Luke 20:27-38 – Sermon – God of the Living

(here is my rough draft for Sunday)

Luke 20:27-38
God of the Living
11-07-10

I wrestled with this text this week. We could have celebrated All Saints Day last week but it was Halloween and since the official day is November 1st I thought it wasn’t quiet right. I could have picked one of the lectionary texts from the All Saints group but I didn’t, something told me to head to this section of scripture in Luke. I made the decision. I committed and as I dove into it I thought I would have to commit myself. To preach this text feels a little funny because we came here to remember those who have gone before us; our loved ones, our fathers, our mothers, our spouses. We come here to remember but now I have to preach about this insane question about marriage in heaven? Yet as I dove in I realized the power of this discussion between a Sadducee and Jesus. There is a lot of hope and joy in Jesus’ response and promise but it takes a while to get there.

I’m going to walk through a large chunk of history and I have given you these words up on the screen (the picture above) to help guide you through this case and to help you see a little about what I am talking about. I hope they help.

In the 20th chapter of Luke Jesus is asked some questions to trap him in order that the religious rulers can turn him over to the proper authorities. They want to get rid of him because he rode in on a donkey with palms waving and came into the Temple of Jerusalem and kicked out all the money changers. Now he was teaching to the people of Jerusalem and the religious leaders were getting very nervous. They sent teams of them to try and trap him with questions about his authority and paying taxes. Jesus can see through these and astounds everyone there with his answers.

Then you get a Sadducee who comes up for his turn. Now a little explanation about who Sadducees were. They were religious leaders of the time, similar but opposite of the Pharisees. the easiest way to think about it is that the Sadducees were like a different denomination from the Pharisees. They believed in the same God but they came at it in different ways. The main difference between these two was their belief in the scripture. Sadducees believed only what was in the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. That was it. Pharisees believed in updating the written Torah with some of the oral or modern traditions. They wanted to include some of the prophetic writings that were being written down and these new writings called the Psalms. So one of their differences was where their scriptural authority came from.

Another key difference is the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection. How do we know this? Well Luke tells us in verse 27. “Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a question.” Because these Sadducees only believed what was in the Torah, which has no direct scripture on the resurrection, they didn’t believe in the resurrection. Pharisees on the other hand did believe in the resurrection because of the Prophetic book Daniel. In Daniel 12 there is a reference to the resurrection and because of the Pharisees inclusion of this prophetic book they believed in the event described by Daniel, where he says “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.”

What is funny is a Sadducee comes up and asks Jesus a question about the resurrection, something he did not believe in. This tells Jesus, and us, right off that the Sadducee is only looking to prove how dumb Jesus is and to embarrass him in front of everyone. It is kind of like asking the question, “Can God make a rock so big that he cannot pick it up?” This is simply and purely a trap. The Sadducee asks, “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a woman and died childless. The second and then the third married her, and in the same way the seven died, leaving no children. Finally, the woman died too. Now then, at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”

This idea comes from Deuteronomy 25 and Genesis 38. If a husband dies and leaves a wife, it is the brother-in-laws duty to marry her and produce offspring and take care of her. If not, as a woman back in that time, she would be an outcast in society and would be pushed out into the fringes to take care of herself, which back then would be almost impossible. As the Sadducee asks this question he also gives Jesus the parameters of the question. The section of the Law that is quoted is from the Torah only. For the answer Jesus decides to play the Sadducees game and stay within the Torah as well but in his answer he sides with the Pharisees in their belief of the resurrection.

But to understand Jesus’ answer we have to reach back to another popular thought or belief that was discussed back in Jesus’ time. There was an Ancient thought on angels and what they are like in heaven. There were many Jews who believed that when people died and are resurrected they acquire the eternal nature of angels. This theology comes from the book of 1 Enoch. It is not in our Bibles and it isn’t even in that extra stuff in the Catholic Bible called the Apocrypha. Actually there is only one denomination out there that has it in their official canon; they are the Ethiopian Orthodox Church which derived from the Ethiopian Jews who also saw Enoch as a holy book. Enoch is actually quoted in our Bible, in Jude 1:14-15, but that is all our Bible mentions of it. In this book it explains that God did not give angels wives because they are eternal and did not need to procreate. Because they live for eternity they don’t need to create more angels because if they did God would have a population crisis going on.

