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Sermon for the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost

Nov 10, 2019

Passage: Luke 20:27-38

Preacher: Rob Donehue

Series: Sermons for Year C (2018-2019)

Detail:

Sermon for the Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost (2019)
November 10th, 2019
St. Anne’s, Conway SC (Lackey Chapel)

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

[The squirrel joke] 

I begin with this joke because it’s an illustration of how sometimes approaching a problem with the wrong theological reasoning can lead to unexpected outcomes. And that’s pretty much what’s going on in today’s Gospel lesson.  

To give a brief recap, the Sadducees have come to test Jesus, and they are trying to trip him up with a question about the resurrection. As Luke’s Gospel tells us, the Sadducees don’t believe in the resurrection, so right away, we’re aware that their question is not asked in good faith. They are trying to point out what they think is the absurdity of belief in the resurrection by using a hypothetical example about a woman who marries a succession of seven brothers, after each brother dies leaving the woman childless. Their question is, “In the resurrection, who’s wife will the woman be?” 

Before getting into how Jesus dismantles this question, I do want to be fair to the Sadducees in pointing out that the hypothetical scenario is one that actually was covered by the Torah. In the 25th chapter of the book of Deuteronomy, the rule says that if a married man dies without a child, his brother is to take her as his wife, and their first born son will bear the dead brother’s name and be entitled to all the dead brother’s estate. So the Sadducees didn’t just come up with this scenario out of nowhere. They were referencing a scenario covered in the Torah; the implication being that Jesus would have to provide an answer that fit with the Torah.   

The only problem is that the Sadducees had their categories mixed up. Their question was based on a scriptural law that had to do with the preservation of patriarchal lineage, inheritance, and the just treatment of widows. In the Torah, all of these are primarily earthly concerns that deal with the reality of death. And their question assumes that these same earthly concerns will apply in the resurrection to eternal life. Only they don’t. The resurrection creates a whole different category. 

I find Jesus’ response striking for a number of reasons, not least of which has to with Jesus pointing out to the Sadducees that the Torah does support the idea of resurrection.  

For those of you who attended Fr. Barry’s ECW talk about Jesus and feminism, I don’t know if this gospel story is one of the instances he referenced, but when seen from a certain point of view, you could make the argument that Jesus’ response envisions an upending of cultural norms. For instance, in the Sadducees hypothetical scenario about the widow being passed from husband to husband, it seems clear that the Sadducees think the widow’s identity is grounded in whose wife she is and whether she has borne any children. In other words, they do not see the widow as a child of God in her own right. 

But in his response, Jesus says that “those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead…are children of God, being children of the resurrection.” Their identity is not based on any earthly relationship anymore. The only relationship that matters in the resurrection is that they are living children of the living God. So in the resurrection, the Sadducees’ hypothetical widow is no longer defined by earthly norms and relationships. As far as Jesus’ answer goes, in the resurrection, she wouldn’t even be called a widow because “widow” is a category that defines a woman due to the death of her husband. But in the resurrection, since death is no longer a factor, the only applicable category is being a child of God. 

The reason this is good news for us to hear is that I think all of us in this life tend to view ourselves in terms of how we relate to others. We are fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, sisters, brothers, neighbors, and the like. For the most part, these are convenient categories that help us to make sense of our place in a larger community. But sometimes these categories can break down in the face of death. Some of you are widows. Some of you are widowers. Some of you have lost a parent or both parents. Some of you have lost siblings. Some of you have lost a child. Whenever death interrupts our relationship with someone, we can find ourselves in a new category that is defined by death. And over time, as more and more of our relationships are interrupted by death, we might lose hope and begin to think that death is the only thing that defines who we are. 

But as Christians, our hope is grounded in the resurrection. Our hope is grounded in the notion that God is able to hold each and every one of us in life, to restore all things and make them new, and to bring us all to that place where death is no more. I know that for myself, belief in the resurrection has helped me work through the loss of several friends and loved ones. And I am confident that this faith will help me through whatever losses are yet to come. 

And so I encourage each and every one of you: whenever death interrupts the relationships you have in this world, remember that God is not God of the dead, but of the living. And just as our loved ones are held in life as living children of the living God, so too, will we one day join them as children of God at the resurrection.