HEBREW BIBLE LESSON Haggai 1:15b- 2:9
GOSPEL LESSON Luke 20:27-38
SERMON: “An Institution Crafted by God”
Author and preacher King Duncan tells a story about a little girl who walked into a pet shop. She went up to the shopkeeper and asked in a sweet little lisp, “Excuthe me, mithter, do you have any wittle wabbits?”
The shopkeeper bent way down and put his hands on his knees so he would be on her level, and asked, “Do you want a wittle white wabbit or a wittle bwack wabbit? Or maybe that cute wittle bwown wabbit over there?”
The little girl thought for a moment, put her hands on her knees, leaned forward and said in a quiet little voice, “Mr., I don’t fink my pyfon weally cares.”
Well, she’s probably right. Her pet python didn’t care what color the rabbits were that were put in his cage.
Some of the Sadducees came to Jesus with a question regarding the subject of death. One of the differences between Pharisees and Sadducees is that the Sadducees did not believe in life beyond the grave. So it is obvious they are trying to entrap Jesus. Often when preachers approach this passage it results in dealing with the bad attitude of the Pharisees. But sometimes we don’t see the forest for the trees – Jesus’ response gives insight to an institution created by God to help us know just a bit about what heaven will be like.
There is a cute story about a family that bought a pet hamster. The children promised they would take care of it. You can guess how that worked out. Mom ended up with about 90 percent of the responsibility.
One evening she was thoroughly fed up with the kids’ lack of responsibility. She asked, “How many times do you think that hamster would have died if I hadn’t looked after it?”
After a moment, her 5 year old son looked up and asked innocently, “Uh . . . Once?” Well, of course he’s right. We only die once, but none of us avoid that one-time event. What will it be like for us after that one-time event. Those Sadducees didn’t believe there was a resurrection, so they tried to trick Jesus into admitting that.
In an attempt to disprove God the Creator Almighty, an atheist once asked a Christian, “Can God create a rock so big that he can’t lift it?” Now the Christian is trapped… If he answers, “No, God can’t create a rock so big that he can’t lift it.” Then he has upheld God’s great power, but discredited God’s creative ability. But if he answers, “Yes, God CAN create a rock so big that he can’t lift it.” Then he has upheld God’s creative ability and discredited his omnipotent power. So what’s a Christian to do? How do we answer, “Can God create a rock so big that he can’t lift it?” Well, the simplest answer is, “Why would he want to?”
Okay, so that doesn’t really address the actual question at hand. But this is the sort of question that the Sadducees were asking of Jesus. If, according to God’s law, a woman is married by seven consecutive brothers – none of whom produce children, when they all die and are resurrected, “whose wife will she be?”
This is just one in a series of questions designed to trick Jesus into saying something the religious leaders could refute and use to discredit his authority. They asked him by what authority he did the things he did. They asked him about paying taxes, and now they pose a question about whose wife a woman will be if she is married to seven brothers one, after the other, as each of them die childless. They’re not really trying to iron out a fine point in the law, just in case such a situation would arise. Their purpose is to stump the rabbi, or at least force him into saying something they can ridicule. These men knew the laws of Moses very well. If Jesus answered that she would be one wife with seven husbands, or if he singled out one husband above the others, he would be accused of breaking Levirate law. So what’s he to do?
Well, just as the atheist’s question isn’t really about the rock, but about disproving God’s existence. The Sadducees’ question isn’t really about marriage, but about discrediting the resurrection.
The Sadducees were hoping that the conundrum they posed would demonstrate that the idea of a resurrection was sort of ludicrous.
Jesus responds by saying, "The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage" (Luke 20:34-35) In other words Jesus says, "Look, don't use marriage in this world to disprove God's promises about the next one. Marriage is a gift for today, meeting needs that will be filled in different ways tomorrow."
