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Sermon for Sunday 10 November 2013

FIRST READING Job 19:23–27a

23 “O that my words were written down! O that they were inscribed in a book! 24 O that with an iron pen and with lead they were engraved on a rock forever! 25 For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; 26 and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, 27 whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.

PSALM Psalm 17:1–9

1 Hear a just cause, O LORD; give heed to my cry; listen to my prayer, which does not come from lying lips. 2 Let my vindication come forth from your presence; let your eyes be fixed on justice. 3 Examine my heart, visit me by night, melt me down; you will find no impurity in me. 4 I have not regarded what others do; at the word of your lips I have avoided the ways of the violent. 5 My footsteps hold fast to your well-worn path; and my feet do not slip. 6 I call upon you, O God, for you will answer me; incline your ear to me and hear my words. 7 Show me your marvelous lovingkindness, O Savior of those who take refuge at your right hand from those who rise against them. 8 Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me under the shadow of your wings, 9 from the wicked who assault me, from my deadly enemies who surround me.

SECOND READING 2 Thessalonians 2:1–5, 13–17

1 As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, 2 not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here. 3 Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. 4 He opposes and exalts himself above every so- called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God. 5 Do you not remember that I told you these things when I was still with you? 13 But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 14 For this purpose he called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter. 16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, 17 comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.

GOSPEL Luke 20:27–38

27 Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him 28 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. 29 Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; 30 then the second 31 and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. 32 Finally the woman also died. 33 In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.” 34 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. 36 Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. 37 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. 38 Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”


