airtight philosophical framework,
especially in our modern rationalistic and scientific age.

Theologians and Bible scholars have been arguing over the nuances
of resurrection,
since the beginning.
Even Jesus got into the argument,
with the different religious parties of his day.

It’s challenging.
But it will not do to dismiss it.
It is absolutely central to Christian theology,
and (I would argue) absolutely essential
to the practice of daily Christian discipleship,
of following Jesus.
We must do the work of finding a way to incorporate resurrection
into our own faith framework.
Without resurrection, it’s more than a stretch,
to identify ourselves as part of the Jesus movement.

but what, exactly, am I asking us to affirm?
And how does this connect with Creation?

I won’t stand here and tell you
exactly how to articulate a theology of resurrection
that qualifies you to call yourself Christian.
That’s between you and God.

But I will tell you what I think is
a sound, and fruitful, and biblical metaphor to use,
to begin to grasp the good news of resurrection, and embrace it.

That metaphor is in Creation.
Scriptures themselves turn to creation for help in this.
They don’t get all up in the air philosophical about it.
They get down in the dirt.

They talk about soil and seeds, about decay and renewal.
Jesus himself addressed the issue with this metaphor.

Leading up to chapter 12 in the Gospel of John
there was a growing unrest swirling around Jesus.
And apparently it centered on the resurrection of Lazarus,
Jesus’ friend who died, and who Jesus resurrected.
This event—whatever it happened to be—
catalyzed some strong reactions.
It strengthened the love and adoration of the crowds for Jesus.
And it intensified the resistance of the religious leaders
against Jesus.
So as the pressure was mounting,
and things were getting more dangerous for Jesus,
he started talking to his disciples more about his own death,
and resurrection.

He said, in the text we read this morning,
“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.
Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat
falls into the earth and dies,
it remains just a single grain;
but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
Those who love their life lose it,
and those who hate their life in this world
will keep it for eternal life.”

Of course, we know biology today
a little better than the writer of John’s Gospel.
We know a seed doesn’t literally die in order to sprout.
There is always life in that seed.
But that dormant life needs a specific set of conditions,
in order to enter into a new and modified form of life,
one that will start to expand, and push up through the soil,
and grow into a fruitful plant,
and produce more seeds like itself.

That was Jesus’ explanation of resurrection—
an ever-transforming, ever-changing and growing
and fruit-bearing kind of life.

And quite some years later,
the Apostle Paul, in the prime of his ministry journeys,
wrote a letter to the church at Corinth,
because they had sent him a letter asking him
about this mystery of the resurrection.
They didn’t know how it worked.
They said, in chap. 15, v. 35, “How are the dead raised?
With what kind of body?”
Sounds like the same sort of conversations
Christians have been having ever since.

So Paul wrote back, saying, essentially,
“Don’t be stupid!”
Actually, it was a little more harsh than that.
The NewRSV has him replying, “Fool!”
I think what he was saying is, “You’re asking the wrong question.”
Don’t worry about the “how” of it.
Just look to creation.
You will see it everywhere.
You will discover that life, and life eternal,
is woven by God into Creation itself.
Here’s what Paul said, words we heard a few minutes ago,
from 1 Corinthians 15—
“What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.
When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be,
but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else.
But God gives it a body as God has determined,
and to each kind of seed God gives its own body.”

By design, creation has a built in cycle of death and life.
When we sow,
that is, when we take a risk and go all in with God,
life will come from death which ends a life
that came from death, which ended a life,
that came from death, and on and on.
The life that emerges after a death,
is a different sort of life.
Don’t expect endless continuation of the same.
Expect transformation.
Expect new creation.

So it will be, Paul says, with the resurrection of the dead.
Not the same, but something new.
A body that is sown is perishable.
But it is raised imperishable.
Two different things.
As different as a cold, hard, brown, lumpy, Iris tuber is,
from its slender and tender green Iris stalk,
and its delicate and breathlessly beautiful Iris flower.
Same life, different form.

Does that answer the whole mystery?
Of course not.
That is not our task—to explain away the mystery.
It is our task to embrace the life that is,
and the life that will yet be,
the life that is beyond our ability to imagine.

Those of us who live by this mystery,
lose no sleep over our inability to explain it.
Rather, we go back out and keep planting.
We trust God to be about bringing forth life.
Not always in the way we expect.
And even, not always in the way God wants to see life unfold.
Unjust death and premature death still happens,
and God laments that as much as we do.
But the trajectory of the God of Creation,
is always toward life,
always toward resurrection.

So we keep going out.
We keep digging holes in the earth,
We keep dropping in seeds and bulbs.
We keep covering them with dirt.
And we keep waiting, hoping,
that life will one day show up again.

And usually, it does.
And sometimes its beauty takes our breath away.

This is how Creation works.
This is how God works.

One of things we do at Park View, as we live with the mystery,
as we wait, is to remember.
We bring the names to mind of those who have died,
while associated with Park View Mennonite Church.

Those who have died since last All Saints Day,
are pictured here on the front table,
and their names will be read aloud.

All those who died, since our beginning as a congregation,
are listed in the bulletin insert, by year.

Some died too soon,
or under circumstances that cannot be considered just or right.
Some died beautifully, and in what seemed to be a good season.

No matter how, or when, the death came,
the trajectory of Creation,
the arc of God’s activity in history is the same.
It is toward life.
It is toward beauty.
It is toward wholeness.

—Phil Kniss, November 3, 2019

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