With this in mind, if we then believe humans, at our resurrection, put on the eternal nature of angels then we become eternal ourselves. This doesn’t mean that we turn into cubby babies with bows and arrows with little wings. We don’t turn into angels, but we do put on their eternal nature. What this means is that we put on eternity. We move from mortal lives to eternal lives. We believe that when we die we, the believers, move into an eternal relationship with God. At a funeral I usually quote from Romans 8, “Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. Then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Our perishable bodies put on imperishability. In death our mortal bodies put on immortality. This is why Jesus answers the Sadducee, “But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, 36 and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection.” With believers, those who are considered worthy enough to take part in the resurrection, they no longer can die so they are like the angels.

Because we are like angels in the resurrection, because we now are clothed in eternity, there is no use of the mortal constructs. There is no need for marriage anymore, which answers the Sadducees question. In death we are freed from life. This is where the hope and freedom come in to Jesus’ answer. Now some of us, learning that there is no marriage in heaven, might break out in a “Praise Jesus” moment, others might be disappointed. In eternity we don’t need the framework of marriage to work on loving others like Christ loves us, because we will be in the midst of Christ and know and understand this love first hand. We will know each other in heaven and we believe we will reunite with our loved ones who go before us. But the human and mortal systems here on earth pass away when we do. Death is the end of some things but not everything.

Think about the woman in the question the Sadducee asks. She is only seen as property. What do we do with this woman? Everyone she marries dies and the next brother in line willing takes her on, even though I am sure by time the 5th or 6th one says I do, they know they are signing their death sentence. She, like most women back then, see themselves as only property. They are a commodity that can be bartered and sold for the sake of the men in their lives. If you are this woman how much hope do you find knowing that Jesus says that earthly bondage doesn’t not exist in heaven. In heaven, in the resurrection, you are free because you are a child of God.

The God we worship is not a God of the dead. He is not a God of those who have those who have lived long ago but a God of those who continue to live. God is not a God of the dead but a God of the living. God is one who looks at us, his mortal creation, and allows us to put on immortality. Jesus throughout his ministry makes it known that there is great hope and freedom in the God of the living. In the age to come we are seen as equals to one another. We are made whole in the resurrection. All of the sickness that muddles up our lives is gone. The blind will see. The lame will walk. Women won’t be property. Slaves will no longer have an earthly master. We will be free. Free from all the junk that holds us down and bogs down our earthly lives.

Today, as we celebrate All Saints day, we remember those who have gone before us. We celebrate that they are made whole in their resurrection. We celebrate the foretaste of this heavenly banquet they are already feasting on. Because they have gone before us and we can trust Jesus when he says, “they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection.” we have great hope today. We can bask in this freedom God offers us all. We can have assurance in the future because as we will sing after communion, we are “standing on the promises of Christ the Lord, bound to him eternally by love’s strong cord, overcoming daily with the Spirit’s sword, standing on the promises of God.”

And all God’s children said…Amen.

John 20:1-18 – Easter Sermon – Living the Resurrection

John 20:1-18

Living the Resurrection

04-04-10

On Saturday, March 20th at 1:32 PM Eastern Standard Time it became official, Spring was here. That was the official time for the Vernal Equinox or Spring Equinox. On this day the Sun rises and sets on the equator and all over the world, for those 24 hours, the day and night are the same amount of time. Skip ahead ten days to March 30th and it is the first full moon after the Spring Equinox. Now we are here on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox, that must mean one thing. It’s Easter! That must mean, HE HAS RISEN!

Here we are. Easter morning. Our bellies are full of the wonderful breakfast. The end of the long 40 days is here. You can eat whatever you gave up now or you can stop what ever you added. Our journey into our souls can now rest for another year and we can bask in the reality that death could not keep our Lord. Sin has now been defeated and we can find assurance that we are going be with God one day because of all this. Because he sent his Son. Because his Son died our death on Good Friday and then rose again today. HE HAS RISEN!

Tomorrow we will stand on the other side of Easter. We will celebrate this for 50 days. The Great 50 days start today. The season of Easter is longer than the season of preparation for it. That is because as we dived into the depth of our souls, confessed our sins and then witnessed what God did for us, we then celebrate because we are Easter people. We get the chance to live on the other side of the resurrection. We have to figure out how to do that though.

Did you hear the one about the preacher, the lawyer and the stand-up comedian? Her name is Rev. Susan Sparks from Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City. You heard me a woman Baptist minister who went to school for a lawyer and became a stand-up comedian who then went on to become a minister. Her life is a joke. I was introduced to her through the podcast I listen to from Day 1. As I listened to her sermon for today I was touched by the way she framed her Easter message.

Before we get there though let’s back up. Each Sunday is called a little Easter and each Sunday we should come here to celebrate, proclaim, and worship the one who was resurrected from the dead today. Every Sunday we should shout with joy, HE IS RISEN. But we don’t always. I don’t always preach about the resurrection and I have to confess that the only other time I talk about life after death is a peppering of sermons throughout the year and at funerals. That is where we think most often the message of the resurrection to be true. As we stare death in the eye we thank God that our Lord does not let that be the end for us.

