The first time I went to Steve’s grandmother’s house I was amazed. There was furniture everywhere. Three dressers in the dining room to hold various linens, curio cabinets filled with choochkies, tables of various sizes and uses. The house was pulled together beautifully, but there was a lot of stuff. It was a lot to take in.
The next time I went I looked a little bit more closely at the items around. And I noticed that there were stickers or labels on almost everything. They said Jim, Donny, Kelly, Heather, Steve, Gladys, Shela, and Cheryl. She caught me looking at them quizzically and explained quite quickly. “Those are the names of who gets what. If your name is on it, when I die, it’s yours.” She didn’t want her children arguing over her things, so she decided in advance who got what, and she expected her wishes to be fulfilled.
The first visit I made to Steve’s parents’ house after we were married was filled with very similar conversations. They told me where the important papers were, just in case. They showed me what furniture was Kelly’s and which was Steve’s. They even took me to the storage building to see which tools would go to which child. And every time we visited after that some version of that conversation would occur.
Some of you may be very familiar with these kinds of conversations. I didn’t grow up with them. I haven’t figured out if that’s because my extended family never really had much to argue over property wise, or if it’s because my Dad and his Dad had the same attitude “You aren’t going to get much of an inheritance,” he says, “It is my intention to watch you enjoy the blessings I can share while I’m still alive.”
Perhaps on All Saints Celebration Sunday it seems a bit odd to talk about inheritances. Isn’t it callous to think of the dead in terms of what they have left for us? And what does that have to do with the one bride for seven brothers scripture anyway?
The answer to the first question is, no. It’s not callus to think of the dead in terms of what they have left us, as long as we are not just talking about material things.
The answer to the second question is, it goes along perfectly with the scripture for today.
In our lesson from Luke Jesus has made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. You remember that entry of course, riding an unridden colt, people laying down their cloaks and waving palm branches? After this he goes into the city teaching and listening all the while heading to the cross.
In walk the Sadducees. We have not heard any other conversation between Jesus and the Sadducees in Luke. This is the first time they have spoken. Why might this be? Because the Sadducees believed that the place to worship God was at the temple, and only at the temple. Therefore, Sadducees were found where the temple was.
They have no doubt heard from other religious leaders the tales of this Rabbi. They have heard of his teaching, of his ability to draw a crowd, of his miraculous acts. A group decides to get close enough to test the mantle of this vagabond preacher so they ask a question.
““Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man[b] 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.”
What an interesting question! It takes a lot of mental gymnastics to unravel, some knowledge of the Old Testament idea of levirate marriage. But Jesus can work this one out in his sleep, right?
Only the Sadducees don’t want an answer to that question, whose wife will she be. They are trying to catch Jesus in an unwinnable argument. How do we know that? Luke tells us right up front, the Sadducees who don’t believe in the resurrection of the dead. These men don’t even believe in the resurrection. They believe that this life is all you get, so follow the rules, worship in the right place, live well and your eternity will be what you leave behind, what inheritance you can offer as a legacy.
Sometimes we can get so caught up in what our legacy is, what we are leaving behind, that we forget to live now. Sometimes we can be so focused on getting to heaven that we forget to live as resurrection people now.
Jesus knew that the Sadducees had no real belief in the resurrection, he saw their question for what it was, an attempt to put Jesus into a box, to pin him down so that they could openly reject him, so they might have just cause to end his ministry.
But Jesus doesn’t play by their rules. He doesn’t get caught up in their question. Instead he makes perhaps one of the most liberating, most amazing, most radical statement that we never hear.
To understand let’s get a bit of a background on marriage in biblical times. Marriage was a contract entered into by a man and another man. Yes, you heard me right. Marriage was a contract between two men. The bride’s father, and the groom. The bride had no legal say in the matter. Very often she was not consulted on her willingness to be married at all let alone to the person she is sold to.
Yes, I said sold. There was a bride’s price paid by the groom’s family for a bride. This was an economic transaction. You paid for the bride a certain price based on age, social status, virginity and these prices fluctuated with the market.
This question the Sadducees asked was whose wife will she be, and at its heart this is a question not of relationship, but of ownership. Who will be her husband? Who will be the one responsible for her in the afterlife?
Jesus’ response is amazing. Marriage will not be an issue in the resurrection of the dead. People will not enter into such contracts with one another. People will no longer marry or be given in marriage. People will no longer be sold. The contractual nature of marriage as was known in the 1st century will not be needed in the afterlife. Resurrection people will know how to care for each other without looking to profit from that. Resurrection people will understand relationships and mutuality.
Think about that for a moment. Resurrection people will not sell one another. There primary identity will be that of a child of God, not husband or wife, father or mother, but a child of God. The relationship with God will be the primary relationship, all other relationships will stem from that one.
Wow! Can you imagine what that will be like? The first thing you will think when you see someone else will be, family, another child of God. Not, I don’t like his hair, or her teeth, or his politics, or her voice. They are a child of the Living God.
Some scribes reply to Jesus saying “You have answered well.” Note that these scribes are not Sadducees, but rather other teachers of the law. Jesus has not played the Sadducees game and has if fact said that their worry about inheritance is unnecessary.
So, what does this mean for us today in Huntsville, AL? What does this say to us two days from an election that has caused a lot of division and aggravation the past 18 months?
I believe, with all my heart, that we are called to be resurrection people, citizens of the kingdom of God, children of the Almighty, in the present and not yet kingdom. As resurrection people, we should live in the way Jesus describes- not selling people, aware of their inherent value as fellow children of God, fellow image bearers of God.
The legacy we have inherited from those who have gone before us has lead us to this place. We have benefitted from their faith. We have been blessed by their belief. We have been lifted by their prayers. But to remember their legacy is not enough. For God is a God of the living!
I ask, when we think of those matriarchs and patriarchs that have gone before, when we say things like “Those are big shoes to fill” or “We need more people like her or him” what are we saying? Are we standing there looking at the footprints hoping that someone else might step up? Are we looking around expecting another person to become the one that helps?
Let me be frank, if those of us here today are unwilling to step into those shoes, then there will not a be a Christ Church to leave as a legacy to Wyatt and Everett, to Madeline, Genevieve and Aylee.
If we live as resurrection people, acknowledging God’s love for all, then we will reach out to share that love with all. We will give joyfully to our sisters and brothers in need. We will respond with all that we are to God’s call because God is our primary relationship.
In the big things and in the small things, we have the chance to be the people of God. When you vote, if you haven’t already, take time to remember that everyone there, even the people who disagree with you, are God’s image bearers, and treat them as such. Remember that everyone running, yes, even Him, even her, are the image bearers of Christ. Pray for them both accordingly.
When you take these boxes home tonight, remember the children who you will be helping. The boys and girls in Haiti who will receive food and education through these funds, the boys and girls whose hair will grow back once their nutrition issues are addressed. Think of the families that will be reached with God’s love because one of the least of these was shown love.May we, as resurrection people, carry the legacy of our Father in heaven with us willingly. May we step up and show love in action. Let us not wait to see what people do with what we leave behind. Let us help them enjoy the love of God in the here and now. Amen.