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November 10, 2013 - Luke 20.27-38

“Seven Weddings and One Bride”

Luke 20:27-38

November 10, 2013

 

27Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him 28and asked him a question, “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. 29Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; 30then the second 31and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. 32Finally the woman also died. 33In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.” 34Jesus said to them, “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. 37And 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. 38Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”

 

I am a big fan of lock-ins as part of our youth ministry.  Once, at a previous church, we had thirty-five youth come to a lock-in where we went to see the movie K-Pax.  We went out to the movie, and then came back for some pizza.  Then I had a short devotional time with them.  I asked them to write down what they would ask God if they could ask God just one question.  I love youth – they don’t mess around.  They don’t bother with the small questions.  They don’t worry about things like who will win tomorrow’s game, or what the hot stocks will be over the next quarter.  Those questions are small potatoes.  These youth wrote down questions that struck to the heart of the existential dilemma of being human.  Listen to these questions that the youth wrote down:  Why do I do bad things?  How did you get here, God?  What is heaven like?  Were you scared when they were putting you on the cross?  What is the meaning of life?  What could I do to walk closer to God?  Will we live after we die?  How can I be a better Christian?  Why do people suffer from cancer?  Why did God create sin and doubt?  Why did God create men first?  Will there ever be world peace?

 

And then there was this question:  Was Prot really from K-Pax?  What?  Did I read that correctly?  Yep.  Was Prot really from K-Pax?  Now that’s a non sequitur.  But it really is not that out of place.  The young man misunderstood the assignment.  He thought we were supposed to write down a question about the movie we just saw.  That explains his question, but just imagine if I had actually handed these questions to Jesus and he read that.  You get to ask me one question, and you pick that?  What a blown opportunity.

 

In one of the endless parade of Christian Education classes I took at Southern Seminary, Historical and Philosophical Foundations of Christian Education, the professor made a real point to argue that tests – the answering of questions posed by an instructor, are not really an accurate way of gauging anything.  He stated out that they were inescapably biased.  Of course, at the end of the Semester, he gave us a test.

 

Sometimes I guess it comes down to asking the right questions.  An old astronomy professor once asked his astronomy students on a test this question:  Name three phenomena that occur on the earth and not the moon.  I am sure that he was after some geologic or cosmic answer, but one bright student wrote: “Roller Skating, Bruce Springsteen and the Republican Party.”[1]

 

There is a story at Duke about the legendary Chemistry Professor there, Dr. Bonk. Before the final chemistry exam, four of the students had unwisely made a road trip to the University of Virginia. They partied there too long, and got back to Durham too late to take the final chemistry exam. They sheepishly appeared before Professor Bonk and told him a sad story of woe that they had concocted. They had left Virginia in plenty of time to be there for the exam, but, alas, they had blown a tire on the way home. The tire had been difficult to fix, the spare was flat, so they were late in returning to Durham.

 

Dr. Bonk was amazingly compassionate and understanding. He agreed to give them the exam the next day. The next day, they came into class prepared to take a chemistry exam.

 

The test only has one question on it: “Which tire went flat on your car?”[2]  Smart man asked a smart question.

 

I am sure that all of us would have about 1000 questions we would want to ask Jesus, and it was much the same for Jesus during his ministry on earth.  Everybody had questions for him.  What must I do to inherit eternal life?  What is the greatest commandment?  Who is my neighbor?  Where can I get this living water?  Are you the king of the Jews?  Questions from everybody everywhere, and about everything.  Then there were the Sadducees.  They asked him questions to, but for different reasons.  Our text today is one of those questions that the Sadducees asked Jesus.

 

They are trying to trap him in what they think is a trick question.  They want to discredit him in front of people to strengthen their own position and agenda. They ask him this question about the woman who ends up with seven husbands.  Her first husband dies, and as the law of Moses dictates, the widow becomes the wife of her husband’s brother.  Then he dies, and she gets passed on to the next brother.  This happens until all seven are dead.  The Sadducees ask, “Whose wife will she be in the resurrection?”  It’s a trick question for many reasons.  First, the Sadducees don’t even believe in the resurrection.  Some sects of Jews did believe in the resurrection, like the Pharisees, but the Sadducees find this idea of a resurrection kind of silly.

