Ongoing Identity 11-10-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 20:27-38, I explore an encounter between Jesus and the Sadducees, members of a Jewish denomination, as they debate over the Resurrection. In the end, its our identity as claimed Children of God that is important.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/ongoing-identity-11-10-19

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

May the grace and peace of the Triune God be yours, now and forever. Amen

I’ve often joked around that in the denominational sense, my family balanced itself out.  My dad was born and raised Lutheran by his VERY Norwegian parents…where as my mom was raised Catholic. And as they moved towards marriage, they went back and forth as to which denomination they would ultimately agree on…eventually deciding that Mom would change lanes and become Lutheran.

This continued on into the next generation, as my brother and sister and I were raised in the Lutheran tradition…that is, until my sister got engaged to a Catholic…just like my parents a generation before…she had the same discussion with her fiancé…and in the end, my sister made the switch and was confirmed Catholic shortly before their wedding…and it probably goes without saying that they are passing on the Catholic faith to my 3 nieces.

Now full disclosure…this doesn’t bother me at all…as far as denomination differences go…we’ve got a lot in common with our Catholic brothers and sisters out there…but on occasion the differences that are there come to light…and I remember it happening about 5 or 6 years ago when we were at Mass with my sisters family.

I often joke about the Christian Calisthenics that we do in worship…with our constant standing and sitting for the various aspects…but if you’ve attended Catholic Mass before, you know that they add one more aspect into the mix…as they kneel for various portions…and I always chuckle in these moments…because you can take one quick look around the room and identify all the fellow non-Catholics in attendance…as they are the ones still sitting in the pew as the Catholics take up residence on the kneelers.

On this particular instance, my son was about 9 or 10…and he was sitting in the pew next to me, when the lady positioned in the pew directly behind him popped up on the kneeler…and so they found themselves in pretty close proximity…and I heard her say to him “young man, you need to kneel.”  And he looked at her…and calmly responded “No I don’t,” and turned his attention back to the front.

Now I remember being impressed with two different things in that particular instance…first I was proud of my son who recognized a difference in tradition…and was aware that his own tradition was valid even in a different setting…and second, I was reminded in this little exchange that our different traditions, or understandings or interpretations…all these things can respectfully coexist…and in fact they are actually a good thing as they reveal the wondrous variety that exists among the entirety of the body of Christ on earth….these different denominations that all come together in what we call “THE church.” (pause)

Now interestingly enough…this same type of thing is on display within today’s scripture…and it reveals something that the Christian faith has in common with the Jewish faith…that there are different branches…different traditions…something we call denominations…all within the greater umbrella of a single faith.  This is true for the Jewish faith now…as there are countless different branches in present day Judaism…and, that was also the case in Jesus’ time…with different Jewish traditions in existence and well-established among the people.

And we find this at work right away with the group that Jesus encounters…the Sadducees. (pause) Often times, we have the tendency to lump the Sadducees in with another group, the Pharisees…and honestly both groups tend to get a bad rap in the understanding of many of us…but there were very prominent distinctions between the two branches in the time of the Gospels…and its also worth noting that these were not the only two branches of Judaism at that time.

Each branch had their different traditions and interpretations…but they also had similarities and teachings that were central to their Jewish faith…each had their own following…each had prominent individuals within their ranks. And that’s important for us to remember…particularly as we consider our tendency to demonize the Pharisees and the Sadducees as the bad guys of the gospel.

Some scholars have expressed the opinion that Jesus himself was a member of the Pharisees, especially considering the label Rabbi which was often used to address him…and the way that the present day rabbinic tradition ties back to the tradition of the Pharisees in first-century Palestine. (pause)

Maybe what I’m suggesting today is that these lines that we have the tendency to draw…and the conclusions that we tend to make…they’re murky…and we need to be careful about making assumptions and grouping people together…now all that being said, we do know of an important distinction between the Pharisees and the Sadducees…something which the text reveals…and that is belief in the Resurrection…that there will be a day out there in the unknown future when those who have died will be raised to new life. While many in the Jewish faith believe that there will be a resurrection in one form or another…the Sadducees do not…and considering the various teachings of Jesus on this subject…we know that he is in disagreement with them on that front.

