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Putting Eternity To The Test

Sermons on the Gospel Readings
Series II, Cycle C
Today's Gospel lesson is one that is troubling if you care about fairness. By that, I mean, would you deliberately try to fool someone just to see if you could get that person in trouble? I am not talking about getting a brother or sister in trouble, because that is almost part of growing up. I mean really getting someone in hot water. Would you do that?

Our reading presents us with the Sadducees posing a hypothetical case intended to make the resurrection appear foolish. We must keep in mind that the Sadducees were the aristocratic party among the Jews. They were not as numerous as the Pharisees, but they held the highest offices. They did not believe in the afterlife and lived their lives for this world and this world alone.

To put this reading in context, it is important to remember that the Sadducees accepted as their scriptures only the first five books of the Hebrew Scripture. They said that they found no evidence of the resurrection in those five books, so they rejected the idea. They put a question to Jesus that was designed to show how mistaken the whole idea of the resurrection really was. They used as their argument, what was known as Levirate marriage. This was the practice whereby if a husband died without leaving any children, the wife would then be married off to the brother assuming a brother existed. The brother of the one who died had the responsibility to raise up heirs for him. It is important to notice that Jesus does not become involved in a game of Bible bingo here. He is not going to be pulled into an argument over the authority of scripture. Rather, Jesus plays their game by quoting scripture that the Sadducees did consider authoritative. He uses a passage from Exodus, "He said further, 'I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.' " In other words, he teaches them that the question they pose is irrelevant to their argument. Implicit in his quoting from the book of the Exodus is the reality that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses all dwell with God in eternity.

Jesus always took the time to teach that all of life is under the direction of God. Everything we do should be seen in light of God's activity in the world. We cannot remove ourselves from God's presence, so all of our life is lived within that presence.

One of the most pressing questions any of us have in life is what happens after our life is over. We don't like to think about it, of course, we need to be concerned about living the life we do have. But, nonetheless, each time someone we know dies, that nagging question raises its ugly head. Jesus teaches us over and over again that what we do with our life today, will indeed have an effect on what shape our life will take when we die.

Can we really know anything at all about our future? The Sadducees say, "No," but the resurrection says, "Yes." There are plenty of fortune-tellers who make a fair amount of money telling you what your future is going to be. They can do it with cards, by reading the lines on your palms, or looking into the ever-present crystal ball. But what is the truth? What about my future life here on earth? There are certain things that we do know, because God has seen fit to reveal them.

But before we can understand our earthly future, we first have to ask, "What will happen to me when I die?" Job asked, "If mortals die, will they live again?" (Job 14:14). You see our eternal future directly affects our earthly future. So we start with Job.

If you think about it, the question posed by Job is really not a difficult one to answer. The question is not so much, "If we die." We are going to die, that is a given. And maybe that is one of the problems we need to face in our country. We do everything possible to deny the reality of death. We use language that hides death. We say things like, "They have gone on to a better place," or "They have passed away." We have people die in hospitals, we have funeral homes deal with the bodies for us, and we pay money to make our dead look like they are alive. Many people shield their children from funerals and, for some, the subject of death is a forbidden conversation. Is it because we don't want to face the reality of our own death? In the end, that attitude will show itself to be silly, won't it? We may even take the time to cover the earth that will cover our coffin with a cloth to make it look nicer! One of the first things we need to do to overcome the misgivings of the Sadducees is admit that death is inevitable. You see, the Sadducees, and many people today are living for death.

In Jesus' day, there were no fancy funeral parlors. The body was anointed, if the family had the money, but generally death was quite stark and quite painful. There were no hospitals where people went to die. There was no special make-up to make the dead look like they were only sleeping. Death was stark and it was unavoidable. Death and questions about it were right out in the open. In particular, within the Jewish faith, there was a great debate over Job's question. The Sadducees believed that there was no life after death. The entire spiritual realm of angels and heaven, hell and Satan were nonexistent to them and irrelevant because they rejected the resurrection. The Pharisees, however, believed in all those spiritual things including a resurrection to eternal life. Yet both claimed to believe in scripture as God's Word. You see, it's not only today that people can read the very same words and come to all kinds of different conclusions about what is true.

The Sadducees were all about death. But the true God is all about life. We must agree that we do not possess adequate knowledge or language to describe what the resurrection will be. The fact is that we do not know. Jesus' teaching is that God's future cannot be understood as an extension of our present existence. It is not the case that we can simply assume that the life we live now will be the life we have in eternity. All we can be certain of is that the resurrection entails transformation -- transformation into the hands of God. That should be all anyone really needs to understand.

Paul gets it in the proper perspective in Romans 6:23: "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Then, again, in 1 Corinthians 13:12: "For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love."

One way to look at these verses is to understand that with God, every generation is present tense and once God is your God, that fact remains for eternity. When Jesus comes, he connects himself to the great "I AM," by proclaiming for all to hear, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die ..." (John 11:25-26). Yes, we will die. But for the Christian, death is not the end. It is merely the door through which we enter into the ultimate glory of our God.

Just imagine that. The promise is astounding, but Jesus makes the promise and as far as I can determine, Jesus keeps his promises! You and I get to share in the glory of God. Death is no longer an issue of concern or worry. In fact, many people who truly believe in the resurrection understand that a funeral is to be a celebration of life; not a proclamation of a life lost, but of a life lived!

The resurrection puts us all in a very special place. It says to us that since we do not need to worry about our eternal life, we can concentrate on living the life we have now to the glory of God. If ours is the God of the living, then God has called us to live. We have been created for life, not death. That is not a denial of the physical limitations that our finite human body has, it is a declaration that until that body ceases to function, we are to live for God. That means that our faith is an active faith, and a lively faith seeks to do God's will.

We are called to take what we have been given and share it in love with all who will listen. There are people all over the world that have never heard the gospel promise. There are many reasons why people do not listen or are prevented from hearing the old, old story.

By God's grace we are, as Jesus told the Sadducees, "God's children," "children of the resurrection" who "can no longer die." All of that is ours because our God is Yahweh, the one who is, who is always with us, who is giving us the gift of salvation by grace through faith alone, who is hearing the cries of those souls that do not yet know him and who is therefore empowering us to share the wonders and the joys of being "resurrection children."

Beginning today, may we live and serve our living God through a life lived with purpose and direction. A life lived without dread of dying, but with the hope of living eternally. When we no longer worry ourselves over our deaths, our lives will take on new energy and a vital new direction. We will see the world in which we live with resurrection eyes, eyes that see God at our side in every challenge, struggle, and pain. We see through eyes that see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and all of our fellow believers alive and active before God's throne. We see through eyes that see them and hear them singing with us, "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord, God Almighty"; eyes that see Jesus in every challenge and opportunity to come. We see through eyes that understand "Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive" (v. 38), for in him alone we have life and we live and we serve in his "resurrection eyes."

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