St. Matthew’s Sermon 11-10-2019


St. Matthew’s Sermon 11-10-2019

Joined Together

Job 19:23-27a, Psalm 17:1-9, 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

We’re already told by Luke’s introduction that the Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead. But, for the sake of better understanding of the argument at hand, let me fill in a little bit about why they didn’t believe in an afterlife.

You see, they believed that the Torah, the first 5 books of the bible that dictate the law of God as revealed to Moses, was the only authoritative source for understanding God’s interactions with humanity and an afterlife is not mentioned in any of those books.

Yet, belief in a resurrected life wasn’t a new idea brought about by Jesus. The belief in, or at least the possibility of, life continuing beyond this earthly realm, was around for quite a while before Christ’s time. In fact, the Pharisees and scribes, drawing on other Old Testament writings like the story of Elijah being swept up to heaven in a whirlwind, did believe in an afterlife.

We can see, then, that even though the Sadducees and the Pharisees were both Jews and associated with the Temple, there was disagreement between them. We can also see that the challenge the Sadducees presented to Jesus wasn’t only to try to disprove his teaching, but that of the Pharisees as well.

When we understand this we can see that the problem being revealed in this story isn’t as much the question of the marital status of the widow and her seven husbands in the resurrection – who’s wife will she be—rather how do we integrate the “Law of Moses” given and applied when there was no thought given to anything beyond the realities of the here and now, with the more recently understood reality of eternal life in the resurrection?

Jesus did not come to change the Law; he did not come to make the Law obsolete; as he says earlier in Luke’s account “But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one stroke of a letter in the law to be dropped”. (Luke 16:17) Or, as in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus doesn’t separate the Law from the Prophets as the Sadducees did, he ties them together as equal parts of the revelation of God’s will — Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. (Matthew 5:17-18)

The problem with the thinking of the Sadducees is that they’re applying the Law only through their limited understanding of the reality of life in flesh and blood, life as they could see, and touch, and smell within the limited senses of the human body. Applying it in any other way was beyond their ability to perceive.

Those limitations, bound into a patriarchal society where the only continuation of life was through descendants, and in a time when procreation by every able body was essential to the very survival of the human race, allowed the Sadducees and those who thought like them to use the Law in ways it wasn’t intended to be used. In this case, the 7 times widowed woman is the example.

Where the original Law had as much, or perhaps more, to do with assuring the unfortunate woman’s continuing life under the care of a man than it did with creating sons to inherit the first husbands property, the likes of the Sadducees had turned it into a matter of controlling a woman’s reproductive abilities; treating her more like property to be traded and bargained with than a human being, much less like an equal Child of God.

Jesus then, with his response to their challenge, turns things back to the way the Law was intended. Not by coincidence, I’m sure, using a phrase from the only part of the Bible the Sadducees gave credence to, the words of Moses, emphasizing that …”he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” in the present tense, not the past. “Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living…”

In this, Jesus is showing us how the ancient Law still applies in the world as we experience it; it’s not abolished but re-integrated into our lives with the new understanding he brings to the conversation.

And, with that, he doesn’t separate life as we know it in our worldly reality from life in the resurrection. He joins the two together as one; showing us once again, as he has been trying to do all along, that the Kingdome of God, life under God’s rule, isn’t a place we hope for after we die but a condition we should be working toward as angels, messengers of our Father, in the often messy reality of the here and now.

It’s a mistake too often made when dealing with Christian theology. On one extreme is the belief that the Old Testament has nothing to do with our faith, that it’s all out dated and made unnecessary by the salvific acts of Christ. With that comes the notion that our bodies and our existence in the physical world are, at best, a condition of temptation that if not resisted will lead to our damnation.

On the other extreme is the belief that adhering to the Law of Moses has everything to do with our acceptance into eternal life as children of God, even to the point that only by inheritance through “God’s chosen race” can we become members of the resurrection. With that comes the notion that our bodies and our existence in the physical world are the only way to eternal life.

But it is Christ himself that tells us that the two aren’t to be kept separated, but joined together in a way that makes eternal life not something that begins in judgment after our bodies die, but something that began with opportunity the day we were born.

 

“Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of [us] are alive.”

Amen

 

Job 19:23-27a
19:23 “O that my words were written down! O that they were inscribed in a book!
19:24 O that with an iron pen and with lead they were engraved on a rock forever!
19:25 For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
19:26 and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God,
19:27 whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.

Psalm 17:1-9
17:1 Hear a just cause, O LORD; attend to my cry; give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit.
17:2 From you let my vindication come; let your eyes see the right.
17:3 If you try my heart, if you visit me by night, if you test me, you will find no wickedness in me; my mouth does not transgress.
17:4 As for what others do, by the word of your lips I have avoided the ways of the violent.
17:5 My steps have held fast to your paths; my feet have not slipped.
17:6 I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God; incline your ear to me, hear my words.
17:7 Wondrously show your steadfast love, O savior of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at your right hand.
17:8 Guard me as the apple of the eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings,
17:9 from the wicked who despoil me, my deadly enemies who surround me.

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 al
ive.