Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost 11.10.19

Trick questions. Pop quizzes. Mind games. Today, the Sadducees give Jesus a trick question about marriage and life after death. The Sadducees KNEW the law: they have the first five books of the Torah.

When Moses received the law from God on Mt. Sinai it was a KINDNESS. The law showed this ragtag bunch of former slaves how to live. In the beginning, they didn’t have a CLUE on how to live. The law was a CLUE for the CLUELESS. Their laws built them as a nation. Every self-respecting nation had LAWS, and LAWS gave this group of renegade slaves, respectability.

NOW, fast forward 1300 years, and the Sadducees, have tried to reduce the law to a trick question. The kindness is gone, the law has become a word game, a mind game, and the religious elders are trying to stump Jesus with a bogus question.

Today’s gospel asks a big question: can we, SHOULD we, reduce life to a formula such as the Sadducees are doing? Following the law gave the illusion that righteousness was easily attainable, is humanly do-able. Yet their question about marriage to seven brothers and who does the woman BELONG to after death, eliminates mercy. Where is God and God’s MERCY in this trick question? If they are all in heaven, these seven brothers and this miserable widow, where is God?

God is mysteriously absent from this sketch of heaven they have created. That’s the problem with the law 1300 years after Moses, all righteousness comes from God, yet God is absent as humans judge each other. IF there’s one thing we know about God is that God LOVES us.

The Sadducees judge Jesus, God’s Son, as deficient in answering their trick question, their mind game. What do trick questions even have to do with the deepest and most important questions of life? The important questions are: Who loves me? DOES God love me and you? HOW does God SHOW that love to us? Can we TRUST God?

What are God’s promises? Can we TRUST God’s promises?

Sadducees don’t even believe in the resurrection, so why bother asking a question about resurrection when they’re not interested in the answer?

 Jesus refuses to go along with their pointless games, and turns the conversation to what matters most: we are children of God. Life can’t be reduced to a formula, yet religion when it goes bad, can get formulaic. Do a percentage of this and a smidgen of that and you’ll get to  . . . where? Heaven is the claim. A Sadducee heaven with God missing.

Jesus, our good shepherd, comes to earth, takes on our humanity, to make things right for us. The laws, the trick question that is based in a widow’ pain, a woman who is a widow seven times and still ends up childless, is the butt of the Sadducees joke. What the Sadducees have to offer today, does NOTHING for the people.

In Matthew 9:36 it says Jesus, saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” If this is the kind of question that the Sadducees give Jesus, imagine the contempt they show for people of lower status. This kind of trickery is a form of harassment. I’m sure these Sadducees were convinced they were the smartest people on the planet, and that they could outsmart Jesus. Luther would say they were turned in on themselves.

The funny story these so-called wise men tell, do nothing to minister to the people where they ARE. Jesus looks with compassion and LOVE at the people as sheep who need guidance, compassion, and comfort from their shepherd. The law has stopped working. It doesn’t reach their hearts. The people don’t need tricky questions. Jesus FEEDS them, heals them, forgives their sins, nourishes them, and talks to them on their level. This is the LOVE that is missing from the Sadducees’ formula for eternal life.

So Jesus quickly over turned their trick question to talk about the resurrection.

Jesus is the authority on the question of resurrection and offers HIMSELF as the authority on life: they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.”

Today’s gospel begs the question: what DO we believe about resurrection? I had a conversation recently with a man, and he asked me about heaven. What did I think it will be like? I told him that eternal life begins NOW. Eternal life begins in our RELATIONSHIP with the DIVINE Christ. In CHRIST we live and move and have our being. IN CHRIST, we are alive, so that in death, that relationship continues. Christ’s resurrection is OURS as well. The man thought it amusing that as a Christian, as a pastor, I couldn’t tell him EXACTLY what goes on in heaven. Or maybe as a pastor he thought I might get extra special visions. We may get glimmers of what’s ahead, but glimmers is about all any of us get. I told him that whatever happens, I’m fine with it. Whatever God has in store for me, I’m good. I’m satisfied. I trust.

Because Christ has given me MORE LIFE NOW, I trust that Christ will give me MORE LIFE after death as well. Christ has healed and delivered me, I trust that in death there will be a final healing. Christ’s gifts of life continue after our death. That’s why he came. He defeats death and transforms it for us. Out of love for us, shepherding us into eternal life with him.

What kind of amazing LOVE is this, O my soul?

What kind of love is this?

Job’s words ECHO inside us: For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he 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.” 

With the recent passing of Ed Finn, resurrection has lately been on our minds. We are confronted with our questions. We again have to ask ourselves what do we believe?

We know with certain faith and hope that Ed is in God’s hands. That the relationship that Ed had with Christ continues now and into eternity.

The story the Sadducees tell shows how difficult it is to square resurrection with the laws of marriage at that time. There is nothing new for us either. Physicists and biologists, a whole host of scientists would readily weigh in on the issue of resurrection.[1]

How do we square it with science? We don’t. I like to say we live in a parallel universe where things occur on a different plane, one not discerned by science.

We have the God of the impossible, who has already done the impossible for us: freeing us from sin, forgiving us our sins, renewing our lives in ways we could never do ourselves. God has already done all these things for us – so why not resurrection?

In today’s gospel, Jesus tells the Sadducees who don’t believe in the resurrection that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, their ancestors continue to LIVE. Jesus challenges the Sadducees – to consider that the ancestors, are enjoying a resurrection. As Jesus says, “he is God not of the dead, but of the living for to him all of them are alive.”

Today, Jesus speaks clearly about the resurrection, but the biggest argument for the resurrection is Jesus’ own on Easter. Christ’s gift to us is that HIS resurrection is OUR resurrection. We find OUR resurrection in Christ’s. Christ’s WORDS bring us to life NOW.

Christ’s body and blood in communion feed us NOW and strengthen us for our work on earth. Christ’s promises are trustworthy. Christ sends us out to a world that is clearly in need.

Our world doesn’t need talk of a someday heaven, like the Sadducees talk about a theoretical widow and seven brothers. People have needs NOW. They are floundering in their lives NOW. Our words tell them of hope NOW, of NEWNESS NOW because Christ is resurrected in our lives NOW.

This is LOVE we can take into our families and our neighborhoods, and to work. The conversation can begin as simply as, “There was a time when I  . . . (fill in the blanks with your story) . . .  but then Christ reached out to me and . . . “ (You fill in the blanks with the rest of your story.) Our faith gets STRETCHED when we speak of resurrection, when we think about it and ask how . . . ?  We leave the mechanics in Christ’s hands, just as he had to.

Despite his close relationship with the Father, where he said “The Father and I are ONE,” Jesus had to trust the Father, too. On the cross Jesus said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” We are inspired by Jesus’ act of faith and trust. 

Loving Shepherd, you come to us NOW with your Word of Life and your Body and Blood to nourish us. Thank you for the gift of your resurrection, your final and lasting gift to us. Thank you that your LOVE that overwhelms ALL trick questions. We pray this in the name of Christ, Our Lord. Amen.

[1] Debie Thomas.