Faith United Methodist Church
November 6, 2016
All Saints Sunday
Rev. Kristabeth Atwood
Scripture: Luke 20:27-38
Prayer of Illumination:
God of wisdom and truth, speak to our hearts, so that the words we speak, the words we hear, and the meditations of our very hearts might be pleasing and joyous to you. Amen.
Sermon: Our Living God
“You just don’t get it!” We can hear the exasperation sneaking into Jesus’s voice. “No matter how many times I tell you, you just don’t understand.” Jesus was talking to the Sadducees, but he could have been talking to us. Because what Jesus was talking about was not easy to ‘get.’ Was, indeed, difficult to understand. Jesus spoke about the after-life, what comes next, the resurrection from the dead.
The exasperation came, in part, because the Sadducees were trying to trick Jesus. These guys, from the elite upper crust, were the modern intellectuals of their day. They thought they had it all figured out and they didn’t believe in the resurrection. They dismissed the idea of an afterlife because they could not make sense of it. So they presented Jesus with a puzzle. A wife married successively to seven brothers who each died. Who’s wife was she in the afterlife? They were trying to trip Jesus up.
Jesus, deftly, side-stepped their question. He didn’t answer them directly but, rather, used it as a teaching moment. As Nancy Lynne Westfield described in Feasting on the Word, “Rather than take the questioning as a personal attack, Jesus uses this moment as a time to teach about the love and mercy of God.” In fact, Jesus told them that their question missed the point. The next life is not going to be a mirror image of this life. Things don’t work in heaven they way they do on earth. (And isn’t that a relief.) As Jesus put it, “Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.”
I don’t know about you, but I can sympathize with the Sadducees questions. I mean, I don’t appreciate the spirit in which they interrogated Jesus, but I would like to know more about he afterlife. Today is All Saints Day, which is a day that we remember those who have passed from this life to the next. As Christians, one comfort of this life is our belief that we will see our loved ones again in heaven. But how is that going to work, exactly? Jesus tells us that it is too great of a mystery for us to understand.
And I guess that is where faith comes in, right? Faith that, even when we can’t understand, God has it figured out. Faith that, while death is the end of many things, death is not the end of everything. As Eberhard Bush put it, “We humans are not eternal, but God’s love for humans is eternal.
In order to really silence the Sadducees Jesus reached back into their shared Jewish history to illustrate his point. He brought up Moses’ experience at the burning bush when God is announced as the “God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” These three patriarchs had long since finished their earthly lives, but the Living God, the “I Am” names them as his own. Does that not mean that they must be alive?
The Sadducees, having their plan to humiliate Jesus blow up in their faces, don’t have much else to say. Jesus, using their own logic against them, invites them to think about life and death in a new way. And isn’t that what Jesus does for us? Here on earth we get so wrapped up in our lives it is easy to forget that what we see around us isn’t everything. Our jobs, our chores, our calendars, even our national election can distract us from what is eternal. While it is important that we are good citizens, conscientious employees, and respectful of those around us, this is not all there is. As Jesus 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.” Jesus isn’t saying that marriage (or anything else that brings meaning to our life on earth) is bad. It’s just different.
Our God is a God of the living, because to him all are alive. We mourn the deaths of our loved ones. We miss those who shared our lives, yet are no longer here. And, in many ways, they stay alive in our hearts. And we look forward to the day that we will be reunited with them, even though we can’t totally understand it here and now. We don’t get it and that is understandable.
What we can hold onto is that what we see and experience here on earth is not all there is. When we believe this it can truly impact the way we live today. We can live with more hope and less fear. We can live with more courage and less worry. We don’t let the old imprison us for all eternity, but look forward to a new that is more than we can imagine. Jesus speaks the unimaginable and the unthinkable to the Sadducees and what good news it is. “Now God is God not of the dead, but of the living, for in him all of them are alive.” We don’t get it, but one day we will as children of the resurrection.