25th Sunday After Pentecost; November 10, 2013
Job 19.23-27a; Psalm 17.1-9; 2 Thessalonians 2.1-5, 13-17; Luke 20.27-38
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson
Grace to you and peace from the One who has been crucified and raised from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
“I believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” This is the last sentence of what we say when we recite the Apostle’s Creed. The creed is essentially a statement of faith, what we believe. There is a lot of freedom in how you and I might think about faith, God, Jesus, the Spirit, etc., but what the creed does is gives us a short narrative, or a story, of God’s action in the world.
I had a professor in seminary tell this story. Her father was a pastor and when she was a teenager she decided that she didn’t know if she believed in the whole God come to earth in Jesus thing, and that he was killed and raised from the dead, and this all happened because God loved her, the world, and even loved those she didn’t like. Because she was uncertain about whether or not this God story was true, she spent a few years as an agnostic, meaning, a king of searching or questioning. It’s not that she didn’t believe; it’s that she didn’t quite know what she believed. She explored different faith traditions and went as far as becoming Jewish for a while. She was in her mid to late twenties before she returned to the Christian faith. When she did, her and her father, who was still a pastor, had a conversation.
She said, “Dad, I had such a hard time sitting in the pews on Sunday morning growing up and not knowing whether or not I believed everything that was said in the creed, like, “I believe in the resurrection of the dead. I had no idea what that even meant and I felt like a hypocrite saying it.”
To her surprise her dad responded, “You know what part of the creed I have a hard time believing? The virgin birth, and yet, I appreciate and value that it is part of God’s story and that we say it together as a community of faith.”
My professor couldn’t believe that her dad was uncertain about any part of the creed and she was comfortable with the invitation from her dad that followed: “For now, my beloved daughter, until God strengthens our faith, how about I believe in the resurrection of the dead for you and you believe in the virgin birth for me?”
A few decades later my professor is still participating in worship and very much believes in the resurrection of dead, although she would admit that she still doesn’t understand it.
In most of my conversations and observations I notice that the resurrection is not a topic most people bring up. People don’t approach each other and say, “How are you? Nice weather we’re having…So…about the resurrection from the dead…” It’s just not necessarily on our minds when we’re going about our daily life in school, treatment, work, volunteering, parenting, or whatever fills the hours of our days. Perhaps we even missed reference to it in the Gospel reading with the riddle of seven brothers and one woman, or in the mention of being like angels, or in the reference to Moses and the burning bush.
When we encounter the conversation between Jesus and the Sadducees today regarding the resurrection, we can get wrapped up in the religious leaders’ attempt to trap and humiliate Jesus. Essentially they use the resurrection as a way to make fun of him because they don’t believe in it. They were the well educated, wealthy, powerful, and elite members of society and they believed you are given this life, you live it, no matter how short, you die, and that’s it. I imagine this is why there is a verse about them in the song, “I just want to be a sheep.” It goes: I don’t want to be a Sadducee, I don’t want to be a Saccucee, ‘cause it’s just sad you see, I just want to be a sheep, ba ba ba ba.
To not believe in the resurrection of the dead, a new age, and the life of the world to come, is sad. Or…maybe you do believe it in, you’re just not sure God is going to raise you in particular up from your grave or from your ashes. To believe in the resurrection of the dead, and resurrection for you, personally, takes imagination, faith, and hope.
In text study this past week I heard a very helpful observation. Understanding the resurrection of the dead to eternal life is like a fetus understanding what life is like outside of the womb. Does the child even trust that there is a mother?
Resurrection is so hard to grasp a hold of sometimes and believe in it because there is hardly any way for us to know what it might be like. Often times we might confuse it with heaven. Heaven is where those who have died are with God; Resurrection, from what we know of in Scripture, is when Christ returns to earth as final judge, and we are given new bodies taken from the ones we have now and the Spirit of God gives us the breath of new life that will fill our lungs once again as we stand upon the new heaven and new earth. After you death and mine, we will once again be alive to God and alive to each other.
No wonder this can be challenging to believe for some, but it is way more exciting than believing in nothing at all, or simply that we spend eternity in a disembodied state in heaven.
In our Gospel reading we get a glimpse of what the resurrection will be like. Jesus says: “…those who are considered worthy…in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God.” I think this line is where so many get the idea of having angel wings in heaven, but what Jesus means here is we will be like angels in that we will no longer be subject to death.
There will also be no need for marriage in the resurrection because all, as brothers and sisters in Christ, will have relationships of deep love for one another that is beyond any human capacity to love and care for the other. Jesus goes on to say that those who have died are alive to God. He speaks to the Sadducees about Moses and the burning bush and the presence of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, further driving home the point that God is not a God of the dead, but of the living.
Even though Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are six feet under in our eyes, Jesus says that against all evidence, they live. Jesus says, “the dead are raised,” even before he himself is raised up from his tomb that fateful Easter morning. The ones we named a week ago on All Saints Sunday are in fact alive, we’re just not sure entirely what that means.
I will be the first to admit that I do not understand the resurrection, but I cling to resurrection hope more than anything else in my faith or in my life, period. Why? Because I have to believe that all the hell on earth I see through starvation, disease, war, violence, greed, and addiction cannot be the last word. And ultimately, I cannot believe that death has the last word.
The God we worship is a God of the living. God is our God as we have breath in our lungs on this earth. God is our God in death. And God is our God again in the life of the world to come. God lives, you live, and you will live. There is no possible way for us to understand what this new life might be like, we just know that it is because Jesus says, “the dead are raised! For to him all are alive.” The resurrection is God’s power over death.
Until Jesus stands at the foot of your grave and says, “Anna, child of God,” rise up to eternal life…”; “Gerry, step into the new life I have made for you…”; “Jacoby, this is who you have always been made to be…”
Until that day in which we place our hope, we open our eyes to glimpse of the resurrection God initiates all the time in this world, in our lives, now.
We see it after a long winter while going on a walk we spot the bright green of a crocus from underneath the snow.
We experience it when we get well again when we are sick with the flu.
We feel it when for the first time in years we are clear eyed and sober.
We taste it at the table through the bread as we take Christ in to our bellies.
We see it with the sunrise each morning.
We embrace it when we embrace a family member or friend we have held a grudge against for years.
These are glimpses of the world to come and God gives us the gift of participating in the new life already here and now.
The encounter of Jesus and the Sadducees, theologian Patrick Willson says, “gives us enough hope to live and enough hope to face death (Feasting on the Word, p. 287).”
Like Job, let us live with faith in saying: “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 see God (Job 19.25-26).”