Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | November 10, 2013

2013.11.10 “The Living God is For Us” – Luke 20:27 – 38

Central United Methodist Church

The Living God is For Us

Heewon Kim, Student Pastor

November 10, 2013

Luke 20: 27 – 38

 

Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him and 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.  Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.” Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; 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.  And 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. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.” – Luke 20: 27 – 38, New Revised Standard Version

    

Our society has an excessive expectation for us to maintain busy schedules, such that struggling with our daily demands is sometimes too much for us to bear.  Because of this, we may feel that we have no time to think about life after death.

In fact, the words “eternal life or resurrection” seem archaic in a scientific age. Even theologians have brought forward questions. N. T. Wright recently argued that any thought that Christian hope is about “going to heaven” is biblically unsupported, theologically bankrupt, and ethically corrosive. Jesus scholar Marcus Borg once told an audience, “If I were to make a list of Christianity’s ten worst contributions to religion, on that list would be popular Christianity’s emphasis on the afterlife.” By and large, people seem to be unconcerned about life after death.

On the other hand, in 2010, the book “Heaven Is for Real” was published by Pastor Todd Burpo.  It became a word-of-mouth best seller and spent 59 weeks as the No. 1 nonfiction paperback on The New York Time’s best-seller list. Burpo, pastor of a small Nebraska church, tells how he and his wife nearly lost their three-year-old son Colton because of misdiagnosed appendicitis. Burpo then describes how Colton began to tell a mind-boggling story of having been transported from the operating table into heaven. He described his great-grandfather “Pop,” dead for more than 30 years, and a sister who died in a miscarriage that Colton had never been told about. He also encountered John the Baptist and saw God and Jesus sitting on enormous thrones. Heaven, he said, is “for real.” Many people, even religious people, might have dismissed this story as the medication-induced hallucinations of a severely ill toddler, but the Burpos made it into a book.  The book’s unexpected popularity tells us something. In moments of sober reflection, our culture may find talk of heaven implausible; but in moments of need, we find the hope of heaven irresistible.

What does heaven look like? Concerning this question, some Sadducees come to Jesus in today’s scripture. It is generally thought that their name came from Zadok, who was the high priest under David. The group by this name first appeared in the 2nd century BC and disappeared in the 1st century AD after the destruction of the temple in 70. Sadducees rejected the belief that God would raise up the righteous who had died; for them it was an innovation that had no basis in tradition. Because of their disbelief in resurrection, they intended to ridicule Jesus and challenge the authority of Jesus by giving an intended and mocking question. They asked Jesus about seven brothers who married the same woman. They wanted to know whose wife she will be in the resurrection.

For the ancient Israelites, before a belief in the resurrection of the dead, “eternal life” was understood as producing heirs (sons?) who would continue the family’s ownership of their land. If a husband died before producing sons (Deut. 25:5), it was the responsibility of his brother to “perform his duty” to her to produce offspring to continue the name of his brother. Such marriage and procreation was a way of continued existence for ancient people. It made sense because the only way to continue their existence was by marriage and having a child.

But if this way does not work well as in this story, how is the complicated relationship supposed to play out? What does the resurrection mean to such persons? Even though the Sadducees came to Jesus to mock, the story that they brought is a very ontological question. They cannot imagine how they could continue to live. Perhaps because of that, they are, as the old joke goes, “Sad, you see.”

Here is the problem of the Sadducees. The Sadducees assume that the same relationships and realities that hold on earth will prevail in the resurrection. If heaven or the resurrection will be like earthly experience, who is going to be the most angry? Surely, it would be the woman in the story who became a wife to seven brothers.  She might say, “What? Is this resurrection? With these seven men, again?” She might pray to God, “O Lord! Let me not be resurrected.” In this scenario, it was the conclusion of the Sadducees that there is no eternal life or life after death.                                         

Jesus introduces a picture of what heaven will look like to us. Jesus does not explain whose wife she will be. Rather, Jesus tells us that heaven is not to be envisaged as a simple continuation of life on earth. While the people of Israel once struggled to have children by marriage, now, all who are in heaven have already become children of God because God transformed their way of existence. There is no more death, so we will not have to worry about the continuation of life.  Heaven is given not for those focused on how they may continue their blood line on earth, but for those who want to be considered worthy of a place in heaven. Jesus enabled us to see the resurrection and heaven with great hope and expectation by describing what it is. While the Sadducees learned from Moses how to live on earth, Jesus taught us about the God of eternity whom Moses encountered, who enables us to live in heaven.

