In this sermon, I tackle the dispute over the resurrection that Jesus has with the Sadducees, found in Luke 20:27-38.
You can listen to the sermon here.
You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here. Disregard all the odd punctuation and indications to pause.
Grace and Peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
By now, most of you have probably figured out that I’m a movie buff. I enjoy a lot of different types of movies…different genres…different styles…different time periods…Sometimes I’ll watch a movie once and never come back to it again…other times I’ll get ahold of a movie and will watch it repeated for a few weeks and then have it fade into obscurity…and sometimes I find a movie that is so good, I put it on the shelf, but then dust it off periodically and watch it again.
I can think of several examples of that last type of movie…but today, there is one particular example…1989’s Lonesome Dove…a made for tv miniseries based on the book of the same name…starring Tommy Lee Jones, Robert Duvall…and pretty much every other actor or actress that was working in the late 80’s. There is a scene about three quarters of the way through in which Angelica Houston, who has lost her husband, walks out to her family cemetery where her hired man Cholo is busy digging a grave. They sit and chat over a cup of coffee…and the subject is death…
Sometimes it seems like grave digging is all we do around here, don’t it Cholo? What do you think happens when we die…His response…Not too much. You are just dead… (pause)
Cholo has a pretty simple view of the end of life doesn’t he? It’s like a book…you finish reading, and close the cover. Life is over…you’ve got a certain amount of time on earth but once its finished, its finished.
Cholo sounds quite a bit like the random characters in today’s scripture lesson known as the Sadducees. (pause) Ahh the Sadducees…subjects of many Bible trivia questions…it seems like everyone has heard of the Sadducees, but other than partnering them up with the Pharisees as “religious leaders” we don’t know a lot about them.
Today’s lesson actually gives us a little tidbit about their beliefs though…they don’t believe in the resurrection…period, end of story. Like Cholo in Lonesome Dove…when someone dies they think “well, you are just dead.” I actually find it a little ironic when I see the Sadducees paired up with the Pharisees like they are allies…reality was quite a bit different…yes, both groups were Jewish “religious leaders,” but they actually differed in a lot of ways…one being what each group considered “scripture.” The Sadducees followed the torah…or the first 5 books of our Old Testament…The Pharisees…well they liked the Old Testament in its entirety.
And this is where their different views on the resurrection come from…its not mentioned in the Torah…and so the Sadducees don’t buy it…but the prophets were fond of the notion of resurrection, and so the Pharisees…well they believe that there is a little something more after death. (pause) But how can that be? Both groups are Jewish…shouldn’t they all have the same ideas? (pause) You know what…hold that thought…we’ll come back around to it.
The resurrection…now that’s a funny thing isn’t it…kinda hard to really nail down just what its going to be like isn’t it? I mean…for starters…just what is it? Is “the resurrection” something spiritual? Does it mean that our soul leaves our dead body and heads off to heaven? Or is it immortality…that our body never actually dies? Or does it mean that our bodies come back to life?
Have you ever stopped and really thought about that? Maybe we should…we proclaim it every week in worship…have you noticed that? It’s tucked discreetly in at the end of the Apostles Creed…but it’s one of those blink and you miss it phrases…I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting…did you catch it there?
The resurrection of the body and the life everlasting…well…that’s sort of ambiguous isn’t it? Does that mean that we believe in the resurrection of Jesus body…that he rose again? Well, yah…we proclaim that earlier in the creed…but aren’t all believers members of Christ’s body? Oh yah…so…does that mean that we raise again too? Seems like it…and then there’s life ever lasting…okay…that sounds good…but just what does it mean? What does it look like? (pause)
That’s the million dollar question right there…what does the resurrection look like…or more simply…what does the afterlife look like? (pause) That seems to be the question being posed today by the Sadducees…what’s coming next Jesus…got a good answer for us? (pause)
We get a lot of images of the afterlife…of life everlasting…of resurrection don’t we? Pop culture…including movies and tv…are full of them. I think of the movie Gladiator when the hero dies and finds himself walking down the road to his house where his dead wife and son are waiting for him…I think of the popularity of vampires…and that’s a different spin on the notion of living forever isn’t it? And we can’t deny the popularity of zombies today…with shows like the Walking Dead…which even addressed this very notion in one episode…is the resurrection of the dead fulfilled when humans come back as zombies? (pause)
But what about images of the afterlife outside of pop culture? We get those too don’t we? As I thought about this idea I found myself remembering the sermon preached at the funeral of my grandmother a few years back…and an illustration of Grandma walking through the pearly gates…being greeted by my grandpa who had preceded her by a few years saying “Hey there honey…what took you so long.” (pause) And while that illustration gave me a sense of comfort in the moment of mourning…I don’t know if its accurate or not?
