November 10, 2019 – The Rev. Dr. Stephen Shaver

Proper 27, Year C, Revised Common Lectionary
Job 19:23-27a
Psalm 17:1-9
2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
Luke 20:27-38

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It’s very human to want to escape mortality. To cheat the Reaper and live forever.

Sometimes quite literally. Maybe you’re familiar with the movement called cryonics in which people have their bodies frozen in hopes future technology will be able to bring them back to life one day. On the other end of the timeline, there are some biotech folks in Silicon Valley who are hoping to extend human lifespans to the point of never dying in the first place, at least not from old age. Now as Christians we might say that there’s a difference between endless life and eternal life. A life that’s just chronologically endless, and where you’re continually afraid of dying in an accident, might turn out to be a nightmare instead of a dream.

But most people channel that urge for immortality in more realistic and maybe healthier ways. Leaving a legacy behind: doing something people will remember, something to carry on our names after we’re gone. Or simply being remembered by those who knew and loved us in our lifetimes.

In many cultures having children has been considered a way of living on after death. Sometimes so strongly so that dying childless was considered a calamity. So a custom in ancient Israel, as in many patriarchal societies, held that when a man died childless, his brother would marry his widow and try to have children on the dead man’s behalf, so the family line would continue and the dead man’s identity would live on.

Now in Jesus’ time the Sadducees were a conservative school of Judaism who didn’t believe in an afterlife or resurrection. For the Sadducees this life was all there was: people were made to love and serve God here on earth, and then to sleep in the underworld. So when they hear Jesus preaching about resurrection and eternal life, a group of Sadducees decide to debate him. And notice what Jesus does. Instead of answering on the terms of their example, he explodes the whole scenario. The woman doesn’t have to be one brother’s wife or another. Resurrection isn’t like that at all.

In God’s realm we are set free from death, and the fear of death, forever. We no longer need to matter through our children, or through our spouse. A woman doesn’t need to matter only by being someone’s wife. In the resurrection you will be alive to God as the fully glorious individual you were made to be. Not because you left a legacy or achieved an achievement or made something of yourself. Because you are a child of God, and God is the God of the living.

Now today we are doing something we do every year, which is starting our annual pledge campaign. Today our vestry will be leading us by turning in their pledge cards first, bringing them to the altar at the offertory. Today leaders will be handing out pledge packets. And over the next two weeks—just two weeks, because our campaign was shortened this year by the fires—we are asking everyone at Incarnation to participate in making a financial pledge for 2020.

We ask people to make a pledge rather than just putting something in the plate week by week, partly because it means we can plan ahead and make a budget. But more, because when we make a pledge it’s a tangible way to be intentional about our giving. It’s a way of saying, “This is who I am and who I belong to. My life belongs to God, I am a child of God, the God of the living. And I am committing an intentional portion of the resources God has placed in my care to what God is doing through the church.” The simplest way to do that is to take what you currently give, divide it by your income, and notice what percentage that is. I have a priest friend who uses the phrase, “Know your number.” Maybe it’s 10%, or 6%, or 2%, or half a percent. Wherever it is, that’s a great place to start. And year by year we see if we can stretch toward growing a percent, or half a percent, gradually increasing the proportion of God’s resources we’re investing in this mission on God’s behalf.

This is an important year for Incarnation. For the last five years, since the painful departure of our previous rector, we’ve been running at a deficit of about $130,000. There are reasons why that happened in a time of crisis. But we’re in a new season of ministry together, and it’s time to grow toward financial health. Our vestry has set a 2020 goal to cut that deficit in half. If we can increase our average annual pledge by about $400 this year that will just about reach that goal. Some of us will be able to do that. Some won’t. Some will be able to do more.

So over these next two weeks, please join us in this Faith in Action Campaign. And give, not because you’re trying to prove something or cheat immortality or even leave a legacy to be remembered by. Give because God remembers you, knows you by name, and is giving you eternal life. Give because God is on the move, including right here at Incarnation, and is inviting you to join in.