People of Possibility

by susan on November 7, 2016

Words for the Journey – – Sunday, November 6, 2016sadducees

Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him 28and asked him a question, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. 29Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; 30then the second 31and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. 32Finally the woman also died. 33In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.” 34Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; 35but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. 36Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. 37And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. 38Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”  – Luke 20:27-38

In a film most of us have seen, Shawshank Redemption, we discover the stories of two prison inmates who experience the demeaning and depressing challenges of life behind bars. Andy & Red form an unlikely friendship – unlikely not just because one of them is White & one is Black, but unlikely because they see life very different.

Andy begins to imagine life outside of prison, while Red and others see his dreaming as foolishness. In one of their most poignant conversations, Andy says to Red,

“I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really.
Get busy living or get busy dying.”

I think what Andy was saying is that we can either choose the way of life or the way of death. We can either follow the path of possibility or let all we’ve known be all there is to life.

Many in Jesus’ day were hungering for possibility and thirsting for new life. Their social & economic status, their health, their gender – something about their lives made them feel stuck. Yet, Jesus opened the door to another possibility.

He said things like “the last shall be first” (Luke 13:30) and “blessed are you when people hate you and exclude you” (Luke 6:22). His message appealed more to the down and out than the up and coming – they were the ones longing for something new. Everyone else had it pretty good.

Everyone else, like the Jewish elite in Jesus’ day. The Sadducees were a select group of priests, aristocratic families, and merchants—they were the wealthier people of the population. While their rivals, the Pharisees, found authority in religious legalism and learning, the Sadducees found theirs in birth and social and economic position.

The Sadducees were in constant conflict with the Pharisees, partly because of their view of God’s word (really? a disagreement over God’s Word?! shocking.). The Sadducees believed God’s revelation was only found in the Torah or the first 5 books that would become our Scripture. The Pharisees believed there was more. The Pharisees also believed in something beyond this life, while the Sadducees did not believe in resurrection. They thought this life was all their was – some say this is why they were “sad-you-see”.

The skeptical Sadducees & the pious Pharisees had one thing in common though. Neither of them liked Jesus. Not only was he messing up their order & empowering the poor, his teaching was challenging their belief system. So, they took every opportunity to disprove his message.

Our scripture reading describes one of those occasions.

Various groups had already been coming to Jesus in the temple where he was teaching to ask him trick questions – questions about his authority, about paying taxes & now about resurrection. On this occasion, the Sadducees present Jesus with an unlikely, highly exaggerated scenario. A woman has married 7 brothers – every time she marries one, he dies and she then marries the next brother in the family. Honestly, we could do a whole sermon series on the tragedy of this woman’s life!

The law they were referencing comes from Deuteronomy 25:5-10 and it required a man to marry the childless widow of his brother. The Sadducees were asking Jesus ‘when this woman dies, with whom will she be re-united?’ Their question was meant to take this scripture-based practice to the extreme in order to point out the foolishness of resurrection.

Jesus responds in two ways.

First, he exposes their limited thinking. Resurrection is beyond their comprehension – it is not limited by their/our boundaries, rules or categories. It transcends all of that. Second, he uses a story found in their Torah – the story where Moses encounters a burning bush. During that encounter, God tells Moses ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’ – not the God who was with them. Jesus uses this familiar text to affirm that there is life after death. He goes on to say,

“Now, he is God not of the dead, but of the living…”

I have to believe it is not the questioning of Jesus that bothered him. We all wonder and have questions about what resurrection is like: How much will our resurrection life be like our life in this world? What will our relationships be after we die? Will we recognize one another?

Jesus avoids the particularities of the afterlife, not because those are stupid questions, but because he knows their intentions. They were trying to disprove the possibility of new life, yet new life was at the heart of everything he was about.

There are many things we disagree upon in Christianity, but our common claim is resurrection.

The word resurrection in the Greek actually means a raising or a standing up. Believing in resurrection does not mean that we understand life after death (whether in this age or the age to come), that it makes sense to us or that we can explain what causes such a miracle to happen. Instead, believing is seeing even a sliver of possibility that any of this resurrection foolishness is true and choosing to live as though it is.

The Sadducees were unable or unwilling to do that.
Instead of being open to the possibility of something new,
they insisted on being preservers of the status quo way of power & wealth.

They seemed either so sure of themselves, so scared, or so closed-minded
that they went so far as to play a role in Jesus’ trial and death.

What about us?
Are we a little too in touch with our inner Sadducee?
Are we looking for opportunities to disprove resurrection or possibilities for new life?

What made us become so cynical in the first place?
Maybe it was being told too many times that nothing can change – it is what it is.
Maybe it was getting too weary from so many false hopes & disappointments.

What new possibility are you struggling to imagine? For your life? For the lives of others? How do you need to get busy living?

When we fail to imagine anything new, children are often great reminders to try again.

yovikings_200dpiFor the past few days, our daughter has been performing in her middle school musical, Yo Vikings!. Yo Vikings! tells the story of a girl who has an incredible imagination – she goes by the name “Emma the Red”. Emma not only dreams of another world where anything is possible – she lives & dresses like she is part of that world. Much to the horror of her classmates, she comes to school dressed like a fox one day, a squash another and even an amoeba once.

As you can imagine, she is completely rejected because of her outrageous optimism and her tendency to dwell in a land where anything is possible – until one day when her imagination is needed. The town library is closing & the only one with an idea on how to save it is Emma the Red. The Viking ship she dreamed about, was crazy enough to seek and find arrives and becomes just what is needed to sustain the beloved library. It will help raise funds to keep the library open. What seemed ludicrous, absurd & complete foolishness became the way forward.

As if I wasn’t already crying out of pride, by that time I was crying imagining what could happen if we overcame our cynicism, our divisions & our reluctance to experience something new.

What might happen if we become people of possibility
who no matter what setbacks,
what doubts,
what election results or
what disappointments we experience,
look for the way forward…
And walked through that door, as narrow as the crack might be.

That, I believe is where we will encounter the God of the living.

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