Proper 27 Year C – 22 Pentecost – Resurrection is True
Psalm 145:1-5, 18-22
2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
Collect: O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life: Grant that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves as he is pure; that, when he comes again with power and great glory, we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
May I speak to you in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
We sure got an interesting gospel passage today, right? I mean, who comes up with a story about one woman marrying 7 brothers, who all die without any children? And what are *we* supposed to do with that? The Sadducees were a group of Jewish people who were closely aligned with the temple and the priesthood. They were often opposed to the Pharisees and to Jesus and his followers. This passage we heard comes in the middle of a bunch of question and answer sessions with Jesus. Jesus has been teaching in the temple, and people have been asking progressively harder questions, trying to trap Jesus into making a tactical error and get him in trouble. Luke puts this between Palm Sunday and the Last Supper. So, that’s what Jesus was up to in the first half of Holy Week: answering strange questions in the temple.
All of that is interesting, but it’s not that important. What’s important is how Jesus answers this question that was so cleverly designed to stump him. Jesus does not get lost in the details of the question. He’s not trapped by their hypotheticals. He gets right down to the important thing: resurrection is true.
The Sadducees were traditionalists. They believed in a traditional understanding of Sheol, a shadowy underworld where you go when you die. They did not believe in the resurrection of the dead to new life described in the prophets. So, Jesus quotes Moses in his answer, rather than the prophets. The Sadducees made a distinction between the books of Moses – the Law, and the other things, like oral tradition and the Prophets. It’s not that those weren’t important, but that the law was primary. Sorta like how we read from the Hebrew Bible, an epistle, and the gospels on Sundays, but the gospel is the primary thing. Jesus is cutting to the chase here. He is preaching with authority the good news that those who belong to God are children of the resurrection. They cannot die any more. All the absurd hypotheticals are irrelevant in the face of the fact that resurrection is true.
So, I probably should have figured this out before trying to preach a sermon about it, but I’m not sure I’m convinced by Jesus’ argument that because Moses quote “speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” that means that they are still alive. But if *anyone* would know what life in the resurrection is like, it’s Jesus. He *knows* whether Abraham is alive with God because Jesus is also alive with God in the resurrected life. I don’t know what it means for marriage to not be a thing in the resurrection. I don’t know what it means that people will be like angels. But if anyone knows what resurrection is like, it’s gotta be Jesus. So I trust what Jesus says here. God is the God of the living, and the ancestors in the faith are alive. Resurrection is true. Our scriptures affirm it. And the one who is the first fruit of the resurrection affirms it. Resurrection is true.
The people of Israel had been searching for resurrection for so long. They had been conquered over and over again. In the time of our Hebrew Bible reading from Haggai, the Jewish people had been taken captive to Babylon, and the temple destroyed. Some people were allowed to move back to Jerusalem, and they were trying to rebuild. They were trying to resurrect their old lives. They were doing a good job of rebuilding their houses, but the temple was neglected. Haggai presents a message from God asking the people of Jerusalem if anyone remembers what the temple was like before. How glorious it was, before they were conquered and kicked out and everything was destroyed. But God is going to build it up again. The splendor of the temple is going to be greater than before – God will give the people prosperity…if the people of Jerusalem will rebuild the temple. If the people of Jerusalem will put as much life into rebuilding God’s temple as they do their own houses.
God’s spirit abides among God’s people, bringing them prosperity and life where there had been barren destruction. That sounds like…resurrection. But the people did have to *rebuild* the temple. They were working on their own houses, but the temple needed their attention too. “Take courage, work, for I am with you, says the LORD of hosts.” The people can rebuild the temple. God’s temple was destroyed. But God wasn’t. The living God is with them as they build a new life. The resurrection is true. The people are making it happen because God is with them.
That sounds like something I want for us too. Prosperity and life after so much destruction from the pandemic and everything else. What if it were *this* church that were filled with the splendor and prosperity that God promises to Haggai? What if we make that happen, because God *is* with us? What if the resurrection is true because the living God is with us as we build new life?
This past week we celebrated All Saints’ Day and also commemorated all the faithful departed. Our ancestors in the faith. There are so many names I could name, both recently departed and ancestors from long ago. Perhaps some are coming to your mind now. ……….
In our gospel passage, Jesus says that God is the God of the living, not the dead, and so those who have died here are *not* dead to God. All of them live in resurrected life. God is the God of Abraham, and Abraham lives in resurrected life. God is the God of Sarah and Hagar, and they live in resurrected life. God is the God of all of our faithful departed, and they are living with God in resurrected life.
The faithful departed are alive with God. And God is with *us*. We are all living in God. The church might look different now than it was 100 years ago with our ancestors. The church looks different now than it did 3 years ago. So many of the faithful…have departed. But we do all live in the resurrection. We are all living in God. As we heard in the psalm today we are praising God, one generation to another, all declaring the power of God.
The people of Haggai’s time had almost forgotten what the previous generation knew of God’s power. The people of Haggai’s time were struggling to live. At first they were struggling to keep a roof over their heads in a destroyed city. And when their houses got more comfortable, God reminded them that gold and silver, that prosperity of life itself, is God’s.
I don’t know what the resurrected life of the church looks like any more than I know what Jesus meant when he said people are going to be like angels. But I do know that the church is not going to be resurrected if we don’t build it. Yes, we need God to be with us. God *is* with us. But if we do nothing, if we let things sit in a ruined state because we are too busy building up other things in our life…what are we saying about the life of the church? …There is no church but what we build, generation to generation, declaring the power of God. *We* are the church.
We don’t build for God out of the leftovers of our life. We build because God’s spirit – the very spirit of life – abides among us already. Everything, every bit of life, already is God’s. We *all* live in God.
We give money, we pledge time, and we use our talents to build this church because all those things are already part of life in God. We rebuild this church after all sorts of struggles, not because the resurrected life is coming someday, but because the resurrection is already true. We are already alive in Christ.
This church is alive because God is the God of the living. We are not dead, despite the struggles of the pandemic, despite the struggles of schism, despite the struggles against injustice and climate change. We are alive. God is the God of the living, and our presence here is proof. The resurrection is true.