It’s a rainy day here in uptown Manhattan, and I’m recovering from a long and active weekend at church. Saturday was the annual community “Breakfast With Santa” that we host and Sunday was pageant rehearsal and confirmation class after worship. Busy busy days, and good days. I was struck particularly on Sunday – as the pageant rehearsal was happening in the sanctuary with people ages 5-65, the dance rehearsal for our “hip hip angels” was in the gym, the tech team was making scenery in a classroom, our costume folks were wandering around getting measurements for costumes, and our confirmation class was in small groups with their leaders talking through the Christmas stories in the gospels and pondering the question, “Does God give everyone a purpose in life?” – by the beauty that can come out of church life… so many ages, ethnicities, genders, races, socioeconomic backgrounds and personalities… all pitching in together to make something beautiful and thoughtful and funny and hopeful together. It felt like one of those days where you get to see the best of what church can be.
The church certainly isn’t always the best it can be, or even close on many days. We can get caught up in thinking small – in thinking that our buildings and our rules and aesthetic traditions and being safe and being powerful are what makes us the church. But when the church comes through and does its best work in the world – like the church in Sweden (?) that had a months-long worship service in order to protect immigrants in their care, the nuns who decided to set up a place of worship in the path of the Dakota Access Pipeline or just the simplicity of all these different people from all these different backgrounds deciding to make something beautiful together – oh, it comes through so well.
Today the daily reading provides a story from the life of Jesus where he calls some religious folks on thinking small.
Matthew 22:23-33: The same day some Sadducees came to him, saying there is no resurrection; and they asked him a question, saying, ‘Teacher, Moses said, “If a man dies childless, his brother shall marry the widow, and raise up children for his brother.” Now there were seven brothers among us; the first married, and died childless, leaving the widow to his brother. The second did the same, so also the third, down to the seventh. Last of all, the woman herself died. In the resurrection, then, whose wife of the seven will she be? For all of them had married her.’
Jesus answered them, ‘You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God,“I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”? He is God not of the dead, but of the living.’ And when the crowd heard it, they were astounded at his teaching.
Sometimes I feel like saying something similar (though I never do) when I’m at a party or dinner when I’m meeting new people who don’t know I’m a pastor or professor of religion, and then they find out and start asking me about theological conundrums or how I reconcile being gay/a woman and being clergy, or asking what I think about the non-canonical gospels, or whatever. Let me be clear: these are interesting questions to think about and talk about, and worthwhile. Absolutely.
But OMG, adventures in missing the point. It’s not about the rules. It’s not about heaven and hell. It’s not about logic and sermons (h/t Walt Whitman). It’s about being alive. Right here. Right now. To what is in front of you, in front of me. The world that is living and dying and breathing and praying and laughing and sobbing and hoping and despairing and wondering and wishing. It’s about choosing to be alive, deeply alive in the pit of your soul, over and over again. Even when it hurts. Even when we’d rather just take the easy way out. We choose to dive deeper into life together. Everything else is at best details, at worst, a distraction.