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Sermon for November 6, 2022 – Proper 27

Program Transcript

Speaking of Life 4050 | False Assumptions
Greg Williams

A friend of mine was taking a web design class and one of the assignments was to find a poorly designed website to improve by redesigning it. One day one of her classmates asked her to look at the website she had chosen. After looking at it she told her classmate, “Oh wow! That is really a terrible-looking website. That definitely needs to be redesigned.” Unfortunately, my friend had made an assumption. She assumed the website she was looking at was the one to be redesigned, but in fact, it was the one her classmate had already redesigned. Ouch!

Have you ever found yourself embarrassed by holding a false assumption? It happens often and can lead to some pretty funny stories. But some false assumptions can be a matter of life and death. The Sadducees for example held the assumption that there was no resurrection after death. For them, death got the final word. This created quite an embarrassing scene for them after they carried this assumption into an argument with Jesus. You can read that story in Luke 20.

You probably don’t consider yourself a Sadducee, but is it possible we sometimes work from the same assumption – that death has the last word? Even if we believe in a resurrection after death, we can still let false assumptions about death work itself out in our lives. For example, we may fear death in such a way that robs us of the life we have. Are we more focused on death than on the resurrection?

While it’s fine to take death seriously, we should take Jesus’ words of resurrected life far more seriously. Death is not the final word, Jesus – who is God’s word to us – is. We can trust that his words of life to us are the final word to cling to and to live from. And this is something we can be thankful for as we see death all around us in our world today. Jesus’ word is truth.

Paul was thankful the church in Thessalonica was not living by the false assumptions about death but was living by the truth of God’s word about Jesus and his return. Here is how he expressed it:

We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers.
Thessalonians 2:13 (NRSV)

God’s word to us in Jesus Christ shatters the Sadducees’ assumption that death has the final word. As we wrestle with our assumptions and doubts, may Jesus, the living present word continue to guide you in his way, in truth, and in life. Let’s celebrate the truth of Jesus’ resurrection and ours.

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 145:1-5, 17-21 • Haggai 1:15b-2:9 • 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17 • Luke 20:27-38

This week’s theme is the God who restores. The call to worship Psalm extols God’s splendor and greatness while proclaiming him as faithful and righteous in all his ways, as he hears and responds to the cries of his worshipers. The Old Testament reading from Haggai has God encouraging his people with the promise that he will restore the former temple to an even greater glory, filling it with his presence. The Gospel reading from Luke recounts Jesus’ correction of the Sadducees’ faulty belief that there is no resurrection to life after death. The epistolary text comes from 2 Thessalonians, which also deals with some misunderstandings about the resurrection and concludes with encouragement that the Lord will bring salvation life for the believers to full fruition.

A Final Word on Death

Luke 20:27-38 (NRSVUE)

As we (in the U.S.) enter the season of Thanksgiving and approach Advent and Christmas, it may seem an odd choice of scriptures for the Lectionary this week to focus on the resurrection. But as we stare in the face of another contentious and unpredictable election cycle, at least in the U.S., perhaps the theme of resurrection is exactly the reminder we need to hear. It’s in the resurrection that we see the risen and ascended Jesus being crowned the Elect, the King, and Savior of all creation. As we are reminded that Jesus is the true King and Savior of all the world, we can hold lightly to any results that come from the authorities in this present evil age, no matter what country you find yourself in.

Jesus is still in charge and it’s his Father’s purposes for us that will have the last word, no matter who is elected to whatever position of authority in our day. In this truth, we can hold lightly to the politics and power struggles we see around us. We can even participate by voting or not voting, engaging in our world in ways we discern the true King is leading us. And we don’t have to fear or fret over the outcomes. Jesus doesn’t allow anything he can’t redeem, and he is working in everything to bear witness to his kingdom where his creation will ultimately come under the Father’s loving rule and righteous reign.

In addition, a focus on the resurrection can prepare us for the upcoming season of Advent, when we celebrate the first and second coming of Christ, along with his continual coming to us in the present by the Holy Spirit. Maybe we need to hear today that the Spirit comes to enliven us. He also comes with the good news that death does not have the final word. No matter how often death seems to push itself into our experience of life, we can live in the hope that death is a defeated enemy. It does not have to set the agenda for our lives. Jesus is the life given to us today that will never run out in the future. On these grounds, we will explore further what Jesus says to us from our lectionary passage from Luke 20.

