November 10, 2019

Job 19:23-27a
2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
Luke 20:27-38

“Trusting God with our Questions”

Whenever I think of the Sadducees, I think of a silly kids’ song that I learned at camp many years ago. (We did it for the kids’ song at church once too.) The refrain goes, “I only want to be a sheep, ba ba ba ba… I only want to be a sheep, ba ba ba ba, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, I only want to be a sheep, ba ba ba ba.”

And then each verse mentions a biblical character that I don’t so much want to be like. “I don’t want to be a goat…. nope. I don’t want to be a Pharisee… ‘cause they’re not fair, you see. And… I don’t want to be a Sadducee… ‘cause they’re so sad, you see.”

We don’t know very much about the Sadducees. They were a group of religious leaders in the time of Jesus – a different group from the Pharisees that we hear about so often in the Gospels. What we do know is that the Sadducees were part of the priestly aristocracy. They had status and power. The historian Josephus, describes them as harsh judges who were known to be most cruel among the Jews.

And several times in the Gospels and in the Book of Acts, there are indications that the Sadducees disagreed with the Pharisees on a significant theological point. The Sadducees did not believe in resurrection. I suppose, for them, when you were dead, you were dead, and that was all. Kind of sad, don’t you think? Kind of sad to think that when this life is over, that could just be it. “I don’t want to be a Sadducee… ‘cause they’re so sad, you see…”

Well, in today’s Gospel story, the Sadducees are not making the most of their limited time in the world. Instead, they are spending their time and energy arguing with Jesus about the resurrection. They suggest a situation in which a woman ends up being married to seven men in succession, as she is widowed over and over. When the woman finally dies as well, they want to know whose wife she will be in the afterlife. After all, she was married to seven different men!

I suppose they asked the question to try to trick Jesus… to try to make his beliefs look stupid… to try to make his convictions about the resurrection sound crazy… But Jesus’ wise answer points out that they are the ones who are being silly. Though Jesus probably doesn’t know any more than any of us about what heaven will be like, he quite confidently declares that marriage is not even a relevant issue when it comes to the afterlife. And then he goes on to address the issue that is really behind their question… the fact that they don’t even believe that there will be an afterlife.

This is an unusual text in the Gospel of Luke, because Jesus doesn’t tend to do a lot of theologizing. He doesn’t usually tell his followers which theological doctrines they should believe and which they should reject. Most of the time, Jesus’ teaching has more to do with how to live in the world… how to love one another, including the poor and the outcast and the lowly ones. And Jesus not only teaches that value, but he also demonstrates it in the way he lives his life – in his healing and helping and forgiving ministry.

But it makes sense to me to think that Jesus must have had a great deal of confidence and hope that when his life in the world came to an end, it would not be the end – full stop. He wasn’t worried about death, and so he had the freedom to live fully. He could take risks. He could make friends with sinners. He could heal lepers. He could even argue with powerful Sadducees if he needed to… Because Jesus must have known – deep within him – that his life and his death were in the hands of a loving God.

I think of the Thessalonian Christians and the worries and concerns they have that the Apostle Paul addresses in his letter to them. Like the Sadducees, they were getting distracted by theological questions that were keeping them from living lives of faithfulness and goodness. While the Sadducees were spending their time arguing about whether there was life after death, the Thessalonians were worrying or perhaps debating about whether Jesus had already returned and the world was coming to an end.

And so Paul wrote to them to set them straight and to get them back on track in their lives of faith. He comforted them and encouraged them to continue in faith… not by giving them any proof… but simply by reminding them of their identity as God’s chosen ones, and of the promise of glory because of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.

It wasn’t just a matter of helping the Thessalonian Christians to feel better. It was a matter of them being freed from fear and anxiety and worry so that they could focus their attention on living fully in the way of Jesus. Paul prays not only that God will comfort them, but that God will strengthen them in every good work and word.

The short passage from the Book of Job provides another example today. Job has lost everything – his family, his home, his possessions, his health and well-being. But he clings to his faith in God – trusting that even though he is going through terrible hardships now, that his life is still in the hands of his faithful and loving God.

And that is my prayer for our church today. I’m not really too worried about whether we all believe the right doctrines perfectly, or whether we agree on every detail. But we do need to stand firm and hold fast to what we have seen and heard in Jesus Christ. Following his way, we need to live in such confidence and hope and trust in God, that we are able to live freely – giving our time, our talent, ourselves for others – and not being held back by worry or fear about the future.

Yesterday, a small group of church members gathered here at the church to think and pray and consider what God may be calling us to do next in our ministry. We are a welcoming and hospitable congregation, and we hope that people in our community will want to come and join us in worship, service, fellowship, and care for one another in this church community.

But likely no one will come unless we invite them. And many others won’t even respond to an invitation. So, we’re going to need to go out and meet people where they are – sharing the love and grace and comfort of Christ with our neighbours in creative and courageous ways.

We talked about what it might look like to offer radical hospitality in our church and in our neighbourhood. We talked about who are our neighbours, and shared ideas about how we might connect with them, and what God may be calling us to do as a next step. Four particular neighbours arose in our conversation – Indigenous neighbours, newcomers to Canada, seniors in our community, and the people who meet in our building for 12-step groups or other programs.

What we came up with will be shared with the Session, considered some more, and there may be a proposal or two arising from it. But one thing is certain, no matter which direction we choose, or how we decide to stretch ourselves in going out beyond our church building to meet our neighbours, connect with them, and share the love of God in word or deed… We do not engage in this mission because we have all the answers and we want to impart them to our neighbours who know little or nothing of love, life, God, and their place in the world.

Like Job, we likely still wonder about why bad things continue to happen to good people. Like the Sadducees, we aren’t completely sure about what happens after we die. How could we be? Like the Thessalonian Christians, we get alarmed and upset sometimes too when troubles continue, wars rage on, and we wonder when God is going to finally come again to bring peace.

But like Paul, we endeavor to speak words of comfort and encouragement to one another and to our neighbours who are sad, or scared, or worried or alone. Like Jesus, we give our time and attention towards those who may be on the margins… those who are sick, or suffering, or left out. Like Job, we cling to our faith in the God of love to sustain us through our own struggles, questions, and doubts. And in a spirit of humility, as beggars telling others where food is to be found, we reach out to our neighbours and point to life in Christ.

We put our own concerns and priorities aside for a time, and with confidence and hope in God’s love, and God’s promises, and God’s presence, we give ourselves to the ministry of hospitality in the neighbourhood. Jesus’ life and death and resurrection is our eternal comfort and our good hope. May God comfort our hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word. Amen.