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Fourth Quarter
2019

 

J Nichols Adams et al

November 10, 2019, 22nd Sunday after Pentecost, Ord Time 32, Proper 27

 

 

LectionAid 4th Quarter 2019

November 10, 2019, 22nd Sunday after Pentecost, Ord Time 32, Proper 27

The Trick Question

Psalm 145:1-5, 17-21 or Psalm 98 or Psalm 17:1-9, Haggai 1:15b-2:9 or Job 19:23-27a, 2Thess 2:1-5, 13-17, Luke 20:27-38

Theme: God of the Living

Top of Page ILLUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT THE SERMON

Starting Thoughts

Protagonists and their opponents often argue past each other because they start from different places. This was certainly true of Jesus and his opponents, the Sadducees. The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection from the dead. They were wealthy political pragmatists, who collaborated with the Romans and benefited from the status quo. Jesus, who in John’s gospel calls himself “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25), begins with a presupposition that God’s intention is resurrection and new life. The Sadducees were threatened by Jesus’s growing popularity and influence, so they needed to find a ready way to discredit him. By telling a crude joke or if you will a crude trick question, they thought they could show the logical absurdity of resurrection by making reference to the levirate law (from the Latin “levir,” meaning “husband’s brother”), a practice still found in Africa today, which requires a deceased husband’s brother to marry his widow if there are no sons to support her.
The Sadducees were not counting on Jesus looking at the whole question from a different point of view. Jesus, who pointed others beyond this life to the spiritual realm of God, where different rules apply, defends his description of the status of those who wait for resurrection, by retelling the story of the burning bush, which Moses says was God speaking, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God, who exists beyond time, is God of the living, he says, and to him, the Patriarchs are alive. This is proof enough to Jesus that the dead are raised, and that resurrection life follows different rules than those that apply to this vale of tears.
Did you ever tell a great joke, and have it fall flat? In the following verses, the scribes in the crowd compliment Jesus, and Luke comments that after that, no one asked him any more questions, because they assumed, they would be had like the Sadducees. The verses preceding this pericope mention the scribes and the chief priests, who also were confounded by Jesus’s genius at getting out of a tight spot. The opposition, from this point on, went underground and behind the scenes. Failing to discredit him at argument, they decided to plot his death to silence him. How often are opponents jealous and discomfited when someone seems to outwit them, and how often do they attempt then simply to silence him by any means possible? This was the fate of Martin Luther King, Jr., whose simple soul force and persistent non-violence wore down his opposition. So they tried to discredit him with guilt by association, releasing pictures of King at a “communist” training camp. If you can’t silence the message, discredit the messenger. Eventually, death was his reward.
God continually promises renewal and restoration, as in the Old Testament reading from Haggai. Under the Persians, who had conquered the Babylonians, the exiles would in fact return to rebuild Jerusalem, and the nation of Judah would be restored. The walls of the city would be repaired, and the Temple reoccupied. Prosperity, dignity, even splendor, would return to the people, and, just as in the Exodus from Egypt, God would liberate and redeem his people. This is more than probable, or possible, it is certain, says the Lord through the prophet, because “The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lord of hosts” (vs. 8). This passage underscores the meaning of the gospel reading, that God is God of the living, and fulfills ancient promises. The salvific Psalm 145 mirrors the same convictions
One of the challenges in interpreting these passages is to avoid mechanical justice. It is for God’s own glory that God will fulfill these promises. There is no guarantee that in every individual life everything will turn out rosy. Indeed, the 2 Thessalonians passage has Paul reassuring the readers that God is to be trusted, and they should not be alarmed that the expected soon return of Christ has not occurred. The presence of this passage among the readings permits the preacher to refer to a disturbing popular culture phenomenon, the tremendously popular Left Behind series of books by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. These words of Paul, spoken almost two thousand years ago, remind us all that the return of Jesus Christ is a mystery. A little historical theology will help parishioners put into perspective the many possible interpretations of these passages.
A brief history of the premillennial, postmillennial and amillennial theories will help listeners understand that there is no agreement on how to interpret such passages, and we must therefore remain humble and faithful before them. Congregants need to know that LaHaye-Jenkins is just one more chapter in a two-millennium quest for certainty in interpretation, when certainty is not to be had. The preacher can note that these recent best-sellers, appealing as they may be to some frustrated by the ugly turns of international events, are based on the Darbyism of the Schofield Reference Bible, a late 19th century development in biblical interpretation that has been largely discredited. LaHaye’s claims to have discovered the true and correct interpretation of the end times is laughable when taken in historical perspective, but he is depending on the biblical and historical ignorance of the American public. Preachers need to address this. You will have to determine how popular these books are among your parishioners before you spend a great deal of time refuting them. But the mere interest in them on a popular level shows that people have much anxiety about world events, feel powerless, and are seeking reassurance. Pointing them to 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17, with its reassuring words of encouragement to faithfulness, is helpful. C.S. Lewis once remarked that what God expects of us is that we will be (to use a World War II kind of image) “at our posts.” If we are faithful to the love and justice of Jesus Christ, it really doesn’t matter what eschatology we embrace!
The Sadducees’ joke is not very funny, if it succeeds in vitiating Christ’s teachings of any merit. But he is able to counter their claim that resurrection is senseless by pointing out that even Moses seems to speak of the life after this life by speaking of the Patriarchs as living in God’s eyes. The Sadducees salutation to Jesus as “Teacher” is either respectful or mocking: we don’t have their tone of voice. But Jesus is canny enough to argue with them from the Torah, since they had little use for the prophets or the writings. They must have been surprised when he chose Moses as the exemplar of belief in the resurrection, so this was a brilliant move on Jesus’s part. The argument seems to have punctured their last attempt to refute him.
In conclusion, it should be pointed out in our preaching that the overwhelming affirmation in the teaching of Jesus is entirely aimed at eternal life (a term more comfortable to John than Luke). God is the God of the living, and his overwhelming word of “Yes!” is spoken in the resurrection. Any hardship in life, any sadness or loss, any disappointment or pain, is gathered up and nullified in God’s affirmation of the gift of life eternal. The terrible ambiguities with which life presents us must be seen from the other side, seen from God’s point of view, God who has already said the final, decisive “Yes!” in the resurrection of Christ. Our own lives are swept up and carried along in this flood of affirmation. Our sorrows and pain, like those of Jesus, will one day be no more. So we can bear them with dignity, and even know joy in the midst of them, because of our union with the God who is the God of the living, to whom all the faithful are alive. In Christian faith, we are invited to look at things through the eyes of God as God has been revealed to us in Christ.
Jesus felt the Sadducees trying to nullify this faith in logical rationalities based on the conventions of this world. But God’s point of view is entirely different, entirely positive, entirely life affirming. Jesus not only thought outside the box, he understood not only that the question was a “trick question”, but also gave the correct answer because Jesus was not confined to the limits of logic or linear thinking. Jesus saw the whole picture, Jesus really understood the living God.

