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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

God of the Living - Whatever That Means

2014-09-29 God of the Living; Whatever That Means


Psalm 17:1, 5–6, 8, 15 (15b)

Luke 20:27-38



God can have a wicked sense of humor.

A few years ago, I got “the call” to be the Stated Clerk for our presbytery.

This means that I get to administer Parliamentary Procedure at meetings.


I get to take minutes, keep records, and stay abreast of the nit-picking perplexity of Presbyterian Polity.

Our denomination was founded by a lawyer, John Calvin, and it shows.

Presbyterians love a well-crafted motion, 

lively debate,

And given a hypothetical possibility that won’t come up in a million years, we’ll argue for hours, days, years about whether it’s in order, out of order, or a nervous disorder.

That I would be the one called to keep up with all this is either God’s practical joke, or punishment, or both.


The twisted thing is, over the years, I’ve discovered that not only am I not totally terrible at clerky-stuff, but that in some perverse way, I kind of enjoy it.

“Of course, Reverend Blohemuth, unicorns will probably never invade us, but if they do, how shall we respond with compassionate justice?”


So when I read about the Sadducees and their legal brain-teaser about the woman who outlived seven husbands (bless her heart), I think,

“Hey. That’s a good one.”

Teacher, according to Moses, a man shall take his brother’s wife in the case of his death. So in the world’s saddest musical, “One Bride for Seven Brothers,” the woman herself finally dies.

“In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be?”


It depends, I think.

On whether you’re playing Finders Keepers or Musical Chairs.

It’s either #1 or #7.

That just makes sense.


Funny, nobody suggested that she’d be the wife of all seven husbands, simultaneously… in heaven.

Fourteen pairs of socks under the coffee table.

Forty-two empty cans of Old Milwaukee after the SEC Network says goodnight.

Forever, and ever, and ever.

Even a primitive culture realized that sounded more like the “other place.”


Or maybe in heaven she’d be single and happy again for all eternity.

You figure: Seven husbands? She’s earned it.


The church, and not just Presbyterians, and culture, too, have been arguing the morality and legality of these sorts of things for centuries, haven’t we?

Even now, church and state fight about marriage, remarriage, pre-marriage, civil unions, women marrying men, men marrying men, and even men divorcing men.

Even now we argue whether certain combinations will give you heavenly peace or hellacious headaches.

So before we go sneering at the Sadducees for their ridiculous riddle about the legalities of levirate marriage, we have to confess we’re still arguing about the same issues, just version 2014.


Playing Twister with the law can be fun.

Legal gymnastics can be entertaining.

Judicial smackdowns can help you win arguments and score points.

Keeping jots and tittles in the right places can get you satisfaction and make you feel like you’re even smarter than Jesus.

No matter which side of the debate you’re on, winning battles helps us feel like, “We’re Number One.”


But Number One or Number Seven or Number Seven-Thousand and One, Sadducee or Presbyterian, mind games always lead to a dead end.

They don’t help you be alive.

They don’t help you be alive to the woman who has grieved seven times more than anyone ever should.

They don’t help you give life to the man whose brothers have disappeared before his eyes,

…the man who smells the stink of the Grim Reaper, breathing down his neck.

Position papers don’t help you be a caring presence to people whose lives are like puzzles with half the pieces missing.


Jesus says, “God is not God of the dead, but of the living.”

Whatever that means.

In whatever situation.

In whatever constellation of our families, our friends, and our hearts.

God is not God of dead brain-teasers, but the God of teased brains.

God is not God of the invincible, but the God of pierced hearts.

God is not God of spotless souls, but God of spirits dissolved into ghosts by the acid of fear.


God is not God of the dead; God is God of the living.

Whatever that means.

WHATEVER that means.




Some of you remember John Brichetto.

John was a saint of this church and a mentor to me.

John once told me he was going to stop going to funerals.

I asked him why.

He said, “Because the preacher makes the person sound so good I figure I must have come to the wrong place.”


It’s true.

We cut people so much more slack after death.

No one ever says at a funeral, “Jesus loved him; everyone else thought he was a jerk.”

(We might THINK it.)

We forgive the annoying habits.

We forget the cruelties.

We give the deceased a pass on so many of the times they didn’t measure up to the precise legal standards of our rulebooks.


Why is it so much harder to do that for people who are alive?



