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Sermon: November 10, 2019

Proper 27

Luke 20:27 – 38

I was maybe in 10thgrade and I was home alone while my parents were working.  Answering a knock at the door, I was met by two women carrying a briefcase full of reading material.  After a very few pleasantries I can remember the question they posed as if I’d only just heard it.  “Do you know where you’ll be in the afterlife?”  

They left me some reading material and went on their way.  I sat down on the couch in my living room, cuddling with my Scottish terrier who’d sensed something was wrong, and I cried.  Not just quiet tears flowing down my cheeks.  No.  This was a deep, loud, wailing with tears that just didn’t seem to end.  I had no idea where that emotion was coming from. Not at that time.  

In retrospect, I can see that it was only a couple of years since my grandfather had died and I was still raw from the grief of losing him.  My unresolved grief combined with my uncertainty about life after death were streaming down my cheeks that day and I didn’t feel like I had anyone to talk to.

The two women who’d knocked on my door were so certain about where they would be after they’d died.  How did they ever get to that point, I wondered?  How does someone develop such a deep conviction about a topic that, at least for me, was so uncertain?

The Saducees in today’s Gospel had that kind of certainty.  They relied on the written Torah which laid out in ink on rolls of parchment what they were to believe.  When it came to the topic of resurrection, all of their studying revealed no doctrine, no belief.  Anyone who ever said differently was just plain wrong.  They knew their truth.  

For centuries they’d been locked in a theological debate with the Pharisees.  Pharisees also believed in the written Torah.  They, however, also took into account new beliefs that were emerging through the Prophets and the Psalms.  Where resurrection is concerned, the Pharisees turned to the prophet Daniel. In Daniel chapter 12, verse 2 the prophet writes this:

“Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.”

It’s the first time we see any conversation about life after death.  Because Pharisees believed that the written Torah had to be updated with the new views emerging through the prophets, this reference in Daniel helped them to see the possibility of resurrection.  They knew their truth.  

Jesus had walked right into the midst of a great theological debate.  At this time in Jesus’s ministry there’s a growing movement of people trying to trap Jesus, to trick him into making statements that were untrue.  Today it’s the Saducees.  Remember, they don’t believe in resurrection.  There’s no proof in the Torah that people are ever raised from the dead.  

Can you see them back in that corner?  Listen for just a minute.  Can you hear the whispering as they try to come up with the perfect question to trick Jesus?  They’re drawing straws now, trying to decide who will ask the question.

Now here they come.  Winding down through the crowds that had gathered around Jesus. They’re quiet for a moment, waiting to catch the eye of Jesus.  Seeing them, Jesus nodded.  There it was. The go ahead they were desperate to receive.  

The one who drew the short straw began to speak. “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother.”    Brother by brother the complicated scene was revealed.  Are you ready?  Here it comes.  They’d designed the perfect question.  “In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be?”

They’re snickering under their breaths, knowing that they’d composed the perfect situation.  This would definitely trip Jesus up.  He can’t answer.  For them there is no resurrection so Jesus can’t identify which of the seven brothers would be with this woman after they all die. 

If Jesus does identify one of the brothers, those who were deserting the Saducees to follow Jesus wouldn’t be able to run fast enough away from Jesus and back to the Saducees.  

And if Jesus does state that there is no resurrection, then Jesus would be siding with them on the resurrection theological debate.  That would put the Pharisees in their place.

It was a perfect win-win!  

Do you think Jesus knew?  Do you think he heard the question itself?  Did he hear their trickery?  Clearly there was no way out of this one.  What was he to do once he was confronted with this lose-lose question?

Well, Jesus did something totally unexpected. Jesus met the Saducees right where they were.  They were immersed in the written Torah, the words winding back and forth across the parchment rolls.  Jesus met them, right there in the midst of the Torah they knew so well.    

The Saducees were standing with Moses, highlighting his teaching about women whose husbands had died, leaving them childless and without support.  Jesus came alongside the Saducees, very much aware of the presence of Moses.  Jesus unrolled the scroll of the Book of Exodus, stopping at the third chapter. 

There they all stood, the shadow of Mt. Horeb, the mountain of God encircling them.  Off in the distance, the horizon was glowing.  Curious, Moses walked towards the radiance.  Jesus and the Saducees quietly followed to see what had grabbed Moses’s attention.

A bush.  Flames leaping, embers dancing in the air.  It was strange, though.  The bush wasn’t turning to ash.  Suddenly the crackling of the fire was interrupted by a voice.  Jesus was quoting the Torah, remembering the words spoken by the burning bush.  “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”

“I am the God of your ancestors.”  “I am.”  Present tense.

Jesus didn’t address the snickering under the breath of the Saducees.  Jesus didn’t address the trickery intended by the question.  The Saducees were important to Jesus.  They were children of God.  They deserved nothing less than his full attention, his compassion and his love.  

So, there, the flames of the burning bush brightening the shadows of Mt. Horeb, Jesus met the Saducees right where they were, engrossed in the words of the Torah.  In what I imagine was a quiet, gentle voice, full of compassion, Jesus pointed out something they’d totally missed in all of their studies.  

To God, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were very much alive.  They matter to God.  They are children of God.  Children of the resurrection.  Ours is the God of the living and to God all are alive.

The Saducees had approached Jesus from the place of judgement.  He was a threat and he needed to be put in his place.

Jesus joined the Saducees right where they were. Not in judgement.  But in love.  Not masking the truth, but sharing a different perspective.

The Saducees had nothing more to add.  Jesus had met them where they were and invited them to see in the words of the Torah, another way of looking at the Resurrection. God is God of the living and our ancestors are very much alive to God.

When we meet people where they are, when we respond in ways that are non-judgemental, when we crack open conversations that spark new thoughts, amazing things can happen.

I can’t remember the last time I’d thought of the story of the two women who knocked on my door so long ago.  I’m not sure after the door closed that I’d given it any thought, to tell you the truth.  I know I never read the material that they’d left.  I’m not even sure I told my parents about the visit.

As I reflected on that painful moment when I discovered that I was missing something in my life, I began to wonder if Jesus was meeting me right where I was – in the midst of unresolved grief. As my tears flowed that day, I began to wonder what happened after someone died.  I began to wonder where exactly my grandfather was and how I might know with the same kind of certainty that my visitors had that there was something after this life.

I can tell you that at the tender age of 14 I didn’t deliberately go around researching the doctrine of the resurrection. It didn’t even occur to me to consult the Bible to see what it might say.  I do believe that my wonderings that day opened me up to new ideas that eventually led me to this moment in my life.

It was a lifetime later that I was called to sit with a family whose loved one was close to death.  The fire of the sun was streaming into the living room, bathing my parishioner in light and warmth.  Everyone encircled his bed as I anointed him and prayed for him and for them. 

It was a short time after that prayer that it happened.  As this man took his last breath, I saw the light of his soul leave his body.  It travelled over to his wife where it stayed for a moment and then it left through the window.  

In that moment I witnessed once again that God is indeed God of the living and the dead.  To God both this man who had just died and his wife were equally alive. And I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that my grandfather is also very much alive to God.

God is the God of the living.  A reality that may never have come to light without the presence of Jesus meeting the Saducees right where they were, without Jesus meeting me right where I was.  

Jesus is here this morning, meeting each of us right where we are.  Be still for just a moment.  Be still and listen….