Sermon preached on 11.06.2016 by Fr Juan A. Quevedo-Bosch rector of the Church of the Redeemer, Astoria NY
Shortly before President Obama first inauguration I was talking with Wilhelmina de Lyons a faithful member of this congregation, age then about 102 she told me she had voted in every presidential election. I pressed her to be more precise and she said since women were allowed to vote, which is 1920 with the ratification of the 19th Amendment. I asked her, did you ever thought in all those years that you will be voting once day for a black president and she said: not for a second. I never asked her what was she expecting from her voting, nor if she did it out of duty, so we will never know. But voting she did.
By law ministers are prohibited to tell their members for whom to vote, directly or indirectly and fear not I will be obedient to the law, but I do have the obligation as a minister of the gospel to tell you why to vote.
Among other motivators, I’’ll begin by saying that we followers of Jesus Christ we do not vote our fears, even when at one time or another in the history of this country –the Blacks, the Women, the Russians, the Muslims – were motivators of different electoral cycles. When blacks were given the right to vote, when women received theirs, during the Cold War, of a more recent year with Muslim terrorism. One after the other, candidate after candidate has appealed to the fears of the people to get elected, has appealed to our fears and to our hopelessness.
Although I never asked Wilhelmina, I have to think that she voted her hopes. She had suffered too much and for too long discrimination being black herself, to even dream of a black president, but still she wanted a better deal for her people, and a better deal for all people, she wanted remedy for the abuses that prevented this country of becoming “a more perfect union”(preamble of the Constitution)
We do not vote our fears, because if we have any, we need to hear this passage of the Gospel we read this morning, again and again. God is a God of the living not of the dead. God is full of liveness. We imagine always living, marked and encased by death. For many life is the absence of death. But God knows nothing of death, God is full, exploding as if were as Roman Catholic theologian James Alisson tells us, God is exploding with life. Everything that God touches get contaminated with life.
It may come as a surprised to some of you that at the time of Jesus not everybody believed in eternal life. There was not consensus among the scholars and the people about the afterlife. Prior to the Second Temple period, that is more than five hundred years before Jesus, both Jewish and Greek thought were dominated by the idea that people went to the same space after death and lived a shadowy existence. In the Hebrew Bible this space is called Sheol, and in Greek texts like The Odyssey it is called Hades.
Two parties in Israel of the first century used the idea of the afterlife as the battleground for ideological supremacy. The Sadducees who held that the Torah (the first five books of the Bible, The Law) did not explicitly support the idea and the Pharisees who claimed that indirectly it did.
Although the membership of Jesus in the Pharisee party is a matter of dispute, one can witness in the Gospel how closely they were to each other, which may explain why Jesus and the Pharisees attacked each other. Some have come to say that the virulence of the dispute represented an internal party primary, where Jesus excoriated them for their narrow mindedness that was bringing about a separation of the common people from God.
The Sadducees were identified by Flavio Josephus, a contemporary Jewish historian, with the upper social and economic echelon of Judean society. As a whole, the sect managed the Temple and the State and it was the majority party in control of the Temple and by definition, and was seen by all as the party allied with Rome. After the destruction of the Temple they ceased to exist.
This is the background for this question about eternal life presented to Jesus, if Jesus failed to resolve the riddle, -who will be the husband of the risen woman- he will lose face in public and naturally following.
Instead of resolving the riddle Jesus destroys the foundation of the question. Whoever is in God is infected with life. For us ‘being alive’ means ‘not being dead;’ it’s a reality which is circumscribed by its opposite. For God this is simply not the case. For God being alive has nothing to do with death, and cannot even be contrasted with death.”
In God there are no rivalries between seven brothers, there is no bride to fight over after all. There is no longer anything whatever to fight over. Jesus is the Bridegroom and the Church is the bride, life and intimacy of marriage is a good shared by all without scarcity for he has come so we may have life, and life in abundance.
If the greatest fear of all fears, fear of death means nothing to us, because we died with Him at the waters of baptism and we have risen with Him every day. We know this to be true, even if at times we forget. We died with Him at the waters of baptism and we have risen with Him every day.
Our life is not circumscribed, limited, encased by death, we are not here waiting to pass away. We have already crossed on foot the Red Sea, we are on the other side of Jordan River, we are living in the heavenly Jerusalem, we see the amethyst of the walls and the gold of the streets, even yes, in this place filled with anger, greed and violence. We can see it. We can wade in the waters in the certainty that God will trouble the waters and yet we will stand, alive, fully alive. Whether here or in the bosom of Abraham, we will never taste death.
We found in Hebrews 11:13-16 these wise word speaking of the prophets and sages of antiquity :They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
Thinking of Wilhelmina d’Lyon again, makes me think that the Afro-Americans in this country who as a social group are a shining example of the perseverance in their struggles for civil rights, their faith in the future of this country.
Thinking for a moment, slaves built the White House, then blacks served in the White House as domestics and in our time, a black man called it his own home. Regardless of what you think of President Obama, that is an achievement that ennoble of all of us Americans. All of this was born in the slave’s barracks, in slaves reading of Scriptures, in their prayer life and the unbreakable faith in life that Jesus gave them that God, their God is the God of the living. Under the whip of the white master, they sang O Happy Day.
So vote your hopes, not your fears, because we can enter troubled waters with the certainty that God is filled with life and so are we. We who believe in freedom, cannot rest until it comes, regardless of how troubled the waters may be, God is with us and when we vote our hopes we commend this nation to His loving care, even if we cannot imagine the future, even if it does not come in our lifetime, we believe in a God of the living that will prevail always, always, always.