Redemption, Wholeness and Newness of Life: A Sermon on Luke 20:27-38


14188523_1260289087335740_7885670721171133113_oBy the Rev. Anna Doherty

Today’s gospel lesson of Jesus’ conversation with the Sadducees sounds confusing, maybe even offensive to modern ears.

It’s important to note, when talking about today’s gospel, that the events take place just after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

And just a few chapters before Jesus’ death on the cross.

Jesus is in the process of having tense conversations with the Jerusalem establishment, the Pharisees, and now the Sadducees…

conversations that will ultimately lead to Jesus’ betrayal and death.

There’s a lot at stake for Jesus in these conversations,

as the way of Jesus is so completely different from the religious and political establishment of Jerusalem.

And none, perhaps, quite as different as the Sadducees.

The Sadducees are elite residents of Jerusalem, prominent families who oversee the temple establishment.

They work quite closely with Pilate and the Roman authorities, making sure that people pay their taxes to the Empire, as well as to the Temple operations.

As today’s gospel mentions, unlike the Pharisees who believe in all of the Old Testament as Scripture, the Sadducees only believe in the first five books of the bible as Scripture.

Meaning, in other words, that the Sadducees don’t believe in Resurrection, or any kind of life after death, as the first five books of the bible don’t mention resurrection at all.

It may seem antiquated to us to argue about the nature of the resurrection,

but it was quite a lively issue in Jesus day, as the Pharisees and the Sadducees had very different opinions about it.

But suffice it to say, in terms of their social and political prominence, as well as in their very religious beliefs,

The Sadducees have the most to lose from Jesus’ ideas about the full inclusion of God’s people in the worship and life of God.

Which is why there is so much at stake for Jesus in the Sadducee’s question to him, and in Jesus’ answer.

Now at the heart of it, what’s at issue in today’s gospel is fundamentally who Jesus is and the work he has come to do on behalf of God and God’s people.

The ultimate point of today’s gospel is not, in fact, what happens to us after our resurrection.

But Jesus’ answer to the Sadducees actually says a lot about who Jesus is, and about what we believe as people who follow the way of Jesus.

Over the centuries and even to this day, many Christians have confused resurrection with immortality.

The idea of the immortality of the soul is a Greek notion that promises that some spiritual element of a person persists beyond physical death.

Resurrection, on the other hand insists that the whole person will in some way be united with God.

It is the whole person, in other words, not some wispy essence, that God redeems.

And so even though we do indeed die, because of Jesus who will die on a cross and will be raised again from death,

we live and die with the promise that God will raise us from death to new life where, in the words of Jesus today, we

“cannot die anymore, because [we] are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.”

Jesus’ answer to the Sadducees reflects the idea that God cares deeply about the whole person of the child of God.

And that being a child of God means being called to redemption, wholeness, and newness of life in Christ.

In contrast, the Sadducees are concerned with how the law of the religious establishment will continue to operate, even after death…

The law the Sadducees reference is known as Levirite marriage, from the Latin word levir, meaning “brother-in-law”.

The law is concerned with maintaining the patriarchal lineage of the family name, and it comes from the book of Deuteronomy.

And, by Jesus day, Deuteronomic law, and Levirite marriage in particular, was quite an ancient practice…

…so that the Sadducees’ question may even be hypothetical,

meant to take an ancient practice to the extreme in order to show that the whole idea of resurrection is foolish.

What is offensive in the Sadducee’s question, especially to our modern ideas, is the idea that women are basically considered property.

Able to be handed from one brother to another simply to preserve the family line.

And Jesus, replies “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage,

but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.”

In other words, Jesus says, God’s rules of love are not the same as our rules.

Nobody will be owned or traded or viewed as less than in God’s kingdom.

And those who live in loving relationship in this life will live in loving relationship in the next.

In the presence of God, all of us stand on equal footing as beloved, loving, people of God.

Fundamentally, as children of God it is less about following the political and social establishment

—especially when that establishment serve to disenfranchise and oppress people—

and it is more about living in wholeness and nurturing our loving relationships with God and one another as people of God.

As Jesus says, God “is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”

All of them are beloved children of God.

Or, as Job says in our first reading this morning, “I know that my Redeemer lives” and our Redeemer lives and calls us to live in wholeness and in love.

It is especially important to be reminded of this—that God is about calling God’s people to wholeness in love and loving relationship—

As we prepare to make our way to the polls this week.

We have been inundated with Sadducee-like concerns about the political and social well-being of the status quo…

…such that many of us may have voted or be preparing to vote not with excitement or vigor, but with a heavy heart,

either about the candidates or the state of our democracy, or both.

To quote our presiding Bishop Michael Curry, “vote according to your conscience and your heart”,

and vote knowing this about God and about yourself as a follower of Jesus Christ:

God is less about duty and law and more about wholeness and love and how we live in loving relationship with God and one another.

We also prepare, this week, to discern about how much we are able to give to work of God here in this place, Christ Episcopal Church.

You should have received a pledge card as you came into church today.

If not, please see Caryl Davis or Charlene Peterson.

We ask that you pray over this card for the next week, and make a decision about how much you feel able to give to the work of God at Christ Church.

Next Sunday, November 13, we will collect and bless our gifts to God in worship.

Making a decision about giving, much like making a decision about voting, can be intensely personal for some people and is very important.

As Jesus suggests in today’s gospel, fundamentally it is about wholeness in love and loving relationship.

How have you experienced the love of God here at Christ Church?

How are you called to love others in and through this place?

And, having loved and been loved, how much are you able to give in gratitude and thanksgiving to God?

These are the questions we will ask ourselves throughout this week, and we plan to return with our pledge cards in rejoicing and thanksgiving…

…a week from today.

And I would invite you this week, in addition to voting and praying over your pledge card…

to remember, above all, that you are a beloved child of God.

And as such, you are called to continually grow in wholeness, faith and love, becoming ever more the person God calls you to be.

And we walk this road of faith together in love, with the love of God and our savior and with the love of one another, our brothers and sisters in Christ.

We know that our redeemer lives!

And he lives in us and we in him!

And we are all of us children of the resurrection, called to new life and love in Christ Jesus.