Some context may be helpful. The story we will be looking at in Luke is grounded in a politically charged environment. We can often relate to such an environment in our world today. Jesus has just “cleansed the temple,” which created no small stir with the religious authorities. He had just messed with their power base, especially for the Sadducees who were in charge of the temple. Our passage is about the Sadducees trying to discredit Jesus’ authority in reaction to having their control threatened. This particular challenge is the third in a series of challenges to Jesus’ authority. Luke 20 begins with the chief priests and scribes along with the elders directly questioning Jesus’ authority. He silences them by asking a question of his own regarding the authority of John the Baptist’s ministry. His challengers were in a no-win spot with that question, so Jesus got the last word in that argument. That was followed up by Jewish authorities sending some spies who tried to trap Jesus with a question regarding paying taxes. Jesus again uses their tactic against them resulting in silencing their challenge – once again, getting the last word. And that brings us to the third story, which we will cover today, another challenge to Jesus’ authority. Let’s see who gets the final word this time around!

Let’s begin the story in Luke 20:

Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him 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.” (Luke 20:27-28 NRSVUE)

We are introduced to “some Sadducees” who are going to try their hand at questioning Jesus. We are told that the Sadducees say that “there is no resurrection.” Not only do the Sadducees not believe in the resurrection from the dead, but they also do not belief in the existence of angels. In addition, they did not accept the additional writings of the Old Testament outside of the Torah – the first five books of Moses. Watch how Jesus will address some of these other erroneous beliefs in how he answers their question regarding the resurrection.

Before they ask their question, they quote from the Book of Deuteronomy that deals with levirate marriage, which was intended to “raise up offspring” in order to keep the family line going in the event of a husband’s death. They believed that life continued through a person’s name, without a need for resurrection. So, they began from a false conclusion to create a question they believed would mock and discredit Jesus. They are not genuinely trying to seek answers.

“Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.” (Luke 20:29-33 NRSVUE)

Hypothetic scenarios are like science fiction stories. You get to make up your own rules to operate by. The Sadducees with their hypothetical story are operating from a set of conclusions that are false. Jesus enters their thought-world to disprove them from their own starting point. He corrects their faulty thinking with the reality of resurrection. And it is a needed correction because the Sadducees’ conclusion running through their made-up scenario has a running theme — death! When the hope of resurrection is excluded from our thinking, death will control all our stories. In their attempt to expose how the belief in resurrection is ridiculous, they have exposed that they believe death gets the final word. They have exposed that their hope is grounded in this present life only. And like the old joke goes, that is what makes them “Sad-you-see”!

Consequently, you can probably also see why keeping control in the present would be of supreme importance for them. Considering that the Sadducees were part of the wealthy aristocracy who oversaw the temple, their lives were pretty comfortable. It could be argued that they were content with life in the present and had little concern for any life after death concepts. In their world, a theology of hope that would articulate belief in a resurrection was not much of a priority. Life was good in the present. And, if there is life after death, then that would mean that how they live in the present could have repercussion for the future. They were used to being in charge. Being accountable to an authority over them would crimp their style. So, let’s just keep the status quo, shall we? Why mess up a good thing? Jesus’ answer is going to challenge their assumptions, as well as their fragile authority built upon them.

Jesus said to them, “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. Indeed, they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.” (Luke 20:34-36 NRSVUE)

Jesus responds by showing them the fallacy of their reasoning. Their argument is built on the assumption that the way things are in this life will just continue for eternity if there is a resurrection. Jesus corrects this assumption by telling them that those in the age to come will not marry or die but be like “the angels.” Remember, the Sadducees did not believe in angels. Jesus shows their lack of understanding is due to their lack of belief. And what a comfort it is to know that the way things are now is not the way of Jesus’ kingdom. Let’s face it, if life were to just continue for all eternity just the way it is now, that would be more like a hell than heaven. Praise God that resurrected life is not fully comparable to our present lives. This doesn’t mean that we will be entering an alien world. Rather, it means that we will finally be at home as God’s children where all the hypothetical worlds melt away. Reality will finally be real!

Jesus also corrects the Sadducees by comparing their faulty understanding to a picture of the life to come. In this coming resurrected life, there is no more death. In this resurrected life we have the Son of God as the “raised-up offspring” that ensures our eternal provision as children of God. This is the life Jesus brings us into. It’s only in Jesus that we truly have our hope, in this life and the next. As we place our hope in Jesus, we do not have to fear, fighting for control in the present. We trust all things to the reign and rule of the King.