It’s not just Scottish Presbyterians who like to argue.

But you’ve gotta admit, men in skirts and knee socks with faces painted blue and white make it look pretty good.

Across denominations, across religions, across philosophies and across politics - people spend so much energy, so much brainpower, trying to prove themselves right.


Any time I hear the words, “The Lord laid it upon my heart,” I want to ask,

“Are you sure it was God?”


When you hear, “The good kids,” “The right families,” “The NORMAL people,” what’s the unspoken blank to fill in?

“And all you other people are bad, wrong, abnormal.”


We spend so much time trying to prove ourselves correct.

Trying to prove ourselves right beyond a shadow of a doubt.

To say that our way of living, or believing, or thinking, or acting is the right way (dot, dot, dot, implied) and all the others are wrong.


We spend so much time and so much energy trying to prove ourselves right.

Does that really bring the God of life to people who are hurting?

Does being Number One feed the hungry, or clothe the naked, or bring any kind of Christ-like compassion?

Wouldn’t we better spend our time and energy proving ourselves KIND?

Wouldn’t we do better to forget the wrongs of people while they’re still alive?

But why would you what to go and do that?

Especially when you know you’re in the right?

Not because it’s easy.

It’s not.

Not because it makes us feel good.

A lot of times forgiving makes us feel weak and just awful.

Not because kindness is returned.

Not because we can love people into being better.


We forgive, not because it’s easy or rewarding or effective, or final.

We forgive because God who is God of the living says to;

whatever that means, whatever the situation, whatever the cost to our personal sense of right.


When we judge people, we bring death.

Not to them.

They don’t care.

When we judge people we bring death to ourselves.

We bring death to ourselves in that we cut that person out of our lives.

We dismiss them.

We dispense with them.

We dispose of them.


But when we cut slack to the living, we grant them life, no matter the cost to ourselves.


Isn’t that what God did?


In Jesus’s suffering, in the cross, God in Christ granted us life, no matter the cost to himself.

In the cross God gave up even the claim to what is right so that we might take up what is merciful.

In Christ, God showed us that forgiveness is greater than correctness, that kindness to the living is eternally better than being legally right and approving ourselves to death.




When you’re faced with the choice of doing something right or doing something kind, which do you choose?


As soon as I thought of that question, I immediately started thinking of situations.


My first response, admittedly a legal maneuver, was to say, “Well, I’d hope to do something that is BOTH right AND kind.”

God should give me points for clever.


Hypothetically speaking, in an ideal world, we could always choose what is both right and kind.

Unfortunately, life is neither hypothetical nor ideal.

People are neither hypothetical nor ideal.

You are neither hypothetical nor ideal.


Which do you normally choose?

Rightness? Or kindness?


Immediately, my mind goes probing for memory evidence.

Maybe yours is doing that right now, too.

And almost as soon as I discover a clue, I jump to the verdict, the justification of the choice.

And it can swing either way.

Tough love. Doormat. Strong presence.

Weakling. Pressured. Compromised.

Backbone up. On your knees.


Maybe a better question is, when you’ve chosen rightness, what has it gained you?

When you’ve chosen kindness, what has it cost?


But before you answer that, here’s one more:


Was it right that God should sacrifice himself on the cross, out of kindness, to people who barely understand the concept?

Was it right that God “would rather die” (Nadia Bolz-Weber) than be a tool for mind games and religious correctness? 

Was that right?


Or was it kind?



More than right.

More than wrong.





In today’s Psalm, which if you look carefully is about a legal claim, in Psalm 17 just a few minutes ago, we read these words together:


“Keep me as the apple of your eye, hide me in the shadow of your wings. But I in justice shall behold your face; on waking I shall be content in your presence.

Lord, when your glory appears, my joy will be full.”


God’s glory appears when we take up the cross,

when we take up our own cross,

when we take up other people’s crosses,

rightly or wrongly, and follow Christ on the path of kindness.

God’s glory appears when we take up the cross and sacrifice - when we put to death - our legitimate claims to what is right for those unjust people who don’t deserve our mercy.

Because that’s what Jesus did when he took up his cross.


“Take up YOUR cross, DAILY,” he said, “and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)


Not because it’s easy.

Not because it’s fun.

Not because it’ll make you rich and respected and right.

But because God is the God of living.

What-ever that means.