Sermon for November 6th

First Reading Job 19:23-27a

Second Reading 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17

Gospel Reading: Luke 20:27-38

Sermon “Living in Gratitude and Hope”

Resurrection figures prominently in our readings today. In the case of the Gospel reading Jesus answers a frankly malicious question about the resurrection put to him by the Sadducees. Let’s step back for a minute to understand what had been going on, so that we might better understand why Jesus answered as he did. First of all, the question was asked of Jesus in Jerusalem after his triumphal entry – during the last week of his ministry. It was of a tense time, filled with hostility, mixed with curiosity and maneuvering for position among Jesus opponents. Normally, the Pharisees and Sadducees were on opposite sides, but since both were opposed to Jesus, at least for a brief moment, they found themselves on the same side. The Pharisees strived to live lives separated from sin (and sinners too) by following the law as closely as the could. They honored not only the Torah – the Books of Moses, but also the oral traditions from Moses as well as the prophets and the wisdom writings we find in our Old Testament. They accused Jesus of blasphemy because he claimed authority directly from God, even forgiving sins and claiming God as his Father. It was they who had challenged him earlier in the chapter by asking: “Tell us, by what authority are you doing these things? Who is it who gave you this authority?”

When Jesus frustrated them by asking about where they thought the authority of John the Baptist came from… and then infuriated them with the parable of the Vineyard Tenants, things got even more tense as Luke records: Luke 20:22-23 NRSV [22] Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” [23] But he perceived their craftiness.” He again refused to fall into their trap as he asked whose picture was on their coin, and answering “Then give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

So since the Pharisees were silenced, the Sadducees then came forward to try their best to trap Jesus. Now the Sadducees were different from the Pharisees. They were the wealthy priestly class with close ties to the Roman Civil government. They were in charge of the Temple worship, but held only the Books of Moses, the first 5 Books of our Old Testament to be authoritative. As a result, they did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, since that is first mentioned explicitly only in the oral tradition and in the prophets. With this bit of background, we can see that it was certainly not an honest question, rather it was an attempt to put resurrection is a ridiculous light by posing what was supposed to be a insolvable problem. The question was based on the law of Levirite marriage laid out in Deuteronomy 25 which sought to preserve the male family line by requiring the brother of a childless man to have children with his wife to be raised in his name. The question proposes a situation where seven brothers when through this sequence and where all childless, and then asks who’s wife will the woman be.

Well, first we have to get our modern ears past the the insinuation that the woman needed to “belong” to a man in the first place. Jesus answers that resurrected life is different from earthly life, stating that there, all will be in the family of God. Past that, I don’t think we are intended to take much more information out of this story than that. If it had been an honest question, Jesus might have given a more pastoral and curiosity satisfying answer for us. We are naturally curious as to what heaven will be like, but scripture gives only hints, as John says in his first letter: “1 John 3:2 NIV [2] Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

Even so, Jesus goes on to make his point about resurrection from the part of scripture that the Sadducees did recognize: Namely that God himself speaks of the Patriarchs in the present, that is in a living sense. God said to Moses at the burning bush “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” Not I was or I used to be. God says I am currently, hence they are living to God and so living to us as well. That is comforting knowledge isn’t it. To know that the ones we love that have died are present in the loving arms of God. Jesus’ answer drew praise from some of the Teachers, no doubt allied with the Pharisees, but it ended the questions. No one dared try to stump him or make him look ridiculous after that, since they only ended up looking ridiculous themselves.

Perhaps however, it’s the reading from Job that best demonstrates that the strength and hope the God gives us is not only for life in heaven, but also for the saints here and now as well. You remember Job’s story. How he was a wealthy and righteous man back in the time of the patriarchs. God allowed Satan to attack his possessions and family and his health all to prove that Job was not faithful to God merely because he wanted riches, basically because God had bought him off. Although this story is disturbing to us that a loving God would permit such suffering and misery, it is a good and useful antidote to the all too common thoughts that the people we see in misery somehow brought it on themselves and in some way deserve what they have received as punishment for their misdeeds.

Job is written to counter just such thoughts. Horrible things can and do happen to faithful people and yet God is there in those moments. Job loudly proclaims his faith in God, wishing that it could be carved into stone and preserved forever for all generations to read. He says ” I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” How wonderful that Job’s words are true twice. For God does answer his cries and though refusing to explain why such things have befallen Job, visits him and restores his diseased flesh, his health and his life – redeeming him from his troubles.

It is also true of those who die in faith, they too will see God. I have often read those words at the graveside of members of this congregation. They are powerful words full of hope in the face of death. They tell us that we will be raised in eternal, heavenly, yet very real bodies – we will see our redeemer face to face, as ourselves. We will find ourselves face to face with the one who created us and loved us and redeemed us from sin and death. And not only ourselves, but we will be in fellowship with all those others who have also been redeemed. Who might be there? Let your imagination run wild for a moment. Perhaps a special teacher who first made the gospel real to you, friends and family long past, characters stepping right off the pages of scripture and sacred history – Moses, Ruth, Samuel, Daniel, Mary, Peter and Thomas. Martyrs and theologians of years gone by – Stephan, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Knox and Wesley. Millions we have never yet met, but all bound together by the love of Jesus our Savior – the first to be raised to eternal life. There is so much to hope for and yet so much to love and live for right now.

We have spent a lot of time looking far back, and far ahead this morning. But consider the near term, the impact that you will leave behind you when your time on this earth is complete. What will your legacy be? Who might look back on your life with gratitude and hope for their own future because of the life you have shared with them in the power of the Holy Spirit? Well, I suspect there is yet time to add more. Yet more days to live as Christ would have us live, yet more days to love and serve and forgive as Christ shows us the way. For Christ is present now too through the ministry of his Holy Spirit, redeeming us from sin and past failures, giving us strength to live day by day and empowering us with hope for the days yet to come.

Churches too can leave a legacy and so we are working to do with this congregation. Even as we prepare to close in just a few weeks, we are insuring that classroom teachers have a little extra to set up their class rooms for the next five years, that there will be food at the food bank for those who need it and that there will be funding for Vacation Bible school. Even for this facility, there will soon be vigorous new life as we vote next week to donate it to the new Rise Up church that the Pappan and Chapman families are putting together. Even now, they are visiting with families who are not active in any church and collecting materials for new children’s classes that have long been vacant here. It is exciting to have an opportunity to get them off to a good start.

Finally, we ourselves need to be preparing to lean into change and seek new fellowship and new ways of serving our Lord. We are at a time of transition, not an ending. God is the master and author of new life – here and now, in the days to come and forevermore!