Sermon – November 6, 2016

Posted on Posted in Sermons

Scripture: Ephesians 1:11-23; Luke 20:27-38

**Sermons are meant to be heard, so listen along here**

Gotcha questions.
They are questions that you are asked that have no real clear or good answer.  
A question designed to trap someone by their words or intentionally make them stumble.
We hear these kinds of questions a lot actually … In this political climate, we hear these asked of all candidates.
Anyone who has ever gone to a job interview has been asked the worst kind of gotcha question:What’s your greatest weakness?
Is there any good way to answer this? Really?
How about – “My greatest weakness is coming up with a decent answer to the greatest weakness question.”
In the tv show The Office, main character Michael Scott was asked this question and responded with the infamous:  “I work too hard, I care too much, and sometimes I can be too invested in my job”
His weaknesses, he said, were in fact, his strengths.  

Today’s Gospel is not the simplest to hear nor is it straightforward in topic.
In fact, I know many pastors and colleagues who are choosing the typical “All Saints Sunday” selected Gospel of the Beatitudes instead.
And it was tempting.
Because today Jesus is asked a gotcha question, and it’s not an easy or comfortable one for us.
But no one ever said faith would be easy or comfortable, so here we are.
In it together.  

Before we dive in – there are a few details that are important to understanding the context of this Gospel reading today…

In the scope of Luke’s Gospel, this story takes place right after Jesus’ Triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and right before his death on the cross. Jesus had set his face toward Jerusalem, you’ve heard us say that in these last few weeks, and now he has finally entered into the great city, to great acclaim, and his very presence begins to be a threat to those in power.  
And the ones in power highlighted today are the Sadducees.  
Sadducees are the ancestral high priests, ones who have had their important positions of power in the church handed down to them by merit of their birth. They held the first five books of scripture (also known as Torah) as the only truth, and strictly adhered to the laws contained within them.  AND, most significant to today’s text, they were the primary overseers of temple life.

So when Jesus enters into Jerusalem, the location of the temple, he enters into Sadducee territory.
And the Sadducees are not having it.
As these guys are Torah experts, they use scripture to try and trap Jesus – you can tell this by the way they begin their question to Jesus with: “Moses wrote”
Well Moses said…
They want to see if Jesus will contradict Moses.
They want to try to get him to say something unpardonable.
They want to trap him with his own words… a gotcha question.
They say: “if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother.”

This is a specific law in the Torah (a rather archaic one, but that’s for another sermon) to make sure that if a man dies without children, the family name can continue on.  

So the religious adherents to Torah, who don’t believe in resurrection because it’s not in the Torah, ask Jesus this question. “In the resurrection – whose wife will the woman be?”
If this woman marries this guy who then dies and the law says his brother has to marry her and then he dies and so on and so forth until she’s married seven guys who have all died. Which one is her husband in the resurrection?
WE didn’t say this Jesus – Moses did.
And if Moses said this stuff about marriage – what will that look like in this resurrection you keep talking about?
If we indeed live after we die, what happens to this woman?
Who will be her husband in the resurrected life?

It’s a gotcha question.
They may as well have asked, If God can do anything, can God make a stone even God can’t lift?
And Jesus doesn’t bite.

Because he knows what they are trying to do, and he knows that they are missing the point.
See, questions about the Resurrection almost always end up being questions about what life after death will be like.
We get it.  After all, we have these same questions.
What will the weather be like?  
Will it always be 65 and sunny?
Will there be seasons?
Will I like the same things?
Can I eat whatever I want all the time?
Will my dog be there?
Will I see everyone or just the people I love?
Where will I live?
What will I do?
What age will I be?
Will I still be me?
Will my loved ones still be them?
I could go on and on.

There’s a new show on NBC this year called the Good Place, about heaven, and in the first episode they outline a few things about what life there is like for new arrivals:

(Clip from the Good place)

There isn’t anything wrong with these kinds of questions.
They are pretty expected actually.  We just want to know.

But the Sadducees ask Jesus a question similar to these with much different motivation.
It’s the gotcha question –
What will marriage look like in the resurrection you keep talking about Jesus?

And, as one might expect, Jesus responds to this gotcha question with a typically Jesus answer.
He basically says – “You guys don’t really understand the resurrection.”

You are thinking of resurrection in terms of the way life is here.
And while that’s understandable because it’s what you know – that’s not how it works at all.
In this life we have rules and laws and the way we always do it, and Jesus looks at the Sadducees and says that in resurrection life something other than rules and law give our life shape and meaning.
Nothing looks the same.
Not even marriage will work the same way.
While Jesus’ response is true – it doesn’t really answer those detail questions does it?
It doesn’t lessen the significant questions we have about life after death.
And boy do we have them.
They are real.
Anyone who has sat at the bedside of a loved one who is dying has had these or similar questions and knows they are not gotcha questions at all.  
They are important and meaningful, especially today – on this All Saints Sunday where we ring the bell and remember those brothers and sisters we have lost this year.  

But it’s important to note that the Sadducees don’t have the same motivation we do here.  
When they ask this question, they are trying to trick Jesus.  
But when we ask resurrection questions, we are trying to figure out if what matters to us here will still matter to us there.  

We’re trying to find hope for seeing loved ones who have gone before us again.
They are asking a gotcha question meant to ridicule.
We are asking one of relationship.  

In case you missed it, which we all likely did but the Sadducees definitely did not – Jesus quotes Exodus in verse 37.  He says that Moses himself speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.  He quotes Exodus back to the guys who tried to trap him with it, and uses their scripture to prove his point.

And then he adds to it.

“Now God is not a God of the dead, but of the living, for to God all of them are alive”

When we think of resurrection only in terms of life after death – we miss something.  Our God is not a God of the dead, but of the living. And all of us, whether alive or dead, are alive in God.

This is an incredible promise.
One that Jesus will go to extreme lengths to prove true.
He’s in Jerusalem, he’s just arrived to great fanfare, but we know how his time in this city will end.
We know that he will be put to death and rise again to defeat death and show us once and for all that death never ever has the final word.
Despite our questions about what happens.
We have this big promise that it is not the end, even if we don’t know what it looks like.
The point of today’s Gospel is not to minimize or ignore our need to understand what is next – because it’s a real thing – but Jesus’ point is to get us to a place where questions about what life after death looks like can be overridden by the fact that resurrection is a promise.

On this day, this All Saints Sunday, we are reminded of this promise.
We will hear the bell rung for those we have lost – and we will remember.
Today we will also hear the names of those we baptized this year, a stark reminder that there is hope in the midst of loss.  
There is new life in the midst of death.
And that resurrection life isn’t something that only happens when we die, but can be lived out even now.
When we are baptized we hear that we are joined into the death and resurrection of Christ and that we are reborn children of God.
And our life begins there. At the font.
It’s not just joining us to the death of Christ but to the victory over death, to the new life we are given, and to the communion of saints.
Yes there is hope for life after this life, but our new life has already begun.

Martin Luther, as Chad reminded us last week, said that every Sunday is a little Easter.  Each Sunday we have the chance to experience resurrection – to be able to die to sin and rise again to new life.
So the same is true on this day.
We have confessed our sins to God and each other – and we have been forgiven.
We will join the community of God together around the table and share in the meal and be fed the bread of new life.
Today we have in front of us a choice.
We can spend time and energy asking our own gotcha questions about life after death, or we can die to sin and death and rise to new life again and allow the resurrection promise to impact the life we are living now.

Our resurrection life is here and now.
It has already been given, freely and with great love.
What you do with it is up to you.