Posts Tagged ‘Sadducees’

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:

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

Confirmation Questions 11-10-13

Last Sunday I preached on the Sadducees questioning the resurrection found in Luke 20:27-38. You can find the sermon here.

Normally the confirmation students pose questions on their sermon notes, but this week is a bit of an exception. This week in class, we were discussing the 3rd Article of the Apostles Creed which deals with the Holy Spirit. In class we talked quite a bit about the work of the Holy Spirit, and how it brings us to faith in Christ, which leads to the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting (the last line of the creed).

This was good timing as the sermon text dealt with the same question.  Towards the end of class, I told the students “Hint, the resurrection and life everlasting are great things, but we really don’t understand it very well at all. Write that on your sermon notes today.”

I’m happy to report that the students did just that.

The real take away from the sermon is that we’ve been given glimpses of the resurrection and life everlasting, but in the end, we really don’t know what its going to be like.  The important truth from this sermon is that Jesus tells us that there IS a resurrection and through our faith we will experience it…whatever it looks like.


Just a Glimpse 11-10-13

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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