“God of the Living”

Luke 20:27-40

10 November 2020

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

 

Luke 20:27-40

 

Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him 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.”

Then some of the scribes answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well.” For they no longer dared to ask him another question.

 

Prayer.

 

What happens when you die?

 

As long as there is life and breath

This is a question that can not be dismissed.

At the same time,

It can not be answered by reason or experience alone.

What happens when you die?

 

Jesus says little about the subject,

Other than a parable about a rich man and Lazarus and

A word to a thief on the cross.

His brevity makes this Gospel passage from Luke all the more important.

This Gospel passage invites each of us

to explore more deeply the question:

What happens when you die?

 

A careful examination of the details of Jesus’ encounter with the Sadducees

Raises a lot of serious, even troubling, questions.

Adding historical and critical context

brings into focus the central question at hand,

What happens when you die?

 

Jesus is in Jerusalem,

in the Temple teaching,

As Rabbi’s often did.

Some would teach students on the stairs leading up into the Temple,

Others would hold class in the shade of the porticos that ringed the perimeter of the plaza.

 

The time is near for Jesus;

He would die soon.

 

Chief priests, scribes, and elders were in the crowd of students

surrounding Jesus,

soaking up his every word.

They challenged his authority.

He risked upsetting the tenuous peace

Between Rome and the occupied population.

 

He risked undermining the Roman sanctioned

Temple authority and economy.

Upset cash flow and you’re in deep trouble really quick.

 

The chief priests, scribes, and elders wanted to lay hands on Jesus,

But they feared the people. (20:19)

So, they bid their time.

They recruited spies and lawyers to ask controversial questions,

Collect evidence, and

Waited for Jesus to hang himself.

Timing was everything.

 

Jesus is on a powder keg;

Barely weeks before he is arrested, abused, suffers, is crucified,

And his body laid into the tomb.

 

What happens when you die?

 

We tend to think of ancient, Rabbinical Judaism as being monolithic,

Of one mind,

But it wasn’t.

It was as fractured and diverse,

Different sects and schools of thought,

Full of landmines and debates,

Just as Christianity is today.

 

Consider Pharisees, Priests, Scribes, Essenes, and Sadducees;

A mixture of lay and clergy

With greatly divergent beliefs about God,

God’s present relationship with us,

And God’s future plan.

 

Pharisees, we heard last week, were a religious sect

Of both religious leaders and the laity, whose

Fundamental value was rigid adherence to the the Laws of Moses.

Pharisees were moral and theological conservatives.

 

Priests, on the other hand,

Were male descendants from Aaron,

The elder brother of Moses.

One wasn’t called to become a priest.

One was born a priest, or not.

 

Priests were charged with running the Temple.

Specifically,

Selling Temple raised sacrificial birds and lambs.

Priests oversaw the operation of ritual baths.

Priests collecting tithes from pilgrims.

They presiding over and participated in animal sacrifice, and

They maintained overall order.

 

Scribes were composed of Jewish aristocracy,

Whose function was to copy sacred manuscripts,

Making them learned in the Law.

Think of scribes as being seminary professors,

Experts in scripture

Who often served in positions of power in society.

For example, many served on the Sanhedrin

Who tried and convicted Jesus.

 

Essenes, only mentioned outside of the Bible,

Clustered in monastic communities, and

Held all things in common.

Essenes observed the Law of Moses,

Practiced ritual washing and purity, and

Professed belief in immortality but not resurrection of the body.

 

When it came to the topic of resurrection,

The debate within Judaism at the time of Jesus was raging.

Powerful people had a stake in the argument.

The stability of civilization and

authority of the Empire and Rabbinical Judaism were at risk.

 

The theological pump was primed for Jesus to be resurrected from the grave;

Which fanned the flame for early Christianity.

Former Jews who believed in resurrection of the body,

Looked upon the resurrected Christ standing right in front of their eyes,

Were immediately were convinced and converted.

Christ is risen!

We were right!

 

Sadducees approached Jesus this morning and lit the powder keg.

They did not believe in the resurrection.

To prove their point

They asked Jesus a question about resurrection,

Using an absurd example of the application of the law of Levirate Marriage.

Their question is nearly identical as recorded in Matthew and Mark.