If we think about it all, we have to wonder what life after death will be like. I’ve shared with some of you one of my favorite books on the subject – a novel by M. Scott Peck called In Heaven as on Earth. The story begins at the point of a man’s death and relates his experiences of afterlife. While In Heaven as on Earth is clearly fiction, Heaven Is For Real relates the experiences of a four-year-old who slips from consciousness into heaven while in surgery for a life-threatening illness. My favorite revelation from Scott Peck’s book is when the man discovers that in heaven he will never have to go to the bathroom again. Think of it – no bathrooms, no need to scrub toilets, . . . pretty cool. My favorite revelation from Heaven Is For Real comes near the end when we learn that no one is old in heaven.
At first look at this passage in Luke, we want to draw a conclusion about the silly Sadducees who try to trap the Teacher. Jesus always has an answer that goes beyond their thinking.
Can God make a rock so big that he can’t lift it? Why would he want to?
Married successively to seven brothers and bearing no children to any of them, whose wife will the woman be in the resurrection. Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. 35 But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, 36 and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection.
So he didn’t answer their question about the marriage laws, but he did answer the question behind the question: Yes, there is life eternal after life temporary, In his response, Jesus not only affirms and gives us a glimpse of a future life, but he upholds the example of marriage as an next-life placeholder, which helps us grab a glimpse and appreciate the coming glory.
Before I go any farther, let me be clear that God doesn’t love married people more than single people. Being married is not a requirement for passage through the pearly gates. I imagine that God hates divorce (because of the pain and damage it can inflict on His children), but God never hates a divorced person.
In this world life is fragile. It begins with babies that are breakable, beautiful and absolutely dependent. They need someone to feed them, burp them, and create a playground of growth and safety and joy for them. Then, as we get older, moms and dads become like their children once were. They become breakable, dependent and desperately in need of the nurture and the comfort that a spouse can provide. I officiated at a wedding a few years back for a couple who had lived together for 25 or 30 years. I’m no expert on the law, but I’m pretty sure they could have qualified for a “common-law” marriage. When I asked the bride-to-be why, after all this time they wanted to get married, she said it was because they recognized that they were getting older and they wanted to make clear their commitment to care for each other to the end of life.
The wedding ceremony liturgy affirms, “God gave us marriage as a holy mystery in which a man and a woman are joined together, and become one, just as Christ is one with the church.”
It's difficult for us to grasp what the ultimate sense of wholeness in God's presence will be like. But marriage is an institution crafted by God that perhaps gives us the best glimpse.
In this life, marriage exists for promise-making and promise-keeping. In this broken world, instability and uncertainty rule the day. Sin drives us to love ourselves more than our neighbor, and the world full of unpredictability. Marriage offers something radically different, the possibility of two selfish people making promises of selflessness, stability, fidelity and endurance. It begins at the altar with grand promises to "love and cherish" as long as we both shall live, but gets lived out in a million little promises to "take out the trash," to "call me when you get there" and to "pick up milk on the way home."
The Book of Common Worship offers this prayer for a couple being married:
Grant that their wills may be so knit together in your will, and their spirits in your Spirit, that they may grow in love and peace with you and each other all the days of their life. – doesn’t that sound something like what it might be like to live in God’s heaven?
Give them the grace, when they hurt each other, to recognize and confess their fault, and to seek each other's forgiveness -- and yours. . – doesn’t that sound something like what it might be like to live in God’s heaven?
Make their life together a sign of Christ's love to this sinful and broken world, that unity may overcome estrangement, forgiveness heal guilt and joy conquer despair. . – doesn’t that sound something like what it might be like to live in God’s heaven?
Give them such fulfillment of their mutual love that they may
reach out in concern for others. . – doesn’t that sound something like what it might be like to live in God’s heaven?
Communion – heavenly banquet
There are a lot question the Bible doesn't answer about the Hereafter. But I think one reason is illustrated by the story of a boy sitting down to a bowl of spinach when there's a chocolate cake at the end of the table. He's going to have a rough time eating that spinach when his eyes are on that cake. And if the lord had explained everything to us about what's ours to come, I think we'd have a rough time with our spinach down here.
God instituted baptism to help us identify with Jesus’ death and resurrection
God instituted the Lord’s Supper to give us a foretaste of the heavenly banquet when they shall come from the north and the south, from the east and the west and sit at table in God’s kingdom.
God instituted marriage so that when it is experienced at its best we have a glimpse of what heavenly relationships will be like.