Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Advent 1, 10 November 2013

Luke 20: 27-38
Preached by Rev. Dr. Jason Haddox

From T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets: “Little Gidding”:
“What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.” 

Today we begin the season of “The Long Advent.”  The end of the year, and the beginning.  Purple vestments on the ministers, bare branches on the altar, and seven (not four, but seven) candles to mark the progression of time.  There is a history behind this “Long Advent”, and an intentionality to remember—to be re-membered, put back together by—the hope and promise of the season.  We need more of it, because we are much robbed of it by the time and place in which we live.  Already we hear the strains of Christmas carols at the store and in the hold music on the phone; we look at our rapidly-decreasing dayplanners (printed or electronic) and panic at what remains to be done, before either we leave to visit scattered friends and family, or they descend upon us. 

Time is running out. 

We need to remember.  And to be re-membered, brought back into God, into our right minds.  To begin anew, to look and listen for the voice of God—still, small, easily overlooked or missed—and yet always speaking to us, whether we will hear or no.Always calling to us through the distractions and confusions.   

Jesus is teaching in the Temple this morning, and the Sadducees (who say there is no resurrection) come to him with a distraction, a confusion.  They tell the hypothetical story of a woman, married and widowed seven times in sequence to seven brothers, who then herself dies without offspring.  “In the Resurrection (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) whose will she be—for all seven of them had had her?  

Social Context:  The custom of levirate marriage (from levir, “brother”) was a way of assuring both the continued legacy and estate of a deceased older brother, and the protection of a (presumably young) childless widow.  Such a practice “…not only continues the line of the deceased, it also affirms the…widow’s place in the home of her husband’s family.” (Anchor Bible Dictionary, “Levirate Marriage.”) 

Which is all well and good as far as it goes, but the example is ridiculous.  Seven brothers all marry the same woman, and all die one after another without ever fulfilling the intended goal—that is, to “raise up children” to the elder brother.  In a time and place where women were valued as wives and mothers and not much else, this was a problem.   

And so the Sadducees, “who say there is no resurrection”, come asking a question which, in their worldview, has no possible legitimate answer in the first place.  But then, they don’t really want a legitimate answer.  They are there in this scene to make life difficult for Jesus, and for his followers. 

Context:  In the Temple, after the triumphal entry, after the temple tantrum (Luke 19:45-46.)  We are reading it in November, but in the story arc it’s late in Holy Week.

Jesus (and by extension, his followers) are being questioned and attacked by a number of opponents, coming at them, one after the other, in rapid sequence. 
The end is upon them, and they know it. 
Time is running out. 

This absurd case that the Sadducees put before him provokes a dramatic response from Jesus.  Basically he tells them “You are all full of it if you think that’s how it works.”(Matthew and Mark are much more explicit about this telling-off.)  He doesn’t disparage marriage as such, but he tells them that “In the resurrection, everything is changed.  None of the categories that you want to make use of (married, unmarried, childless, fertile) apply.” 

“Those whom God chooses as worthy of this new world cannot die any more.  They are like the angels/they are children of God, being children of the resurrection.”  (Lit, in Gk: “sons of God/of Resurrection”—which the NRSV makes gender-neutral, but loses the “sons of God/SON of God” connection.)  In other words, the Resurrection from the dead is Jesus first as the down-payment, then the rest of us as sons (and daughters) of the Kingdom too.  

And this is Luke telling the story.  Luke, who through the words of John the Baptist all the way back in chapter 3, tells those who think they’ve got an inside track on God’s favor because of their ancestry: “Do not say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father,’ for I tell you God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.”  The perceived necessity of “raising up (biological) children” to preserve the family ancestry and heritage is not required in the household of God; God can create life even out of stones, even out of the dust of the ground, even out of death itself.  Remember Genesis 1?  God created…and it was SO GOOD!  (So good!) 

The categories we’ve built our lives upon are not binding on God’s grace, God’s favor, God’s power.  Our notions about who is valuable in a household, in a town, in a community, may not be what God has in mind at all. 

Jesus does not come to help us be “less dead”; Jesus comes—as the babe of Bethlehem, as the prophet of Nazareth, as teacher and healer and crucified and risen Lord, and as the Savior of the World who was, and who is, and who is yet to be—to bring us life, abundant life.  The life of God, in which Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Miriam and Aaron, Peter and Paul, Martha and Mary, Augustine, Brigid, Francis and Clare, Gwinn and Caroline, Molly, Lloyd, Rosemary, Mary and North, Genie and Mort, all of them, all of them, still are held in God’s care and keeping.   

“When God raised Jesus from the dead, God inaugurated a new humanity and initiated the fulfillment of all things. A conviction writ large in the New Testament is that God’s promised future has already begun in the death and resurrection of God’s Messiah. So hope is living today in the certainty that God’s promises will be fulfilled. Hope is living as though what we believe will happen in the end is as good as done already.” 

The Sadducees did not believe in a resurrection of the dead. 

And therefore they were very sad, you see.

But the Church did believe.  Does believe.  Holds that as central, from which all else flows. 

When we come to the end—of the calendar, of the year, of the road, of our rope, of our own lives—we trust that that that end is not the final word.  That there is yet more. 

“What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.” 

Happy new year, dear ones.

(Dr. D. Jay Koyle, APLM website,, accessed 11/10/13)

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