2007-11-05 by Tom Steagald
I find myself trying to see the look on Jesus' face when the Sadducees ask their question, spin their riddle. By my count, this is the third time since the Entry and the Cleansing that he has had to answer questioners who are not at all interested in answers or even discussion (authority; taxes; resurrection). His questioners do not ask because they want to know; they ask because they already know, or think they do, and are setting a snare. Jesus discerns their intent, but I just wonder what he felt, what was the expression on his face, if he ever got tired of this kind of game.
I get questions, as I am sure all of us do, from people who are looking for something other than information or answers. Their questions are not so much interrogations as George Carlinesque queries (Can God make a rock so big even God can't pick it up?), footers for a constructed cynicism, rationalizations as to why this belief or that one, or even belief itself, is absurd (so, the woman was married to seven different guys...). I have trouble, sometimes, being patient with someone who is unashamedly sandbagging me or trying to make me look bad. If Jesus were more serene than I ever am in such a moment, it is because he is who he is and, as Father Mulcahey says, "a really good sport."
Anyone going to refer to Tobit in this sermon? What a GREAT story.
2007-11-05 by David Mosser
11 November 2007 (The Sunday between November 6 and 12 inclusive)
Haggai 1:15 b -2:9; Ps 145:1-5, 17-21; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17*Primary Text: Luke 20:27-38
Luke’s Gospel tells readers that Jesus taught in the temple daily. Luke further writes that the religious authorities “kept looking for a way to kill him, but they did not find anything they could do . . .” (Luke 19:47). Who exactly were the Sadducees? The Sadducees were a non-descript group of lay Jewish leaders associated with the temple. They maintained that only the first five books of our Christian Old Testament, the Pentateuch, were authoritative. Finding no mention of life after death in these books, they rejected the doctrine of the resurrection. No doubt they used a doctrine that they did note even believe in to trap Jesus in either a logical fallacy or a legal quagmire. The New Testament itself contains little information about Sadducees except that they frequently come into sight (with the Pharisees) as Jesus’ opponents. This is ironic in the sense that Sadducees and Pharisees have, generally speaking, little in common.Seeking to trap Jesus into speaking against the Jewish ritual law, the Sadducees ask Jesus a question about levirate marriage and a man’s several brothers with relation to the man’s widow. We need to recall the belief in first century Judaism as well as in many parts of the world today that a man’s memory and legacy lived on (in a sense) through his son(s) [For texts concerning “levirate marriage,” see Deuteronomy 25:5; Genesis 38:8.]. If a man died without sons, Jewish law required that his brother marry his widow and bear her a son, thus continuing the dead man’s lineage. Avoiding the theological trap set for him, Jesus tells those gathered that in the “coming age,” when the Messiah reigns, marriage will no longer exist; those who are admitted into eternal life for their faith will all be “children of God” (Luke 20:35). In God’s kingdom this will be their family relationship.
Many people today think that being a modern Christian includes discarding the belief in spiritual beings. Notice that the problem of the Sadducees is not with the why, that is with the reason for the belief in the resurrection, but with the how of things. Does this sound like the argument of modern people who reject the resurrection on the grounds that it is scientifically absurd? Our bodies, these scientific folks observe, are made up of the recycled atoms and molecules that were part of the bodies of people who once lived. At the resurrection, they ask, whose body parts would these atoms and molecules be, ours or theirs? [As they exclaim in Texas, “Do What?”]
Jesus answers the Sadducees by drawing their attention not to “the how” but to the why of the resurrection. God is God of the living. God has created people for life and not for ultimate extinction. God does not blow us into life like soap bubbles—here today gone tomorrow. Rather, God’s providence gives us life even after our earthly existence is finished. Resurrection is the cornerstone of the Christian faith.
Do we understand the details of the how of the resurrection? Of course not! As Paul wrote, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). But we do believe that the God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead will also give life to our mortal bodies because God cannot be God of the dead. God is God of the living. What Jesus promises is that at the time of death everything will be changed. Life as we know it will be altered completely. When we worry about who is married to whom and such questions like this then we are thinking completely beside the point. Jesus assures us that God at the end of time will take care of everything.
In fact, one might say that the Sadducees’ question is a way to avoid the responsibilities that God has given us for the here and now. Perhaps, if we worry about what happens in the next life we can dodge those troubling questions about what we are to do in this life—now! But for honest believers who want to do the right thing, dodging hard questions and dodging harder answers is never an option.
Jesus’ method of answering these evasive types of questions is to finally reveal how irrelevant they are, especially when we consider the many ways God calls us to serve others here and now!
David N. Mosser, First United Methodist Church, Arlington, Texas 76011
2007-11-05 by David Howell
David Mosser is our guest preaching blogger this week. David is senior pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Graham, Texas. He received his Ph.D. in rhetoric from the University of Texas, Austin. David writes UMPH-produced curriculum for adults. He is currently editor of The Abingdon Preaching Annual.
Safety and Significance, then Love?
2007-11-03 by David von Schlichten
I agree that we humans need to deal with the issues of safety and having significant identity first before love, or maybe it is that the three are interrelated. I can help someone feel safe as part of acting lovingly toward that person, for instance. This insight from that book via you regarding the primacy of safety and identity is profoundly helpful. Thanks many times.
I also agree that love must be understood vis-a-vis the biblical story of covenant, call, commitment to God, etc. So I think I concur that love is not the Bible's main, overarching theme. Thanks for your guidance.
Gratefully yours in Christ,
themes and fruits
2007-11-03 by Tom Steagald
I would say--and this is not original with me, by any means!--that love is the first fruit of the Spirit, and surely an evidence of the way God works in, among and ultimately through those who are called to be disciples of Jesus Christ.
Certainly Paul considers love the "more excellent way" of Christian living--the glue that holds us together, the grease that cools the friction--but his description of love is, in most cases, more aspiration than experience. That is, the way we show and receive love is not usually in the terms he offers in I Cor 13.
In our tradition (United Methodism) there is an historic emphasis placed on "sanctifying grace," the work of the Holy Spirit to help believers "go on to perfection." It has always been my sense that the characteristic mark of "entire sanctification" would be the selfless expressions of love as evidenced in Jesus and described by Paul.
So love as the primary ethical theme... yes, I guess, but I would want to contextualize that within the parameters of a specifically biblical view of love: love that results from hearing/answering/following the summons of God to live for God's glory and the benefit of neighbor. "Loving neighbor," as Jesus said, is a second commandment, though like unto the first commandment of loving God with heart, soul, strength and mind (I might mention that one of my NT professors used to say that the idiom in Matthew 22:18 allowed for a translation that the "second commandment" is a "parable" of the first).
One more thought-- in July I taught a course at Hood Seminary, and one of the texts I assigned was by G. Lloyd Rediger, The Toxic Congregation: How to Heal the Soul of Your Church. He maintains (using some systems theory, developmental psychology and such) that folk in churches (and elsewhere) deal with three basic agendas: survival, identity and relationship. In the first, survival, the basic question is, Am I safe here? In the second, the basic question is, Does who I am matter? In the third, What's in this for us?
"Love" functions at that last level--love as mutuality, cooperation, selflessness, etc, for the sake of the group. But only after the safety and identity questions have been satisfactorily answered can the "love" question become authentic. Rediger maintains that most preachers preach at the third level, preach about love as the answer, when what most parishioners are in fact asking the prior questions--Am I safe? Does who I am matter?
I have found that insight quite provocative across a host of parish issues.
Do not mean to blab on and on.
Good preaching tomorrow! Tom
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