Unfortunately, due to a technical difficulty, Michael’s sermon did not record. However, you can read the text of his excellent message, below:
“Alive in God”
by Michael Barrett
Reflections on Luke 20: 27-40, “Marriage and the Resurrection”
In this morning’s account, we sense that Jesus’ enemies just knew they had prepared a perfect trap in which to entangle and discredit him. The Sadducees (or as they called themselves, “the righteous ones”) were a powerful religious group aligned with Judea’s authorities. These “righteous ones” challenge Jesus with a carefully designed question, which they assume, cannot be answered by both upholding as true a belief in resurrection without also violating the laws of Moses at the same time.
It’s the sort of question like the one posed by Beth Garrod-Logston in her commentary on this reading.
Can God create a boulder so big that he can’t lift it?
If you answer “no” then you’ve upheld God’s great power, but have limited God’s creative ability.
If you answer “yes” then you’ve upheld God’s creative ability, but limited God’s powerfulness.
Which is the best answer? Do you see what the Sadducees were trying to do?
Please reflect on the ways in which Jesus responds to the Sadducees’ challenge. Jesus meets their challenge directly. Jesus describes the nature of resurrection. Jesus defends the reality of resurrection. Jesus divulges the meaning of resurrection.
In other parts of the gospel, we sense an emerging assurance by Jesus of resurrection — at the raising of Lazarus, in the parable of the rich man and a different Lazarus, or with the words spoken to a dying thief from the cross, However, it is only around today’s exchange and its paralleled reporting in both Matthew 22 and Mark 12, that Jesus expresses clearly his beliefs concerning the nature of life after the experience of this world.
But, more than that, Jesus uses this moment to open for all of us a window into what happens after we pass from this life. Jesus knows the theories and concerns – some of them are expressed today as they were in the 1st Century. The nothingness of oblivion (we are unconscious, unaware, unconcerned). The eternity of immortality (as the Roman emperors believed of themselves), one is deathless, endless, and timeless. The earthliness of reincarnation (we reemerge, seemingly brainwashed of memory in a different body or form).
Today, Jesus affirms resurrection. And resurrection only. Immortality is a theory about human nature that claims there is something inherent in human beings that does not die. So does reincarnation. Resurrection, on the other hand, is about an act of God, AN ACT of GOD, a conviction that GOD gives new life in a transcendent world to those who have died.
The Sadducees were the naysayers of their time. No return of the body to life, no continuance of consciousness beyond death, no spiritual world, no angels or demons, and no realization of justice in a world beyond this one. No recompense not retribution for injustice. no, No, NO!
The Sadducees were also the biblical literalists of their time – they accepted only the written authority expressed in the Pentateuch – the five books of the Torah attributed to Moses. If a belief is not found in the Torah, then it must be some new form of heresy. And the Sadducees did not find the word “resurrection” anywhere in the Torah.
There’s likely one other reason the Sadducees found resurrection unappealing. Remember the Sadducees are at the top of Judea’s economic, political, and social structure. They are the ones to collaborate with the Romans, they sit on the councils, including the Sanhedrin, and they determine how the Temple budget is spent and who is the Chief Priest. The Sadducees in very tangible and profitable ways benefit from the current status quo.
If someone, especially an oppressed someone, believes or is made to believe, that this life is all there is, how likely are he or she to put that life on the line for justice? How likely is he or she to risk that life for the greater good? How likely is he or she to become involved in struggles, revolts or revolutions, which might cause that life to be terminated early? How likely are they to rush into oblivion?
The Pharisees (or scribes or teachers of the law), in contrast, advocated updating the written Torah with what they call an oral Torah, which based itself with ongoing interpretation and reinterpretation, and coordinated and incorporating new beliefs emergent in the Prophets and in the Psalms into a developing statement of the Creator’s purpose. God was still speaking then, for them back then, too.
Resurrection appealed to the Pharisees because they were dealing with the non-elite, the powerless, the peasant, the widow, and the orphan. We need to remember that these are times when many innocent commoners were being massacred, crucified, and executed by the Romans. Where was justice? If you believe instead that the dead will live again and live in ways better and enhanced beyond the present, and that wrongs will be put to right, that there will be recompense and accountability; then how much more likely are you to risk standing for justice? Resurrection can have has powerful consequences in the here and now. Resurrection is not just a solitary spiritual statement; it’s also a potent political proclamation. Or it should be. It’s one of the beliefs that led to Jesus’ execution just a short time later. In this instance, Jesus and the Pharisees are clearly on the same side.
