(A sermon based on Luke 20:27-38 for Sunday, November 7, 2010)
A Simon & Garfunkel song observed that there were “nothing but the dead and dying in my little town.”
There are lots of dead and dying people in our little town, too. And there are lots of dead and dying people in our text.
There are two groups of dead and dying people in this passage.
First there are the Sadducees. The Sadducees were among the elites of their day; they were the wealthy and powerful people who controlled the leadership of the temple. They were also the “conservatives” of their day being strict scripturalists with a narrowly defined Scripture; since their Bible consisted only of the five books of Moses anything that was not in those books was not in their belief system, which explains why they did not believe in resurrection from the dead, since they did not find it directly taught there.
The Sadducees were on the endangered list and, as a matter of fact, when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the temple some forty years after the time of Jesus, they quickly passed from the scene.
The reason that I describe them as “dead and dying,” though, has little to do with the narrowness of their theology or the imminent demise of their influence, though, and everything to do with their attitude toward Jesus and what it showed about their attitude toward God and toward life. They didn’t really care what Jesus thought about the possibility of resurrection; they didn’t care about what Jesus had to say about matters of life and death or about the possible embodiment of grace in him. They cared instead about being right and about putting the upstart rabbi in his place. Jesus had the words of life but they wanted to play games with words. Just think: right in front of them was the one who was the resurrection and the life but instead of being open to that resurrection and that life they got all cute about proving how smart they were.
The Sadducees were dead and dying.
Moving to the story that the Sadducees told we find a second group of dead and dying people: the seven brothers. It is a ludicrous story that the Sadducees told, albeit a ludicrous story based on a real tradition called levirate marriage; because having a male heir was so important in ancient Israelite culture, a law developed that held that if a man died without leaving one his nearest male kinsman was to marry his widow with any children being born to that subsequent union to be considered the children of the deceased man for inheritance and namesake purposes. Like I said, it’s a ludicrous story; but on the other hand, if seven brothers are born, seven brothers are going to die. I continually encounter individuals who are the last living child of multiple sibling families. In a way, the seven brothers in the Sadducees’ story can represent all of us: everyone who lives dies.
The seven brothers were dead and dying.
So there are two groups of dead and dying people.
There are also two dead and dying individuals in our text.
First there is the woman in the Sadducees’ story. While it is not emphasized in the text, how can a feeling, caring, living, breathing human being hear this story and not have your heart break for this woman? She was passed along from one brother to another, from one man to another, all because she was seen as a means—as a tool—through which her first husband’s name and legacy and property could be kept intact. One can’t help but wonder if any of the men ever viewed her as anything but a means to an end, if any of them ever viewed her as anything but a piece of property to be used.
Now, I know and you know that the story the Sadducees told is just that—a story—and probably does not describe something that actually happened. But you know and I know also that there is truth in fiction and there is certainly truth in this piece of fiction and that truth is this: too many people spend too much of their lives in relationships with people in which they are devalued and underappreciated and misused. A couple of popular songs of a few years ago have lines in them, both sung from the perspective of women, that break my heart every time I hear them. One says, “I don’t know if I’ve ever been really loved by a hand that’s touched me” (“Push” by Matchbox 20) and the other says, “Maybe I’m not your perfect kind; maybe I’m not what you had in mind; maybe we’re just killing time” (“You Don’t Bring Me Anything But Down” by Sheryl Crow). How many women—and men, for that matter—are caught in relationships in which they are not regarded and treated as the valuable and wonderful human beings that they are?
How must the woman in that horrible story have died a little bit more every time she was passed along to another man and how she must have died a little bit more every time she was used for a purpose that was never even fulfilled!
The woman in the story was among the dead and dying.
The other dead and dying individual in our text is Jesus himself. It won’t be long now in the narrative until Jesus faces his crucifixion; he was already carrying the marks of death—the misunderstanding, the hostility, the rejection—in his life as he moved toward his execution. The subject of resurrection was for him, then, something that hit very close to home. He knew, though, what we think we know and what we hope is true—he knew truths and facts and realities about life and death and life after death—and he shared them with those Sadducees and with us.
The truth is that even with the information that Jesus shares here—and even when we combine that information with all the other information we can glean from our Bibles—we still don’t know all that much about what our life after resurrection will be like. There are some truths we can gain from Jesus’ words to the Sadducees, though.
First, our state of being and our relationships in the resurrection are of a different and higher order. “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.”
Second, our life in the resurrection is everlasting life. “They cannot die anymore.”
Third, those who die in God are alive in God. “Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living for to him all of them are alive.”
I want us to think about something else that is found in Jesus’ words. He said, “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.” When you stop and think about it, those who trust in and follow Christ belong in a sense to this age—we live here and now, after all—and to that age—we will live in and through the resurrection, after all. Jesus goes on to point out that in the burning bush story Moses called God the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and then comments, “Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”
When you put all of that together, one thing you can conclude is that those who will be resurrected are in a sense already living as resurrected people. We are already “children of the resurrection” because we are already “children of God.” We’re not “like angels” yet—some of us are less like them than others!—but still, in Christ the new age has already begun to dawn and the effects of the resurrection are already being experienced.
We who belong to Christ, therefore, should be experiencing the overcoming of death more and more and the experiencing of life more and more!
So for us…life is about experiencing Jesus Christ in all his life-giving power, not about nitpicking over fine points of theology or about promoting our positions on issues.
So for us....life is about experiencing Jesus Christ in all his life-giving power, not about being beaten down and unappreciated and being misused or about beating down and not appreciating and misusing others.
So for us…life is about experiencing Jesus Christ in all his life-giving power, not about just existing until we can get around to dying.
We will be children of the resurrection! We are children of the resurrection! We are all about life! How can we grab hold of the life that is already ours? Are we grabbing hold of the life that is already ours?