Text: Luke 20:27-38
Grace and peace be unto you from God who is our Creator and from Jesus Christ who is our Savior and our Friend. Amen.
A few years ago I presided at the funeral of a good Christian woman who had gone to her reward after a long life of marriage, raising two sons, regular church attendance, involvement in many of the traditional ministries that women carried out in the church, and not a little bit of church gossip.
Marion was very interested in the details of peoples’ relationships, including mine – I was engaged to be married to Hans at the time -- and she didn’t mind asking. But I will say this. No one was more pleased at the prospect of my impending marriage, and if she had lived to meet our baby, no one would have been happier for us than she.
Marion’s funeral, which was a very good funeral, was organized by her adult sons, neither of whom lived in the area. We had good music, I gave the sermon, and her sons both offered loving eulogies for their mom. Now it gets interesting. Marion had been married twice. First to the man who was the father of her two grown sons, and then much later, to a second man, who had recently died.
Both of her sons, in their eulogies, imagined their mother now reunited with their father. They both said how happy the two of them were to be together in heaven, forever. But I will tell you this. In the few years that I knew Marion, I never heard her talk about her first husband. I heard her talk about her second husband. All the time, as if he were still with her. They had been very happy. She missed him in a raw and present kind of way.
Her sons imagined Marion joyfully united with their father, but I wasn’t so sure that he was the one she looked forward to seeing again.
So what is going on in our gospel text? Is it just a teaching about marriage in the next life, or is there more? As you rightly suspected, there’s more.
In Jesus’s time, just as it is today, religious people did not agree about everything. What a surprise, right? One of the really important, intra-Jewish religious disagreements of the day was whether there would be a resurrection of the dead. The Sadducees said no, there is not, while the Pharisees, with whom Jesus was more closely identified, said yes there is.
Some Sadducees came to test Jesus with this really awkward story and a question that was impossible to answer. They said, “Teacher, there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second brother married the first brother’s wife, 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."
Now, their patriarchal assumption was that women are property and must belong to someone, even in eternity. Who does the woman belong to? Her husband. But she can only have one at a time, so on those terms, this question can’t be answered. They had hoped that this clever question would force Jesus to admit that there is no resurrection, no life after death.
But Jesus did what he always does, and he changed the terms of the question as well as the answer. He said, “You’re describing what happens in this life. But in the resurrection people are not going to marry or be given in marriage.” He dismissed the premise of the question entirely. So, people, at least according to this text, it turns out that in heaven, you won’t be married. I imagine that that is a disquieting thought for some, and a great relief for others.
The two adult sons I talked about at the beginning of the sermon were comforted by the thought of their mom and her first husband, their dad, together in heaven, whereas their mom, I think, preferred her second husband. But you know what? Marion won’t be married to either of them. And here’s the point.
It’s not about marriage per se. It’s about a complete reordering of relationships. And not just a reordering, but a right-ordering. In the resurrection, Jesus is saying, women will not be property as they are now. Relationships will be characterized by equality before God.
And in the resurrection, the primary relationship we will have will be with God. God, the source of life and love and all that is. The consistent image of life after death in both the Hebrew scriptures and in the New Testament is one of worship. All the redeemed are gathered around the throne of God. God is at the center and all praise and glory is towards God.
Now, does that mean that your mom and dad are not together in heaven? Instead, are they hanging out at the heavenly singles bar trying to meet someone new? No. Everyone they loved on earth they will love in the resurrection.
In fact the love they have, and that we will have, will be greater than it is now. We will all love one another with the love which with Christ has loved us.
Ooooooh. It’s not that we’ll love our loved ones less, it’s that we’ll love all of our siblings in Christ more. Our relationships will not be restricted and limited, as they are in this life, but will reflect the unlimited love of the unlimited and everlasting God.
Which brings us to stewardship. We are in stewardship season. You will soon receive a letter/You have received letters explaining the needs of the congregation, and pledge forms with which to make your financial commitments. Between now and Sunday, November 24/Sunday, November 17, you’re asked to prayerfully consider what you can commit to giving the church in 2020. That is information about the process, but it isn’t the point of this sermon.
What we are considering now is why we give and why we might increase our giving in order to sustain the church and its ministry. What do we value about this congregation that is worthy of our time and talent and money and how is that connected to the Kingdom of God?
Earlier this week at the session meeting which is like our Leadership Panel, I shared some of my thoughts about this text and I asked the members for theirs, and John Sanders responded. With his permission, I’m sharing his response with you.
Now, if you know John, you know that he is just a bit of a curmudgeon. He’s a retired cop and he’s not too sentimental. And yet, this is what he said. “Church is where you come to be with people you love.” He continued, “The world is kind of crazy. It’s tough out there. And church is a place where it’s safe to love people.”
I just found that to be remarkable. One, the church is where you go to be with people you love, and two, it’s a place where it’s safe to love. I would add, and to be loved.
It sounds a whole lot like life in the resurrection as described by Jesus, where a woman who had been treated like second hand property and handed off from one man to another without her consent, in a society that found this so normal as to be completely unremarkable, will not be bound by those human restrictions. She will be healed of her emotional trauma and she will love and be loved in complete freedom and equity.
The church John Sanders described as a place where you go to
be with people you love and where it’s safe to love one another, is exactly what Christ calls us to. To love one another as Christ has loved us. “Beloved, let us love one another, because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” I John 4 verse 7.
That is why we give. That is why we give of our time and our talent and our treasure, because right here in this place, literally here in this building but also in a community without walls or borders, we are living in God’s resurrection right now.
God is the God of the living, not the dead. So when we die we will be raised to new life, and we will gather around the throne and God will be our God. But before that happens, God is the God of the living. God is the God of our lives right now.
So with God’s guidance, through the grace of Jesus Christ, by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, we have the luck, the incredible blessing, the privilege of living, just a little bit, in that future reality, now. In this church community and in the church universal.
That’s why we give. Because of what Christ has given to us. Amen.