Exegetical Comments

The Saints are Children of God. Cyril of Alexandria: Let us also see what Christ said to them. He says, “The children of this world that lead worldly, fleshly lives full of fleshly lust marry and are married for the procreation of children. Those who have maintained an honorable and chosen life, full of all excellence, and have been accounted worthy of attaining to a glorious and marvelous resurrection, certainly will be raised far above the life which people lead in this world. They will live as is suitable for saints who already have been brought near to God. They are equal with the angels and are the children of God. Since all fleshly lust is taken away and no place whatsoever is left in them for bodily pleasure, they resemble the holy angels, fulfilling a spiritual and not a material service suitable for holy spirits. They are at the same time counted worthy of a glory like the angels enjoy. Commentary on Luke, Homily 136.
No Marriage and No Physical Desire in the Resurrection. Clement of Alexandria: If anyone ponders over this answer about the resurrection of the dead, he will find that the Lord is not rejecting marriage but is purging the expectation of physical desire in the resurrection. The words “the children of this age” were not spoken in contrast to the children of some other age. It is like saying, “those born in this generation,” who are children by force of birth, being born and engendering themselves, since without the process of birth no one will pass into this life. This process of birth is balanced by a process of decay and is no longer in store for the person who has once been cut off from life here. Stromateis 3.87.2–3.
Jesus Cites Moses to Affirm the Resurrection. Cyril of Alexandria: The Savior also demonstrated the great ignorance of the Sadducees by bringing forward their own leader Moses, who was clearly acquainted with the resurrection of the dead. He set God before us saying in the bush, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” Of whom is he God, if, according to their argument, these have ceased to live? He is the God of the living. They certainly will rise when his almighty right hand brings them and all that are on the earth there.
For people not to believe that this will happen is worthy perhaps of the ignorance of the Sadducees, but it is altogether unworthy of those who love Christ. We believe in him who says, “I am the resurrection and the life.” He will raise the dead suddenly, in the twinkling of an eye, and at the last trumpet. It shall sound, the dead in Christ shall rise incorruptible, and we shall be changed.37 For Christ our common Savior will transfer us into incorruption, glory and to an incorruptible life. Commentary on Luke, Homily 136.
Living to Christ by the Grace of Baptism. Philoxenus of Mabbug: The prophet’s words are applicable to those who sin without perceiving their sin. A sinner who has received baptism, although he may be dead toward his soul because he does not perceive his sin, he is alive to God because of the grace of baptism that he possesses. This agrees with the words “God is not of the dead but of the living, for they are all living in him.” On the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit 1.(Just, A. A. (Ed.). Luke [2005, Downers Grove, IL] pp. 312–313)
This is the third and final question (Matthew and Mark have four questions, but the fourth Luke dealt with earlier, 10:25–28) put to Jesus by opponents during his Jerusalem ministry. It is a question which under other circumstances would have elicited a pastoral response, for the question of the resurrection is vital not only to the Christian faith but to all people who reflect on life and death. Paul dealt with the subject when it arose among Christians as a confusing doctrine (1 Cor. 15) and when the deaths of friends and relatives had created for one church a mood of unrelieved bereavement (1 Thess. 4:13–18). Here the question comes to Jesus with no personal investment on the part of the interrogators; their aim is to argue, to embarrass, to force Jesus into one particular school of thought, or perhaps just to divide the audience. There is among them no spirit of inquiry or desire to learn. They are simply baiting Jesus with one of their classic “what if” questions, a question on which their minds had been settled long ago: there is no resurrection of the dead (v. 27; Acts 23:8). The Sadducees (the name may have derived from Zadok, high priest under Solomon) were one of several parties within Judaism. Judaism has never been monolithic, and to say “the Jews believed” is to be misinformed and to misinform. Sadducees were of the priestly class, many of them aristocratic and wealthy, they were theologically conservative, and Scripture for them consisted of only the five books of Moses. No teaching was authoritative if it was not found in the Pentateuch, and they found no doctrine of the resurrection in the books of Moses (cf. the article on Sadducees in Harper’s Bible Dictionary). The Pharisees, on the other hand, not only included the prophets and the writings in their Scripture but also believed in the authority of the oral tradition from Moses. In that oral tradition was the basis for belief in the resurrection. The subject was heatedly debated between the two parties, a fact that Paul made use of to draw attention away from himself during his trial before the Jewish council (Acts 23:6–10).
Unlike many of us who give vent to frustration when grilled by persons who have no intention of being influenced by our responses, Jesus answers the question rather than the attitude prompting it. His answer is twofold. The first part (vv. 34–36) simply points out the inappropriateness of the question, given the difference between life in this age and the age to come. In this age, the fact of death makes marriage and perpetuation of life essential. However, in the age to come there is no death, but those who attain to the resurrection are equal to the angels, they are children of God. Notice how far this is from the notion of the immortal soul, an idea that has intruded itself into Christian doctrine. Immortality is based on a doctrine of human nature that denies death; resurrection is based on a doctrine of God which says that even though we die, God gives life to the dead.
In the second part of his answer Jesus draws on the Sadducees’ own Bible, the books of Moses (vv. 37–40). Their question is based on the levirate law of marriage (Deut. 25:5–10) which details the duty of a man toward a deceased brother. Jesus answers them with Ex. 3:6: God is a God of the living and not of the dead. It follows then, says Jesus, that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are living, not dead. There is nothing here to initiate or support doctrines of intermediate states of being between death and resurrection.
The two parts of Jesus’ answer to the Sadducees constitute an argument from reason (conditions of this life do not constitute proof of conditions in the next) and Scripture (Ex. 3:6) for the belief in the resurrection of the dead. In this belief Jesus agreed with the Pharisees. To what extent these two lines of argumentation were used by early Christians is not known. Since its documents are addressed to Christians, there is little attempt to prove the resurrection in the New Testament. Matthew gives briefly an argument for the resurrection of Jesus (Matt. 27:62–28:15), at Pentecost Simon Peter made a case for the resurrection of Jesus from Ps. 16:8–11 (Acts 2:24–31), and Paul argued both Christ’s resurrection and ours with a church in which this was an issue among believers (1 Cor. 15:12–58). Apparently, some in Corinth (as was the case in other churches) interpreted resurrection experientially (we have been raised to new life in Christ) but not eschatologically. Paul argued for the truth of both interpretations. Since Luke believed that the Old Testament testified to Jesus’ passion and resurrection (24:44–46), we may assume that arguments from Scripture such as we have in Acts 2:24–31 were common in early Christian preaching as Luke’s research recovered it. But in all these cases the argumentation has to do with the resurrection of Jesus, not with a doctrine of resurrection in general. Resurrection was first of all a matter of Christology: God has vindicated Jesus by raising him from the dead. From that proclamation came the belief in the resurrection of believers. Therefore, while Jesus’ words to the Sadducees may have been used in and by the church to counter doubts about resurrection, apparently the primary attention was not on resurrection as such but on the resurrection of Jesus. On that belief depended the understanding of both the present and the future life of his followers. Remove from the discussion the resurrection of Jesus and talk about life after death remains interesting but for Jesus’ followers ceases to be very important.
