Sermon preached on 10 November 2013

What are you fighting for…in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit?

The gospel reading that we’ve just heard is a very particular one. The question is – if a man dies and his widow marries his brother, and six brothers die and she marries her way down the family, whose bride will she be in heaven.

What deep truth does this question and Jesus’s answer convey to us.

Well, I wasn’t supposed to be preaching today and swapped a couple of days ago with one of my colleagues.

The deep truth that this passage conveys to me today is always to check what the bible readings are before you agree to swap a date in the pulpit.

I’m going to start from a different place though and work my way back to what is going on in the gospel reading this morning. For the question is not straightforward at all, never mind the answer.

Let me being by asking that question – what are you fighting for?

I think that most of you know that I didn’t grow up as a Scottish Episcopalian – like a great many of the clergy and people of this church I’m an adult joiner of this denomination. No, though I travelled a wee pilgrimage through several denominations before I found a church to call home. My starting point for this sermon is to think about where I came from.

I grew up in the Salvation Army – an organisation which is both hugely admirable and also deeply odd, and a particularly odd place to grow up as a child.

The thing was, it was a form of the Christian faith in which all the metaphors were different to those that most of the Christian faith have used for many generations. It now seems very strange to me to conceive of religious faith through military metaphors and combine it with Victorian military uniforms and paraphernalia. But in that small branch of Christianity that is what happened. Lots of strange vocabulary was the consequence of how it was set up. Everyone had a rank and clergy were officer rank. The rule book was called “Orders and Regulations”. Clergy were not ordained but commissioned. Prayer was Knee Drill, death was being Promoted to Glory and the newspaper was called The War Cry.

Onward Christian Soldiers seemed to have been written for us. And we were fighting the good fight and knew we were.

I left all that behind though carried with me a deep respect for what a little holy razzmatazz can accomplish.

Yet, I sometimes still reflect on how interesting it is that I was so attracted to a way of worship that so emphasises peace – Grace and Peace at the start of our services, the sharing of Peace in the middle and Go in Peace at the end.

For me that somehow seems important for I grew up on war. I have to remind myself that the language of jihad is not so very far from the language which I learned in Sunday School. (At least, when they were not throwing me out for asking too many questions).

But when it comes to this time of year, I don’t find it inconsistent to ask myself what I’m fighting for. And I wanted to ask you to have a think about that question today.

What are you fighting for and in whose name?

I stood in the Scottish Parliament this week at an equal marriage rally looking around me and recognising how much energy I’ve given to that particular cause in the last few years. I know what I’ve been fighting for and I also know that I’ve won. That particular cause is unstoppable now. Testimony if any were needed to Margaret Mead’s aphorism – she said: Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.
Some of those thoughtful people are here.

I like a good campaign – another military word. It is in my bones. And I stood listening to other campaigners this week knowing that there are a few nasty battles on same-sex marriage still to come but knowing that the war about it is already over.

And I stood and thought about what I still want to fight for.

I still want to fight for a world worth living in. A world where the obvious injustices have been beaten and the less obvious ones exposed. A world where everyone can eat and play and work and become who they need to be.

All the things worth fighting for intersect in the end. The different hopes for justice and peace that are represented by a congregation like this one all ultimately come together in ways that I describe in terms of the reign of God though happy to work and struggle with those who call that kingdom by other names.

What are you fighting for?

What can you change?

At this time of remembrance, I remember that I can fight and disagree and struggle for change because I live in a world where I am free to do so and others have struggled and fought and died to make it so.

And I remember.

I ask myself sometimes whether they knew what they were fighting for.

And I ask you, what are you fighting for now?

In Jesus’s day different people were fighting within his world. Not simply fighting the Romans – the occupying force but also fighting within Judaism. Conflict, and particularly the conflict between the Sadducees and others (particularly the Pharisees) is the background to this morning’s gospel story.

The first thing to remember about this gospel is that this isn’t a polite bible study. This isn’t a group of people sitting calmly around the feet of a teacher. These people are yelling. The question they pose to Jesus about this poor woman working her way through a family of apparently rather unfortunate brothers is just laced with contempt.

The Sadducees remember didn’t believe in the afterlife. When they ask Jesus whose wife she will be in heaven they are mocking him, not asking him.

They are behaving a bit like a sarcastic and deliberately offensive Professor Dawkins.

And Jesus gives an answer which tells us more about his understanding of Sadducee politics (he refers them to the Torah which is their particular interest) than it tells us either about heaven or marriage.

I grew up with metaphors of war and conflict all around me as I learned to worship God.

Jesus grew up and lived and taught in a world of great conflict and religious sectarian aggression. He would have understood Glasgow well.

In the midst of this day let me simply pose that question again:

What are you fighting for?

As Jesus says that God is the God of the living and not of the dead, let me ask you:

What are you living for.

As Remembrance Sunday comes around again and we think of the pity and the tragedy of war, let me ask you in ending:

What is worth dying for?

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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