Sunday, November 10, 2019: Sermon preached by the Rev. Carolyn Eklund
Year C; Proper 27, 11.10.2019
A few years ago the Mid Coast Hospital chaplaincy department invited area clergy to a breakfast presentation on end of life care. We had a conversation about helping dying patients and their families have hope even when they have been given a terminal prognosis.
The speaker was a palliative care nurse. She gave an example from her practice of a woman who had been in and out of remission from breast cancer for 10 years. She had two adult sons and a husband. She had had a recurrence of the cancer and had just been told by her oncologist, “There is no hope.” That information devastated the two sons. One of the sons became angry and began to yell at the oncologist and the nurse. He believed that there was no hope of any kind.
The speaker worked with the dying woman to help her articulate what she could hope for; that at the end of life, there are a number of things she could hope for. The woman was relaxed and smiled and said, “I’m ready to die. I hope to be able to tell my family how much I love them and how much they mean to me. I hope they can hear what I’m telling them and keep my love in their hearts.”
In our gospel story today, the Sadducees posed an “end of life” question to Jesus. It wasn’t about hope. The question they asked was a trap for Jesus. The question was about the Resurrection. The Sadducees didn’t even believe in the Resurrection. They were religiously conservative and the only authority they adhered to was the first five books of Scripture – the Torah. They were so conservative that they rejected any new beliefs that emerged.
They asked, “In the Resurrection who is married to whom if the wife married seven brothers, each without an heir?” It was a legalistic question based on a law in Deuteronomy called the Levrite law. The law specifically says that the brother of the deceased must marry his brother’s widow if there is no heir. If no heirs, and he dies, then the next brother and the next and so on until she dies. Whose wife is she in the Resurrection? They didn’t care about the hope of the Resurrection. They cared about trapping Jesus in order to publicly humiliate him in front of his adoring crowd.
But Jesus was cool and calm in his response. He did not respond angrily. He did not show irritation. He simply taught the character of God and used the passage from God’s revelation to Moses to make his point. “God is a God of the living and not of the dead.” He virtually transformed the voice of God from the Exodus passage when God spoke to Moses:
“I AM the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” God says to Moses who is standing on holy ground. Then Jesus says to the Sadducees, “And the fact [THE FACT] that the dead are raised, Moses himself showed in the story about the [burning] bush, where he speaks of Lord as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”
This fact is our hope, our hope that God is not a God of the dead. No! God is God of the living; for to him all of them, all those dead brothers and the widow are alive. They are angels, and marriage doesn’t matter in God’s Kingdom.
“Death is the end of many things. But it’s not the end of everything. Our death is not the end of God.” (Eberhard Busch, Feasting on the Word, Year C, Proper 27) Our death is not the end of love. Our Patron St. Paul’ reminds us of this fact when he says in three simple words, “Love never ends.”
This love is what terminal patients can hope for. This love is what we all can hope for. And it’s the same love that characterizes the faith and actions of Christians and our Christian community.
The Stewardship Team this year chose the theme of the song “We are one in the Spirit. We are one in the Lord…and they’ll know we are Christian by our love…” Jesus gave this commandment to his disciples in his last days at the Last Supper. “And now I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples.”
They’ll know we are Christian by our love…
The Body of Christ on earth is built on love which is Christ’s gift to us. We take it from this life and into the next because “Love never ends.”
Recently widowed parishioner, Ellen Hall posted something on Facebook that moved me deeply. It was from a daily devotional book she reads on the subject of grief. I have her permission to share it with you.
The devotional was an adorable excerpt from the children’s book, “Charlotte’s Web” by E. B. White, a Mainer. It must have been a passage from the end of the book because Charlotte, the spider and dear friend of the pig Wilbur, has died. I remember reading this book in the sixth grade and I can still feel the sorrow of the moment Charlotte died.
But life and love goes on. Charlotte’s spider daughters are now with Wilbur the pig. Let me read you this passage:
“Wilbur’s heart brimmed with happiness… ‘Welcome to the barn cellar. You have chosen a hallowed doorway from which to string your webs. I think it is only fair to tell you that I was devoted to your mother…I shall always treasure her memory. To you, her daughters, I pledge my friendship, forever and ever.”
“’I pledge mine,’ said Joy.
‘I do, too,’ said Aranea.
‘And so do I,’ said Nellie…
“It was a happy day for Wilbur. And many more happy, tranquil days followed.”
The lesson written in this devotional “…instructs the reader in one of the secrets of healing from grief – the passing on of one’s love for the departed to others who come after. In this case it’s to Charlotte’s daughters that Wilbur’s love flows; it could be to anyone in need…”
Thank you, Ellen Hall for sharing this great example of love that never ends; that death is not the end of love or of God.
After six years in ministry with you, the love I have for this community has surprised me in its depth. There is deep joy in this love that I receive from you. I feel a sense of joy and expectation whenever we gather as one in God’s Spirit. Perhaps you have been passing along to me “one of the secrets of healing from grief – the passing on of one’s love for the departed to others who come after.” Love flows here and it is from God.
After I signed the Stewardship pledge letters to you this week, I felt our strong ties of community and faith. I was happy when I completed my pledge card because I’m energized by the future God is calling us to create together – all ages, all diversity – witnessing together the love of Christ to all; passing it on.
I invite you to keep passing it on and……………to send in your pledge!