They say that confession is good for the soul, so I must confess that I’m feeling a bit guilty when I admit this, but, one of those irreverent TV shows that I find enjoyable is The Big Bang Theory. Leanna, our youngest daughter, gets a huge kick out of this fact, since the show’s main characters are scientists and forward evolution over creation. Now if I were to dwell on this aspect of the show, I’m certain I wouldn’t enjoy it near as much. But the writers have done a great job of poking fun at all aspects of life and of belief systems, so in a way there’s something in it for everyone. I said all this as background, to call your attention to one particular episode in which Howard, the wannabe lady’s man and Roz, the socially awkward Far-Eastern Indian Astrophysicist, enter the opening scene dressed as members of the Goth society.
Throughout the episode the plot cuts back and forth to Howard and Roz’s antics at a local club trying to convince a couple of Goth girls that they’re part of that community as well. The show ends with Howard agreeing to get a tattoo in order to cement his new hookup. However, at the moment when the Tattoo needle touches his skin, he leaps to his feet and disclosures himself as a poser and has to admit he’s doing all this merely as a way to pick up girls.
This, I think, was the first time I heard the words poser used in the manner it’s used today. Poser is the ultimate insult kids dish out these days as a way of looking down their noses and insult a “wannabe” who will “never-be.” I’ve also learned this term can be applied to a multitude of activities. For example a “biker poser” is a person who wears a leather jacket, biker boots and drinks coffee from a Harley-Davidson mug, but has never ridden anything more powerful than a riding lawn mower on a Saturday afternoon. Then there are “rocker-posers” those who have the tough, trashy tattoos, the black T-shirts, but don’t know the difference between a fret and being fretful. And the high tech world isn’t immune from these wannabes either. I recently heard the term poser applied to a nerd.
On one accession this derogatory term was used against an individual who could talk a “geek streak,” had high scores on video games, but couldn’t write a single line of computer code. In short, the insult of “poser” is directed to those who can talk the talk, but in no way “walk the walk.” In our gospel lesson for today, Jesus was seen in many ways, by some, as a poser, one who claimed to be sent by God, indeed the Son of God, and this made Him a favorite target of the religious leaders. It seems that every chance they got, they wanted to engage Him in some sort of theological dispute.
That Jesus gets pulled into, or trapped, in an argument isn’t unusual, especially not in Luke. It seems that He’s been arguing with the religious leaders since He was nearly at the age of bar mitzvah and He stayed behind in the Temple to engage the teachers. And this argument, like all the others, is an argument about the Torah. This also isn’t surprising, since there’s very little that more important, or enjoyable to argue about, particularly given the fact that Luke has established Jesus as a Torah-observant Jew, one concerned for the traditions of the ancestors. We know the argument concerns the Torah because the people who pose the argument begin by saying: “Teacher, Moses wrote for us…” And with that, the contest begins.
Yet this contest is different. In earlier arguments Jesus and His conversation partners engage each other. They ask a question, and Jesus asks another. Sometimes they reply with yet another question, and Jesus sometimes even continues the questioning further. An example of this can be seen in the extended discussion in chapter 10, which contains the parable of the Good Samaritan. This contest, however, is quite different, and the difference is seen immediately.
For the first and only time, at least in the gospel of Luke, Jesus argues with the Sadducees. And the Sadducees, despite all their accomplishments and activities, are identified not in terms of what they’ve done, or what they believe, but only in terms of what they deny. They are anti-resurrection, and this, as Jacob Jervell points out, puts them outside of the family of Israel. Of course, the Sadducees were Jewish, but some Pharisees and some Christians like Luke, didn’t think so. The Sadducees were looked down upon because of their disbelief in a resurrection.
As modern day Christians, we know the answer to why the resurrection is so important, but what about the Pharisees and other Jews? For the Pharisees and Jews of Jesus’ day, the resurrection was important partially because it was a matter of which books in the Bible are considered to be inspired by God. The Sadducees worked only with the Pentateuch, the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament, while the Pharisees and others considered the books of the Prophets and the Psalms as scripture as well, and it was in these additional books that the Pharisees found justification for trusting in a resurrection of the dead. But all this on the surface sounds to be simply a denominational fight, a tempest in a theological teapot, and therefore hardly worth anyone’s time to report. But we know different; we know that this is an important topic.
Vital to this belief, for the Sadducees, was the matter of the ultimate justice of the world. The Sadducees understood this world to be the only world in which God would act as a keeper of covenantal promises. The Pharisees on the other hand understood that God would keep promises and enact justice even beyond the boundaries of this world, which was a good and necessary thing, because Rome quite clearly controlled this one and was clearly not going to be paid back for its injustices. This too matters for Luke.
Not only is Luke telling the story of Jesus, who was killed by the Romans, but he’s also telling his story. He is, therefore, telling his account of the Roman abuse of power to audiences who remember Rome’s crushing of the First Jewish Revolt starting about 66 AD, and Rome’s destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. It was a bloody time and some ancient sources set the Jewish death toll in that defeat at nearly one million Jews.
This tragic loss of Jewish life was bad enough, but when you consider that the defeat was devastating, I can understand why Luke would insist that it would take a general resurrection of the dead, for the accounts to be properly balanced. Rome held this world under its brutal power, and Luke was not willing, nor were the Pharisees or Jesus for that matter, going to let Rome have the last word when it came to God’s Creation and God’s promises. And it’s with this background in mind that we enter into the scene from Luke 20.
The Sadducees, those who deny God’s ultimate justice, approach Jesus with a case meant to make the resurrection look ridiculous. Jesus, it would appear, brushes them off with a theological shrug that simply rejects the premise of their case, and they vanish. In the next scene, some scribes presumably Pharisees, surely believers in both justice and resurrection appear and warmly approve of Jesus’ argumentative finesse, and with that, all questioning ends. Jesus has won the approval of those Jews who expect the most from God. But this doesn’t end the argument for Christians. How does the subject of a resurrection impact Christianity even today?
In the infancy of Christianity, those first generations of disciples, engaged in dozens of fierce theological arguments over the basics of the Christian faith. One of the most repeated, and seemingly reasonable, arguments was the assertion made by various groups that the resurrection was “real” yet “not real.” The gist of all these various claims was that Jesus’ appearance on earth, His life and ministry, His death and resurrection, did truly occur. However, Jesus Himself only “appeared” to be human during all these events. In reality, from His “birth” through His “death,” Jesus was wholly and fully divine. Jesus, in other words, was never truly human in any essential sense. The implication then is that Jesus was, at least when it came to His human side, a poser; that His actual death and resurrection never happened. That He talked the talk, but didn’t walk the road to Calvary.