 

Why would they ask about resurrection if they didn’t believe in it?

Like the Essenes, Sadducees did not believe in resurrection,

But did believe in eternal life.

Eternal life, it was believed, was

“Living on in one’s descendants and in their memory,”

They believed.

(The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. IX, p.388)

 

Levirate Marriage made this possible.

As prescribed in Deuteronomy 25,

(and in at least 3 other ancient societies)

If a husband dies,

The widow is to marry the next oldest brother-in-law.

 

Ancient Jewish society treated women as property,

Repugnant today,

But the reality in the time of Moses.

 

Levirate Marriage, as prescribed in the Law of Moses,

Was an ethical step forward,

Ensuring security for the widow,

Perpetuation of property, and

The provision of children.

 

Ah, the provision of children;

Eternal life, as the Sadducees thought.

Not physical, bodily resurrection,

But immortality through children and descendents.

 

The response Jesus makes rocked their world,

Just as he is about to upset ours.

 

….

 

What happens when you die?

Does our spirit live for ever?

Do we float in clouds?

Do we soar?

Are we filled with all knowledge

Of past, present, and future?

 

What happens when you die?

Are we reunited with family members?

How about uncle Ale, who spent time in prison for unspeakable crimes?

How about my spouse, who made my life a living hell?

Um, no thank you.

 

What happens when you die?

Is there a physical resurrection of our corpse?

Because, what the pathologist or mortician does pretty much upsets that apple cart.

Will there be a resuscitation of all corpses when Jesus comes again?

 

…..

 

Jesus uses the example of Levirate Marriage to teach us

That women are not to be treated as property,

But as children of God.

Men, take notice.

Women, stand tall.

While scripture may not treat everyone equally and respectfully,

God does.

 

At the same time, Jesus doubles down with Levirate Marriage.

He uses it to reveal God’s plan for death, resurrection, and eternal life.

If you’re interested in what happens when you or a loved one dies,

Pay attention!

 

Jesus says,

“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 can not die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.”

(20:35-36)

 

Let’s unpack this.

 

“Considered worthy”

Not all will be judged worthy,

Even though all will be forgiven of sins and judged with love.

 

“A place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead” …

Yes, Jesus teaches us,

There is eternal life and a future resurrection from the dead.

I’m pretty confident that the Creator of life

Is even able to knit muscles on old dry bones

And breathe life into a corpse.

 

“They are like angels and are children of God”

You’ve heard about angels, haven’t you?

Scripture is full of examples of God sending angels to carry out God’s plan.

Some angels bring good news,

Others bring words of warning.

Some come in dreams,

Others like to wrestle.

 

That angelic presence of a loved one?

Yeah.

That’s God’s gift to you.

Listen to what that angel has to day.

Give thanks to God for loving you so much

To think of you and to send you an angel.

Yes, angels are watching out over you and me

every moment of every day.

So, watch what you say and do!

 

“Those considered worthy … are children of the resurrection”;

That is … children of Jesus,

Who we quite famously know,

Rose from the dead.

 

Jesus cites the Patriarchs,

Moses, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,

as examples of resurrection,

Which isn’t terribly convincing to me.

 

His most convincing argument for resurrection

Lay in his future:

An empty garden tomb,

In an Upper Room,

On a walk to Emmaus, and

Breakfast on a lake shore.

 

We may confidently recite the Apostles’ Creed,

“I believe in … the communion of saints,

The forgiveness of sins,

The resurrection of the body,

And the life everlasting.”

 

Forgiveness of sin, resurrection, eternal life is

What happens when you die, Jesus tells us.

How God’s plan for resurrection and eternal life is implemented at death, however,

Is as much of a mystery to me, as it is to you.

 

What happens when you die?

The line between heaven and earth is drawn so thin

One is able to see the activity of God with crystal clarity.

There is nothing to fear.

There is everything to gain.

The Lord of resurrection and eternal life

Does not allow death to remain as the final judgement.

Our God, who knew us before our conception,

Created us, and breathed life into our lungs,

Is the Lord of life.

 

Jesus reminds us,

“I am the resurrection and I am life.

Those who believe in me, even though they die, yet shall they live,

And whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.”

(John 11:25-26)

Amen.

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