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Life to Stand In

Sermon. Pentecost 23rd C, Sunday November 10, 2019. St Petri

Luke 20:27–38 The question about rising from death Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a question. “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a woman and died childless. The second and then the third married her, and in the same way the seven died, leaving no children. Finally, the woman died too. Now then, at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?” Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection. But in the account of the burning bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”

It was hard hearing all those names read out last week at All Saints Day. We remembered those whom we have lost by name and thanked God for them. There were a lot of names. 

I wonder what that does to you – whether you did not really know many of them or most were life-long acquaintances or friends or actual loved close family members.

Today’s words from the Lord will help us. 

We have this strange little conversation between Jesus and a particular group of people in this “heated up” final part of Jesus’ journey to death in the city of Jerusalem. 

Jesus is asked about his belief regarding what happens when we die – whether there is nothing at all after death or whether there is something truly different, totally unlike anything we have ever known this side of death. 

One thing he makes clear in his response: God is God of the living whether they are living or have died!

“God is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”

But our natural questions about death and life beyond it are with us always. They might be;

  1. Where are our brothers and sister in Christ who have died and what will the resurrection be like?

  2. Is Jesus saying we won’t know our friends and families, or even our partner in life?

  3. Is Jesus’ resurrection the same thing as this belief that we all have an immortal soul that flies off to some place when we die?

Various groups with different beliefs about death and life are all there in the city around Jesus: Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, Zealots and etc . Things are getting to the pointy end. All these groups are very aware of Jesus. They are all trying to figure out if he is friend or foe. Is he good news for the nation or really dangerous! So, the Sadducees group ask their thorny question….

If seven brothers were all married to the same wife in succession because they were keeping the law saying their duty is to marry/take in the wife of a brother who dies to protect her and give her a safer future, and none of these seven brothers have any children with this one wife, at the so called ‘resurrection’ (which we think is just fantasy) whose wife will she be? Won’t this be terribly awkward in this so called ‘heaven’?

Now the big issue that divides the two major groups; Pharisees and Sadducees, is different belief about whether or not there is anything after death for human beings. 

It is not actually a question much to do with marriage. It is all about resurrection. This is not even an honest question seeking new understanding. It is ‘set up’ question aimed to get Jesus to trap himself in words. They need some ammo to get rid of Jesus from their lives.

Sadducees say there is no resurrection from death. For them, only the first five books of the Old Testament are authoritative, and they reckon those books do not mention anything about humans living on after death. Pharisees take the whole Old Testament and believe there to be much about life after death spoken. There is resurrection from death. 

Whose side are you on Jesus? Jesus has already humiliated the Pharisees just prior to this conversation. They tried to trap him with that other tricky question about paying taxes to the hated Romans and their fake god, Caesar. That was good viewing for the Sadducee’s!

Jesus replies mysteriously;

“The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection.”

So, plain and simple: There is life beyond death. The Sadducee’s are wrong. A lot of people today are still wrong about that. 

Jesus gives no specific details about this life beyond death. He does make it clear that is different to life now.

It is different in the sense that the ordinary events that shape our lives now and track our journey through life – birth, childhood, teenager time, young adult time, work, marriage, etc, do not characterise the life beyond the resurrection. 

Somehow, we will be us, but we will be different, as Jesus was different but still himself after his death when he was raised from death. 

But what about knowing your marriage partner, or anyone else? Will we know each other? Will we know our spouse, see our family, be reunited with them? 

Seems a bit like we won’t.

“The people of this age marry and are given in marriage…” [but not so in the next]

But Jesus is not really saying anything about not knowing each other. He does not say we will not know those who have been dear to us, only that resurrection life will not be marked by the same features as this one. 

He goes on to say;

“Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” 

So, it seems that the relationships defining our current life remain in the resurrection life we will share; definitely with the Lord himself, and very likely with each other.

And one very important thing Jesus says is that we humans do not have some ‘immortal soul’ that will leave the body and fly off to some other spiritual place we might call “heaven” when we die.

I know, a lot of people I know have that belief and it does bring some comfort to them, particularly if they are unsure about Jesus and his resurrection and his promises. 

If you have little or no faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection for you and his definite word that there is indeed life with him forever beyond our death with all others who have believed what he says, then the next best thing is to believe that there is this eternal non-visible essence of us that somehow lives on. 

The problem is, this text and the whole New Testament don’t say that. They say a whole lot more that is a whole lot better!

Jesus says that there is life after death. His life for you. 

He says it is different to life before death, and marvelously so – no more tears, suffering, dying.

But it is ‘the same’; it is human and communal – we will know him. It seems that we will know people – even Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 

Friend, this message is for you, no matter what or who you have lost. This is hope for you for today. 

Why? Well, this resurrection life is not mere theory for Jesus. He is living it in this city. He is about to pay the ultimate price for this new hope for us all. It will cost him dearly. It will cost him real pain and violence and dark struggle to make this resurrection life possible for all of us humans. 

So whatever he says about death and life after death, it is personal, it is hard won and it is human and real.

And this is all ours now. You died and rose to this life already when the Spirit sealed you with this life in your baptism. You are raised and one day will arise with all the living and the dead to receive the final and full reward Jesus is and has.

Resurrection gives you a place and reason to stand. You can stand firm in anything because Jesus is standing beyond the grave in glorious light. 

Resurrection gives you an anchor point. Like a little toddler holding to Dad’s leg to stay upright, you can hold on to him as you “hold fast” to what you have been given, what you have been taught, what you still receive all the time from Jesus through his people.

Resurrection gives you guaranteed victory and strength to overcome. As you hold on you keep walking, even with the flaming arrows of the “Lawless One’ (as Paul calls him) who tries to set himself up as God in your life. (1 Thessalonians 2:13-17).

Resurrection gives you meaning and purpose in your life. You are going somewhere good with God. You can trust that you are always God’s called one – no matter what your job, what your age, what your health, what your losses and scars. (1 Thessalonians 2:13-17).

Can you as a ‘Living one’ with all the other ‘living ones’ who have died, sing that song now?

Every day I will praise you, Lord The Lord is near to all who call on him,     to all who call on him in truth. He fulfils the desires of those who fear him;     he hears their cry and saves them. The Lord watches over all who love him.

 In Paul’s words:

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word. 

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