Lectionary 32C + Sunday, November 10, 2019
Trinity, Worcester
Texts: Job 19:23-27a & Luke 20:27-38

Watch Here (Minute 25:40)

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

One thing I hate, is trying to put leaves into yard waste bags.

I don’t actually mind raking leaves, or using a leaf blower and I like being outside on a sunny fall day. What I hate is actually getting leaves into the leaf bags. It seems so inefficient. If the bag is on the ground, it always seems like I push some leaves by the side as I push others into the bag. If it’s standing, as I lift leaves into the bag I feel like leaves drop by on either side.

So last year, I experimented. As the leaves started falling, I used my push mower to mow the leaves into the bag on my lawn mower. When I detached the bag, it lined up perfectly with the yard waste bag. When I dumped the leaves in, the leaves slid in efficiently and away I went.

The problem with this, however, is that I have to go out and mow up the leaves as they fall. I can’t wait until all the leaves have fallen because then it wouldn’t work. And my back yard has fences on three sides, the house on the fourth, and is well protected from the wind. I can’t rely on the wind to just blow the leaves away. So I have to go out every week in October mowing up the leaves.

As I’ve done that this fall, on some very beautiful days, I’ve discovered something interesting.  I think it was my second week out mowing up leaves, I noticed a rather sizable branch came down due to heavy wind the previous night. At that point, there were still a lot of green leaves on the tree, and leaves on the branch that came down were green.

I didn’t think anything of it, until over the course of next several weeks, I noticed that the leaves on the branch stayed green, while the leaves on the tree changed into a variety of yellows, red, and oranges.

As I looked at the unchanging green leaves on that branch, I thought: don’t all leaves change color in the fall?  Isn’t that what leaves do?  Why weren’t the leaves on the branch changing color along with the rest of the leaves?

It struck me, leaves change color because it is part of the life cycle of the tree. The tree that looked like it was dying – was actually alive. The branch, with its green leaves, was already dead.

Our gospel reading today is about life after death.

According to Luke, Jesus at the end of his earthly ministry, just days away from his own death, encountered a group or religious leaders called the Sadducees. The Sadducees strictly observed the Torah. Because they believed the Torah didn’t mention the resurrection, they themselves did not believe in the resurrection.

To force Jesus into admitting there could be no resurrection, they came up with this farcical story. This story of a woman marrying seven brothers who all died. “OK, Jesus.  She married seven brothers, now, whose wife will she be in the resurrection?”

The reality is, for some today, this is not a farcical or rhetorical question. Those who have been married to a spouse who has died, and then remarried, might also wonder about how things might work in the resurrection?

This can lead to large questions? What happens to earthly relationships in the resurrection? Are marriages even recognized in the resurrection? Are family relationships themselves recognized?

The questions are endless … What about relationships with our bodies? Do we keep these bodies? Do we get new and improved bodies? At what age are our bodies in the resurrection? It’s possible that our own questions, with no easy and clear answers, may become our own stumbling blocks to belief in the resurrection?

So, to the Sadducees’ question, and to our own questions, let’s look at how Jesus responded.

First, Jesus said there is a difference in what people on earth think, and in what people in the resurrection think about. “Those who belong to this age …” responded Jesus, “think about marriage.”

Jesus introduced the concept that marriage is something that we on earth think about, that those in the resurrection do not think about. We might also imagine, that our understanding of marriage in this life, is related to the way in which we divide human community – dividing community into a system and hierarchy of relationship that draw some close and push others away.

“But,” said Jesus, there is a difference for “those in that age, and in the resurrection …” 

Those in the resurrection don’t worry about marriage. We might also imagine, that those in the resurrection who don’t think about marriage, also don’t think about dividing heavenly community into a hierarchy and systems of relationships drawing some close and pushing others away.

One of my favorite scripture verses is Revelation 7:9. Revelation 7:9 is John’s vision of the resurrection. “After this I looked into heaven, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb … with palm branches in their hands …”

In the resurrection, intimacy isn’t the privileged domain of marriage,or of personal and private relationships.  Intimacy, love and connection is shared in one heavenly community,  one resurrection body of the living, consisting of peoples from all nations, tribes, and languages.

So, that’s the first way Jesus responded. On earth, we think of marriage and ways to organize relationships. In the resurrection, people do not think of relationship and organizing community, for in the resurrection all peoples are together in one community of praise.

Second, in his response to the Sadducees, Jesus pointed to the Torah.The Sadducees used the Torah to deny the resurrection, Jesus looked to the Torah for a witness to the resurrection.

The story Jesus used was the story of the burning bush. Jesus pointed out, that when Moses heard God in the burning bush, God said “I AM the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”

Jesus did not say, “I WAS” the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God said, I am” the god of your ancestors.

In this story of the Torah … involving Moses the law giver from whom the Sadducees received their laws and customs, Jesus pointed to a God who claimed an active, present, and living relationship with Moses’s ancestors who had died. For Jesus, this meant that God, is a “God not of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”

 Friends in Christ, on this day we receive this story of the encounter between Jesus, resurrection personified, and the Sadducees, resurrection deniers, we are presented with the choice.

It is the choice between trying to find life in the green-leafed branch dead on the ground, or, in faith, believing that death and life for followers of Jesus is more like the cycle of death and rebirth seen in the leaves of the deciduous trees in North America.

Fearing death, we might cling to the green leaves on the branch, and fool ourselves into believing we see life there, that the leaves will stay green forever. Fearing death, denying the possibility of resurrection and new beginnings, we might circle the wagons of our lives, of our church, of our nation, and cling desperately to what we have, or what we think we have, straining to believe that the dying green leaves is where life is found.

Or, in faith, believing in a God who is the God of the living, we can trust in the promise of God who speaks life. In faith, we can accept all the lowercase “d” deaths, the little mini-deaths of life … the end of employment … a relationship … health status & ability … social status … self understanding.  We can accept these mini-deaths, trusting that our God of life and resurrection, is a god not of the dead but of the living, ACTIVELY leading us out of death to new resurrections, new beginnings, new places and people.

In faith, we can receive the importance of these mini, lowercase “d” deaths, as preparation, as training for the uppercase “D” death that is our final physical death. Well acquainted with the continuous cycle of death and life, in faith, we can even place our physical deaths leading to the grave, into the continuous cycle of death and life, our physical deaths become just one more cycle of life.

As a gift of the Holy Spirit, may our faith cling to this hope!

May our faith echo Job’s words recorded as our First Reading this morning. For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God.”

Trusting that in Jesus Christ, we indeed see resurrection personified … trusting in the promise of baptism that we are joined to both the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ forever, that though barren we are not the branch cut off on the ground, but are always joined to the living tree of life … may we have hope and courage as the colors of our lives change.

As our hopes and dreams drop lifeless to the ground in the little mini-deaths of life…

When our loved ones, and finally we ourselves, are placed in the ground in death…

May we find our sure and certain hope in God, the God of the living, who in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, breathes life into us today and forever!

Thanks be to God!