“Be like the fox / who makes more tracks than necessary, / some in the wrong direction. / Practice resurrection.” May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and redeemer. Amen.
I was eight years old, and I was in love. Some may have called it puppy love, but it was love nonetheless. Her name was Jennifer and she was my first girlfriend. (Don’t worry, I’ve changed her name to protect the innocent) Our relationship was going just beautifully until it hit a crisis. Her birthday was on the horizon and I wanted to show her my love, and not only did I want to show her my love but I wanted to “wow” her in a way that would somehow secure our puppy love forever. So, I needed the perfect gift. The problem is: gift-giving is not my love language. Just ask my wife, Julie (she owns a lot of socks). So, I did what any 8 year old would do in this situation: I asked my mom for help. And my mom did what any mother-of-a-puppy-love-stricken-8-year-old-who-is-also-a-nurse would do: she bought a cute five dollar teddy bear from the gift shop at the hospital. When my mom handed me the teddy bear, I knew deep down my fate was sealed. Well, needless to say, Jennifer was not impressed with my gift and it failed to secure our puppy love forever. It was the beginning of the end for our beautiful relationship. A few weeks later, I heard through the children’s grapevine at church that she was going to break up with me. So, I did what any 8 year old would do in this situation: I puffed up my pride, went and found Jennifer immediately, and I said “You can’t break up with me, because I’m breaking up with you first.” Mission somewhat accomplished: my pride was intact but my hope for forever love was squashed.
In our gospel lesson today, Jesus similarly seems to squash our hopes for forever love. Testing Jesus in the Jerusalem Temple, the Sadducees question him with an absurd scenario: “Teacher,” they say, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.” Jesus responds to this absurd scenario, seeming to squash our hopes for forever love. He says, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.”
Now before we get too dismayed, we should note that Luke provides us with a key to interpreting this passage by describing the Sadducees as “those who say there is no resurrection.” Our passage for today is not about marriage. Our passage for today is about resurrection. The Sadducees are using this ancient marriage law called a Levirate Law to convey the absurdity, in their opinion, of belief in the resurrection. In ancient times, for those who didn’t believe in a resurrection, one’s name and identity continued through their children. The provision of children, then, was the means by which one not only continued to live on forever, but also was the means by which one ensured the perpetuation of property within their immediate family and guaranteed security for their family members who would be left vulnerable in a patriarchal society. The logic in Jesus’ response to the Sadducees is that in the resurrection, one’s identity is perpetuated as a Gift from God, thus, marriage defined as an arrangement intended to bear children so that one might secure one’s future beyond death wouldn’t be necessary.
The call rising from our passage today is not simply a call to believe in the resurrection; the call is to be, as Luke puts it, “children of the resurrection.” Throughout the gospel of Luke we see how Jesus’s life and ministry is more than a proclamation of good news that is far off in some distant future. In Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection, that future breaks into the present; in Jesus, God’s good future is inaugurated; in Jesus, the kingdom of God has come and yet it is also still on its way. Therefore, Luke calls the church to live not as “children of this age” but as “children of the resurrection,” to live as children of God’s death-trampling, all-things-made-new future. As children of the resurrection we not only have hope for the future, but as we embrace all the ways it breaks into the present, we find that it frees us to live differently here and now. Unlike the Sadducees scenario, we don’t have to live our lives bent on securing our own identity, property, or belonging; we can begin to live right now into God’s good future and do so with abandon.
Another way of putting this is found in a well-known poem by Wendell Berry called “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front.” In the poem, Berry articulates qualities of the good life and he does so in ways that convey how the good life is, at times, both counter-cultural and counter-intuitive. In the poem, his call to the good life includes things like: “Ask questions that have no answers. Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.” And he writes, “Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.” And he also writes, “Swear allegiance to what is nighest your thoughts.” It’s the conclusion of the poem, however, that always gives me pause. He says, “Be like the fox, who makes more tracks than necessary, some in the wrong direction. Practice resurrection.” Like the gospel of Luke’s call to “be children of the resurrection,” Berry’s concluding summons to “practice resurrection” challenges us to put into action now that hoped for reality in which new life emerges out of the most impossible, death-stricken kind of circumstances.
To practice something means to do it with such regularity that it becomes a part of who you are. And, whether an instrument or sport, when one practices something one does over and over and over again the very things they hope to get better at. If someone wants to master a piece of music on the violin, they don’t practice with a trumpet. Or if someone wants to be ready for a big basketball game, they don’t spend all their time learning how to play poker. No, they do all the things they anticipate doing with their goal in mind, hoping to be able to do them more fully and more perfectly as they go. To be children of the resurrection who work at practicing it now means we seek to live into all the things we anticipate living into whenever the fullness of the kingdom finally comes.
Of course, this can mean many things for us, but I’d like to consider two this morning. First, part of what it means to be children of the resurrection who practice it now is that we live in a posture of trust. In her book Resurrection Matters, Nurya Love Parish—an Episcopal Priest and co-founder of Plainsong Farm —notes: resurrection “when it happens—is always astonishingly unexpected”; it teaches us, she says, “that God can do what we consider impossible.” We’re reminded that resurrection comes to us from God and is not something we create but that we receive. So, as children of the resurrection we practice it by being those who trust the invisible God to act when circumstances seem hopeless; when there is a dead end, we expect a new way to emerge; when everything wreaks of death and brokenness, we keep our eyes open for new life and healing to sprout up, because we trust in the One who does the impossible.
Secondly, to be children of the resurrection who practice it now, means we embrace the freedom the resurrection gives us to live differently here and now. In her memoir about the loss of her brother and her discerning a call to ordained ministry, Nora Gallagher writes: “When I think about the resurrection now, I don’t only think about what happened to Jesus. I think about what happened to his disciples. Something happened to them, too. They went into hiding after the crucifixion but after the resurrection appearances, they walked back out into the world. They became braver and stronger; they visited strangers, and healed the sick...it was not only what they saw when they saw Jesus, or how they saw it, but what was set free in them.” As we saw in our passage from Luke, the resurrection invites us to refuse to spend our lives striving to preserve our own identity, doing all we can to guarantee our own future. As children of the resurrection, we affirm that those things are given to us by God. We are, then, free to live differently here and now. We are free to practice resurrection, we are free to be like the disciples and to walk back out into the world with courage and give our lives to all of the ways God wants to bring new life into this world through us.
“Be like the fox / who makes more tracks than necessary, / some in the wrong direction. / Practice resurrection.” Amen.