Twenty-Second Sunday After Pentecost
As you may be aware, the liturgical calendar that we and other churches all over the world use in worship is slightly different than our standard calendar that we use in the rest of life. The year doesn’t begin on January 1st but rather on the first Sunday of Advent, which means that, including today, there are only three Sundays left in this year. It only seems appropriate, then, that as we are approaching the end of the year, our lectionary texts pivot us to think about the end of all things—the end of time—and the final resurrection.
The doctrine of this final resurrection is one that we at least mention about once a month when we repeat the Apostles’ Creed:
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
Yet we know that though we may be saying the same words corporately, those very same words can take on a different meaning for us individually. Some here may take the idea of a resurrection of the body very literally and tangibly, while some may take it to mean something more metaphorical or spiritual. For some of us, we may only recite those words because they’re in the program, while deep down we dismiss them and give them no extra thought.
In our Gospel lesson this morning, we are immediately met by the Sadducees, who Luke is sure to tell us ”say there is no resurrection.” Without getting too much into the details about who the Sadducees were, it’s simply worth noting that they were those who simply believed what was in the first five books of our Bible, in the Pentateuch—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. They didn’t put as much weight on the Psalms or on the Prophets. The Pharisees, however, were those who held that the Torah must be updated with those stories that had been passed down—interpretations handed down over generations—as well as with what emerged from the Psalms and the Prophets. And throughout some of these other books that the Sadducees did not acknowledge, such as Job and the book of Daniel, there are traditions that point to some kind of apocalyptic belief about a final resurrection of the dead. Jesus, as you may have guessed by now, was far closer to the Pharisees in interpretation than the Sadducees.
And so the Sadducees come to Jesus with a question. This is, however, not a question looking for some kind genuine conversation or dialogue. It’s about a far-fetched, convoluted, and unlikely scenario that they hope will stump Jesus, aiming to make him look untrustworthy and as if he doesn’t know what he is talking about.
The situation at hand has to do with what is called the “Levirite Rule”, coming from the book of Deuteronomy, which reads:
When brothers reside together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the deceased shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her, taking her in marriage, and performing the duty of a husband’s brother to her, and the firstborn whom she bears shall succeed to the name of the deceased brother, so that his name may not be blotted out of Israel.
One scholar notes that “for the ancient Israelites, before a believe in the resurrection of the dead, ‘eternal life’ was understood as producing heirs”—and more specifically sons—“who would continue the family’s ownership of their land.” Such an arrangement also protected the wives in a convoluted way, as widows would have been politically ostracized and helpless within a patriarchal community. Yet Jesus notes that while “those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage,’ those in that age, in the age to come, do not marry nor are given in marriage—nor do they die anymore.
I think that the Sadducees main problem in our passage today is a problem that we are faced with even now. This problems isn’t as much about resurrection, though we know that there are many different views about it. No, the problem is that we imagine the resurrected life to be more or less a continuation of this life rather than a complete paradigm shift. We imagine the resurrected life to simply be a perfected version of this age, bound by the same roles and limitations that we encounter now.
In the case of the Sadducees, they still had this perception that a resurrection would mean an extension of the patriarchy that would treat the woman as property. Yet while their question hints at their own disbelief of the resurrection, it also points to their “inability to image that God might have something [radically] different in mind when it comes to eternal life.”
So we, too, use what we know about this life and about this world to try to picture what eternal life might mean. And the problem with this is that our vision of what is to come shapes how we act now; our eschatology shapes our praxis; our idea of what the future might be shapes our life in the present. Even if those ideas of what is to come are better than now, a perfect version of now, they are still reflecting a paradigm and standard that is deeply flawed and marred by death and sin. And when this is the case, our actions—no matter how noble or how pure—operate within an unjust system and a dying world.
If I can share a little something about myself, I must confess that I’m not particularly a fan of modern Christian music. It’s all I listened to growing up, but I’d dare say that you’ll never catch me listening to anything that might appear on a Christian radio station. There’s a whole list of reasons as to why this is, but now is not the time to get into that. Let’s just say that me quoting a Christian song that is not a hymn in one of my sermons has never happened before.
But during the summer when I turned ten years old, there was one song that I could literally not get away from. It was all over Christian radio, and it was even on the Top 40 radio stations in Nashville. Walking through the grocery store? You’d hear it. At the water park? You’d surely hear it at least ten times that day. The song was “I Can Only Imagine”—do any of you remember or know that song? The chorus of it goes like this:
Surrounded by Your glory
What will my heart feel?
Will I dance for You, Jesus
Or in awe of You be still?
Will I stand in Your presence
Or to my knees will I fall?
Will I sing hallelujah?
Will I be able to speak at all?
I can only imagine
For the longest time, I wrote it off as an overly-sentimental, pie-in-the-sky reflection on what happens after we die. But as I’ve been reflecting on our passage for this morning over the past week, there’s been something about that song that has stuck out to me on a different level. This isn’t to say that I agree with the song or think that it’s the best theology, but there’s something so powerful about the recognition that our whole framework of understanding life and the world falls short in comparison to what eternal life will be like, whatever eternal life even is.
For there comes a point when wasting so much energy thinking and fretting about eternal life causes us to miss those signs of where eternal life is actually breaking in around us. I’m becoming more and more convinced that the call of the Christian life is to proclaim with Job
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
And that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
Then in my flesh I shall God.
And then begin looking for where God is already showing up in the here and the now, joining in the work of making all things new. More and more, I’m becoming convinced that our call is less about worrying about the intricacies of the final resurrection, instead trusting God and living in the hope and joy of resurrection that is happening now.
And more and more, I’m becoming convinced that living the resurrection life in Christ means living in a way that does not make sense to our world what life is. It means living in a way that runs counter to our ways of fear, hatred, bigotry, and scarcity. For y friends, resurrection is something that I still believe happens at the end of time, but I also am convinced that same resurrection is something that we practice and live into at this very moment.
Allow me to end with portions of one of my favorite poems by the wonderful Wendell Berry:
So, friends, every day do something that won’t compute.
Love the Lord. Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace the flag.
Hope to live in that free republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot understand.
Praise ignorance, for what man has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium.
Say that your main crop is the forest that you did not plant, that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus that will build under the trees every thousand years.
Listen to carrion — put your ear close, and hear the faint chattering of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world.
Laugh. Laughter is immeasurable.
Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head in her lap.
Swear allegiance to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos can predict the motions of your mind, lose it.
Leave it as a sign to mark the false trail, the way you didn’t go.
Be like the fox who makes more tracks than necessary, some in the wrong direction.
This is our call this day. We have a hope in a resurrection that transcends and overwhelms even our clearest and best attempts at comprehending the grace and love of God. Whatever is to come will surprise us, and it will be far better than what we can fathom. But in the meantime, let us live into that which we do not know. This is the way of faith, of hope, and of love. It will not make sense, and it will certainly look foolish. But it will make all the difference.
 “The Apostles’ Creed, Ecumenical Version” from The United Methodist Hymnal (The United Methodist Publishing House: 1989), 882
 Deuteronomy 25:5-6 (NRSV
 Brian Stoffregen, “Luke 20:27-38” on Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes at CrossMarks Christian Resources, http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/luke14x25.htm
 Karoline Lewis, “Who Says There’s No Resurrection?” on Working Preacher, http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4748
 MercyMe, “I Can Only Imagine” on Almost There (INO Records: 2001)
 Job 19:25-26 (NRSV)
 Wendell Berry, “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” in New Collected Poems (Counterpoint: 2013)