Yet the resurrection is not something that we should wait until our funeral to proclaim. As Rev. Sparks said, “Death can come long before the end of life.” She went on in her sermon to talk about Resurrection Biscuits. Her grandmother lives in South Carolina and apparently is a great cook, like most southern grandparents. Yet there is one thing her grandmother can’t cook and that is biscuits. This is where any good southern person would then chime in, “Bless her heart,” which makes it okay to talk about someone’s grandmother like that. Apparently what would happen with Rev. Spark’s grandmother is that she refused to use baking soda or baking powder in anything. When her biscuits came out of the oven they made hockey pucks look soft and fluffy. Her family said that if you dropped one on the ground that it could wake the dead, thus their nickname for them, “Resurrection Biscuits.”[1]

All her grandmother needed was one more ingredient and her biscuits would come to life instead waking the dead. Rev. Sparks in her sermon goes on to explain how we all need that one ingredient in our lives to make us whole and that ingredient is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Without it, “death can come long before the end of life.”

Do you know anyone who is walking around dead in this world? They exist only because they are here and there is no other purpose for their lives. Life has smacked them hard across the face and now they are stunned and lost. They couldn’t believe that they had to bury their own child. They don’t know what to do since they haven’t worked in 2 years. They just can’t fight this disease any longer. They can’t see past the day of the accident. They are stuck, without purpose, without vigor, without life. They are the dead walking in this world.

Mary was like that. After the Sabbath was over she collected the things she needed to prepare Jesus’ body and she made her way down to the tomb. The Gospels name her as one of the women there who actually watched Jesus die on the cross. She heard the hammers hit the nails that pierced his hands and feet. She heard his cries of pain and watched him attempt to push himself up in order that he could breath. She was there when the solider stuck the spear into Jesus’ side and water and blood ran out. She had watched Jesus die, her Lord, the one she followed, the one she loved. Pain brought her to the tomb. Anguish and depression guided her to the place of her Lord’s burial. It was there she was prepared to meet the worst thing that had happened.

We have moments that we cannot stand to relive. We have places of pain and of suffering. In the book “The Shack,” that we read last summer, the main character Mack is called by God back to place of his greatest pain. He was called back to the cabin where they found his daughter’s dress and blood. It is there that the reality of her kidnapping and murder came crashing down upon him. We have those shacks as well. Places we cannot go, issues we don’t want to face, people we don’t ever want to meet again because death takes over in our souls when that happens. Then we transform into the walking dead as we are consumed.

As Mary headed to that tomb early in the morning she carried the weight of solitude, for no one else was with her. She carried the weight of the oils and perfumes to seal death around Jesus. She carried the pain of what she witnessed on Friday. All that weight bore down on her soul and she wept. Then she arrived at the tomb and saw the stone rolled away. She ran to tell the disciples who came running as well. After Peter and John headed back home, she sat there and wept outside the tomb, once again alone. There she feels dead.

Life is hard. There is nothing about life that is easy. Kids just don’t sleep well and they get sick, which means that you don’t sleep and soon you will be sick. The people in our Sunday School classes get smaller and smaller as we bid them farewell and celebrate their lives. Family issues seem to never go away and consume all of our thoughts and time. Loneliness keeps creeping in and devours our passions and hopes for the future. It is there we feel dead.

Then a man asks Mary, “Why are you crying.” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. “Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!”

It is in our despair, in our grief, in our pain, in our suffering that the Risen Lord and Savior meets us and calls out our name. It is in life that our Lord transforms us to be an Easter People. Yes, one of the perks of following Christ is eternity in the presence of God after death but before we get there Christ, through his resurrection, saves our life.

Today as came into worship death was still all around us. The cross was still dead and the altar still barren. Now it is full of life. Where death used to be there is now life. Death could not keep our Lord and the small and big deaths in our life do not keep Christ from meeting us there and calling our name. That is the promise of Easter; that is the promise of resurrection.

Resurrection is promised at the end of our life but what is wonderful is that we can proclaim its power now as we live. We can live in the resurrection knowing that no matter what happens to us and no matter where life takes us, the Risen Lord, will be there. As Mack spent the weekend with God in that cabin of his worst nightmare he was transformed. As we see God in our midst when we visit our pain and our issues we too will be transformed, from death to life. Because today, TODAY, we proclaim boldly that he has risen, He Has Risen, HE HAS RISEN!

And all God’s people said…Amen.