Saturday, November 10, 2007


Luke 20:27-38

No, I’m not confused about the seasons of the year. I realize that Christmas and not Easter is just around the corner. If nothing else all those ads that keep popping up remind me that I need to get busy with my Christmas shopping. Besides there are a lot of other holidays to get through before the Easter Bunny hops out.
But here we are, singing Easter songs in the middle of November. There’s a reason for my madness, and that reason is this passage from the Gospel of Luke. Because it talks about resurrection, I thought it would be great to sing some Easter songs out of season.

When we meet up with Jesus in this passage, he’s having a discussion with a group of Sadducees. The Sadducees were a group of religious and social conservatives who didn’t believe in the resurrection. Their Bible was essentially limited to the first five books of the Old Testament, and they didn’t think you could find the resurrection in these books. And so Jesus, who had a broader sense of God’s revelation, said to them: "He is God not of the dead, but of the living."
Now the passage itself is a fairly complicated discussion of what happens when a woman ended up married to seven brothers. In the resurrection, the Sadducees asked – to whom would she belong? It’s not just to whom would she be married, but to whom would she belong? Jesus says – in the resurrection the old ways don’t count – since no one is married, she wouldn’t belong to any of them. That sounds kind of liberating – don’t you think?
Since we’re on the subject of resurrection, I thought it would be useful to talk about how the resurrection affects the way we live. In other words, if you believe in resurrection, what difference does it make in your life in the "here and now?"

A few years ago I was invited to speak to a group of students studying World Religions at San Marcos High School. I was supposed to talk about Mainline Protestantism. Now that’s no easy task, since we’re a fairly diverse group. But, I did my best. When I told the group that most Mainline Protestants are moderate to liberal in their theology, I got asked about how we understand salvation. I told them that there’s not just one view. Some of us are even universalists. Now, that didn’t sit well with everyone. One student asked me, then why even be alive?

Now this student believed that we’re on the earth to be tested. We either we pass or we don’t, and if we don’t pass then surely there has to be some sort of punishment. I mean, if everyone passes then why be alive? What’s our purpose in being here? Besides, if everyone makes it into heaven and there’s no punishment in the offing, then why bother being good? Let’s just "eat, drink, and be merry!


Now you may be wondering – What does this have to do with the resurrection? Well, I think it has something to do with the way we understand life itself. Does it have a purpose? Does it have value? I think the answer can be found in Jesus’ statement that God is the "God of the living and not the dead," Life is important to God. God values life – all life – which means we should value life. God does not rejoice in death and neither should we.
We’re called to embrace resurrection living. That is, we’re called to live out the values of resurrection in the present.
To give you an example of what I mean, listen to what Garrison Keillor said at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco sometime after 9/11. He talked about the meaning of life in the aftermath of 9/11, and he said:

. . . if we want to really understand the truth of this event, we should look to all the men and women who saw that death was near, who called home on their cell phones. And not to express anger or fear or bitterness but, simply, to say "I love you, take care of the children, have a good life." In a moment of great clarity at the end, they called amidst smoke, and confusion and panic to give us their benediction. And we should accept it. Love each other, take care of the children, have a good life. And give thanks to the Lord with our whole heart for his steadfast love and faithfulness and beseech him that we may have a quiet and peaceful life in all godliness and dignity and that in every place men and women should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument. Amen.1

I do think this is a good description of resurrection living. It answers the question – why be alive? It is about living in relationship with God and with our neighbor. It’s a reminder that as the people of God we should value life so much that we don’t think about getting revenge, but instead we’re called to embrace each other and give thanks for the opportunity to be alive, even in the presence of death.
Now, we live in a time of great uncertainty, at a time when many of us are questioning why we are alive. People ask about their marriages, their jobs, their families, and they ask: What do these things mean? Jesus says to us as we ask these questions: Our God is God not of the dead but of the living!
The prophet Haggai spoke to people asking very similar questions. They had returned from exile in Babylon, but now their temple was gone. Besides that, the foundation stones for the new temple had been sitting there for years and the dimensions of this new temple, if it ever got built, wasn’t even close to the one that had been destroyed. So, what's the point? Haggai responded: Remember, what you build now is a foretaste of what is to come. Take courage and start to build.
God said to the Judeans, Take courage and work on the Temple "for I am with you." Yes, remember the promises I made to your ancestors when they came out of Egypt. "My spirit abides among you; do not fear." What does it mean to experience resurrection living? It means that when we’re in the presence of God we don’t have to live in fear and in regret.

We just finished with another holiday – Halloween. Halloween reminds us that death and fear go together, at least in the minds of many. With its ghosts and goblins, Halloween tells us that we should be afraid of death. But when we live in fear of death, we’re unable to love. But if God is the God of the living and not the dead, then there’s no need to fear. By embracing the resurrection we’re free to love and to live boldly before God.
1. Garrison Keillor quoted in "The Most Important Things," by Russell Peterman, The Wellspring: The Newsletter of Sandy Springs Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), 3 (October, 2001): 4.

Preached by:
Rev. Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Lompoc, CA
26th Sunday after Pentecost
November 11, 2007

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