Sermon for Nov 10th

First Reading Job 19:23-27

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

Gospel Reading: Luke 20:27-38

Sermon: “God of the Living”

In our Gospel reading, Jesus answers a ridiculous and frankly malicious question about the resurrection put to him by the Sadducees. In order to understand what’s behind this question, we need to look at back a bit so that we might better understand why Jesus answered as he did. First of all, location and timing are important. 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 20:20-23 NRSV

[20] So they watched him and sent spies who pretended to be honest, in order to trap him by what he said, so as to hand him over to the jurisdiction and authority of the governor. [21] So they asked him (with perhaps a bit of a sneer), “Teacher, we know that you are right in what you say and teach, and you show deference to no one, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. [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 had been silenced, the Sadducees now come forward to have their turn at trying to trap Jesus. Now, as we mentioned briefly last week, the Sadducees were different from the Pharisees. They were the wealthy priestly class who had developed 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, Job as you heard thismorning, and the prophets such as Isaiah and Daniel. With this bit of background, we can see that it was certainly not a friendly or honest question, rather it was an attempt to put resurrection in as ridiculous a light as possible by posing what was supposed to be a insolvable problem. Sort of like how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, or can God create a rock so big that even he could not lift it.

The question was based on the rules 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 went through this sequence and were 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, we 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 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.

But there’s is another aspect of this particular statement that I want to take up with you today. Jesus says God is the God of the living, not the dead. Furthermore, Jesus looks forward and says that in the age to come, we will be both Children of God and Children of the resurrection. Now then, that is a powerful statement, a wonderful promise and a thrilling hope for that time, beyond time. But the question I want to ask is what does it mean for us today, to say that God is the God of the Living; that we are children of God through faith in Jesus Christ; and we already live in the light of the resurrection of our Savior? Our scriptures teach us that the Holy Spirit is present in us and with us right now – the gift of God through faith.

Here is the point: Fellowship with God begins right here on earth. We don’t have to wait for the sweet by and by – we shouldn’t wait either. Relationship with God is defined by love and Jesus told his disciples – if you love me, obey my commandments. In just a few minutes we will all pray again as we have so many times before “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Well then, ‘Children of the Living God’, must we not then be about our Father’s business here on earth? Jesus knew that when he was 12 years old. What are we waiting for? Oh – not sure what that might be?

There are marvelous but subtle clues in Jesus’s short dismantling of the Sadducees intended trap. Jesus says “Jesus replied, “Marriage is for people here on earth. But in the age to come, those worthy of being raised from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage. And they will never die again. In this respect they will be like angels. They are children of God and children of the resurrection.” Jesus is dealing with the Sadducees on their home turf – the Torah. Though it sounds very strange to us, In the early days of Israel, the law of Levirite marriage was intended to provide for widows and preserve family heritage. The point was that the family was to be preserved and extended through the widow and the closest male relative. Jesus simply makes the point that in God, we already belong to a far greater family – the family of God.

Furthermore, Jesus implies that earthly circumstances and contracts do not apply in heaven. This is very good news to the marginalized and oppressed – to the poor and infirm, to those with disease and deformity. In heaven, no one is treated as property. The children of the resurrection all know the peace and joy that was kept form them on earth. Now don’t be alarmed, there are some arrangements on earth that we dearly love – Spouses and friendships of many years – children and loved ones. Love is one thing that both Jesus and Paul assure us is eternal. God is love and love never dies.

So then, if we are already made part of this family and know at least a little of how things will be then…. May we not practice them now? Matter of fact scripture is rather firm making exactly that point. To love and care and forgive and bless as Jesus did. To reach out in love to sinners, to care for those in distress and not count the cost. Where ever we look, New Testament or Old, the message is the same – love others as God loves us – unconditionally and sacrificially.

We owe God a debt of gratitude that we can only partially know now, but we can and should get started right away. As we read in Hebrews 3:12-14 “Take care, brothers and sisters, that none of you may have an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. [13] But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. [14] For we have become partners of Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end.”

Oh, by the way – what ever happened to the Sadducees? Well, they had invested themselves in the wealth and status surrounding the Jerusalem temple and the power structures of the day. When Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, they faded into the dust of history. They are remembered today only because of stories like this one. That too is a lesson for today. Judaism was resurrected from the ashes and continued along the lines of the Pharisees and the rabbis meeting in synagogues, drawing on the rich traditions of the prophets as well as the Torah; seeking to live lives pleasing to God in whatever circumstances they found themselves dispersed all over the world. They understood that God was still present.

We Christians have an even fuller revelation of God in the person of Jesus our Savior who vanquished sin and death and lives forevermore. It is He that invites us to live for him – today and each and every day to come until that glorious day when we will all be with him forever.