But, it is to the Law of the Torah that the Sadducees have turned to trap Jesus. Prior to resurrection, Israelites believed only that one lived on in one’s descendants and in their memory. In the case that a man died without children, the Torah prescribed levirate (or brother-in-law) marriage in which a brother married and had children with the deceased brother’s widow. This practice was designed to continue the name and memory of the deceased and to provide security for the widow in the present with a new husband and in the future with supportive children. It was also a practice that kept the deceased brother’s property in the clan by not allowing his widow to remarry outside the family.
“So Jesus, after this poor childless widow has been passed around to seven brothers, to whom does she belong, in your resurrection?” If Jesus answers that she belongs to all of them, then he’s sanctioning the forbidden practice of polyandry – one wife having multiple husbands at the same time. If Jesus answers that she belongs exclusively to any one of the brothers, then six of the brothers are being cheated out of their property. Jesus has then sanctioned stealing. Either answer defies Moses and the Law. A big boulder question if ever there was one.
Jesus answers, saying that their question is irrelevant.
Jesus responds that resurrection life is not the same as the present one. Life in the resurrection is not a simple, quantitative continuation of life, as we know it. Resurrected life is qualitatively and radically different. He answers that God’s eternal kingdom is not going to be bound by the ideas and practices of this world. He answers that in the resurrection we will not be the same nor will our relationships be the same.
We will be like angels – equal to but not the same as. We will see the same sights as angels and we will experience the same joys and we will do the same work. Yes, there will be work to do, except that unlike now as when we work we sweat and strain, then when we work we will sing and sparkle.
And we shall not die. Life does not end in death. Death ends in life.
Because death has been abolished there is no need to continue the practice of procreational marriage. If there are no burials, then there is no need to fill up the vacancies caused by death. Jesus is not devaluing the worth of marriage and family and fidelity and all the rest of it, in this life, but he is telling us that the coming resurrection cannot be captured in the experiences that we are living today. Please hear this, the loving relationships forged in this life will remain. As Paul wrote in Corinthians 1:13, love never fails; and of faith and hope and love, it is love that will remain. What Jesus is telling us today is that the experiences and the relationships and the love we know now will be so greatly enhanced, that we may not recognize them then.
Heaven has no social or political or economic classes. The dehumanized will be restored. The oppressed will be freed. People, women included, will not be held as property by one another. Those made to feel inferior will be appreciated. You will be loved liked you’ve never been loved before, and you will love like you’ve never loved before. For there will be no need to restrict love or intimacy or companionship.
The nature of resurrected life is that our concern will be concentrated on our God and God’s purposes, rather than upon ourselves.
Yet, knowing that the Sadducees would never accept his first answer, Jesus goes on to confront them on their own home ground of the Torah. Using Exodus 3:6, the encounter at the burning bush, Jesus shows that Moses does indeed teach resurrection. Jesus proves the reality of resurrection.
Then he said, I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” I AM. IAM. IAM. God does not say, “Once upon a time long, long ago, I used to be the God of Abraham, and then for awhile I was the God of Isaac, and then when Jacob came along, for a time I was his God as well. These were nice guys and I have some very fond memories of them. But, now they’re gone, I sure miss them in many ways.”
God uses the present tense – God is still their God. In God, each is still alive. In a few words, Jesus has replaced blind obedience with an understanding that interprets Scripture and Moses, more faithfully and shows the unfolding purpose of God.
Memorize, repeat, cherish Luke 20:38. He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.
God does not release us. Not even in death. God keeps us in his heart. We are alive in God. These human bodies may not be immortal or eternal, but God’s love is. And that is a love that will not end, it is a love that will resurrect us, heal us from illness and cleanse us from all evil. Because God chooses to act towards us in that way.
Our job is not to try and figure out whom we’ll meet in the resurrection or what everyone is going to look like. Our job isn’t to figure out exactly how resurrection works or activity associated with living in a resurrected state. Our job is to focus here and now, on being and acting like children of God; honoring, growing, and serving our relationship with our God, and joyously anticipating that day when we are called to eternal life.
Oh yes. Can God create a boulder so big he can’t lift it?
The best answer: Why would he want to?
God has always been more about bestowing blessings than building boulders.
Amen and blessings