Sermon for Sunday, April 21, 2019 || Easter Day C || JOHN 20:1-18
Here we are at long last: Easter Sunday, a long wait this year, two-thirds of the way through the month of April. But it could have been longer. April 25th is the latest Easter can be, but that hasn’t happened since 1943 and won’t happen again until 2038, which coincidentally is the year I’ll be eligible to retire. Unlike most holidays, which are fixed on a particular date or day of the month, the date of Easter (and the Jewish Passover) springs from something much grander – the motion of celestial bodies. We start with the vernal equinox, the day in March when the earth is tilted just so in relation to the sun to make day and night the same exact length. Then we find the next full moon, and the Sunday following is this day of Resurrection.
(Sermon for Sunday, November 10, 2013 || Proper 27C || Luke 20:27-38)
Today, I’d like to speak with you on a topic I’m entirely unqualified to talk about. No, it’s neither mortgage-backed securities nor the sport of cricket, though I’m definitely unqualified to talk about each. Nor is the topic the mysterious reasons for why my wife’s apple pie is so much more delicious than the ones I used to make. I know that one has something to do with butter, but that’s as far my understanding takes me. No, today I’d like to speak with you on a topic that no one besides Jesus has ever been qualified to talk about. I’d like to speak with you today about God’s point of view.
Because I’m unqualified to talk about this topic, you’ll have to take everything I say with a grain of salt. In the next few minutes I might say something that is true, but if I do, it will have been by accident because what I’m really going to do is talk about Adam’s point of view about God’s point of view. But maybe, just maybe, the Holy Spirit will help us glimpse the corner of the edge of the majesty of how God sees things.
So with those caveats aside, let’s listen in to the end of Jesus’ conversation with those wily Sadducees in today’s Gospel reading. They thought they could embarrass Jesus with a trick question, but in characteristic fashion, Jesus answers the question he wishes they had asked, not the one they’d actually asked. He finishes with these words: “The fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”
Here Jesus references the third chapter of the book of Exodus, in which God says, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham…Isaac, and…Jacob.” Jesus notices that God doesn’t say, “I was the God of your father…” From our limited point of view, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are long dead – somewhere in the neighborhood of three thousand years ago, or about a thousand years in Jesus’ day. But God, says Jesus, sees things differently, as his emphatic end to the conversation demonstrates: “Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”
This is our first glimpse into God’s point of view: “to God all of them are alive.” Can you imagine what that must be like for God? All of creation from the moment that moments began alive all at once. Every star that died billions of years ago, but whose light is just reaching us now; every single-celled organism gliding through the primordial ooze; every person we have ever loved and every person we have never known; all of them alive to God, all of it happening now for God.
I don’t know about you, but I get a little dizzy just trying to comprehend this thought – the riot of color and sound, the collision of what we see as the past and future, the unmeasured light years of space and uncounted eons of time all seen now by God, all spoken into being now by God, all loved and cherished now by God.
We can’t ever hope to comprehend this thought because we live our lives in linear fashion, moving moment to moment. We have memories of the past, and we have hopes for the future. Yesterday happened yesterday. It’s not still happening today. This linear model is like flipping through the pages of a magazine. Once I’ve flipped from page 35 to 36, I’m no longer looking at page 35. But from God’s point of view, the magazine is a collage of all the pages, with each picture cut out and arranged just so, like an elementary school art project.
This thought comforts me. From God’s point of view, I’m not simply Adam as I stand here before you: two months until his 31st birthday, his mother visiting from North Carolina, his sermon moving along apace. No. From God’s point of view, I am the totality of myself: everything that has ever happened, everything that will ever happen, every joy, every regret, every skinned knee, every embrace, every relationship, every failure, every triumph – everything that makes me the person I am, God sees and God speaks into being. This totality of myself includes my death and whatever there is in what we would call “After,” but what God still sees as “Now.”
The apostle Paul understands the difficulty of speaking about God’s point of view, and he says what I’m trying to say much better than I ever could. He says these words to the church in Corinth: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12).
To be fully known. This is how God’s point of view works. God knows us fully. God knows the totality of each of us, just like God sees the entirety of creation happening now.
Speaking about God’s point of view has the unfortunate byproduct of making us feel so small, even insignificant. It’s only natural in the face of the idea that all of creation is always present to God to think that we don’t matter, that in the grand cosmic scale our lives are worthless.
But from God’s point of view, nothing could be farther from the truth. God couldn’t care less about the “grand cosmic scale” because the notion of a “scale” of any kind is meaningless to our eternal and infinite God. God speaks every subatomic particle into being and celebrates it as if it were the only speck in existence. Each speck has God’s full attention; if it didn’t, it would cease to be.
We may look up at the night sky and see ourselves as small, insignificant specks on a small, insignificant planet orbiting a small, insignificant star. But to do so is to deny the truth not just about ourselves, but about all of creation. All of creation is present to all of God. This includes you and me. If God weren’t constantly and continuously speaking each of us into existence, we would cease to be.
So if we are anywhere in the ballpark of the truth of God’s point of view, what does this all mean for us? Too many things, of course, to close this sermon with, so we’ll look at three – what we call past, present, and future, but each of which is always now to God.
First, the past and our grief over people dying: From our perspective, the sun sets below the horizon. But in reality, we are spinning away from the sun. Likewise, we grieve when someone dies because, from our perspective, that loved one is gone. But we know in a place deeper than normal knowing that, in reality, our loved one is still alive to God. Ultimately, grief is a way to express our frustration that we have a severely limited ability to perceive reality. But for anyone who has ever had a loved one die, you know that every now and again, you catch glimpses of true reality when you feel the presence of that loved one alive in a different way.
Second, the present: Since God is fully present to every particle of creation, which includes each of us, we have no business thinking of ourselves or anybody else as insignificant. Everyone matters, so we must affirm this in our actions.
Third, the future: Those we perceive as future generations are as alive to God as we are. Therefore, it is our duty to honor their significance in the same way we are called to honor those we meet today. This means making choices in our personal and communal lives that sustain our world, which, in the end, is another piece of creation fully present to God and therefore worthy of our honor.
So there you have it. I have now talked for more than ten minutes on a topic I’m entirely unqualified to speak about. However, being unqualified does not mean that we shouldn’t strive to see creation through the eyes of God. When we do this, we become better stewards, better servants, better followers. And we see deeper into the heart of what it means to be a child of God.