Entrusting Ourselves to the Living Stream
Jeremiah is writing in difficult times. His prophesies come from a time of turmoil, and ultimately the end of Israel, of Judah as a sovereign nation. These words from God through Jeremiah come at a time of intense political debate, a time of politicking, a time in which using force of arms or diplomacy is being argued and disputed. It is a time in which doing more is seen as the solution to the problems Judah faces. If only we could do more, have more cohesion, more weapons etc. Sound familiar? 1 Corinthians is written to a church in turmoil. Paul is addressing a church that has split into factions; there are disputes over apostolic authority, disputes over what is or is not a sin and what is acceptable sexual conduct, and theological disputes over what is essential for the faith. Sound familiar? Luke writes his Gospel in a time when the world is dominated by a world power, that is mostly peaceful at its centers of power but on the fringes there is violence, skirmishes and war. At this time these wars at the edges of the empire don’t quite touches the citizens of the great empire. There is a peace of sort, but at a price, Palestine in particular is in turmoil, Rebellions, insurgencies, and ultimately the desolation of Jerusalem. Luke’s Jesus is speaking to an oppressed people on the edge of an empire, people who have been impoverished by the empires political and economic system, while others are made wealthy by that same system. Sound familiar? These are three thumbnail sketches of the context of our three texts for today. I mention these contexts because we have a tendency when we find our Scriptures and the tradition of the Church difficult to accept to claim that everything is so different these days. After all back then 2000 years ago or more, those were different times, believing in God was easier then. Sure there are differences: our science and our technology is different, and we may know more about certain things, like molecules and atoms and electrons and protons, and our conception of the cosmos is vastly different,. However, as I have done, I can also list to you the ways in which things are much the same. We haven’t transcended our humanity, our creatureliness, or our sinfulness. Things are still much the same, we are no more prone to doubt than those of the past, and we are no less gullible and credulous. We still believe our hope is in ourselves, in our ingenuity, our weapons, our politics, or our economics. We still put our trust in the wrong place in the wrong people and wrong things. Our texts remind us there is only one place of refuge, of hope; there is only one place that deserves our ultimate trust.
Listen again to Jeremiah: Jeremiah 17:5-10
17:5 Thus says the LORD: Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the LORD.
17:6 They shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when relief comes. They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land.
17:7 Blessed are those who trust in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD.
17:8 They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.
17:9 The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse-- who can understand it?
17:10 I the LORD test the mind and search the heart, to give to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their doings.
Do we not still do these things, whether we are Democrats, Republicans, radical activists, anarchists, socialists, or communists, or however we might identify. Do we not put our trust in ourselves? We, human flesh, can solve everything if only we have the right economic system, if only we have the right reforms, if only we have the right worldview, if only we have the right weapons, enough troupes, or enough money (either from taxes or from capitalist enterprise). Jeremiah tells us that when we choose to trust in ourselves whether we are reformists or for the status quo, whether we are anarchists or democratic capitalists, we chose to live in a desert. We choose to live on the edge of death if we solely rely on our own human effort and ingenuity. Jeremiah in a time of turmoil when it seems more is demanded to fix the world around us tells us to let go of our trust in ourselves, and to be willing to be planted next to that living stream that is God. Are we tired of death, and suffering and injustice and war, then stop trusting in human effort, seek to live in God’s care for only next to that spring is there true life, every where else is on the edge of death desert a slat plain where little if anything can grow. The trouble is when I say this I am sure we hear a call to be passive, to do nothing! The kings of Judah and the citizens of Jerusalem heard this as well, and were convinced Jeremiah was mad or worse had it in for the chosen people of God. But the issue isn’t action or inaction, but rather in whom or what do we put our trust. To whom do we look for the ultimate solution, is it science, is it democracy, is it in money and economy, is it America, the President, the Presidency, in war, in peace, or in activism? Jeremiah says if we put our trust in any of those things we live in a desert. It is all the same, and it is simply not trusting in God. Jeremiah says we have a choice: God, the source of all life, or ourselves, life or death.