Bishop Serapian of Antioch (197-203) named all these various groups who claimed Jesus’ divinity and rejected His humanity as “Docetists.” “Docetism,” in all its diverse forms, was soundly denounced as a heresy by the First Council of Nicaea in 525 AD. The Docetic heresy asserted that Jesus only seemed to be human, that He only seemed to be walking around in human form. The Docetist claim was that Jesus was actually and always the being of God. As a wholly divine being, Jesus was neither ever truly “born,” nor ever truly “died,” and so was never truly “resurrected.” His resurrection, therefore, was unnecessary, for the wholly divine Jesus never truly experienced a physical death on the cross.
For the Docetists, those who revered the divine Jesus, they scoff at the prospect or thought of a truly “human” Jesus. According to their teachings, Jesus didn’t have to be “resurrected,” because as a divine being He couldn’t possibly have suffered a real death. In the defining rejection of that Docetic declaration, Bishop Ignatius of Antioch offered the Churches official sanction against this “poser” position: Jesus Christ, of David’s lineage, of Mary, was really born, ate, drank; was really persecuted under Pontius Pilate; was really crucified and died,” . . . was really raised from the dead. (Letter to Trallians, 9). Thank God for the wisdom of our fore fathers because it’s from this and other early church leaders that we receive our confessional beliefs and according to our belief and tradition, Jesus really did all this for us and for our salvation. Jesus was really born, was really dead and really was resurrected by the Father. Of course phrasing these facts in this manner, in today’s language, can get us into trouble.
In some circles, the term “Really!” is a term that is more often used as a snooty exclamation than as a declaration of Christian faithfulness. But for the first generation of Christians – those who really knew Jesus, those who really believed in His Messiahship, those who really witnessed Him really die on the cross, “really” was the soul-shocking assertion. “Really” was the claim of those disciples who actually experienced and truly testified to the reality of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. The first generation of disciples gave all future generations a stark, simple experience of faith to follow: the reality of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. All disciples of Jesus serve a real, risen and future returning Savior. But what does this moldy, oldy, first century theological battle have to do with our faith today?
In reality, this and other heresies were, and are, a struggle to understand the mysteries and immeasurable breadth and depth of God. Almost all “heresies” actually came about, as attempts to give struggling disciples easier answers. And this is the key. People, of all generations, want easy answers. For example, it’s much easier to believe there is a God of light and a god of darkness, a God of spirit and a God of flesh – the church now calls that heresy “Gnosticism.” It’s much simpler to believe that Jesus was the “good guy” and Yahweh (the “Hebrew God”) was a “bad guy” — the church now calls that heresy “Marcionism.” It’s cleaner to believe in a wholly divine being coming down and interacting with us humans — the assertion of Docetism — than to proclaim, that God cared so much about us that God emptied Himself; that He humbled Himself and truly took on the frailty of human form to redeem forever our human nature. Unless we accept this complex and messy fact, that it was through an act of extreme radical love from the divine, a love that offered the utmost of personal sacrifice for another, the resurrection is, indeed, a silly proposition. So what we find when we encounter these very difficult issues is that old heresies never really die. What we find, is that all they really do is just get new lobbyists and better sound bites.
“Docetism” was theologically banished by the second century. Yet in the twenty-first century there are a lot of Docestists still hawking their wares and proclaiming their “faith.” Twenty-first century Docetists don’t engage in theological debates. Instead they simply live lives that claim “Christ is risen” yet don’t live risen, living-Lord lives. For those who really have faith in a risen Jesus, the reality of Jesus’ day-to-day, in-the-neighborhood presence, is life-changing. The gospel truth, the resurrection truth, means nothing less than Jesus, is as alive, in the world today, as He was in first century Israel. “Poser’s” think Jesus was a good guy who lived and died two thousand years ago. Disciples know Jesus walks and talks with us, all day, every day, for the length of our days.
The Sadducees rejected the possibility of a resurrection because they were strict literalists. The rich territory of oral tradition that gave the Pharisaic tradition its lifeblood beyond the first five books of Torah, gave Pharisaic Judaism its energy to engage the world every day. The Sadducees only accepted the written word, with no commentary or questions. Those extreme literalists found no definition of resurrection in the pages of the Torah, and so they rejected it as a possibility. For the Sadducees the only prospect of eternal life was found in the propagation of progeny. The only “eternal life” they could envision, was the successful passing on of DNA.
Jesus’ come-back to the silly scenario posed by the Sadducees in this week’s gospel text, ditches their literalism for the existence of a new reality — the reality of the coming kingdom that challenges men and women to look beyond the limitations of this physical life and invites them to embrace the possibility of a resurrection life, a life lubricated by the Living Water of a risen and reigning Lord.
It’s a life that is lived with conviction and confidence, the assurance that there is real redemption and real resurrection and sees every living individual as a unique person who has been invited to participate in and rejoin the reality of redemption that Jesus’ resurrection has made possible. Docetism denied the possibility of any genuine resurrection. Discipleship wraps its arms around resurrection realities as the greatest possible human hope.
In Luke’s gospel, we observe as a group of Sadducees, members of the aristocracy and self-appointed guardians of the temple, try to pull Jesus into a “family fight.” They sadly believed only what was revealed in the written Torah, thus rejecting the evidence that was not only right in front of them, but all around them as well. The Sadducees told stories like this one to ridicule the belief in resurrection and life after death. Jesus settles the argument answering that the book of Exodus teaches the resurrection, describing Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as “alive to God.” Jesus then confirms this point; our Lord goes to the cross and by the power of an all-mighty God is raised from the dead. It was to be a surprising reversal of all those arguments that would seek to challenge God’s power to make all things new.
Yes it’s messy; yes it takes faith in a wholly human and wholly divine God. It’s much easier to look for the simple and easy answers. But thorough faith, a faith given to us by the Holy Spirit, we too will one day experience that same resurrection to new life. We don’t have to be sad-u-see, we can be resurrection saints: followers of Jesus who accept the messy reality of a fully human and fully divine God who loves us so much, that He emptied Himself for our sake and salvation. But the promise is sure: for those who believe, the future is a resurrection to life.

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