Sunday, November 6, 2016

Sermon: In The Resurrection

Luke 20:27-38 Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to [Jesus] and asked him a question, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.”  Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”

Do the Sadducees actually care about the woman? When they seek to trap Jesus in this question (and it is a trap), do they stop and think about what it would be like for this hypothetical woman? That she would be passed from brother to brother as part of each preceding sibling's estate and if she became pregnant, then, and only then, would she possess value. Then, and only then, would she be worth anything. Then, and only then, would she cease to be a nuisance to the family, for with the baby- more specifically, a son- the family is thus guaranteed the eternity that the Sadducees otherwise reject. 

Their entrapment plan is NOT because they are Jews (it is NOT a character reflection), but because

they are the wealthier, non-Roman leaders of the Jerusalem community. The question comes out of their social safety and privilege at the time. Resurrection has always been more popular among the lower classes or the less wealthy because they hope for a better future; those who have are already experiencing it. The Sadducees only believe in the first five books of what we call the Hebrew Scriptures: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy (or the Torah). They ignored and did not use the poetry, prophetic teachings, or other writings that existed at the time of Jesus and which the Pharisees did embrace.

The resurrection of the dead has no presence in the Torah in the Sadducees' way of thinking. When one died, the only way for one's life to continue was for one's line to continue in one's children. This is why the levirate marriage (in the one bride for seven brothers story) mattered- the brother who impregnates the wife is keeping alive his brother's name, as well as his own. By using this example, the Sadducees hoped to trap Jesus into acknowledging what they believed to be the fallacy of resurrection- that if such a thing were real, this woman would be very confused. 

It is easy to think that Jesus also doesn't care about the hypothetical woman. He answers the Sadducees' stupid question with a snappy comeback that leaves the Pharisees cheering for him (if you read further on). Jesus points out that Moses, when confronted with the burning bush, is addressed by the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Moses does not call God that, God uses that term to describes the Divine Self. Therefore, Jesus points out, these patriarchs are not alive to God by the descendants that they have on the earth at the time of Moses. God doesn't introduce the Divine Being as the God of the children of Abraham. The patriarchs are alive in God because nothing that God has made is ever separated from God. Nothing that is contained in the God of life can be dead- beyond repair, beyond hope, beyond restoration, beyond resurrection. So if God refers to the long-dead patriarchs in the present tense when addressing Moses, then they are surely alive. 

How do you like them figs, Sadducees? 

But Jesus isn't done. Not only does Moses's encounter with God at the burning bush lend support for resurrection, but it also means that there is a reality about which we do not know. This was what the Pharisees and some of the other religious sects also believed. They gave more weight to divine power and prerogative over human will, while the Sadducees simply believed in human action and divine distance. Jesus tells the Sadducees and those who are listening that in the resurrected life, there is not the giving and taking in marriage. 

That can be hard to hear for those who have deeply loving marriages in this life. It can be confusing or relieving to those who have been married more than once or who are divorced or separated. It is very, very, very, very, very, very important to remember that marriage at this time is not about love. It is a property transaction. It is about family connections, dowries, convenience, and necessity. The Sadducees might as well have asked, "Who owns this woman?" 

When looked at in this light, Jesus is actually doing the thing the Sadducees didn't do. He is thinking of the hypothetical woman. He is speaking beyond the Sadducees to all those around him and Luke, as the gospel writer, wants to be sure that the message is heard. In fact, this story also appears in similar for in Matthew and Mark. This underscores the reality that the gospel writers and those around him knew that Jesus was trying to communicate that the resurrected life is not like that on earth. 

There is not social hierarchy. There is not slavery. There is not division between classes. There are no widows or orphans or barren women or men who die without legacies. Everyone is alive in God and equal because they are children of God. Let me repeat: in the resurrected life, everyone is alive in God and equal because they are children of God. 

This is, then, what the church- then and now- is called to do, teach, and believe (in that order). Our present task is not to bide our time, waiting for that great time of resurrection. Instead, we are called to live out its reality and truth even now. The people who lived out that reality from day to day are the people we are able to recognize as saint and faithful souls. Their best days, best actions, and legacies supported the truth that everyone is alive in God and equal because they are children of God. 

Does your faithful living look like that? Does your conversation, your outreach, your spending, your time commitments, your prayer life, your voting, your home life, and your everyday living look like you believe in resurrection as a present reality- with all people equal in the eyes of God? Will those around you remember your soul as faithful when you are alive in God in whatever way comes next? 

The Sadducees tried to trap Jesus and probably ended up snapping their jaws closed so quickly that they bit their tongues. When resurrection is a reality, it is not really a worthwhile pursuit to speculate about how it works or what it is like. Instead, Jesus truly calls us to trust in that future enough to let it affect how we live today, tomorrow, and the next day- living as we are alive in God and equal with all people because we are children of God. 


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