November 10, 2019
A Resurrection Faith
Luke 20.27-38, Acts 4.1-3, 24.15-21, I Cor 15.51-58
Rev. Sandra Larson
The Luke passage that we heard this morning is about resurrection. That might seem odd at this time of year, rather than Easter time. Churches focus on resurrection in this part of the year because Presbyterians follow the widely practiced ecumenical Bible Lectionary. The lectionary was compiled in 1974 as a 3-year cycle of scripture readings designed to give an overview of the Bible. The church year starts in Advent and ends in November. So we are now near the end of Luke’s Gospel. Each year, the lectionary focuses on one of the first three Gospels. Next year will concentrate on Matthew. This year, the lectionary has focused on Luke’s story of Jesus from John the Baptist and Jesus’ birth to his crucifixion and resurrection.
In this morning’s reading from Luke 20, Jesus explains resurrection to onlookers and Sadducees who tried to stump him with a seemingly impossible question about life after life. In contrast to the Pharisees who believed in resurrection, Sadducees did not believe in resurrection. So the Sadducees posed a question about marriage after death to foil Jesus. Among the 1000’s of heaven jokes, I found a joke about marriage:
A couple had a fatal car accident on their way to get married. Outside the Pearly Gates, they wondered if they could get married in Heaven. They asked and St. Peter said, "This is the first time anyone has asked. Let me go find out.'" The couple waited a long time and began to wonder if their marriage didn't work out; could people get a divorce in heaven? Peter finally returned and said, "Yes. You can get married in Heaven."
"Great!" replied the couple, "But we just wonder, what if things don't work out? Can we get a divorce in Heaven?"
Peter ‘s face turned red, so the couple asked, "What's wrong?" Peter shouted, "OH, COME ON! It took months to find a priest up here! Do you have any idea how long it'll take to find a lawyer?"
People joke about subjects that make them uncomfortable. There are so many jokes about heaven because most of us try to remain in denial about death. Yet, we cannot avoid death. When we face the death of loved ones or our own inevitable death, Christians find hope because of belief in resurrection and heaven. I have conducted more than 100 funerals during my ministry. I remember a particularly sad funeral. I was asked by a funeral director in Eugene to officiate at the funeral of a woman who had no church affiliation. I’d never met them, so I asked her husband about their spiritual orientation. After a long hesitation, he said meekly, “We believe in…uhhh… ‘religion.’’
This couple were generous people. They continuously collected a carport full of pop cans in order to donate 5-cent rebates to charities and they were substantially involved in other community service. But this newly widowed man had no assurances of faith to turn to when his wife passed away.
He seemed empty and alone despite family gathered around him. Resurrection hope is not just written in the Bible and sung about on Easter. It is written in the hearts and hopes of faithful Christians.
Shortly before his own death, Jesus asserted, “The dead are raised to life.” Jesus also told his followers, I go to prepare a place for you.” Jesus also explained, “In my father’s house are many mansions. Jesus used such simple metaphors to give his listeners powerful hints of an unknowable life after life--embraced in God’s eternal love.
Still, many of us may wonder if heaven and resurrection are real, or, at least we wonder in what sense resurrection and heaven are real. We tend to celebrate Easter with enthusiasm for chocolate eggs and family gatherings rather than giving profound thanks for resurrection. Usually it’s only when someone we love is close to death that we seriously consider resurrection hope.
Take time today to consider what you truly believe about life after life. Do you believe in resurrection? What does resurrection mean? Are you judgmental about who is eligible for resurrection and who is condemned to damnation? Martin Luther had a radically inclusive sense of resurrection. Luther is quoted as saying, “Be comforted, little dog, you too, in Resurrection, shall have a little golden tail.” Even puppy dogs will find heaven. Nonetheless, humorist Rob Delaney parodies religious prejudices saying, “All dogs go to heaven. Unless they’re Jewish.” How inclusive is God’s eternal love?
What if someone asked you about heaven, how would you explain your beliefs about what happens after death?
Hope regarding resurrection and heaven is grounded in faith. To the frustration of all of us who want tangible certainty, faith is confidence in what lies beyond our knowledge and understanding. Christ assured his followers that death cannot hold us and there is a better “place” to which we go. Jesus used the metaphor of “mansions” to describe this heavenly realm. Jesus’ assurances and the testimony of how he lived life, and his willingness to die strengthen our trust in God. The testimonies of those left behind when he was killed also undergird our faith in resurrection.
Thomas even had to ask for physical proof, though the Gospel does not say whether he had to actually touch the resurrected Jesus with his own hand in order to believe in the resurrected Christ. And millions of Christians over the course of millennia have trusted God’s eternal promise ever since.
However: The miracle of Jesus’ resurrection means little--if it is no more than an event twenty centuries ago. If we truly trust God’s grace, every person can count himself immortal. Let us not merely say, 'Christ is risen,' but 'I shall rise.' Arthur Schopenhauer described this assurance this way: Every parting gives a foretaste of death, every reunion a hint of the resurrection.
Josh McDowell once explained, No matter how devastating our struggles, disappointments, and troubles are, they are only temporary. No matter what happens to us, no matter the depth of tragedy or pain we face, no matter how death stalks our loved ones, and us…yet the Resurrection promises a future of immeasurable good. McDowell adds:While the resurrection promises us a new and perfect life in the future ,God loves us too much to leave us alone to contend with the pain, guilt and loneliness of our present life.
Although we only have tiny glimpses of after-life, Jesus’ actions, teachings and death point to new life both now and for all eternity. I’m drawn to math and science in part because I want to KNOW. I want tangible evidence. Yet as I’ve grown older, my appreciation for unknowns continues to grow. I have deep gratitude for unknowns, mysteries and adventures of life. I recognize that I will never have complete or absolute knowledge about anything. I am grateful for Christian faith--which gives me peace of mind and hope about life and death.
I summarize my faith in resurrection this way: I do not know what happens after death. Yet I find peace of mind and courage in faith that whatever God has in store for us after we die is way better than we can begin to imagine. I can live each day, assured of God’s grace and God’s promises of everlasting joy after life. God’s promise of unimaginably wonderful life after death assures me of new life today and forever—no matter what I might face.
What do you believe about death and resurrection? How does your faith or lack of faith in resurrection impact your life?