The Resurrection is also about life and death. In some sense accepting or rejecting the reality of the Resurrection is the same choice that Jeremiah prophesied, or at least that is what Paul is saying to us in this portion of Corinthians. Paul is not saying that he can prove the historicity of the Resurrection, or that the science and/or popular belief of the day find it an acceptable and believable doctrine. Rather he is saying that if there is no Resurrection then we are on our own, and Christianity is false, or more to the point Christians are hopeless (literally) romantics. Let us be clear the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is not a nice story or metaphor for Paul, it happened, it is inexplicable and it is the fulcrum of the faith! But why is Paul so adamant that Jesus Christ must have been raised? Isn’t it enough that it symbolizes our life in God? After all it’s not like Christ’s resurrection was simply resuscitation of a body, right? Sure that is so, the Resurrection is more than that so much more. Resurrection is the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s hope in God as the source of life. Paul is clear that without Christ’s resurrection there is no life, if the story simply ends with Jesus in the grave and some enlightenment on the other side, death still wins in the end. Death, that is a desolate world of survival, is all we have, and then the message of the Gospel is a joke. If the love shown us in the life Jesus just leads only to death, if God has not overcome the last enemy death, then love has no power, and there is no life. We then are hopeless romantics. We have a nice fable that might comfort us but has no power, it will not change the world, everything is the same, and death sin and injustice are the final word. This is the world without Resurrection with out a God in whom we can trust for our life. Resurrection is the fulfillment of the promise of Jeremiah 17. If we have encountered life in Jesus Christ, if we have found life in the trust of gathering here together then there is Resurrection.
In the final analysis, Jesus’ beatitudes and woes in Luke depend on the Resurrection for their truth. There is nothing blessed about the poor if God doesn’t bring to life, if God has not overcome that which is the ultimate source of poverty in the world. There is nothing blessed about mourning unless there is the possibility of being comforted in the reality that there is more than the power of the death squad, and the survival of the fittest. If Jesus just suffered we have no hope. If there is no Resurrection there is no danger, no curse or woe in looking after ones own wealth at the cost of others, there is no danger in taking headless comfort and enjoyment in a world of pain and death. This is so because the Resurrection says there is more than simple survival. Through the Resurrection of Christ we know that death, sin and the devil do not have the last word. This is why Paul says that our sins remain if there is no resurrection, because if this is the truth then Jesus Christ died and nothing changed. And if that is so then love is not the answer, love is just a game, a fable we comfort ourselves with. If there is no resurrection then love does not ground the universe, no resurrection and the universe is a cold heartless place, where justice is a pipe dream, and survival of the fittest, and “the Will to power” are the ultimate reality. Chose this day what you will follow, life or death.
So in whom or what do you trust? Do you trust that God raised him who was crucified to life again? Can you accept this thing that is beyond human explanation comprehension and control? This is what the Resurrection asks of us and has always asked. My reading of Corinthians and other passages of the New Testament belie current belief that it was easier 2000 years ago to believe in the Resurrection and a myriad of other doctrines we find hard to swallow. People were naïve then, it is said, Resurrection was a commonplace belief. This Corinthians passage, Thessalonians, Paul in Athens all show that Resurrection (probably for different reasons) was as difficult for people to believe then as it is now. Paul isn’t saying he can prove historically that Jesus rose from the dead, nor that it is explicable according to biology or the laws of physics, Rather he argues it is a matter of true verses false hope. If we are too hope in life that is beyond this desolate world and can also bring this desolate world to life, then the Resurrection is necessary. There is no other way for us to know life for the Resurrection is the ultimate defeat of the enemy of life and love.
If there is no resurrection than we only can hope in our own resources are own small attempts to solve the worlds problems, we can only hope in those who will die, in systems and nations that will pass like every other one before it. Without the Resurrection there is no life, or at least nothing beyond our own attempts to scrape out a life for ourselves. But if you are here I trust some part of you has tasted true life, you have tasted the Resurrection, you have experienced Love as that which grounds all things even though the world witnesses to the reality of death and suffering. The world is being transformed, Jesus has been raised, can you take the risk to really trust in this, in God, who asks you to let go of all our human attempts to control, and can say blessed are you who are poor, in a world that says blessed are you when you are successful and wealthy and can buy everything your heart desires. God says woe to you who are successful and wealthy and can buy everything your heart desires, for that is death, as you trust in only human things. My sisters and brothers there is only one way to truly live, it is in the reality of the Resurrection, trusting in God even when it is unbelievable and improvable, even when your world seems to be crumbling around you. ‘Christ has Died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again” is no fairy tale, it is not a nice metaphor rather it is what gives life to the world; everything else is always already in the grip of death. If you want life you will rest and be nurtured in the God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Only in God and the one who has been crucified and raised can we find the nurture sustenance and care we need to act in this world dominated by death, sin and injustice. I urge us, echoing Jeremiah, to only hope and trust in God who is life and love, all else is desolation.