Sunday, November 11, 2007

Sermon: November 11

Wherever Jesus went, people approached him. Some wanted to hear this rabbi/teacher they had heard about on the streets. Others sought him out to be healed. Some wanted to learn the wisdom of God. And there were those who wanted to test him, question him, see if this is really the messiah like the Sadducees. The Sadducees find Jesus in Jerusalem. They are part of the priestly class, wealthy and aristocratic, they believed that the first five books of Moses, the first five books of our bible are authoritative. They do not believe in resurrection of the dead, or oral tradition, and this often got them into heated debates with the Pharisees (also part of the priestly class).

The Sadducees stand before Jesus in our Gospel reading today, and ask him a question, to see if he can pass their test. Following the law as laid out by Moses, they ask if a widow married her husband's brothers because she was childless and was hoping to produce an heir but fails with all seven brothers, whose wife will she be in the resurrection? Do the Sadducees really care about the woman? No. They want to intimidate Jesus for they did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. They were not mourners looking for hope, or believers asking a question. They were here to embarrass this so-called Messiah by trapping him in an important theological question. As Jesus so often does, he understands the question in a deeper way than those who ask the question.

Jesus responds that life on earth and in heaven are different. On Earth, in our relationships with one another, we do indeed get married and are given in marriage. In Jesus time, marriages were arranged through families. Jesus says, in the age to come, if one is, considered worthy of a place there, one does not get married or is given in marriage, there is no need for such arrangements. In the age to come, we are children of the resurrection, children of God. There is no more death, we become like angels in the Kingdom of God. So our existence will be much different and it is a gift from God. Jesus then mentions the story of the burning bush where we hear that our God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God is not a God of the dead but of those who are alive. So Abraham, Isaac & Jacob must be alive to God. They are children of resurrection and have a place in that age to come.

The question about new life, about resurrection, is an old question. "If mortals die, will they live again?" asked Job. Job whose life was idyllic but whose life is turned upside down through calamities, plagues, and tragic death, three friends who judge him and his own feeling of abandonment by God. Job searches for the wisdom of what life will be. Resurrection is about knowledge. The knowledge that death is not an ending, but a transition.

“Death is not a period that ends the great sentence of life, but a comma that punctuates it to more lofty significance.” Said Martin Luther King, Jr.

That transition begins not when our earthly bodies pass away, but when we become children of God, children of resurrection. Jesus did not come to teach us about death, he came to teach us about life and about living our lives not as people who will die, but as a people who are alive, and who will continue to live now and in the age to come. There will be cynics among us, the Sadducees of today (those who write about the God Delusion and such) who will scoff at the idea of something beyond our mortal lives. Prove it they say. What will it be like? Can we be married there?

"The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God." says the Wisdom of Solomon. "In the eyes of the foolish, they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be a disaster, and their going from us to be their destruction, but they are at peace." The Sadducees scoffed at such an idea. Jesus in turn points out that our God is a God of the living, whether we are alive on earth or in the age to come. We like the disciples and others gather around Jesus in Jerusalem to see this questioning take place. He answers the Sadducees and we are amazed, but if we leave it at that, then we have missed the teaching of Jesus.

The God who created life, the same God who created the institution of marriage, is the same God who provides new life after death to those who accept God's gracious gift. Our worthiness is how we accept that gift and live it in our lives. Living as children of the resurrection is about living with hope and without fear - physical or emotional. We are called to live without fear because as Christians we are given that gift of knowledge of the resurrection. The knowledge that our Lord & Savior overcame death for us - so that we can be free - free to live our lives as God want us to live - with hope and without fear.

Job knows that hope. From our reading today, Job says, "I know my Redeemer lives, and that at last he will stand upon 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." In Job's words, we find hope and comfort. We feel a connection to our redeemer, our Jesus. Even Job understood that in the end, when all is gone, he shall see God. Job wants vindication for all that he suffered. Job wants to know that there is meaning in his life, even at the worst of moments, in plague, in death. And in his words, is the voice of hope.

This reading from Job is used at funerals for it connects with our hopeful longing for redemption and for the resurrection. This hope, the knowledge of resurrection is not just for those who have died, because Kate Brugess, Sven Svensson and Don Dorne (and all our loved ones) already taste that redemption through the resurrection in their new lives.

It is for us today. The resurrection is not just about what happens when we die a physical death - it is about how we live our lives today ~ wounded, yes, broken, sometimes, but because we already have knowledge of the resurrection, and in our hope, we are able to heal, and can do the work we are given to do because we know, we have that gift of eternal life - and that life begins now. I know my own dad lives in the resurrection after his death 10 years ago but even more so, I know my mother does, for I have watched her life go from the terrible pain of losing a spouse, to the full blossom of a life that she leads today. I have experienced it in my own life too. In fact, we all have in big and little ways. There is new life. There is hope. Our own Sadducees may deny it or refute it. But there my hope lies, in our God, the God of the living, for to God all of us are alive. So let us accept that gift of resurrection and be alive today. Amen.

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