Some scribes who overheard Jesus’ response to the Sadducees speak to him approvingly of his answer. While it is possible that they are admiring of his logic, more likely they were scribes of the Pharisees and therefore agreed with Jesus concerning resurrection. According to Luke (v. 40), the interrogation of Jesus by critics and opponents ends. He continues to teach the people in the temple (v. 45). We may be sure, however, that the end of questioning does not mean the end of plotting, for some minds are fixed: Jesus must be delivered to the governor (20:20).(Craddock, F. B. Luke [1990, Louisville, KY] pp. 237–239)
The Sadducean query is based on Deuteronomy 25:6–10, where Levitical marriage is prescribed when a man dies childless. These verses enjoin a man to take his brother’s widow in marriage and to beget a child with her. Verses 6, 7, and 8 each refer to the purpose of this injunction, to “perpetuate the dead brother’s name in Israel.” Death threatens the people, and these God-commanded marriages (with the begetting of children) are a way to thwart death. The command of the law has as its purpose the continuation of the brother’s life among the people of God by the continuation of his name. But if the brothers all live a resurrected life after death and the woman with them, how is the marital arrangement managed?
In Luke 20:27–33 the repetitive mention of the brothers suggests an unrelenting battle with death in which death appears to win. One brother after another falls. One brother after another is unable to perpetuate his name in Israel. This tragedy for the family is precisely the one which the command to remarriage seeks to mitigate. Yet the remedy becomes absurd if there is a resurrection and no one will be blotted out of Israel in the afterlife. The Sadducees wonder why God would command such a remedy in the face of resurrection.
Jesus takes the question seriously, perhaps for the sake of his hearers and/or Luke’s audience. (We include ourselves in the second group.) Jesus does not, however, try to prioritize or manage the intricate relationships of this complex resurrected family. He does not address the Deuteronomic law on its own terms. Rather than undercut or devalue either the law or Moses as a bona fide speaker of God’s word, Jesus shifts the playing field. He contrasts the two ages, “this age” and its children in verse 34 and “that age” and those who are worthy of it in verse 35. He denies that God is a God of the dead but insists that God is a God of the living (v. 38). What Moses has written for us has nothing to do with the relationships that will hold in resurrected life. Everything changes when we are no longer able to die.
This is his central point. Note that there are two uses of “for” (gar) in verse 36. With these words we get the reason for the distinctions in marriage practice between this age and the next (vv. 34–35). Verse 35 and verse 36 emphasize resurrection structurally: “Those considered worthy … of the resurrection of the dead … are children of God since they are children of the resurrection.” In between we learn that such children of the resurrection do not participate in marriage because they are no longer able to die. They are equal to the angels and children of the resurrection. In other words, remarriage for the continuation of one’s name is irrelevant when death is no longer a threat to one’s life and participation with the covenant people of God.
For Jesus, Scripture proves the truth of his claim that because of resurrection the relationship of God and God’s people continue after earthly death. He cites the present tense verb used by God in God’s own self-identification as the God now of patriarchs long dead from an earthly point of view. God is the God of those who continue to live with God. That is, in fact, the next point. God is just that God with whom relationship (in v. 36 being a child of God) is for life. Of the many ways that God could have been identified, it is this particularly scriptural phrase with this particular interpretation that Jesus chooses. He thus uses Moses as his own authority, creating a community of interpretation with the Sadducees, and makes his own claim on the basis of Moses. God is a God of the living, even those who seem to us to be dead. There must be a resurrection, since God’s self-definition is as one who continues in relationship. “For all live in God” (v. 38).
His interpretation is accepted and appreciated even by his enemies. There can be no refutation of such a powerful reading concerning God. “You have spoken well,” some of the scribes say. Indeed, Jesus’ argument was not only made on the basis of a source trusted by all the Jews, including the Sadducees, but it pushed them to think more deeply about their own tradition and about God. Who could ask for more than that in a theological argument? The answer to this question goes to the heart of what will happen to Jesus himself in the final chapters of the Gospel and to the heart of our own lives together as people of God.
Challenges to limited thinking, to time-honored traditions, even to our most loved and useful guiding tenets, are often not welcome. How easy for Christians to imagine that the role of Jesus was to challenge and reform the frustrating legalism of Jewish institutions and bring new Christian light and life to these stubborn and wrongheaded folks. Note well, however, that Luke’s story shows us an argument among Jews about who God is and what we have most to hope for from God. Such arguing continues among Christians to this day. Indeed, it must, for we have a living God, an ancient Scripture, and many different Spirit-led experiences.
A preacher might well help us to imagine ourselves as the Sadducees, who for reasons of their own wanted to silence Jesus the rabble-rouser. Instead they got a profound confession about God’s determination to be the God of the living even after we die. They heard Jesus insist that God is a determined lover who will not let the beloved go. This insistence, Jesus says, is at the heart of Scripture, and he quotes Exodus to prove it. Not only is this at the heart of Scripture, but the confession that God is a God of the living is of the utmost importance to everyone. To use our limited, even our best limited, concepts about our present lives to speculate about the future is a waste of time. God’s measureless love that will not be broken by death will not be confounded by human interpretations and systems. (Henrich, S. The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis For Sunday’s Texts [2001, Grand Rapids, MI] Vol 3 pp. 444–447)
The Sadducees were a Jewish group that was closely aligned with the aristocratic and priestly classes. Because they left no writings, little is known about them; our only knowledge of the Sadducees comes from references in Josephus, in the NT (esp. Matthew and Acts), and later rabbinic writings. The name goes back to Zadok, the high priest at the time of David and Solomon. Nevertheless, the earliest reference to the Sadducees in Josephus describes their activity during the time of John Hyrcanus (135–104 BC). In contrast to the Pharisees, the Sadducees rejected the authority of oral tradition, denied the belief in resurrection and angels, and emphasized free will over determinism. Their views on the authority of the prophetic writings, their openness to Hellenism, and the nature of their relationship to the priests are all debated.
