My sermon from this past Sunday. I’m a bit late posting it; I’m in a very busy week as a project comes to completion.
27Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him 28and 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. 29Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; 30then the second 31and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. 32Finally the woman also died. 33In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.” 34Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; 35but 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. 36Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. 37And 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. 38Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”
Dear friends, grace and peace to you this day from our living God, through Jesus. Amen.
Job says the great words, I know that my Redeemer lives.
Paul says to the Thessalonians, stand firm and hold fast.
Even our Psalmist today speaks in present tense.
God is not of the dead, but of the living. To God, ALL of them are alive.
And yet these words come at the end of an odd exchange between Jesus and the Sadducees. The first question I have about this encounter is, why are the Sadducees asking him questions about something they don’t even believe in? They won’t believe the answer anyway, so why bother?
Well, they bother because they are trying to trap Jesus. It’s basically the gotcha politics of the first century. “What kind of questions can we ask him so that he openly commits heresy? So that he does something that gives us what we need to haul him up in front of the governor, Pilate, and get rid of him?”
What Jesus is saying is important, but the context in which he says it is just as important. Keep in mind, Jesus has already had his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, with palms and shouts of Hosanna. Now he is teaching in the temple, and the Jewish authorities are incensed once they realize his parables are ways to teach against their corruption.
The more things change, the more they stay the same, don’t they? These are not merely historical observations, they are the realities of the human sinful condition.
As Lord Acton said in 1887, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Jesus sees this clearly, and answers with words that disrupt the Sadducees’ intent as well as the societal norms it’s based on.
In Jesus’ time, such a question – whose wife would the woman be – wouldn’t be seen as strange. Women were property. Surely this is just a simple question of inheritance.
That way of thinking is very separated from real people. When our theology fails to touch human bodies—when theology becomes disembodied—how easily we can move to a place of using that theology to justify an override of fair treatment of individuals.
Jesus’ response steps completely away from these assumptions of women as property. He is speaking of “children of the resurrection” – in other words, an ethos drawn from the age to come. The patriarchal model of women as property, given and taken to continue that patriarchal structure, is no longer needed.
Jesus’ answer is one that could be seen as envisioning marriage as something in which both parties fully consent and participate – a radical departure from the model of his day, one that only in the last few decades has even taken serious root in our own lives.
But I wonder if Jesus’ answer is more particularly meant to push the Sadducees towards a far more expansive understanding of the love and grace of God.
For if our pondering of their question were only limited to what we know of God in THIS life, then our answers would be likewise limited.
Jesus invites us in this answer to their limit-bound question to step into the place of limitless possibilities – the place of resurrection.
Jesus invites us to dream. To truly live as children of the resurrection, who have been freed from the sin that has bound us in the past.
In so living, we also affirm that when Jesus invites us to dream, he is not advising us to disregard our obligations to care for this lifetime and the world in light of the afterlife. We are here and the world – us and our companions – is saved as much here as in an uncharted beyond.
Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians continues this hopeful vision: stand firm and hold fast. God is faithful and will comfort you and strengthen your hearts for whatever is to come. Indeed, we can use this passage to address our own faith in a time in which we experience threat to the predictable order of things, and in which the very existence of planetary life is at risk through human folly, war making, and greed.
Jesus knows the question the religious leaders have posed to him is a political one, wrapped in theological trappings. As usual, he responds to what lies beneath the trappings, exploding some assumptions along the way. Following on the heels of celebrating the Feast of All Saints last week, it’s an especially potent point that Jesus makes here: that in the eyes of God, there is no question of the dead versus the living, “for to [God],” Jesus says, “all of them are alive.”
ALL alive, on this side and the other side of the table.
On this side of the table, we feel the distinction keenly, and Jesus does not dismiss or disparage this. Bent as he is on breaking down the walls of division, however, he cannot resist pressing against this one, the wall we perceive between the living and the dead. With his own death and resurrection almost upon him, Jesus pushes against that wall, shows it for what it is, challenges us to enter anew into our living and into our world that is so much larger, so much more mysterious than we dreamed.
God of the Living
by Jan Richardson
When the wall
between the worlds
is too firm,
When it seems
and sharp edges.
When every morning
you wake as if
flattened against it,
its forbidding presence
fairly pressing the breath
all over again.
Then may you be given
of how weak the wall
and how strong what stirs
on the other side,
breathing with you
and blessing you
forever bound to you
but freeing you
into this living,
into this world
so much wider
than you ever knew.
© 2013 Jan Richardson
Dear friends: our lessons today don’t counsel us to passivity or to sitting on the sidelines, letting God take care of the future. We are called to live faithfully, to act lovingly, and to care for the earth regardless of what the future brings. Faithfulness is not about a divine rescue operation, but about becoming God’s companion through actions to save the world and bring justice and beauty to one another. Heaven will take care of itself; our task is here on earth, undergirded by the trust that whatever the future brings, we are in God’s hands.