Rev. Dr. Chris Alexander
March 6, 2016
The Way of Jesus: A Journey Through Luke Part 21: Children of the Resurrection
The Way of Jesus: A Journey Through Luke
Part 21: Children of the Resurrection
Countryside Community Church
Rev. Chris Alexander
March 6, 2016
Scripture: Luke 20:27-40
Scripture: Luke 20:27-40
I. The After Life?
Today’s scripture jumps ahead a bit because we wanted to save chapter 19 for Palm Sunday’s text. So this morning we are seeing Jesus already in Jerusalem speaking in the temple. Some have followed him to Jerusalem, but those already there are wondering who this new prophet is and what is so special about him that he is drawing such a big crowd. Today we have the Sadducees engaging Jesus, either testing him on his knowledge of Jewish Law and social order, or maybe secretly hoping to trip him up so the crowds following him will get tired of him and disperse.
The Sadducees were the people who filled a variety of political, social, and religious leader roles at the time of Jesus, including being the ones who were responsible for maintaining the temple. They were part of the more conservative group of Jews, while the Pharisees tended to lean more toward the liberal interpretation of the law, though both groups took the Law very seriously and were the ones who made sure the life and practices of the Jews in their district were following the law.
One of the differences between the Pharisees and the Sadducees was their understanding of the afterlife. Some Pharisees believed that there was a resurrection, while Luke tells us that these Sadducees were those who say there is no resurrection. I’m sure that this particular group of Sadducees wanted to know which side of the argument this new prophet would align himself with. One of the good things about putting labels on people is that it’s easier to determine if you are supposed to love them or dismiss them. I believe this is what the Sadducees were trying to determine this day when they approached Jesus.
The question asked of Jesus was “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. [… If there are no children with any of the brothers] …In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be?” I’m sure that Jesus was aware of who these men were asking the question and since they did not actually believe in the resurrection, Jesus was aware they were testing him. Jesus clearly answers that he believes in the resurrection, and he cites Moses as the proof of afterlife, but his answer was different from those Pharisees who normally spoke of the resurrection. How then were the Sadducees to label this man? Clearly he was not a prophet who fit easily into their categories of insiders and outsiders. Not knowing how to respond, Luke tells us, Then some of the scribes answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well.” For they no longer dared to ask him another question.
This story raises an interesting discussion on the view of afterlife for me. In today’s Christian tradition, the idea of an afterlife is assumed. For most of us, the question has never been one of IS there an afterlife, but rather what does that afterlife look like? But apparently such a concept has not always been assumed. Maybe this could be one of the points of conversation we could have with our Jewish brothers and sisters at the temple in order to better clarify this understanding of afterlife.
How many of us actually take the time to think much about life after death? Do we believe there is such a thing? What about those who say they have had a near death experience? Last year Countryside and Darkwood Brew lost a dear friend, Phyllis Tickle. Before her death she filmed a video for the Video Liturgy group called “For The Work Of The People,” where she describes her near death experience and her understanding of the after life. (Show Video). Phyllis describes what she calls a classic near death experience where she was asked if she wanted to come into the light and she answered no, because she had just been married and wanted to have children. She says that the experience was beautiful, and that once you have had that type of experience that you just can’t be afraid of death. She explains that while she was aware of her “personness,” she was also free of her “personness” and that this is just wonderful.
What has been your tradition concerning the afterlife? Were you raised with a very particular understanding of Heaven and Hell described in very clear images so as to leave little doubt about what comes after death for you? Or did your family just kind of throw up their hands and say something like “Who knows what happens after we die?” Maybe some of you were raised to believe there really is nothing after death, but you are here, so how will you reconcile that upbringing with how Jesus answers the Sadducees here or with the Easter story that is coming up in a couple of weeks? As we listen to our musical offering this morning, let’s think about the possibility of an afterlife.
II. Imagining Heaven and Hell
Now I would like us to spend some time not only thinking about the afterlife, but actually practicing articulating your thoughts about it. If we as a faith community hope to ask our interfaith partners at the Tri Faith to share their traditions with us to help us understand what they believe, then I think we need to expect that they will be asking us many of those same types of questions concerning our faith. I think it helps to practice with one another learning to articulate what it is we believe, even if we are not sure what it is we believe. Today I’m going to ask that you take the time to describe what you think of when you think about the words Heaven and Hell. You may not believe in either, and if that’s true, I’ll ask you to find a way to describe how you might answer the question, “what happens after we die?” There are sheets provided for you in your bulletins to jot down some ideas. Lets take a couple of minutes to do that.
