Monday, November 8, 2010

Final Version--Will it Matter Anymore?

This is the sermon I preached yesterday at Grace Lutheran Church, Petersburg, WV, my internship site It seems like it was apropos considering what some of the folks are going through. God is faithful. The gospel reading was Luke 20:27-38.

            The Gospel of Luke continues to challenge us. Wed. morning as the pastors’ group gathered for text study, we discussed what we thought it might be like in the afterlife. What are we expecting? It was certainly different from what Jesus’ challengers anticipated. One member’s response was, “I just want some answers. I want to ask questions.” Maybe you feel the same way.

The Sadducees had questions as well. Though their example seems extreme, it appears innocent enough, but we need to understand a bit of the cultural and religious dynamics of the groups Jesus encountered. The Sadducees and the Pharisees were generally at odds with each other. The Sadducees only believed in the written law in the first 5 books of the Old Testament. They did not accept the oral traditions that went along with it. Nor did they believe in the resurrection from the dead or in angels. The Pharisees on the other hand, believed in the entire Old Testament and the resurrection from the dead and in angels. The Sadducees were the power brokers who controlled the official political structures of Judaism, while the Pharisees were more of a renewal movement, not centered in the temple in Jerusalem.  

So just how innocent was their question? “Those who SAY there is no resurrection” means those who speak out against or contradict the resurrection. The issue they raised, had they actually believed in the resurrection is a valid one. The practice of the brother of the deceased marrying a childless widow served several purposes. It provided for the widow who otherwise would have been reduced to begging. It preserved the family line and the name of the deceased if children resulted from the ensuing union. But if they didn’t believe in a resurrection, it seems like an odd question. Just what were their motives? Did they want to show how problematic faith in the resurrection could be? Was this just a matter of smoke and mirrors to try to trip up Jesus? 

This scenario for us today just seems odd. It’s not the way we look at family responsibilities. It’s not the way we think of life after death or is it? 

Jesus said that in the afterlife, the children of the resurrection are like angels in that they don’t marry. In Jewish tradition angels don’t die or eat either. Life in the age to come is different than life here. Jesus’ answer suggests that after death God cares so much…that the protections of this marriage arrangement are not necessary. God cares. God’s love AND God’s power are greater than death and reach beyond death.

The questioners however, thought life would be the same now and in the afterlife. And don’t we sometimes think that way ourselves? For those of us that are pet lovers, can we imagine a heaven without our dogs, cats, fish or whatever? Why would we want to be there without these beloved members of our families? Or if we have a spouse we’re madly in love with and devoted to can we envision that being different? As one commentator says, “God's gifts to us at that time will have to be so overwhelming superior to the best we have experienced in our relationships in this life that we will be willing to trade in the very good for something even better” (Brian Stoffregen,  Can we even begin to think like that?

For many of us life is pretty good here, for others, that’s not the case. What does that say regarding those who suffer so much here in their earthly lives? Think of the aches and pains, the heartbreaks, the sin and death we see on television and in our own neighborhoods. Does it mean that Jesus and we as Christ’s followers ignore suffering here because it will all be better in the “sweet by and by?” NO, that is not the case! God cares and we should care about the nasty now and now.

So is Jesus saying that the real life, the really good life isn’t here on this earth but in heaven? Do we have to be dead to live the good life Jesus is talking about? The only way to get to life is through death, but we don’t have to wait until our physical bodies give out. Jesus’ point is that the resurrected life in God is not just more of the same that we experience on this earth, in this mortal life. It is beyond what we could imagine. It’s as the contemporary Christian group, Mercy Me, writes:

I can only imagine
What it will be like
When I walk
By your side

I can only imagine
What my eyes will see
When your face
Is before me
I can only imagine  (

            That’s all very nice, but how do we get there from here? How do we experience this resurrection life in the here and now where we live? 

            We get from here to there through baptism. It is in baptism that we die to our selfish, sinful selves and enter into new resurrection life in Christ. Here are some of Luther’s thoughts on baptism:

[Baptism]  means that our sinful self, with all its evil deeds and desires, should be drowned through daily repentance; and that day after day a new self should arise to live with God in righteousness and purity forever.

St. Paul writes in Romans 6: "We were buried therefore with Christ by Baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life." (

            We do not experience all the fullness of that life in God now, on earth, but here it begins. God is the God of the living—the living here on this earth and the living in the afterlife. This abundant, more than we can ever imagine life started here when we were baptized and finds its consummation in the age to come, where as Paul wrote, "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him"  (1Co 2:9 NRS).

            Earlier I mentioned…the pastor who wants answers from God, another pastor asked, “But will it matter anymore?” My response to that was, “Wow.” When we are living life in God’s presence, face to face, will we care about those things; when we are fully with, in, and surrounded by the very fullness of God? Will it matter anymore? 

Thinking about that which is beyond our comprehension, I was reminded of a little chorus that I learned long ago:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in his wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace.

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