Luke 20:27-38 • November 10, 2019
Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.
First of all, thank you, once again, for your continued prayers for healing. I’m feeling pretty good. Better than I’ve felt in months. Healing reasonably well. I’m guessing I’m back to about 60% of full speed.
And second, I give thanks for the incredible staff of this place, for my colleagues Pastor Bob and Pastor Julie, for picking up the pieces while I’ve been less than available to them. And thanks to Pastor Julie for giving voice to a sermon I had prepared to offer a few weeks ago before discovering I had pneumonia and should probably avoid sharing that with all of you during worship.
A recently married couple was diligently working in the kitchen to prepare dinner for a party they were hosting that evening with some friends. The husband watched curiously as his bride prepared to place a beautiful ham in the oven. Prior to placing it in the oven, she carefully cut off both ends of the ham. Her husband asked, “I’m no expert in cooking hams, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone cut off the ends of a ham before cooking it. Why did you do that?”
His wife answered, “You know what, I don’t know. I’ve never cooked a ham before, but that’s the way my mom always does it when she cooks one.” Now she was curious too, so she called her mom and asked her why she always cut off the ends of the ham before she cooked it.
“Now that you mention it, I don’t know why I do that,” her mother replied. “That’s just the way your grandmother always did it. Other than that, I honestly don’t have a clue.”
The plot thickened for the young couple. They had to get to the bottom of this ham cooking mystery. So the young bride called her grandmother and asked her why she always cut off the ends of the ham before she cooked it.
“Well sweetheart,” her grandmother said, “the first oven we owned wasn’t big enough to put a whole ham in, so I had to cut the ends off to make it fit. After that, I guess it just became a habit!”
Anybody else relate to this young couple and their ham cooking mystery? Doing something without knowing why you are doing it, but you continue to do it anyway because that’s the way you’ve always done it before – regardless of whether or not it is the right thing to do or serves any actual purpose what so ever.
On the surface, today’s gospel reading might sound like a teaching about marriage or having children or widows or the ancient world’s view of women not as actual human beings, but as property to be passed from one man to the next. One can only assume that Jesus isn’t the first rabbi that the Sadducees have tried to trap with their question. But Jesus doesn’t fall into the trap of answering the question in the same way it has always been answered. And his answer to this trick question is not what anyone is expecting. And really, truth be told, when does Jesus do anything that we actually expect?? That’s kind of why we call him Savior and Lord.
So, as we try to unpack the gospel story before us today a little, it might be helpful to take a look at just who the Sadducees are. After all, they were not just a small sect of religious leaders in the ancient world who were sad, you see.
They are mentioned occasionally in the New Testament, often closely connected with the Pharisees. The major difference between the two is that the Sadducees do not believe in life after death. The Pharisees did believe in the resurrection. The Sadducees get stuck on the resurrection of the dead because they only believed that the first five books of the bible – the Torah or Pentateuch as we call them today – were authoritative. They were a conservative religious group who are among the religious elite. The upper-class of religious leaders so to speak. One thing that the Pharisees and Sadducees do have in common, even though they disagreed on life after death, they did agree that this Jesus was a threat to their power and control over the temple and society and he needed to be stopped.
So, the Sadducees question to Jesus really has little to do with a hypothetical marriage problem between seven brothers and one woman and more to do with trapping Jesus. Since the Sadducees only view the first five books of the bible as authoritative, books of the Bible whose authorship is most often attributed to Moses, Jesus responds by showing them that Moses and his experience while speaking to God through the burning bush is actually a resurrection story. A resurrection story about a living God that Moses speaks to as the same God who is the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.
Jesus’ response does not answer the question about who will be married to who after they are dead. Jesus’ response is about the resurrection of the dead and being named as children of God here and now.
The answer Jesus gives the Sadducees is about God, whose very presence means life. His response is about God’s promise of resurrection in the face of death, and about life in the face of and in spite of death. Jesus telling his first followers 2,000 years ago, and you and me today, that our God is a God of the living, not of the dead.
And if it isn’t enough to just hear about this in a scripture reading during this time of worship, God also shows us this truth every single day if we’re paying attention to it.
Like last weekend’s All Saint’s Day worship. We lit candles of remembrance for the 25 saints who have died in faith in our congregation over the last year, we offered prayers of thanksgiving for the saints who sit among us right now, and we gave thanks for all the saints who will come into our lives in the future. God of the living, not of the dead.
Or the seven, yes seven, celebrations of the sacrament of Holy Baptism taking place in our congregation this week! In the sacred waters and holy words of promise from God, we are received into the eternal family of all the saints in light. Baptism is not just a five-minute liturgy during worship with a few pictures to help us remember the day. Baptism invites us into a resurrected life that guides us throughout this life and anything, everything and anywhere beyond this life. God of the living, not of the dead.
Or how about the beauty of God’s creation on the North Dakota prairie that hearty deer hunters are experiencing during this weekend’s sacred and holy holiday known in our state as opening weekend for deer hunting season. As those hearty souls enjoy God’s good creation and all that it has to offer, they see first hand that God is a God of the living, not of the dead.
Or what about the gratitude and thanksgiving we will offer on Monday this week with the far more important holiday than deer opener that honors those who have or are currently serving in our country’s military. Veteran’s Day reminds those who live in this country that our God is a God of the living, not of the dead.
All of these things and so many more are reminders to you and me that our God is a God of the living and not of the dead.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, we are children of the living God regardless of how our family traditions teach us to cook a ham! And as children of the living God who try each and every day to be followers of Jesus, the risen savior of the world, you and I are invited to be about things that bring forth life.
Life shouldn’t consume us with worry about what happens when we die.
Because life in Christ is always pulling us toward a resurrection that will happen one day when the savior of the world returns and is happening all around us right now if we are willing to allow ourselves to truly see it and experience its beauty! Our relationship with the one true God that we worship and praise is always and will forever be a relationship that leads to life. Amen.