As we come back together, I’d like to introduce you to Steve Gomez. I think many of you already know Steve. He is the bass player for our Countryside Jazz band who plays here with us on Sundays mornings and he was also part of the “Blues Brothers” band who played for us at Darkwood Brew. What some of you might not know is that Steve is also one of the administrators in our church office. I have asked Steve to help me this morning by sharing his thought on the afterlife with us. (For those who were not present on Sunday morning to hear Steve’s thoughts, I encourage you to watch the recording of the sermon, or simply to ask someone in your own small group to share their own thoughts.)
Now that we’ve heard from our kids, from Phyllis Tickle, and from Steve Gomez about their thoughts concerning the afterlife, let’s take a look at our scripture for today to get a glimpse into what were Jesus’ notions by exploring how Jesus answers the question of the Sadducees. It is clear that Jesus does believe there actually is an afterlife, but he describes it as a different experience of “being” than that which we experience in our present state of being. Jesus answers the question about which brother’s wife she would be in the resurrection, saying, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage;35but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.36Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.”
Jesus’ seems to be saying “You’re thinking too small. You are working with the categories of what you presently experience rather than expanding your imagination to consider an existence outside of those categories and labels.” The relationship of one with another would continue on as this is the light that connects us with one another and with God, as Eric spoke to us about in last week’s sermon. But, this relationship in this new state of being may take on many different forms and allow for something wholly other than what we already know of relationships. Just think about the expanded possibilities for Love in this new state. If we think about how great love feels to us now, how much more must that love entail in this state of being that Jesus is talking about. It might even be possible for us to be in love with several people all at once without it ever causing confusion or jealousy or doubts and fears about our own ability to be loved. Maybe this is what we begin to point to when we say “we are loved beyond our wildest imaginations.”
Jesus continues to answer the Sadducees saying “And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.” When citing Moses here, Jesus is referring to the burning bush that was alive and burning but was never consumed. In last week’s sermon, Eric spoke of the light that is within us that goes through hardships, but is never consumed by them, and that it is this light that God sees in us, not the bad choices we make or the darkness that is also a part of us. It is as if we are like this burning bush that Moses sees as also walk through a type of burning that melts away all the bad things that trip us up in our living and refines us to only that within us that lives in response to the light that God has placed in us. Therefore, even in our death, that light continues forward into a state of being that begins with only the very best of who we are. Just think of the implications of this possibility. How we can truly enter a state of freedom that Phyllis Tickle described by letting go of those things that no longer feed our energy in this new state, so that we are only exercising our energies towards that which brings us most fully alive. This is what Jesus is pointing to when he says “Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”
Daniel Lawse is a recent friend to Countryside who works for the Verdis Group in the offices of our Architects Alley Poyner Macchietto, and heads up our discussions on sustainability as we plan out our new space on the Tri Faith campus. I asked Daniel to participate in our filming of our Book of Creation videos, and I think his thoughts speak directly to what Jesus is pointing to here in our text:
Book of Creation Video: Daniel Lawse, Verdis Group
III. Life and Death Reimagined
For many of us, I think, death is often seen as some kind of punishment for a bad life. OR that death is probably the worst thing that could happen to us. Many of us are currently grieving and feeling an intense loss of someone they loved very much. These painful feelings don’t allow us to think very kindly on death much of the time, but what if we consider death as being not a loss of life, but rather a deeper step into it? What if Jesus is right and death is a doorway that allows us to step through to an even deeper relationship with one another and with God? Our tendency in our current state is to separate ourselves from one another and God. This is what is most commonly referred to as Original Sin. What if death is a relief from that Original sin? What if the self-righteousness or loathing we feel when we compare ourselves to one another gets left behind when we follow our light forward into an expanded life where joy replaces our loathing and we find only what God sees in each of us? Death, in this understanding, is not as a wall we hit that reminds us of our limitations, but rather a door that we travel through opening us up to even more possibilities.
How might we live this kind of heaven in the present? We can ask ourselves the questions Daniel asked, ‘What do I desire most? What makes my heart sing? What is my core purpose?” And then be willing to let go that which is no longer needed to reach our most desired state. Perhaps some of the ideas about heaven and hell with which we have been raised might be some of those things we need to let go of. But whatever you think about Heaven or hell or what happens to you after you die, I invite you to practice articulating it with one another and then letting it inform the lives you are currently living. In doing so, you just might begin to actually feel that love that is beyond your imagination to understand, but is firmly planted within you, reaching for sunlight. Amen.