The Sadducees appear in Luke as a group aligned with the chief priests, scribes, and leaders of the people. Luke introduces the Sadducees to his readers as a group who say there is no resurrection, presumably because Gentile Christians would not have known of this group. The one piece of information that Luke supplies enables the reader to see that their question is designed to reduce belief in resurrection to the point of absurdity. The first clear reference to belief in the resurrection of the dead appears in Dan 12:2. By the first century, the resurrection was affirmed by the Pharisees and apparently also the Essenes. In some Jewish writings the Hellenistic belief in the immortality of the soul also appears (Wis 3:4; 8:13; 15:3; 4 Macc 14:5).
The Sadducees’ question assumes the practice of levirate marriage. Prior to belief in resurrection, the Israelites believed that one lived on in one’s descendants and in their memory. Hence, if a man died without children, his brother was obligated to take his wife and have children by her. The provision of children in this way also ensured the perpetuation of property within the immediate family and security for the brother’s widow. Levirate marriage, a term that derives from the Latin, levir, “brother-in-law,” is attested in Ugarit, Middle Assyrian, and Hittite law codes. Deuteronomy 25:5–10 provides that the widow shall not marry a stranger. Rather, the deceased’s brother “shall go in to her, taking her in marriage, and performing the duty of a husband’s brother to her” (Deut 25:5 NRSV; cf. Gen 38:8; Lev 18:16; Ruth 3:9, 12–13). If the man refuses to take his brother’s widow, she shall summon the elders, pull his sandal off his foot, and spit in his face (Deut 25:9), thereby demonstrating that she is free from any further obligation to her husband’s family. Thereafter, his house would be known as “the house of him whose sandal was pulled off” (Deut 25:10 NRSV).
Having dismissed the basis for the Sadducees’ question by explaining that life in the resurrection will not simply be a continuation of life as we now know it, Jesus turns to the root of their question: the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. By means of midrashic argument, Jesus grounds the teaching of resurrection in the writings accepted by the Sadducees themselves—the Law of Moses. He calls their attention to the familiar story of the burning bush. Rather than quoting the words of the Lord (as Mark does), Luke cites Moses’ report of the words: “He speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (v. 37). The logic of the argument hinges on the axiom that God is “God not of the dead, but of the living”; therefore, the patriarchs must be in some sense alive to God or in God.
Jesus’ words on the nature of life after death are at once intriguing, reassuring, and disturbing. The question is as old and as timeless as the struggles of Job, who asked, “If mortals die, will they live again?” (Job 14:14 NRSV). Recall the Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno’s quest to know whether there is life beyond death. It is the question we cannot dismiss but cannot answer from reason or experience alone. Is there life beyond death, and if so, what will it be like?
Because Jesus said so little about the subject—a parable about Lazarus and the rich man, a word to the thief on the cross—this pronouncement is all the more important. Critical questions remain. To what extent have the words attributed to Jesus been shaped or altered by early Christian debates about marriage, sex, and childbearing? At the least, Luke differs from Matthew and Mark in his account of the words of Jesus (Luke 20:34–36). Luke has evidently introduced deliberate changes from Mark at this point, and his editing heightens the contrast between the place of marriage in this life and in the resurrection.
For those who have lived through violent, abusive marriages, the pronouncement that in the resurrection we will neither marry nor be given in marriage may come as liberating good news. On the other hand, those who have enjoyed lifelong intimacy and companionship in marriage may well object that God has invested so much in establishing faithful, loving, and fulfilling relationships in this life that it is unthinkable that such relationships would be terminated in the resurrection. One approach to interpreting this saying is to recognize that it is set in a time when marriage was viewed primarily as an arrangement of a man’s rights to a woman and a woman’s right to male support. In heaven there will be no need for such arrangements. Leaving aside the physical side of love and marriage (which belongs to the flesh), there will be no need to restrict love, intimacy, or companionship to a monogamous relationship.
Sometimes it is best to recognize the mystery of the unknown and the limitations of our understanding. A child cannot grasp either the complexities or the pleasures of adulthood. What child finds a quiet evening on the back porch talking and watching the sun set more enjoyable than running to catch fireflies or playing hide and seek in the dusk? “When I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now, we see in a mirror, dimly” (1 Cor 13:11–12 NRSV).
Jesus’ words can thus be approached from a positive side. The God who created human life, including the institution of marriage, has also provided for life after death for those who have cultivated the capacity to respond to God’s love. The biblical teaching is that life comes from God. There is nothing in or of the human being that is naturally or inherently immortal. If there is life beyond death, it is God’s gift to those who have accepted God’s love and entered into relationship with God in this life: They “are children of God, being children of the resurrection” (20:36).
(Culpepper, R. A. (The Gospel of Luke. In L. E. Keck (Ed.), New Interpreter’s Bible [1994–2004, Nashville] Vol. 9, pp. 389–390)
In reply, Jesus makes two basic points. First, resurrection life will not be exactly the same as the present one. Death will have been abolished, and so sexual relations, and especially the need to continue a particular family line, will be irrelevant. Those who are raised will therefore be ‘equal to angels’: not in the sense that they will become angels (as folk-religion belief sometimes suggests), but in the sense that they will live in a deathless, immortal state. Jesus is not here suggesting that the resurrection will not be bodily; merely that the bodies of the raised will be, in significant ways, quite unlike our present ones. Those whom God counts worthy of ‘the age to come’, as opposed to ‘the present age’ (verses 34–35), will have bodies appropriate for the new world in which death will be no more.
Second, Jesus proposes that the book of Exodus, one of those the Sadducees acknowledged as authoritative, does indeed teach the resurrection, when it describes God as ‘the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’. The patriarchs are still ‘alive to God’. This doesn’t mean they are already ‘raised from the dead’. Any first century Jew would have known that was not the case. It means that they are alive in God’s presence, awaiting their final resurrection. The Sadducees denied that, while the Pharisees believed it (see Acts 23:6–9). Jesus is here firmly on the side of the Pharisees.
The resurrection of Jesus, of course, gave a huge boost to his followers’ belief both about Jesus himself and about their own future life. But they went on telling this story about his debate with the Sadducees, not just because it indicated his own teaching on the subject, but because Easter had shown that the aristocracy, the guardians of the Temple, had been proved wrong. God could and did act decisively to reverse even a sentence of death. God could and would act decisively to overturn the Sadducees’ power and vindicate his true people. (Wright, T. Luke for Everyone [2004, London] pp. 245–246)

