God of the Living - Pr27c
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight – Our Strength and our Saviour Amen
Our passage from the Gospel of Luke today speaks to us about resurrection
And it reveals for us a powerful window into who God is…
And it comes to us from a slightly unfamiliar group – the Sadducees
Maybe you are not familiar with all the Jewish sub-groups that were active at the time of Jesus, so I believe that some context about the Sadducees will be helpful.
We do hear a lot about the Pharisees, the strict scripture observant sub-group
Primarily because they were the group that survive the destruction of the temple and are the main spiritual ancestors of our modern Jewish brothers and sisters– and are still around when the writers of the Gospels wrote (some 30-60 years after Jesus’ death)
Also because the Pharisees, which had as their prime focus was on the Scriptures (the Torah) observance, they were often challenged by the teachings of Jesus that
re-interpreted… and directly confronted their authority
They were people of the Word of God and Jesus shook-up what they knew about the Word of God – so we hear about them
The Sadducees on the other hand we don’t hear about as much – they were a unique sub-group of Jewish spiritual leaders
They were rich – they had primary authority over the temple
It is fair to say that their position of authority was secured by their comprised relationship with the occupying force – the Roman Empire
They also recognized only the original five "books of Moses" as fully authoritative,
And it is this last detail about their belief in only the five books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) that meant that they did not believe in the resurrection of the dead (as they believed it is not referenced in the first five books of scripture).
And because Jesus had so recently attacked the sacrificial practices of the Temple, their main arena of authority, it is easy to understand that they would try to discredit Jesus
So they concocted this hypothetical story to challenge this Jesus that had challenged them and the temple practices
They used some teaching found in Deuteronomy 25 about the care for widows and the responsibility towards the heritage of one’s family line by stipulating that a man should marry the childless widow of his brother.
You see widows were the most vulnerable people in Jewish society because they were unable to earn a living; they survived solely on the charity of others
Sadducees were people of the here and now – of this world – their lack of belief in the resurrection was further emphasized by their desire for their family name and heritage to continue on as their legacy
Might I suggest that there are Sadducees all around us in our culture, modern day Sadducees might be defined with the following traits:
People who would claim value in being spiritual, but they would be people who don’t believe in eternal life of the resurrection,
People that by the world’s standards are rich…beyond 95% of the world realistic expectations
And people that so value their “good name” with desire for a family legacy and heritage as the long-standing vision and goal of their life
Some of our ‘great” Canadians who have no interest in any religion and are devoted to the arts or sports or philanthropy – might relate closely to the Sadducees of Jesus’ day
People that value their position in life
People that long to make their mark on the world and leave a lasting heritage
People of this world - of the ‘here and now’, where the resurrected life seems a matter of childish faith
Back to our text… The question that is posed is hypothetical, meant to take an ancient practice to the extreme, in order to show that the whole idea of resurrection was indeed foolish.
So building on the foundation that one’s responsibility was to marry the childless widow of your brother in order to protect the widow and in an effort to produce a child and thus ensuring the family heritage
They posed the question, what would happen if a women repeatedly had her husbands dieing on her, even to seven brothers… in resurrection whose wife would she be?
They were baiting Jesus to create, what they believe would be an impossible answer for him to give
In their day, as in ours, people don’t come back to world from death and so without this empirical, rational understanding of anything beyond the grave, they didn’t know what the resurrected life, the heavenly realm, was to like – and therefore they didn’t believe in it
Don’t be mislead by images of angels relaxing on fluffy white clouds playing harps and eating cream cheese
We don’t really know what the resurrected life will be, any more than they did
At least, in a empirical, rational, non-spiritual understanding…
So… they try to trick this traveling rabbi that has stirred up so much excitement, so much interest and also so much controversy
The Sadducees are thinking (I imagine) - this upstart hillbilly from the backward area of Galilee, who is He to challenge our authority over the temple – we will fix Him and His crazy teaching about the Kingdom of God and the resurrection
And we will do it with Holy Scriptures, so there is no room to wiggle out
I want to pause in the story for a moment and ask a question for you to think about
Have you ever been faced, Brothers and Sisters in Christ, with this situation?
Where someone is trying to set you up for what they believe is an impossible question to answer, maybe even using the Bible to try to trick you? ….
At first you might be thinking, no – but let me tell you a short story and maybe you will recognize your own similar situation
A few years back, while I was still in seminary and not yet ordained, we were invited by one of our close friends to their house with our family for a Christmas Dinner, along with another family, who were also very close friends
The kids went downstairs to eat pizza and play
And we 6 adults (3 couples) were upstairs to eat nice food and talk and catch up on what now for all our lives has become very busy lives
Three of us had gone to College together and our wives had also become good friends
So there was a comfortable familiarity with each other that we could talk openly and candidly
Our Hosts were Christians, and I was now at Seminary, but our other friends were definitely not religious by any definition imaginable
Unless you want to say that they religiously went out golfing or shopping on Sundays
My friend of over ten years decides that this is an opportunity to ask me questions about Religion
He starts by making challenging statements about some of the most controversial and difficult to respond to topics: like homosexuality, the crusades, divorce, abortion and the list goes on and on
He basic made statements but framed it in such a way that there is a hanging question that I am to respond to… in defence of all of Christianity… over all time.