Now, Jesus has one more thing to say to the Sadducees:

“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. Now he is God not of the dead but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.” (Luke 20:37-38 NRSVUE)

Jesus doesn’t just leave the Sadducees in their ignorance. He takes them where they are to bring them further in knowing whose they are. Since the Sadducees only regarded the five books of Moses as authoritative, Jesus quotes Moses to establish that God is a God of resurrection. He wants them to know that God is a God of life. Death does not rule or get the final word. In whatever we see going on around us today, we can trust the God who has revealed himself to us in Jesus.

This is important for us today, but it still raises questions, doesn’t it. What does it mean to “be like angels”? What happens to the relationships we have now? Why is there no marriage in heaven? Does that mean there is no intimacy? For many, that makes heaven sound a little less than desirable. We don’t have all the answers to all the specific questions but here’s are a few things we do know:

  • God created us in his image, to be in relationship with him and with others.
  • God created marriage (and sex) as a blessing to be enjoyed in healthy relationship.
  • God created all things for our benefit and enjoyment.
  • God wants us to enjoy the eternal relationship he offers through Jesus.
  • The greatest relationship we’ve been invited to is the relationship shared by Father, Son and Spirit.

I believe it is safe to conclude that the One who loves us enough to send his son to die for us so that we might be with him for eternity, has a life so good we can’t even imagine it. The resurrection isn’t our hope just so we don’t fear death as much, it is our hope because it leads to a life we can’t even imagine.

The resurrection promises us a life of no more pain, no sorrow, no tears. Jesus came so that we can have that resurrection life. We don’t know the details, but we can look at how much the Father loves us, and we can trust that resurrection life is better than anything we can imagine.

The Father is the one who brings us into resurrected life even if that means bringing us through death. We see he is true to his Word as he raised his Son in the Resurrection and anointed him King in the Ascension. We have just a taste of his goodness now. In our resurrected life, we will see the fullness of God’s love and goodness for us.

Left Behind? w/ Stephen Morrison W1

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November 6 – Proper 27
Luke 20:27-38 “The God of the Living”

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Program Transcript

Left Behind? w/ Stephen Morrison W1

Anthony: The first passage of the month is Luke 20:27 – 38 from the Common English Bible. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 27, that is November the 6th.

27 Some Sadducees, who deny that there’s a resurrection, came to Jesus and asked, 28 “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies leaving a widow but no children, the brother must marry the widow and raise up children for his brother29 Now there were seven brothers. The first man married a woman and then died childless. 30 The second 31 and then the third brother married her. Eventually all seven married her, and they all died without leaving any children. 32 Finally, the woman died too. 33 In the resurrection, whose wife will she be? All seven were married to her.” 34 Jesus said to them, “People who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage. 35 But those who are considered worthy to participate in that age, that is, in the age of the resurrection from the dead, won’t marry nor will they be given in marriage. 36 They can no longer die, because they are like angels and are God’s children since they share in the resurrection. 37 Even Moses demonstrated that the dead are raised—in the passage about the burning bush, when he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. 38 He isn’t the God of the dead but of the living. To him they are all alive.”

Stephen, like the Sadducees, many people today deny that there is resurrection. Why does a sound eschatology, including the resurrection of the dead matter? And how should it impact our lives?

Stephen: Yeah. The resurrection’s the most radical claim of the Christian faith. I believe it’s such a –hope against hope is a phrase Moltmann uses to talk about eschatology. This eschatological coming of God is such a profound hope, that really it either doesn’t mean anything or it means everything. And I think it’s the latter.

And I think having this hope, having this faith in the resurrection of the dead is so important, not only for our lives here, but really for our engagement with the world. I think Moltmann’s theology of hope is something I immediately come to with a lot of this, where he stresses that from the beginning. Eschatology isn’t just a part of faith, but it really is the essence of what it is to be a Christian today — is to yearn and to hope for the coming of God in a profound way.

And yeah, the resurrection, that is such a radical part of our faith and it’s sometimes difficult. And so, I sympathize with the people that struggle with the resurrection. I think it is a hope beyond hope.

It’s something that transcends, it’s not something I would think of for myself, if I’m just relying back on myself. But that’s the reality of what faith is – it’s being pulled and compelled by something bigger than myself. And it very much matters for our daily lives.

I think hope for the future challenges our engagement with the world today. Moltmann talks about how this hope puts us in conflict with the present because we hope for the kingdom that’s to come, the justice that will be established through the reign of God.

We’re put into conflict with the situations of this world that contradict that, that aren’t kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. And so that prayer that Jesus taught us to pray is so essential for this. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven, is really the orientation for much of what we do and how we engage with the world.