Preaching Possibilities

The world is full of trick questions. In fact, people are often stumped by trick questions because they try to go about logically answering them. Jesus was not so easily tricked. He saw the fact that the Sadducees where trying to trick him and in so doing prove him wrong. He was not distracted by the trick question or if you will the unfunny joke. Jesus instead refused to be tricked by a Red Herring but saw deeper than anyone else.
A good way to help everyone to start thinking in this was may be to use a few of the trick questions offered up. Ask not one but several, to help everyone begin to see that you need to look beyond the obvious. It might be fun to ask the congregation and have people answer. It may be children that have the answer, and that easily points to how Jesus saw the wisdom of children.

Top of Page ILLUSTRATING THE SERMON

Different Sermon Illustrations

What is bigger than the universe and if you eat it for a week, you will lose some weight?
Answer: Nothing. (Nothing is bigger than the universe, and if you eat nothing for a week, you will lose some weight.)
This is a trick question. Think about it for a minute or so.
If you know the answer, you probably heard it before from a kid.
If you figured out the answer without any previous exposure, congratulations!
If you haven't figured out the answer and want to give up, check Answer 1 at the end of this article.
In addition to becoming popular with children and torturing grownups, trick questions reward you for thinking laterally, outside the box. They provide you with “aha” moments. They teach you to ignore irrelevant noise and focus on the critical piece of information.
I have been collecting trick questions like this one for the past couple of months. In case you are curious, here's the earliest trick question that is included in my collection. It is incorporated in an eighteenth-century nursery rhyme:
As I was going to St. Ives
I met a man with seven wives,
Each wife had seven sacks,
Each sack had seven cats,
Each cat had seven kits,
Kits, cats, sacks, wives,
How many were going to St. Ives?
How do you figure out trick questions? To listen carefully, ignore red herrings, focus on critical information, think laterally, and give the correct answer. So using this rule it means that everything but the first line about St Ives is a red herring. The answer to the second question is only one person is going to St Ives. The teller of the tale.
What is bigger than the universe and if you eat it for a week, you will lose some weight?
Answer: Nothing. (Nothing is bigger than the universe, and if you eat nothing for a week, you will lose some weight.)
Question: what english word do most people spell incorrectly?
Answer: the word “incorrectly”
Question: two boys play seven games of chess. There are no ties. Both boys win the same number of games. How is this possible?
Answer: the boys are not playing against each other.
Question: why do women in india have more shoes than women in the neighboring country of pakistan?
Answer: because there are more women in india.
Question: you are a racecar driver. If you overtake the last car, what position are you in?
Answer: you cannot overtake the last car.
Question: you are a racecar driver. Just before the finish line, you overtake the second car. In what position do you finish?
Answer: second. (you finish first only if you overtake the first car.) (http://www.thiagi.com/new-blog/2016/11/5/trick-questions)

1. What two things can you never eat for breakfast?
Lunch and dinner.
2. What gets wetter the more it dries?
A towel.
3. What word is spelled incorrectly in every single dictionary?
Incorrectly.
4. What never asks a question but gets answered all the time?
Your cellphone.
5. What goes up but never ever comes down?
Your age.
6. A girl fell off a 50-foot ladder but didn’t get hurt. How come?
She fell off the bottom rung.
7. What starts with “e” and ends with “e” but only has one letter in it?
An envelope.
8. How can a girl go 25 days without sleep?
She sleeps at night.
9. You spot a boat full of people but there isn’t a single person on board. How is that possible?
Everyone on board is married.
10. How do you make the number one disappear?
Add the letter G and it’s “gone”!
11. What’s greater than God and more evil than the devil. Rich people want it, poor people have it. And if you eat it, you’ll die?
Nothing.
12. A cowboy rode into town on Friday. He stayed in town for three days and rode out on Friday. How is that possible?
Friday was the name of his horse.
13. What two keys can’t open any door?
A monkey and a donkey.
14. What will you actually find at the end of every rainbow?
The letter “w.”
15. A young boy was rushed to the hospital emergency room, but the ER doctor saw the boy and refused to operate. “This boy is my son,” the doctor said. But the doctor wasn’t the boy’s father. How could this be?
The doctor was the boy’s mom.
16. What has a face and two hands, but no arms or legs?
A clock.
17. What can be caught but never thrown?
A cold.
18. I start out tall, but the longer I stand, the shorter I grow. What am I?
A candle.
19. How many seconds are there in a year?
Twelve. January 2nd, February 2nd, March 2nd, etc.
20. What can run but not walk?
Raindrops.
21. How many months have 28 days?
All 12!
22. Thanks to me, you can see straight through the wall. What am I?
A window.
23. Which weighs more, a pound of feathers or a pound of bricks?
Neither. They both weigh exactly one pound.
24. How can the pocket of your pants be empty, but still have something in it?
When the something is a hole.
25. What has a thumb and four fingers but isn’t actually alive?
Your gloves.
26. Imagine you’re in a room that’s filling up with water quickly. There are no windows or doors. How do you get out?
Stop imagining.
27. Everyone in the world needs it, but they usually give it without taking it. What is it?
Advice.
28. What can you hold without touching it at all?
A conversation.
29. I am an odd number. Take away one letter and I become even. What number am I?
Seven (take away the ‘s’ and it becomes ‘even’).
30. I’m light as a feather, but not even the strongest girl can hold me for more than 5 minutes. What am I?
Breath.
31. Two mothers and two daughters went out to eat, everyone ate one slice of pizza, yet only three slices were eaten. How’s that possible?
The group included a grandmother, her daughter and her daughter’s daughter.
32. What 5-letter word becomes shorter when you add two letters to it?
Short.
33. Can you name three consecutive days without using the words Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday?
Yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
34. What gets sharper the more you use it?
Your brain.
35. A man was outside taking a walk when it started to rain. The man didn’t have an umbrella and he wasn’t wearing a hat or a hood. His clothes got soaked, yet not a single hair on his head got wet. How could this be?
The man was bald.
36. What can you make that no one—not even you—can see?
Noise.
37. What belongs to you but gets used by everyone else more than you?
Your name.
38. What occurs once in a minute, twice in a moment, and never in one thousand years?
The letter M.
39. I’m so fragile that if you say my name, you’ll break me. What am I?
Silence.
40. If I drink, I die. If I eat, I’m fine. What am I?
A fire.
41. What’s full of holes but can still hold liquid?
A sponge.
42. I have teeth but can’t eat. What am I?
A comb.
43. First you throw away my outside and cook the inside. Then you eat my outside and throw away my inside. What am I?
Corn on the cob. Because you throw away the husk, cook the corn. Then you eat the kernels, and throw away the cob.
44. What runs, but never walks. Murmurs, but never talks. Has a bed, but never sleeps. And has a mouth, but never eats?
A river.
45. What bird can lift the most weight?
A crane.
46. What goes up as soon as the rain comes down?
An umbrella.
47. The more you take, the more you leave behind. What am I?
Footprints.
48. I have all the knowledge you have. But I’m so small, you can hold me in your fist. What am I?
Your brain.
49. How much dirt is there in a hole that’s 5 feet wide and 5 feet deep?
None.
50. What has three feet but can’t walk?
A yardstick.
51. If two’s company and three’s a crowd, what do four and five make?
Nine.
52. What travels the world while stuck in one spot?
A stamp!
53. Name four days of the week that start with the letter “t”?
Tuesday, Thursday, today, and tomorrow.
54. What has four eyes but can’t see?
Mississippi
55. What’s as big as an elephant but weighs absolutely nothing?
Its shadow.
56. What has a neck but no head?
A bottle.
57. What moves faster: heat or cold?
Heat. Because you can always catch a cold.
58. Forwards I’m heavy but backwards I’m not. What am I?
A ton.
59. A girl leaves home and turns left three times, only to return home facing two guys wearing masks. Who are the two guys?
The catcher and the umpire.
60. Beth’s mother has three daughters. One is called Lara, the other one is Sara. What is the name of the third daughter?
Beth.
61. What gets bigger and bigger the more you take away from it?
A hole.
62. I have one head, one foot, and four legs. What am I?
Your bed.
63. We see it once in a year, twice in a week, and never in a day. What is it?
The letter “e”
64. If I have it, I don’t share it. If I share it, I don’t have it. What is it?
A secret.
65. What has one eye but can’t see anything at all?
A needle. (https://thoughtcatalog.com/january-nelson/2018/03/65-riddles-for-kids-guaranteed-to-stump-you-too/)

