Pentecost 22C November 10, 2019 Luke 20:27-38
The Sadducees make up this outlandish story about a man who had six brothers. His wife ends up marrying all seven of them when each, in turn, dies leaving no children to carry on the family name and no one to take care of her in old age. They want to know who of the seven she will be married to in the resurrection. It’s a trick question, of course, because they don’t believe in the resurrection and they want to make Jesus look foolish.
Even though this is just a story the Sadducees tell, I couldn’t help but wonder what Jesus’ answer might have been if it was the wife who was asking the question. Under totally different circumstances I imagine that Jesus would have answered quite differently. Maybe he’d ask, “Well, my dear, who would you want to be married to in the resurrection?” And she’d tell him, perhaps, “None of them, for they all mistreated me and made my life miserable.” Or, maybe, she’d say, “Oh, Levi, he’s the one I truly loved and the one who made me the happiest.” Or, maybe, with a mischievous look in her eye she’d tell Jesus, “You know, they all were really special in their own way and they all brought me joy, I’d like every one of them to be my husband.” And Jesus would say to her, “All I can promise you is that the very best you can possibly think it will be like in the resurrection, it will be so much more … so much better than you can possibly imagine.
You see, the mistake the Sadducees make is that they assume the resurrection is exactly like it’s here, in this life on earth. So, the first thing Jesus impresses upon them is how different they are from each other. Here, people get married … there marriage doesn’t exist, and love abounds. Here, we have children … there we are children; the children of God. Here, we die … there, death is no more.
And they aren’t the only ones who make this mistake; we all do. A pet dies and a child wants to know if pets go to heaven, too. You’re sitting in a hospital watching and waiting as a loved one draws close to their final breath and you wonder what waits for them on the other side. A doctor tells you there’s nothing more they can do and your mind races into the unknown. And the best we can do is try to comprehend the incomprehensible. Because this life on earth is all we know, we try to use what we can understand to explain what is beyond our imagination. And so, we talk about pearly gates and streets of gold and everybody floating on clouds with halos and harps and wings.
And here’s the thing, when our imaginations fail to map out the landscape of eternity, there is only one place to go. And that one place is in the final thing Jesus tells the Sadducees: “God is the God of the living, not of the dead. God is the God of resurrection and life.”
So the question that begs to be answered is this: what is it like to live as if God is the God of the living and not of the dead? Well, we get a chance to see exactly what that looks like because this conversation with the Sadducees is taking place in Jerusalem during the last week of Jesus’ life, only days before his crucifixion. For Jesus this isn’t a mere theoretical concept or a theological theory. His life, his ministry, his purpose, his destiny all comes down to this. It comes down to God being the God of the living and not of the dead and that’s what gives him the boldness and the confidence to face the cross and the grave without fear.
And then there is Job in our first reading for today. Talk about having a bad day. Messenger after messenger arrive to tell him of increasingly sever catastrophes; the Sabeans attack and kill his servants, carrying off his oxen and donkeys – a fire from heaven consume his shepherds and sheep – the Chaldeans raid his camels, carry them off and kill the rest of his servants with the edge of the sword – and then a strong wind comes to the house of his oldest son who has gathered his brothers and sisters for a banquet and the house collapses on top of them and kills them all. Finally, to make matters even worse Job breaks out in boils and sores all over his body. The only one left is Job’s wife who can’t stop nagging him about what a mess he’s made of his life.
His friends come and, one by one, they try to console him, but they aren’t very good at it. They are sure Job has brought these things upon himself and done something very wrong, but Job refuses to admit he deserves any of this. He shouts back at them: “For I know that my redeemer lives, and that at the last God will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold and not another.” WOW! Now there’s a guy who is convinced that God is the God of the living and not of the dead.
In a little bit we’ll sing that great hymn, “I Know that My Redeemer Lives”. It occurred to me that what we’re singing is really a protest song; a song of defiance against all those powers and principalities that would have us believe that death is the end and that the grave has the last word. But like Job and like Jesus, we know better. We know the God who is the God of the living and not of the dead. And because we know this and believe it in the depths of our being, we dare to boldly and bravely sing.
CHILDREN OF RESURRECTION, Steve Garnaas Holms
Resurrection is not just the afterlife.
It's the new life God gives us
when we hand our old one over to God.
It can happen any time.
The old life we hand over is limited
to the space inside our body.
But the new one is not so limited:
we are no longer separate individuals,
but rejoined with our wholeness;
no longer belonging to one
but belonging to all;
no longer strangers but siblings.
Giving our life to God
(over and over again)
we are angels who have died
and gone to heaven,
who inhabit the universe,
who love all as if married to all.
The life you hand over is small;
the life you receive is infinite:
“eternal,”—not infinitely long
(you don't even like long meetings,
let alone living millions of years)
but infinitely deep and wide.
The infinite dimension of eternal life
is not time, it's love.
Children of resurrection,
we let ourselves love and be loved
It starts now.