Sermon: Proper 8 RCL B – “Living Dead Lives”

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Austin enjoyed the time he spent with his grandfather, a tough old cowboy everyone knew as “Curly.” The hardened rancher showed his grandson how to ride, shoot, and mend fences. Along the way, Curly even shared little pieces of advice with Austin.

One day, Austin asked his grandfather what he needed to do to live a long life like the one he’d seen his grandpa live. “Oh, that’s simple,” replied Curly. “Just sprinkle a little bit o gunpowder on yer oatmeal every morning, son.”

Austin did that, faithfully, for 93 long years.

When Austin died, he left behind 9 children, 28 grandchildren, 35 great-grandchildren…and a fifteen-foot hole in the wall of the crematorium.

We are all familiar with page 355 of the Book of Common Prayer.  It is where most Prayer Books automatically fall open to—the Holy Eucharist, Rite Two.  Preceding this is Holy Baptism and the other five sacraments follow.

First, after Holy Eucharist, is Confirmation, then Marriage, which—interestingly enough—is followed closely by Reconciliation, confession.  Then we have Ministry to the Sick (Unction) and burial of the dead, which is not a sacrament.  I don’t have a problem with those last two, per se, but I do have a problem with what is missing, something I believe demonstrates a clear lack of faith.  Perhaps it is just me, but don’t you think we should have at least one page on “Raising the Dead”?

The rubrics, those instructions in the small italics, could simply say: “The celebrant stands and directing his/her voice to the deceased, says in a commanding voice, ‘Wake up!’”  It could even be in all capitol letters, like the Great Amen at the end of the Eucharistic prayers, that way God would know we were serious when we said it.  The committee in charge of the Prayer Book would likely even include a footnote at the bottom of the page that read: “If successful, please contact the national church at 1-800-so and so along with all media outlets.”  As crazy as that may sound to some, I really do think we need it; however, we’ll probably never get it because the funeral home business will cry foul.

Wake up.  That is essentially what “Talitha cum” means.  Some might see it as an incantation that you would find in one of Harry Potter’s books of magical spells, but—as Mark translated the Aramaic for us—talitha cum are only the words that a parent would say to a sleeping child.  “Little girl.  It is time to wake up.”

We can limit our understanding of this event and see it only as one of the extraordinary miracles of Jesus.  A miracle that demonstrates Jesus’ authority over life and death, confirming his promises of eternal life: If he can raise the dead, then he can give us new and eternal life after we have died, through the resurrection.  However, when Jesus spoke those words to that little girl some 2,000 years ago, he wasn’t saying them so that she would only live in the resurrection.  He was saying them so that she would live then.  At that very moment.  Therefore, the talitha cum that Jesus spoke to the little girl is not an isolated event and those words are intended for us as well.

Consider what St. Paul says in his second letter to the Corinthians: “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (5:17)  Notice, Paul does not say that everyone will become new.  Even in the Greek it is “has become new.”  When we “wake up” in Christ, we become new.  We are given new life so that we might live… now.  What is so sad about this is that we can live very dead new lives.

I’m not encouraging you to go out and live some hedonistic self-absorbed life.  Not anything close to it, but let me ask you this: Baskin Robbins – 31 Flavors.  You’ve got all these flavors of ice cream and you, you order the exact same flavor every time (confession: I do the same thing).  I’m a vanilla ice cream kinda guy.  Why?  Because I branched out one time.  Tried Rocky Road.  Disgusting.  Threw most of it away.  The next time, I played it safe and went back to vanilla.  Played it safe the next time as well.  And the next time.  And the next… 

We as a Christian people often think of the “world” as a bad place.  I’ve probably even preached sermons that pointed in that direction, but the truth is, what God creates is not evil and meant to be enjoyed.  To give life.  The wedding at Cana.  It was a party.  Jesus went to it.  When they ran out of booze, he made more!  And it wasn’t ripple!  It was the best.

The Israelites were leaving Egypt and the Lord said, “The Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey.”  Do you think the Lord brought them into such a bountiful land and then made them sit and stare at it or do you think he meant for them to enjoy it?  To truly live in it and experience what it had to offer?

Anthony Bourdain, he died a few weeks back.  He travelled the world, shared his thoughts, and he had a passion for food.  For him, food can tell you a great deal about people and culture.  The Washington Post ran an article and quoted Pat Younge, former head of the Travel Channel.  Speaking of Bourdain, he said, “Part of what made him so great was that he wanted you to understand more than the obvious. If he went to Paris, he didn’t just walk along the Seine; he went to parts of the city that many visitors didn’t go to because he thought they were key to understanding it. The same was true in Hanoi or Shanghai or anywhere else. He thought you had to find all these areas and really get under their skin.”

He wanted to live.  To taste it all and like an anthropologist, he studied the people through its food.  Bourdain put it this way in his book, Kitchen Confidential, “Do we really want to travel in hermetically sealed popemobiles through the rural provinces of France, Mexico and the Far East, eating only in Hard Rock Cafes and McDonald’s? Or do we want to eat without fear, tearing into the local stew, the humble taqueria’s mystery meat, the sincerely offered gift of a lightly grilled fish head?  I know what I want.  I want it all.  I want to try everything once.  I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt, Señor Tamale Stand Owner, Sushi-chef-san, Monsieur Bucket-head.  What’s that feathered game bird, hanging on the porch, getting riper by the day, the body nearly ready to drop off?  I want some.”  He summarizes that by saying, “If you’re willing to risk some slight lower GI distress” over the things you do eat, why not try the “good stuff.”

And everyone thinks: “Fr. John must have been hungry when he wrote this one.  He keeps talking about food.”  Perhaps (I’m always hungry), but this isn’t just about food.  It is about living.  Remember, we are given new life so that we might live… now.

So the discussion on food can become a discussion on people: Do we really want to have hermetically sealed lives, traveling through this world only engaging the people we know, or do we want to live without fear, smiling at the stranger, speaking to the person next to us in line, crossing a societal barrier and engaging the “other.”  

Ice cream can become love: I know these people love me, but I’ve tried to love someone else and it went horribly wrong.  I’m just going to stick with the ones I know or will you live and give love another chance.

God has brought me into the land of milk and honey, but I’m going to stick with hard bread and water.  Why?

Again, I’m not encouraging you to a life of anything goes, but we can taste, without becoming gluttonous.  We can look, without becoming covetous or lustful.  We can feel, without becoming greedy.  We can live, experience life, engage in God’s glorious creation, have joy and happiness without coming to a place of sin.

Put a little gunpowder on your oatmeal.  Try the lightly grilled fish head.  Look the stranger in the eye.  Smile.  Love.  Have an encounter with God’s creation outside of the hermetically sealed.  All of these things are expressions of his great love for us.

Talitha cum.  Jesus calls for us to wake up into a new life.  A new life where we might love him.  Yes.  A new life where we might love our neighbors.  Yes.  A new life where we will change the world.  Yes.  A resounding “Yes” to all this.  But Jesus also called you into a new life so that you might live.  Yeah, you may get the occasional lower GI discomfort, but that’s also just a part of living… and it will pass.

Let us pray: Father, we thank you for coming to give us abundant life. Help us to walk in obedience to your will and your commandments so that we may enjoy your blessings and creation to the fullest, and help us to live in such a way that our joy is visible to the world around us, that we might be living testaments to your great love. In Christ Our Lord we pray.  Amen.

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