Red Herring sometimes called Ignoratio elenchi (also known as: beside the point, misdirection [form of], changing the subject, false emphasis, the Chewbacca defense, irrelevant conclusion, irrelevant thesis, clouding the issue, ignorance of refutation)
Description: Attempting to redirect the argument to another issue to which the person doing the redirecting can better respond. While it is similar to the avoiding the issue fallacy, the red herring is a deliberate diversion of attention with the intention of trying to abandon the original argument.
Logical Form:
Argument A is presented by person 1.
Person 2 introduces argument B.
Argument A is abandoned.
Example #1:
Mike: It is morally wrong to cheat on your spouse, why on earth would you have done that?
Ken: But what is morality exactly?
Mike: It’s a code of conduct shared by cultures.
Ken: But who creates this code?...
Explanation: Ken has successfully derailed this conversation off of his sexual digressions to the deep, existential, discussion on morality.
Exception: Using a red herring to divert attention away from your opponent's red herring, might work, but do two wrongs make a right?
Tip: Impress your friends by telling them that there is no such fish species as a "red herring;" rather it refers to a particularly pungent fish—typically a herring but not always—that has been strongly cured in brine and/or heavily smoked.

“Human nature presents human minds with a puzzle which they have not yet solved and may never succeed in solving, for all that we can tell. The dichotomy of a human being into 'soul' and 'body' is not a datum of experience. No one has ever been, or ever met, a living human soul without a body... Someone who accepts—as I myself do, taking it on trust—the present-day scientific account of the Universe may find it impossible to believe that a living creature, once dead, can come to life again; but, if he did entertain this belief, he would be thinking more 'scientifically' if he thought in the Christian terms of a psychosomatic resurrection than if he thought in the shamanistic terms of a disembodied spirit.”― Arnold Joseph Toynbee, Experiences

Prior to the Maccabean struggle with Antiochus Epiphanies in the second century B.C.E., the notion of bodily resurrection was basically absent in Judaism, which, unlike Greek philosophy, did not recognize the immortality of the soul and which was also content with the idea of Sheol as the permanent abode of shades of all departed. Even so, one can still find passages in the Hebrew Bible that can be considered to allude to some kind of resurrection:
• Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones being restored as a living army: a metaphorical prophecy that the house of Israel would one day be gathered from the nations, out of exile, to live in the land of Israel once more.
• 1 Samuel 2:6, NIV—"he brings down to the grave and raises up."
• Job 19:26, NIV—"after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God."
• Isaiah 26:19, NIV—"your dead will live; their bodies will rise."
• Ezekiel 37:12, NIV—"I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them."
Other passages may be more ambiguous: In the Hebrew Bible, Elijah raises a young boy from death (1 Kings 17-23), and Elisha duplicates the feat (2 Kings 4:34-35). There are a multiplicity of views on the scopes of these acts, including the traditional view that they represented genuine miracles and critical views that they represented resuscitations, rather than bona fide resurrections. Other common associations are the biblical accounts of the antediluvian Enoch and the prophet Elijah being ushered into the presence of God without experiencing death. These, however, are more in the way of ascensions, bodily disappearances, translations, or apotheoses than resurrections.
First of all, what is the real meaning of the resurrection of the body? Is it the precise resuscitation of the same physical body as before? Yes, it is, if it concerns above-mentioned resurrection miracles in Christianity (as well as in Judaism) in which the same physical body is still there without decaying. But, what if the body decays and its elements disperse long after its death? In this case, only some Christians believe that still the very same earthly body will come back. Most Christians reject it in favor of Paul's assertion that bodily resurrection means to assume an "imperishable," "glorified," "spiritual body" (1 Corinthians 15:42-44), similar to Jesus in his resurrected state. It is "a body of a new order, the perfect instrument of the spirit, raised above the limitations of the earthly body, with which it will be identical only in the sense that it will be the recognizable organism of the same personality."[5]
Second, when does bodily resurrection happen? Paul has two different answers. His first answer is that it takes place immediately after physical death (2 Corinthians 5:1-4). His second answer is that it will take place on the Day of Judgment in the last days (1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). Usually, Christianity (as well as Judaism and Islam) supports the second answer. But, if the resurrection of Jesus took place almost immediately after his death, it stands to reason that human resurrection may also take place immediately after physical death, following Paul's first answer. Also, if Paul's second answer were correct, there would be a long period of time from the moment of physical death until the last days, during which the soul would have to await its bodily resurrection—a period which is called the "intermediate state," or the state of "soul-sleep," in Christian theology. In this state, the soul would have no physical counterpart coupled with it, and it would make a personal identity impossible. This can become quite a strong reason to argue that bodily resurrection should take place immediately after death and not in the last days.
A third issue is the continuation of a personal identity beyond death. As was noted above, one benefit of resurrection is "the recognizable organism of the same personality." In the words of Alan Richardson, "The idea of 'the resurrection of the body'…was the natural Hebraic manner of speaking about the risen life of Christians with Christ: It is in the body that persons are recognizable as individuals with their own personal identity. Hence, 'resurrection of the body' means resurrection after death to a fully personal life with Christ in God."[6] The notion of a personal identity made possible by bodily resurrection is in agreement with the basic philosophical tenet of Thomas Aquinas that the individuation of "form" is made possible by "matter" that is coupled with "form." Just like there would be no individuation without matter, there also would be no personal identity without resurrection. The question is: Did God arrange humanity in the created world, so people might always enjoy personal identity? Or would God allow personal identity to be interrupted at times? If God created people as unique creatures in this world, it seems that he would not allow their unique identity to be destroyed even for a moment.

Boston is perhaps the oldest of major American cities, having been founded in the early 17th century. It has been hosted to construction projects of prodigious proportions, including the Big Dig, one of the engineering marvels of the 21st century. In a recent visit there in the spring, we were struck with how, though the city has been paved, repaved, cemented and sealed, every crack in the concrete and joint in the sidewalk is host to little shoots of green. Life cannot be held back! Of course, the Boston suburb of Brookline was also home to Frederick Law Olmsted, founder of landscape architecture, designer of New York’s Central Park and the “green necklace” of Boston parks, making the city of Boston wonderfully green and abundant, muting its cityscape with natural beauty which brings solace to the soul. Life affirmed amid concrete.