And so we come back around to it…just what does it look like? Well Scripture…well Jesus? Do you have a good answer for us today? Will our relationships be the same? Will our bodies look the same…will our souls look like us? (pause) What’s it gonna look like?
Well…Jesus doesn’t give us a lot to go on does he? Just a quick glimmer…we’ll be like the angels…and we won’t be married…and that’s about it…unfortunately, scripture doesn’t really give us a lot to go on when it comes to this notion of the resurrection.
Jesus himself has raised some different people from the dead…most famously his friend Lazarus…but as far as we know…every one of those people raised by Jesus or Elijah, or Paul, or the disciples walked the earth for a while longer…and then died again…so not a lot of help there.
Later on, while hanging on the cross…one of the criminals asks Jesus to remember him in the kingdom…and Jesus replies “Today you will be with me in paradise.” And then they both die…we don’t know what happens to the body of the criminal, but we know he’s dead…and at that point so is Jesus…so did they both head off to heaven together? Well, no, they were just dead, and then three days later Jesus wasn’t dead anymore…
And Jesus’ own resurrection…that brings it’s own mysteries. We call Jesus the first born from the dead, and so perhaps it’s helpful in this whole discussion to look at his example. Jesus interacts with the living…so we know that he’s got some sort of a physical body…but people don’t seem to recognize him…Mary Magdalene thinks he’s the garderner…the two men on the road to Emmaus spend the day with the guy without realizing it…so it would seem that Jesus looks different in the resurrection, so does that mean that we will to? (pause)
Lot’s of questions…questions that really don’t get an answer at this point in the game…and so we have the tendency to speculate….or to interpret…and we try to make up our own minds about just what’s coming over the horizon…what the unseeable will look like…and we talk about it…we talked about it in Confirmation class last week…we talked about it again today…countless religious scholars and groups debate it…different denominations dispute each other…different religious groups argue…atheists deny it all and think we’re crazy (pause)
In short…its all up in the air…but you know what…in the end…it doesn’t really matter what we think, or expect, or interpret does it? I talked about this passage with the high schoolers earlier in the week, and we pretty much agreed that the Sadducees in today’s story are really just being jerks. They don’t believe in the resurrection…and for whatever reason they hate Jesus…and so they want discredit him by attacking his teaching on the resurrection…now obviously they’ve given this a lot of thought…and perhaps that’s not surprising…it seems like the religious leaders always try really hard when they are attempting to discredit Jesus or the disciples or other believers…we see the same sort of thing today when it comes to items of debate…know your opponents arguments so you can counter them, or make them look stupid…isn’t that exactly what they try to do here? (pause) and isn’t that what we tend to do to each other when we fall on opposites sides of an issue?
As I thought about this scene…and the feeble attempt of the Sadducees to argue against a point that only God himself has any merit in answering…and I wondered about Jesus’ reaction to the question.
Teacher…a woman is married to 7 brothers…in the resurrection, who’s wife will she be? (pause) “REALLY?” Do you suppose Jesus got aggravated? Or did he sort of chuckle to himself in the way that a parent chuckles at the odd ball notions that a young child comes up with? I don’t know of course, but I tend to think the latter.
Humanity, in no way can fathom the mysteries of God or the resurrection or heaven or salvation, or the rest of it. We try really hard though don’t we…really hard…and often times we butt heads with each other when we come up with different solutions…but in the end, doesn’t Jesus really tell us…hey…I know this is over your head…I know this is confusing…but hey…just remember…its not up to you to figure it out…its not up to you to pull it off…its not up to you…but it is for you.
Salvation from sin is for you…the resurrection of the body and whatever that means…is for you…Jesus is for you…and regardless of what it will look like or be like…regardless of if its our soul or our bodies being reanimated or changed…regardless of just what the reality of a new heave and a new earth really means…we have the hope the hope that Jesus gives us that God, is not a god of the dead…but of the living…for to him…All are alive…and regardless of our understanding…Jesus says here…that there is…a resurrection…and we have a place in it…so let’s rest in that hope…Amen.
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