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This or That

This is the sermon I preached Sunday, 11/10/19 at St. Timothy Lutheran Church. The text was Luke 20:27-38.


“I can only imagine” are words that run throughout the song of that title by Mercy Me. In the song the imagining concerns what one will do when they see Jesus in heaven, in the church triumphant. We all wonder, don’t we, what that life will be like? This life we know, but that one?

The Gospel of Luke continues to challenge us. During internship, at the pastors’ 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 pastor’s response was, “I just want some answers. I want to ask questions.” Maybe you feel the same way.

The challenge brought to Jesus by the Sadducees could be looked on as a kind of joke. Their example was so ridiculous and in their minds would blow the idea of a resurrection right out of the water, wouldn’t it? In theory, following this Old Testament concept of the importance of there being sons to carry on the family line, it could happen that way, with the woman being passed on from man to man without any say in the matter. 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? 

As ridiculous as the scenario may be, Jesus turns uses it to illustrate “this age,” the age in which we can see, hear, touch, smell and taste. This age is all about the concrete parts of our lives. It is the one in which we’re all wrapped up in going to school, getting a degree and then a job, marrying (when we’re single), having children (before we do) and then redefining ourselves when the children are grown and gone.

There are other milestones in this age: retirement, loss of those we love so much whether they be spouses or friends. And it makes us think, much like an old song that’s rather dark from the ‘60s declared,

“Is that all there is, is that all there is
If that's all there is my friends, then let's keep dancing
Let's break out the booze and have a ball
If that's all there is.”
Songwriters: Jerry Leiber / Mike Stoller

How well this song describes the gist of this age—everything that has to do with our senses. The questioners 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 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 overwhelmingly 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, http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/luke20x27.htm).  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 about now and so should we!

The age of true life, real resurrection life is “that age.” Jesus answers the Sadducees by talking about God, whose presence means life. This is about God’s promise of resurrection in the face of death, and about life in the face of and in spite of death.

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 such a marriage arrangement are not necessary. God cares. God’s love AND God’s power are greater than death and reach beyond death.

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 Mercy Me’s song says,

“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”  (
http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/mercyme/icanonlyimagine.htm       

That’s all very nice, but how do we get from here to there? 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. As Luther wrote concerning 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." (
http://www.oldlutheran.com/page.php?page=confirmation&id=7)

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, whereas 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…

Amen.


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