The emergence of the cicadas, or “17-year-locusts” in the eastern and southern United States. The larvae emerge and soon are singing, sometimes in their thousands, so strident that they become a nuisance and a hazard in some places. Silent and unseen for nearly two decades, suddenly they surprise us with their emergence. This reminds us that life has a different pace, a different plan, than we are sometimes aware.

The Rev. Lewis Mwazembe of Engalaweni, Malawi, recently visited the Colorado Rockies, leaving his country for the first time. He had never seen snow, and in one week of his spring visit to Loveland and Boulder, he saw sun and heat, snow and rain, wind, and about every kind of weather Colorado has to offer. Rev. Mwazembe is the Presbyterian Pastor of a congregation of 3,000. On the Sunday before he left, he baptized 175 adults and 150 infants, in one day! While slowly declining worship attendance continues to plague the mainline churches in the Northern Hemisphere, the churches in Africa are exploding with growth. To remain optimistic about the future of the Church, one need only look south. But the European and American churches must be willing to be humbled by this growth, and willing to learn from the enthusiastic faith of these brothers and sisters in the Lord.

The lost boys of the Sudan have found new lives in Denver, Colorado. Refugees from the terrible civil war that has been raging in the south of Sudan for decades, they found their way here, and to other American cities, over the last several years. The story first burst onto the world news in 2001. Forced from their villages by the war, thousands of these orphan boys died along the way, attacked by wild animals, shot by the military, facing starvation, dehydration and fatigue. Many of those who survived made their way to the United States, where they gladly worked two or three jobs, when they could find them, to survive. Now many are flourishing, and are emblematic of the tenacity of refugees who have survived against the most difficult odds. Many churches and Christian people have helped them, and been greatly enriched by the new life they see in these boys, now men.

One of the most memorable and significant conversions was that of Francis of Assisi. Son of a wealthy cloth merchant, Francis became a knight and fought against neighboring Perugia in 1204. Imprisoned for a year, he returned home in 1205. His life began to change as he helped the poor and began to repair dilapidated churches, particularly San Damiano, where a voice spoke to him from a crucifix, “Repair my church.” Francis’s father disowned him, and Francis disrobed one day in the piazza, leaving his wealthy, carefree life behind him, and taking upon himself the cloak of a beggar, which habit became the habit of Franciscans, his followers. Here was a wealthy heir whose life was changed forever through prayer and good works. Today, Francis is the patron saint of Italy and ecology, and he is loved the world over by Catholics and Protestants as a free spirit who lived like Jesus, since he sought to take the Church back to her humble roots, and the simplicity of faith and life.

Even to this day there continue to be questions about the resurrection. For instance, when people die, do they instantly enter heaven or is there an interim period before that happens? The answer to that question might not be as unambiguous as we might think. As a case in point, how a particular verse in the Gospels is punctuated greatly alters the answer you get. In Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, Lynne Truss mentions Cecil Hartley’s Principles of Punctuation, published in 1818, which highlights how punctuation has a radical impact on how Luke 23:43 is to be understood. On the one hand, the verse could be translated as: “Verily, I say unto thee, This day thou shalt be with me in Paradise.” Yet on the other hand, the verse could also be taken to say: “Verily I say unto thee this day, Thou shalt be with me in Paradise.” The first method of punctuation, preferred by most Protestants, implies an immediate entry into heaven. The second possibility, though, employed by Roman Catholics, leaves open the possibility of purgatory. The challenge of interpreting the text, of course, is that the original Greek lacked the kind of punctuation marks that we are so accustomed to today.

The Sadducees rejected the idea of the resurrection because the thought of bodies being raised from the dead seemed to be too strange to comprehend. The fact that a belief is strange, though, could be good reason to believe it. An article in Theology Today (January 2002) affirmed: “A theology without strangeness is a theology that has forgotten that our God’s ways are not human ways, and that God’s grace and resurrection are not available except through the cross of destruction.”

Corrie ten Boom criticized people who, like the Sadducees, refused to believe something unless it met the tests of reasonableness that they imposed on it. In particular, she had harsh words for those who insisted upon analyzing the Bible rather than simply trusting in the message that it contains. In Tramp for the Lord, Corrie ten Boom tells about speaking to a group of German scholars who took great pride in their intellectual approach to theology. As a result, those academicians showed little interest in what she had to say. But one day when she spoke to a gathering of such scholars, she handed each of them a piece of chocolate. Later she said to them, “No one has said anything to me about the chocolate.” The men protested, insisting that they had all thanked her for the gift. She replied, “I did not mean that. I mean no one questioned me about it. No one asked me whether it had been manufactured in Holland or Germany, what quantities it contained of cocoa, sugar, milk, and vitamins. Instead of analyzing it, you just ate it.” She then picked up a Bible and said, “It is the same with this Book. If you try to analyze it as a book of science or even a book of theology, you cannot be nourished by it. Like chocolate, it is to be eaten and enjoyed, not picked apart bit by bit.”

In Shopping Malls and Other Sacred Spaces, Jon Pahl speaks of the way that we all “clothe” God in certain ways. Some Hindus clothe their gods quite literally. Pahl tells about visit he made to a Hindu temple in Chicago. Toward the end of his tour of the facility, he passed a room where there a washing machine that had a sign on it that said, “For Deity Use Only.” The worshipers of Krishna placed pieces of fine silk on the statues in the temple, and they set apart that appliance to wash their god’s clothes only. While we might not clothe God in that way, Pahl observes, we all do clothe God through the language we use about God and through the symbols and actions we employ in our devotion to God. While the Pharisees clothed God with resurrection power, the Sadducees thought that such clothing was utterly inappropriate.

Just as there was a lack of uniformity in beliefs in Jesus’ day, people today continue to exhibit that kind of theological diversity. In many cases, people no longer even hold to the beliefs they were taught as children, exhibiting a great freedom nowadays to alter the positions they hold. In The Transformation of American Religion: How We Actually Live Our Faith, Alan Wolfe notes that a Gallup Poll that was taken in 1955 revealed that only 4% of Americans did not adhere to the religion of their childhood. By the middle of the 1980s one in three Americans had switched from the faith of their upbringing.

Even within the same communities of faith, there can be considerable debate about what beliefs are essential and which are not. In The Transformation of American Religion: How We Actually Live Our Faith, Alan Wolfe cities research that found when non-Orthodox Jews were asked if there is a Messiah who will one day come, only 31% agreed and only 7% strongly agreed. When asked if the Torah was revealed by God to Moses at Mount Sinai, a belief that Orthodox Jews would argue is at the heart of Judaism, only 50% of the non-Orthodox agreed, and just 13% agreed very strongly. Even on the rather basic question of whether God exists, only half of all non-Orthodox Jews answered “definitely.”

