St. Matthew’s Sermon 11-06-2016

St. Matthew’s Sermon 11-06-2016

Immersing in the Mystery

Haggai 1:15b-2:9, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17, Luke 20:27-38

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

The Sadducees, who address Jesus in today’s Gospel reading, are only mentioned in 8 stories in the entire Bible: all of them are found in the New Testament; 3 in the book of Acts, the rest in the Gospels; and this is the only instance found in Luke. With so little mention in the readings, I have to admit that I knew little about them besides what is explained in Acts 23:8 where we read, “The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, or angel, or spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge all three”. 

Finding a little more detail through sources outside the Bible I learned that their lack of belief in “resurrection” includes denying physical and spiritual afterlife. What you see is what you get; what you have, here in this earthly life, is all there is.

As far as not believing in Angels it’s not clear if they’re talking about God’s messengers, as we commonly think, or if it’s about God’s heavenly companions; the “sons of God” mentioned in the Old Testament and possibly the “us” found subtly in the creation story.

And the “spirit” they deny the existence of is in lower case. Not the Spirit of God, but the “spirit” within each of us that lives on after our mortal bodies’ have died.

This seemed to be enough information to get by on, at least as far as today’s reading is concerned, but I looked a bit farther and found a bit more about this obscure group.

To my surprise I found that the Sadducees were even more strict in interpreting and adhering to the Law of God than the Pharisees! And reading about the conflicts between the two groups battling over the meaning of the Law sounded a lot like our modern-day politicians, each side fighting for control and enforcement according to their own platform with little regard to the consequences for the common folk much less the spirit of the law.

One example for you; I read about how the Sadducees believed that the High Priest had to purify himself and wait until sundown to be clean enough to sacrifice the red heifer whereas the Pharisees believed he didn’t have to wait until the end of the day to do so. The disagreement rises as a matter of word order when reading Numbers, chapter 19.

They also disagreed over the burning of incense on the Day of Atonement; whether it should be done before the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies, as the Sadducees prescribed, or after he entered, as the Pharisees would have.

Although they may seem trivial to us, these and other disagreements resulted in over 20 conflicts serious enough to warrant historical recording; some of those resulting in rebellions within the Temple culture.

In short, the Sadducees only considered what was written in the Law; the black and white text, nothing more. For them, other traditions of understanding didn’t count. The other stories in the Old Testament had no value to them as far as understanding the spirit of the Law was concerned. Consequently, this young radical, Jesus of Nazareth, was not someone they were about to listen to for guidance in understanding. In their minds, they knew it all; it was found right there in the books of the Law; nothing else was needed much less acceptable.

So now, per today’s reading, Jesus is drawn into this mess.

Knowing what we now know about the Sadducees, not believing in resurrection, we can see that they aren’t looking for an explanation from Jesus regarding the 7 times married widow, they’re not seeking understanding, they’re looking for an argument. They’re trying to justify their beliefs above his and the Pharisees’ when they ask, “In the resurrection… … whose wife will the woman be”?

Even though they didn’t ask about the existence of angels, Jesus includes that belief in his answer saying, “Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children, (or sons) of God, being children of the resurrection”.

He also clearly defends his belief in resurrection and eternal life when he refers them to Moses’ words, speaking of the Lord as the “God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.  Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”

In both of these cases Jesus uses references from the Old Testament books of the Law to make his case; something the Sadducees cannot argue against. But in answering the original question, “…whose wife will the woman be…” Jesus’ answer isn’t justified by ancient text. In fact, did you notice that his answer is a bit ambiguous?

Listen carefully to that part again…

“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 from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage”.

It’s clear, I think, that people don’t marry in the resurrection; that Jesus states plainly. But he really doesn’t say anything about the standing of those who married in this life, this age, once they are resurrected. Are they still husband and wife?

Just as Jesus addressed the Sadducees disbelief in angels and eternal life, he also uses their challenge as a segue into addressing their narrow interpretation of the Law. Or, perhaps better stated, their narrow mindedness in interpretation and understanding of the will of God revealed by the Law. 

There is no Old Testament text for Jesus to hold up in explanation regarding the remarried widow. And his lack of clearer explanation isn’t a failure on his part. Trying to explain something to the likes of the Sadducees was pointless and Jesus knew that. But what he was trying to get across to them is the fact that there are some things about God’s ways they wouldn’t find written in black and white in the Law; that there are some things our small human minds just cannot comprehend; and that just because it isn’t written down, or that we just cannot imagine it, doesn’t mean it’s not a possibility, or in fact, a reality.

What the Sadducees needed to learn, and what we also need to keep in mind, is that there is mystery to be recognized in dealings with God, God’s Law, and God’s promises.

The Sadducees believed they could learn everything they needed to know about God from the written Law of God. What they could not understand is that this left them blind to the fact that the texts are limited by our human ability to speak, write, and read about God who is so far beyond our human comprehension, much less human communication.

And, with that belief, they shut out the learning that could be received, not through reading, but through the personal spiritual experiences of others. And, in denial of the spirit, they were unable to recognize their own spiritual experiences. And they were closed to the movement of the Holy Spirit in the world and in their own lives.

We cannot learn everything about God from these texts (the Bible). But that shouldn’t stop us from always trying to learn all we can. And when we reach the limits of human comprehension we should not be disappointed nor discouraged. Rather we should marvel at the idea of possibilities beyond our understanding, even beyond our dreams. And we should rejoice in knowing that there is so much more yet to come; wonders beyond our ability to imagine!

We cannot fully understand, we don’t have to fully understand. That is what faith is about! Faith is believing in what cannot be explained nor understood! Never be afraid of what you do not, or cannot understand in this age, but know that when you take your “place in that age” then you will understand! Amen!


Haggai 1:15b-2:9
2:1 In the second year of King Darius, in the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the LORD came by the prophet Haggai, saying:
2:2 Speak now to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people, and say,
2:3 Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing?
2:4 Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the LORD; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the LORD; work, for I am with you, says the LORD of hosts,
2:5 according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear.
2:6 For thus says the LORD of hosts: Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land;
2:7 and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendor, says the LORD of hosts.
2:8 The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the LORD of hosts.
2:9 The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the LORD of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the LORD of hosts.


2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
2:1 As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters,
2:2 not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here.
2:3 Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction.
2:4 He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God.
2:5 Do you not remember that I told you these things when I was still with you?
2:13 But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth.
2:14 For this purpose he called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
2:15 So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter.
2:16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope,
2:17 comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.

Luke 20:27-38
20:27 Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him
20:28 and asked him a question, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that 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.
20:29 Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless;
20:30 then the second
20:31 and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless.
20:32 Finally the woman also died.
20:33 In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.”
20:34 Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage;
20:35 but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.
20:36 Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.
20:37 And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.
20:38 Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”