And it would seem that this is the topic of debate behind the scenes of today’s passage.  Admittedly, I find myself wondering just what the tone was in this exchange.  Were they attempting to trip him up…to discredit him in the eyes of the people…or on the other hand was this simply a debate between individuals of different perspectives in an attempt to learn from one another? (pause)

We don’t know…but what we can find is evidence of the Sadducees bias as they provide a hypothetical situation for Jesus. Now it starts off with referencing this old tradition dating back to Moses when a man dies, leaving behind a wife, but no children…it is the expectation of the man’s brother to marry the widow, so that they might have children in the name of the dead brother.

To us, this sounds strange…and admittedly I wonder what the widow has to say about this whole thing…but…the intention behind the tradition was aimed at the continuation of the original man’s name…that his family would continue on…that his identity would not be lost.

Now with that in mind…hey Jesus…what if there were 7 brothers…and one by one they all married the same woman and none of them had any kids…eventually they’re all dead…so (get snarky here) IN THE RESURRECTION…Who’s wife will she be? (pause)

I can only imagine the side-eye that Jesus throws at them here…like “Dudes…hypothetical situations that reveal truth…that’s sorta my gig…we call those parables…you’re over your head here.” But then he goes on to explain the truth of the resurrection…and I can’t help but think he’s blowing their understanding…their expectations…their belief about this whole deal right out of the water.

Because what this all seems to be aimed at…at the heart of this whole deal…there seems to be a question…one that I think we share, even if we come at it from a different direction…What’s the end gonna look like? (pause)

Think about it…whenever we start talking about the resurrection…or heaven…or eternity…maybe I could reference…Revelation…or the end times…whenever this subject comes up…I think we’re all curious aren’t we?  What’s it gonna be like…what’s it gonna look like?

And the Sadducees seem to be posing the same type of question to Jesus today…hey teacher…what’s the end gonna look like?”  And after a beat…Jesus reveals to them…and to us…that the promise of God tells us that there is no end…and that the crazy limitations and rules that we’ve assigned to ourselves in this present age aren’t going to matter anymore…because above all…there won’t be an end…there will just be something that is utterly…new…different…and its beyond our understanding.

But this also reveals something else…that the questions we have, while they reveal our limitations…they also reveal a connection…one that Jesus seems to pick up on.  (pause) The Sadducees were concerned about their tradition which ensures a man’s identity will carry on…but Jesus reveals that our ultimate identity has nothing to do with our family names…or our spouses or our children…but the identity which really counts is given to us by God…as we are claimed as Children of God.

This is an identity that nothing beats…Jesus tells us that…as he says “they can no longer die, for they are children of God, children of the Resurrection.” This is an identity which we share…not one that we have because of our place in a family or community…but one that we receive as a gift of God’s grace.

This identity is made real through Christ…through his life in which he taught us about it…and through his death and resurrection which somehow made it possible…not to mention through his command to engage in a physical act…a practice, in which this promise is given to us…and that is the sacrament of baptism.

It is in the sacraments that we receive a physical manifestation of God’s grace for each of us as the promises are spoken to us and we receive them in faith…this same faith connects each of us…regardless of our own personal knowledge or understanding or interpretation…we each bear the same identity…beloved Child of God…and today…Parish is going to join in this same community as he is washed in this font…and the claim of God upon him becomes tangible.

This promise is real for each of us today…and we hold onto it every day of our lives…we cling to it when we reach the point of death, and we move past the reality of this life into whatever it is that comes next…and we are held secure in that promise when the day of the resurrection occurs…whatever that’s gonna look like on that unknown day out there somewhere in the future. A promise, made by God…confirmed by Christ in the flesh…that to God, each of you…will forever live, because you are Children of God. Amen

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