He is a competitive guy, as I am, and he sees this as an opportunity to try to win an argument against me, by laying on such a heavy case for all the challenges that our society can face and that organized religion has responded to (sometime well, and, as was his belief, many times not so well)
I took the bait
My strategy, I think, is to answer each of the subjects one by one
But first I start out by saying – Well in order to understand this, you need to first understand what Bible has to say about each of the topics…
And I get no further…
You see, my frame of reference is God – and God’s inspired word – to me it is authoritative
The Bible, not only tells the story of God’s relationship with humankind – but it also provides us with ethical and moral compass from which I take direction
But for my friend – he no more believes in God, than the Bible
In fact from his perspective the Bible and God are at the root of most of the troubles in the world
He admits that he has never read it, but he is very capable of telling me all about it… and how it couldn’t possibly have any relevance in the modern world
His loaded questions are not about seeking answers – at least not consciously
They are in fact loaded statements where I am challenged to defend, without my foundational frame of reference
And so like the Sadducees with Jesus, the goal was never intended to get an answer - but to trick and prove the questioner as superior
And so I ask again, have you ever been faced with a similar situation?
Where someone is trying to set you up for what they believe is an impossible question to answer, where they may even being trying to trick you, and in reality, they have no interest in the answer at all?
Well back to the Gospel… and Jesus, unlike my pitiful attempt, Jesus first declares authority himself and says
“Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; 35but 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. (Luke 20:34-35)
Jesus in that one sentence answer packs a punch… let me unpack it a bit
He first declares that there is a resurrection – there is a life after this earthly life
And He declares an understanding of the resurrection
Something no mortal alone could rightfully claim
He also addresses the issue of their question about marriage in the resurrection
And he does so in consistent Jesus fashion… by stating that the world as we know it is not the same as the heavenly realm
That God’s ways are not our ways and God’s realm is not the same either
In the resurrection there is no death – therefore there is no need for marriage with the purpose of procreation
Now before you get all riled up and want to tell me that marriage is for more than procreation – I agree – and I am not saying that Jesus is saying that either – simply Jesus is illustrating that the resurrection is vastly different than what we understand here on earth
It is further believed by many scholars that in this short exchange; Jesus is identifying the Sadducees as people of this world – with all the earthly benefits of their earthly existence, remember they are rich,
And because of their lack of belief, as shown by their actions, Jesus, in frustration to their attempt to trick Him, is stating that they have no need to know about the resurrection because they are going to be there anyways
So Jesus, indeed packs a punch with his first statement
Jesus is also adept at Scripture himself and declares
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.(Luke 20:36)
He counters their interpretation with ‘a true understanding of resurrection’ and cites one of the most important texts for all Jews, the revelation of God to Moses that speaks of God as a God of the living, not of the dead.
Jesus by bringing up the fact that God, speaking to Moses, about the being the God Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – is saying that they are in fact still alive, present with God
Jesus in effect says that true interpretation of Scripture depends on having the proper perspective on the nature of God.
Jesus teaches that life in the resurrection of the dead is… the “New Normal,” to quote investors of our difficult financial times.
All the rules have changed.
God is “not God of the dead, but of the living, for to Him all are alive.”
We, with our Christian understanding, might be thinking of the Resurrection and be thinking solely about Jesus Christ’s resurrection, when He won the victory over death and all that is death – the death on the cross whereby He made the atoning sacrifice for us all and then by rising that Easter morning
In our passage today, we are talking about the broader understanding of the resurrection whereby it is a universal term to describe the life after our earthly life
So let us consider what we do think about when think about the broader term the Resurrection… How does resurrection compare with immortality?
Many Christians today and, indeed, throughout the centuries, have confused immortality with resurrection.
But whereas immortality of the soul promises that some element of a person persists beyond the physical death of the body.
This is due to the influence of Greek philosophy – and it is a unbiblical, unChristian view of life after death
We separate the soul from the body and consider that the soul lives on, apart from the body
Resurrection insists that the whole person will in fact, die – there is no escaping that
And we declare that each time we say the creeds
He (Jesus) suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, the good news is because of the One who died on the cross and was raised again from death, we live and die with the promise that God will similarly raise us from death to new life.
Where we become in closer presence with God, as children of resurrection.
Heaven does not equal earth taken to perfection.
Life in God is not an extension of this life.
Resurrection is complete transformation.
The only thing that holds this life together with the next: …is God
the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 
Heaven is not up but beyond.
What Jesus is telling the Sadducees… and us… is first a transformed understanding of the Resurrection, the life eternal
But the most important thing that Jesus is saying that is that God is God over everything
That God is… the God of the living
And the living is both here on earth and in heaven
To recap – heritage, when it is not worldly focused is not a bad thing – if… like we were told last week by Bishop Charlie, it is a Spiritual heritage – where we are the saints that took the baton in then passed it on to the next
We are blessed by the great cloud of witnesses that have gone before us all
Those that planted this church and laid the spiritual foundations for us
Those that personally helped us along the way
And us in our turn, we do our part to witness – in word and deed for our own saints to follow – then heritage is wonderfully blessing
We also need to be weary of the tricks and traps along the way
We need to be wise to determine when someone is trying trick us, As stewards of the Gospel, we mustn’t let ourselves get sidetracked.
And when someone is asking a question that they actually want an answer for… and be ready to make an account for the joy that is in you – that may sounds like a difficult task
So, in simple terms… “tell your own story”
And know…. Know… because it is the Words of Jesus Christ our Risen Lord
That the resurrection, the eternal life…. is real
That God… is… God of the earth and the resurrection (the heavenly realm)
… God is: God of all the living
I leave the final word about the resurrection to The Word – the Word of God – as written by the Apostle Paul in the 1st letter to the Corinthian church, found in chapter 15:
12Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? 13If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; 14and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain…. 16For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. 17If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.
20But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead
“Death has been swallowed up in victory.” 55“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:12-14,16-17, 20 & 54-55)
Glory to be God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit – Alleluia – Alleluia – Alleluia - Amen
 Barbara Brown Taylor