Last week, we had an important guest in our home. He is my mentor for my ordination process.  Through the relationship of mentor and mentee, he has helped me to be a pastor, and we have become good friends, so I wanted to express my appreciation to him somehow. So my wife and I invited him to our home for dinner, which he accepted. In order to make the most delicious Korean food, I bought a small charcoal grill. It was my first time buying a grill, and I tried to light the charcoal but failed several times. Once I lit the charcoal, the fire went out. Even if I used oil to ignite the charcoal, it would not restart. (I even singed my hair a little bit!) But I finally managed to light the charcoal and serve him. (Thanks be to God!) Beloved brothers and sisters, here is our story. Our lives are like this dying fire. Even if there is someone who is an expert griller that makes the charcoal and wood burn, inevitably the fire goes out and dies at some point.

Likewise, Moses saw the burning bush and waited until he thought the fire would go out. But it does not work like Moses thought. He might have waited for half an hour or two hours but it was still burning and even more interesting was that the bush did not burn up. This was where Moses met God. It was “in a flame of fire out of a bush. The bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” (Exodus 3:2-4). It was everlasting fire. Moses heard the voice of God in the midst of this. It was enough for Moses to grasp the eternal God.

God said, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” In that moment in front of the burning bush, the names of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were not the names of the dead. They are still alive. God did not say “I WAS their God”, but that “I AM the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” It is a present tense sentence because God was still Abraham’s God, and Abraham still enjoyed a relationship with God. Moses met them not as dead patriarchs of the past, but as the living, because they are mentioned by the eternal God, the source of life and existence.  Finally, Jesus defined who God is by saying “Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; because to him all of them are alive. ” If the dead no longer exist, if they have become nothing, then God would be declaring: “I am the God of nothing.” So, if God is to be the God of something, these people must be alive to God.

The story of the Sadducees is not only about the Sadducees but about us.  We do not look upon our lives in the sight of the God of eternal life, because the complicated matters of life swallow us up. The problem is that they – and we – have failed to imagine eternal life as something we will actually experience. The complexity of life and vast weight of our busy lives distracts us from being able to imagine what heaven looks like. Sadducees regarded Jesus as someone to debate. Jesus did not rebuke Sadducees’ disbelief; rather he invited them not to worry about death. Jesus told them it is possible to live here and now without death because “For to God all of them are alive” But how? John 11:26, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Heaven is already initiated through Jesus Christ. God has let us know what it means to live in heaven here and now through Jesus Christ. Who is really living and who is dead? Even though we are living physically, our soul and spirit might be dead.

In John Wesley’s sermon, “Awake, Thou That Sleepest,” in 1742, he describes those who are in deep sleep, who lose not only their bodily life but also true life and happiness. In his sermon “The Mark of the New Birth,” Wesley asserted that believers must have evidence of peace, hope, joy, love, and assurance, that they are the children of God.

A pastor once questioned his people, “Do you want to go to heaven? If so, please raise your hand.” Most people said “Yes.” and raised their hands. He questioned them again, “Do you want to go to heaven now?” The people were embarrassed, and didn’t raise their hands. God enables us to live with joy, peace, hope, and love. If we live this way, we could have said to the pastor of the story: “Hey pastor, we are already living in heaven!”

Life after death?  Yes there is!  Let us hope that the age to come will be totally different from the here and now that presses in on us from every side; but at the same time, let us live as children of resurrection, by the power of Jesus Christ, who gives us great hope and peace and love and joy. Be glad and rejoice that we are named by God, can live a life here and now, which will continue to eternity. Martin Luther, who sparked the Protestant Reformation, said, “Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in books, but in every leaf in springtime.” May our life be as truly alive as God intends it to be.  Amen.

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