 

The question is a trap, kind of like “Have you stopped beating your spouse?”  Any answer, yes or no, seems to be a bad one.  And they appear to have Jesus really trapped on this.  She can’t be married to one husband in the resurrection, because she has been married to each of those men.  It would not be fair for her to be married to her last husband in the resurrection, since she was married to six others.  Therefore, according to the rules of logic, there is no resurrection.

 

This is not a real question from the Sadducees.  This is in fact, the third time in the Temple that a trick question has been put to Jesus in the hopes of shaming him before the people.  Each time, Jesus sent those asking the question home stinging from a verbal whipping.  It was the Sadducees turn.  It is not a genuine query because it assumes in fact a question that the Sadducees explicitly deny.  It is supposed to be a complex riddle that Jesus has no way out of.  They really should have seen this coming, really.  Jim Croce said it well, “You don’t tug on Superman’s cape.  You don’t spit into the wind.  You don’t pull the mask off the ol’ Lone Ranger and” you don’t ask Jesus trick questions. 

 

Here’s what Jesus said to them:  “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; 35 but 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.   Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.[3]  Jesus is saying that the reality of the resurrection is so different from this reality that the subject of marriage isn’t relevant.  They are thinking of the next reality in terms of this reality.  They are questioning Jesus on the basis of this world, the world that they know.  Remember that this is a woman that we are talking about, a first century woman.  Women were victims of an oppressive society.  When married, they were considered to be the property of their husband.  She is nothing in her society if she is not the wife of a man.  You say that there is a life after this one?  Whose property will she be?  They might as well have been asking about a cow or an antique lamp.

 

The age of the resurrection is not like this one, the one you are so concerned about.  It is not like this world, with all of these unfair social arrangements that we have made.  It is the world as God intended it to be.  The age to come is something you cannot comprehend.  We are slow to pick up on this. When we think of our future, we tend to think on the basis of our past. What happened yesterday shall happen tomorrow. This is the best we can do today, so it's reasonable to think that we shall do this tomorrow. But God's world is something that God creates, a place where God gets what God wants and, as Jesus says, God wants life, wants us all as God's beloved and cherished children.

 

One pastor I know tells this story:  In his first church, there was a couple who had an adult son, who by his early 20s had a long criminal record. He was in and out of jail, perpetrator of many a crime. The couple had great regrets for the behavior of their son, wondered how his upbringing had contributed to his tragic life.

They got word one June day that their son had died in a fight in jail.

At the funeral, there was much sadness. "What a waste," many said. The father and mother seemed inconsolable.

But not quite. After the service, at the cemetery, the mother said to the pastor, "At last he is at peace. For maybe the only time in his life, he is at peace. Now God can begin again with him. Now God can make up for any of our parental mistakes. Now the God who gave him to us, has him for his own."[4]

 

In fact, the resurrection is really not about us at all. Resurrection is really about God. Resurrection is about the faithfulness of a God who will not abandon his creation, his children. That's why Jesus answers the Sadducees like he does. Forget marriage. Marriage is of this world. Resurrection is a whole new world. In that world we will all be with our God - a God who has been known to breathe life into a valley full of dry bones, a God who opens up graves and tombs, a God who is the God of the living - not the dead.

 

That's why you can't explain the resurrection. It is a mystery. About all we know for sure is that we serve a God who is going to make all things right in the end. You can't explain the resurrection. The resurrection explains us. The resurrection explains how, in the middle of all the suffering and pain and evil in this world, we Christians have hope.

 

 

[1] Will Willimon, Pulpit Resource, Oct. – Dec. 2004, p. 26.

[2] Willimon, Ibid.

[3]The New Revised Standard Version, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers) 1989.

[4] Will Willimon, Pulpit Resource, Oct. – Dec. 2004.