Differing opinions about the resurrection continue to generate strong feelings. While many people feel that the Easter bunny is a harmless symbol for the resurrection holiday, others are violently opposed. According to the Associated Press (4/8/04), a rather extreme example of that occurred this past Easter at an Assembly of God church in Glassport, Pennsylvania, a short distance from Pittsburgh. During a presentation that was designed to teach children about the true meaning of Easter, an Easter bunny character was brought on stage and whipped as others took his colored eggs and broke them. Because so many people were shocked and stunned to see such a spectacle, the church production attracted national media attention. The church’s youth minister explained that all they were trying to do was emphasize that the focus of the resurrection story is Jesus, not the Easter bunny.

It is common for the bride’s family to have to pay for the wedding. If the woman in question in this Lukan passage was married seven times, did her family have to foot the bill that many times? After all, the cost of weddings, at least nowadays, is rather astronomical. According to Chronicle of Higher Education (11/21/03), the cost of getting married in the United States has shot up from $4,000 in 1984 to $22,000 in 2002. Although inflation explains some of the cost increase, researchers suggest that the run-up in price is more due to the fact that couples have a deep desire to create “one perfect day.”

One of the differences between Mormons and Christians concerns differing approaches to the afterlife. A practice of the Mormons is to accumulate the names of people who have died in previous generations and to posthumously baptize them in their religious ceremonies. By doing so, the Mormons believe they are making eternal life possible for those deceased people. According to the British paper The Observer (11/23/03), the Russian Orthodox Church is becoming increasingly incensed at how the Mormons are going about doing that in the lands of the former Soviet Union. In one town east of Moscow, for instance, members of the Church of the Latter Day Saints are paying ten cents per page for the names of thousands of people who died primarily in the eighteenth century. The town archivist has been willing to do that because the local government is so starved for cash. When Orthodox officials protested the sale of the names, authorities temporarily halted the transfer of names in order to have some time to study the issue. One Orthodox leader said, “Any Christian will tell you that these rituals do not harm the soul of the dead. But it hurts the feelings of the believers who see these rituals with the names of the deceased as equal to the desecration of graves by Satanists.” Mormons counter by arguing that their main goal is to create a database that allows people to look for their ancestors. The baptism ceremony, they say, only serves the purpose of giving the departed the opportunity to accept or reject the Mormon faith.

God is God of the living, but now God is also God of the virtual. According to Newsweek (5/31/04), the Methodist Church of Great Britain earlier this year established the first known virtual church. The church is found at www.churchoffools.com. Individuals can assume an “avatar,” or computer character, and participate in the life of the church by doing such things as praying or listening to a sermon. The Methodists quickly discovered that they would have to work some of bugs out of their new congregation. For one thing, a particular visitor to the site was using the name Satan and kept approaching the altar and cursing. Several other participants had to be eliminated by one of the site’s monitors hitting their “smite” button. Another problem arose when the church’s first sermon was interrupted when the preacher’s computer crashed in mid-sentence. Despite the problems, the Methodists are eager to give this electronic church a try. With only about 7% of all Britons going to worship on a given Sunday, the Methodists figure they don’t have much to lose. In its first two days, the virtual church received over 68,000 visitors.

Filmmaker Robert Benton affirms that “God Is God of the Living” in the surrealistic ending of his beautiful film Places in the Heart. The story of the widowed Edna and her two children, aided by a black itinerant farm worker and others in saving her farm from bank foreclosure, the film ends with a starkly simple Communion Service at her church. While the choir sings the hymn “In the Garden” and the pastor reads from the 13th Chapter of 1 Corinthians, the bread and the wine (grape juice) are passed down the rows of seated worshipers. Suddenly we are startled, for there with the banker, the cotton mill owner and other local folk sits Moze, the black farm worker, whom we just saw leaving town because of Klan persecution. He takes the elements, and the camera follows the trays down the rows of parishioners. In the back row we see Edna and her two children. But then we are really surprised to see her dead husband sitting beside her taking Communion—and sitting next to him is the black teenager who had accidentally shot him and then was lynched! Although many in the theater audience were confused by the strange inclusion of the departed and the dead, Christians understood the film director’s intention—the scene is an affirmation of the Communion of Saints, the Christian belief that all those who die “in the Lord” are joined together by God’s resurrection power, forming what the author of Hebrews calls “a cloud of witnesses.” God is indeed the God of the living!

“Take care of your life and the Lord will take care of your death.” (George Whitefield)

“He who lives well is the best preacher.” (Miguel de Cervantes: Don Quixote, VI, 19) .

“A useless life is only an early death.” (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe) .

“In the morning of life, work; in the midday, give counsel; in the evening, pray.” (Hesiod)

“Christianity is in its very essence a resurrection religion. The concept of resurrection lies at its heart. If you remove it, Christianity is destroyed.” (John R. W. Stott)

“Life can be worth the energy it takes to live it only if it is governed by something that is stronger than death.” (J. Neville Ward)

“Make sure the thing you’re living for is worth dying for.” (Charles Myers)

“Mohammed’s truth lay in a holy book; Christ’s in a sacred life.” (Richard Monckton Milnes)

“Take care of your life; and the Lord will take care of your death.” (George Whitefield) .

“I knew what my job was; it was to go out and meet the people and love them.” (Princess of Wales Diana)

“Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Top of Page prayers (WorshipAid)

Call to Worship (based on Psalm 149)

Leader: Praise the Lord!
People: Sing to the Lord a new song!
Leader: Let us praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with tambourine and lyre.
People: For the Lord takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with victory.

Prayer of Confession

Holy God, we confess that too often we sing our own praises rather than yours. We are busy focusing on what we want and forget that you created us for your pleasure. Forgive us when we forget you or turn away from you deliberately. Help us walk your path and know your ways. Nourish us with your word and sacraments that we may delight in you and praise your name. Amen.

Prayer of Dedication

Giving God, we come before you today with our tithes and offerings. Though it is a humble offering compared to all that you have given us, we ask that you use it to help build your Kingdom. Guide us that we may follow your direction and teach others about your Son and his sacrifice for us. In the name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

Pastoral Prayer

God of Justice and Truth, we come before you this morning with so much on our minds. We know that you know our needs before we even know them ourselves. We are confident that you hear us when we pray.
We pray for our broken world, for those who do not know you as well as for those who must worship you in secret. We pray for our brothers and sisters around the world who are in poverty, who are sick and unable to receive the proper care, and for the children around the world who have no access to clean water or the most basic components of survival. Open our eyes that we may help those around the world who are suffering.
We pray for our nation and our community. Sometimes we forget that right in our own neighborhoods there is poverty and hunger. Open our eyes to the needs of our friends and neighbors.
We pray for our community and our church. We ask your blessing upon those who are sick or suffering, for those who are grieving. Bring your Holy Spirit upon us and upon all of the congregations worshipping you today. Show us your light and yout truth. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.