Over Thanksgiving, Ben and I went to visit his family. I had introduced my nephew and nieces to the wonder that is Hamilton over the summer, so we were listening and singing along as we cooked the meal. When I broke into “Guns and Ships”** my niece stopped and stared at me, open-mouthed. “I told you, ” I said, “I have a very particular skill set. I am bad at math, but I am good at fast talking.”
The idea that if a person is super-good at one thing, then they’ll be super-good at all things….is not a thing. Just because Mark Zuckerberg invented Facebook, does not mean his opinions on, say, fashion, are to be trusted. Likewise, just because the scientific method yields excellent results when answering one set of questions does not mean it will work when answering all questions. Hence, this sermon.
(Which is in notes form, because it was the week after diocesan convention, and I was in recovery mode.)
–If you heard the gospel and thought, “That sounds like a math problem,” you’re not wrong!
–It sounds like one of those word problems from elementary school where one train leaves Chicago at 6pm traveling east, and one train leaves NYC at 6:30pm traveling west, and if Jimmy eats 2 apples on train A, will he finish before he arrives home?
–this style of figuring out problems was, and is, a popular style of disputation among scholars of the scriptures in Jesus’ time. And it’s still used if you are devoutly Jewish and want to study. (Or if you are in a college philosophy seminar.) The Talmud is basically volume after volume of smart guys proposing hypothetical scenarios and then arguing it out. It’s great.
–You propose the most extreme scenario you can imagine, and figure out how the law would apply. It tests the boundaries of any proposed idea. This is great for legal discourse, and if you’re arguing over the laws of the universe in Star Wars. But in terms of faith, it falls short.
–Apologetics (the art of arguing that faith is rational through logic) has a long and storied history, there is a point at which logic and reason stop, and you either have to make a choice to trust, or not.
–Kierkegaard calls this the “leap of faith” or if you’re a fan of the Good Place, the “leap into faith.”
–our relationship with God rests, fundamentally, on something we cannot fully explain, science, or logic out, but that we trust.
–And that is ok!
–Part of what Jesus is trying to tell the Saduccees here is that while we do our best to logic our way out of the problem of what, exactly, the afterlife looks like–the reality is so far greater, so unexpected, and so entirely other that we only get there with God.
–Because we see such a little bit of God’s action in this world, and experience such a little bit of God’s presence, because God works all around us–we often forget that our logicking and best reasoning can only take into account a fraction of God’s existence. So we’re hardly playing with a full deck, ever.
–Our sight, our perspective is necessarily limited. Faith frequently means being humble enough to admit that, and to dwell in that place of not knowing.
–For example, as all these learned men are puzzling over this logic problem proposed in the gospel today, isn’t it fascinating that not a one of them–not the Sadducees, not the bystanders, no one–thinks that the solution might be to ask the WIDOW who she wants to be married to?
–That would solve it right fast, but strangely, no one suggests it. (I like to imagine Martha, standing to the side, pulling Jesus aside afterwards, and pointing this out to him, with no small amount of bemusement)
–Faith is often recognizing what we cannot see, and in being willing to allow God to operate in those blind spots.
–Because if there is one thing we can fully trust, it is that God loves us and wills our good. So even when we cannot see a logical way out, or forward, we can trust that God is still doing God’s thing in the unseen places. God is still going to show up from some far off, distant corner, and gently smack us upside the head, in ways we never saw coming.
And when we put our trust in God, when we acknowledge that God is God, and we aren’t, that God loves us and that love is real and powerful, then we begin to see the unexpected showing up in our lives. We feel the Spirit dancing in new and different ways, once we learn to look for it. And we find that God’s love compels us farther than our logic or reason alone could ever go.
** LAFAYETTE!! That’s it. That’s the footnote.