And so, it’s essential to be able to have this hope, not only on a personal level, but on a church level where we feel we’re not going to hide away from the world. We do believe that this world will be a part of the resurrection and the resurrection that comes, the new heaven and the new earth.

And so, I think sometimes eschatology can have a negative spin where we’re just escapists. We’re just hoping that, oh, everything’s going to burn and we’re just going to escape on the spaceship or whatever. And it’s very anti-human.

But I think there’s a way to believe in the resurrection of the dead that is very humane. And it brings us back to the hope that we have for this world and the hope that we have for the people in our lives and pushes us out into the world and out of our safe little Christian bubbles into, what does it look like to proclaim kingdom come in this situation?

And these sorts of social situations – political, whatever it may be – and impacting not only our lives and how we hope but giving us the courage to proclaim that kingdom anew and proclaim the fruit of Jesus’ words.

Anthony: Hope against hope. That’s well stated, when we come to scripture, Stephen it’s so important that Jesus is our hermeneutical principle, the lens in which we read, but often we’re reading through our fallen minds, and we need to recognize that. So, with that in mind, I want to ask you the next question in this passage.

It says, those who are considered worthy to participate in that age. Who are those people that Jesus describes in verse 30?

Stephen: Yeah. Like you said, any text, I think takes a bit of critical thought to analyze. And I think it’s important for something like this to step back and ask, who even are the Sadducees? Who’s Jesus responding to and could Bible [unintelligible] tell you that Sadducees are the elite class within Jewish society?

They were the privileged, landed, powerful, and rich of the time. And so, I think that helps contextualize this a little bit because a big motif of Luke’s Gospel is this critique of the powers that be, as you might say.

And so I think “those worthy to participate in the age,” it sets up this dialectic between those who have a hope in the material things of this world, that are fixated on these, as you said, human mindsets, fallen mindsets, and those who are anticipating and living in the kingdom that is to come and is still present in us through the Spirit, yet we still yearn for its full consummation in the coming of Christ.

And so, I think, the phrase (who are those who are worthy or considered worthy to participate in that age?) does reflect this sense of being those who anticipate in hope the resurrection and are obviously in Christ – is the key to, I think, understanding this. Like you said, Jesus is always going to be our hermeneutic lens.

But I think it does set up this distinction between those who have their hope in the powers of this world, the systems of this world, the riches of this world and those who have their hope in the kingdom that is to come. And so “the worthy to participate in that age” are those who that, that is where their hope lies.

That is, they are in Christ, in that sense, not just in this positional sense. Not just in this sense of being united to Christ, as we believe all Christians are. But in the sense of, I’ve actively put my hope into this coming of God and that’s my foundation.

And setting up this distinction, like I said, of, where is my faith? Where’s my hope? It’s not in mammon, it’s not the systems of this world, but it’s in the coming of God, the coming of justice in the coming of his reign.

Anthony: Verse 38 states, God is the God of the living and to him all are alive. What should we make of that statement?

Stephen: Yeah. God is living, and God is the one in whom all things have their being. And so even those who have passed have passed in Christ. And Christ is the resurrection and the life.

And I think that God, isn’t someone who I think, accepts the deadness that is in us, but is always calling us to life because that’s who God is. I think that “all those who are live in Christ,” I think is the cord in that. That the resurrection is the new creation of all things that begins in him. And being in Christ is life and being outside of Christ is not.

And so, I think that’s potentially one way to understand it, theologically. But yeah.

Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life

  • Share a time you were embarrassed because of having a faulty assumption.
  • In what ways do people act on the faulty assumption that death has the last word? In what ways do Christians sometimes act as if death has the last word?
  • In the video we heard, “We can be assured that Jesus, who is God’s word to us, does not hold any false assumptions.” What encourages you about that statement?

From the Sermon

  • In light of the contentious politics and power plays in our world, what comfort do you find in knowing Jesus is the true and rightful King?
  • Identify and discuss some of the faults exhibited by the Sadducees that you see in our world, or even in ourselves.
  • The Sadducees used a hypothetical scenario to argue with Jesus. Do you ever find yourself wanting to argue with Jesus with your own made-up rules?
  • In what ways do we let death control our lives?
  • How does the resurrection of Jesus free us from the fear of death?
  • What are some things in this present life you are thankful will not continue in God’s kingdom? What are some things you look forward to in the kingdom?
  • What did you think about Jesus meeting the Sadducees where they were by quoting from Moses? What did this say to you about Jesus’ character?
  • Jesus gets the final word on death. Does that change the way you want to live?

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