Sermon; Proper 27C; Luke 20:27-38
Our journey through Ordinary Time is coming to an end. It began way back on June 23 with Jesus and the disciples arriving in the country of the Gerasenes, casting out a man's demons, and leaving him behind to proclaim the Good News. It will end two weeks from now with Christ the King Sunday. And as we draw this season to a close, we hear passages from the end of Jesus' earthly ministry – that time we refer to Holy Week after he has finally entered Jerusalem for the last time. These readings remind us not only is this season coming to an end, but Jesus is also approaching the end of his earthly life.
So Jesus has entered Jerusalem and soon after finds himself embroiled in several controversies. Four of these show up in Chapter 20, the chapter we hear from today: by whose authority do you do these things; the parable of the wicked tenants; the question of paying taxes to the Emperor; and, from today, the question of resurrection.
As we pick up the story, Jesus is being questioned by some Sadducees about the resurrection. They present Jesus with a ridiculous “what if” scenario about seven brothers and one woman. The brief backstory here is that Pharisees and Sadducees had very different ideas about resurrection, and that was one of their main theological battle grounds. The question posed before Jesus today really wasn't about resurrection, it was about getting Jesus to commit to a particular position for which he could be cornered and attacked. Jesus' answer focuses on resurrection, not a particular doctrinal understanding. This is important not only for Jesus, but for us as well.
Even though resurrection is a core doctrine of Christianity, especially the Resurrection of Christ, it took some time for that doctrine to be codified. And even with that, there was, and still is, some debate about the resurrection of believers.
So . . . resurrection is a key point of doctrine for the Church. That doctrine certainly points to the Resurrection of Christ, it points to the resurrection of believers, and it also points to resurrection in other aspects. Resurrection is not simply a doctrine promising sweet pie-in-the-sky later, but it also promises new life in the here and now. And our belief in new life is rooted in the Resurrection of Christ.
I am Resurrection and I am Life, says the Lord. Whoever has faith in me shall have life, even though he die. These words from the burial office sum up the doctrine of resurrection beautifully. Resurrection does not mean that we are promised a life without death, it means we are promised life even though we die. Death is part of life. But because of Christ's victory over death, death does not have the last word. Even though we die, we shall have life.
When we were in Montana, Joelene and I served on the Congregational Development Committee. Our job was to go visit congregations who were, in essence, at a standstill or looking for ways to move forward. We got to see a lot of Montana.
We spent two days with people of the congregation. The first day we asked a lot of questions. That was dubbed the “Why are we here?” day because most people had trouble understanding what we were up to. The next day we began tying the pieces together and people started to make the connections. We never knew if our time there would be deemed successful, and most of the time we drove home wondering if the trip was worth it. I think most congregations got some value out of our time with them.
But at one church in particular, there was a great fear of closing. There was a fear that no matter what they did, it wouldn't matter. There was a fear that this was all pointless, but they didn't know what else to do.
During one of our discussions, one woman said, “We don't want to die.” The fear of being a dying church was palpable.
I replied, “What if you've already died?” And I got THAT LOOK.
I continued, “Based on what you've told us and where you are, it seems you've already died. But here's the thing: We're talking about resurrection and new life. Dying is okay if we're willing to live into resurrection.”
That parish turned around and began to do some great things in the community. And they did it because they believed that they had life, even though they had died.
The question the Sadducees asked Jesus, “Whose wife will she be?” misses the understanding of resurrection. Resurrection isn't an extension of this life, so the rules of this life don't apply to the resurrection. Resurrection is all about new life.
When we die, we will be raised to new life. When we are baptized, we are baptized into new life. When we repent of our sins, we state that we intend to live a new life. The church in Anaconda began living a new life.
This is all resurrection. It may not look like Jesus on Easter morning, but it is new life. And in this view of resurrection, Jesus was certainly right: He is God not of the dead, but of the living.
As we close out this season of Ordinary Time, let us remember that God is the God of the living. Let us remember that even though we die, we shall have life. Let us continually look for new life amongst what seems to have died. And let us never fail to make our song, “Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”