Proper 27 C Pentecost 22 Luke 20:27-38 November 10, 2019
People think about immortality in many ways. Some people can't wait to die. Some try all kinds of money on things they hope will prolong their life. Others spend a lot of money to leave a legacy by putting their names on buildings or parks or church windows.
Some endow charities and educational institutions and start foundations to make an impact to support something they care about, leave something behind that will outlive them.
Of course, it's not just those with money who want not to be forgotten, and it isn't new.
The author of Ecclesiasticus, writing more than two thousand years ago, makes a distinction between those with fame and those without, those we remember and those we don't: Let us now sing the praises of famous people our ancestors in their generations...Some of them have left behind a name, so that others declare their praise. But of others there is no memory; they have perished as thought they had never existed. (Ecclesiasticus 44:1, 8-9a) Here is the reality: some people we remember, others we forget. Give it enough time, and we will all be forgotten.
But, Ecclesiasticus also says there is a way to escape being forgotten: have children. Have someone to continue your family's name, your traditions and your values.
Their offspring will continue forever, and t heir glory will never be blotted out. (Ecclesiasticus 44:11-13)
Children, especially those who stand by their parent's commitments, are a way that names and family identity can continue in this world, even for the never famous.
So the problem is solved. But what about those with no children?
This is the problem the Sadducees pose to Jesus to ridicule the resurrection. They do not believe in life after death. The custom they describe, is still practiced in some parts of the world. If a man dies and leaves a childless widow behind, then his brother marries his widow and hopefully produces an heir that will bear his brother's name. She will not be alone. His name will be remembered. The life of the father will continue through the child.
In the made-up story, the Sadducees pose to Jesus, brother after brother dies without producing an heir. Time and time again, the widow does not bear a child. Finally, she too dies. Who will remember her? Who will carry on the name and traditions of the family?
The Sadducees say, "all is not lost, if you believe in the resurrection, which we do not. If there is a resurrection, perhaps she will not be alone after all. She has been the wife of seven men. Which will be her husband in the resurrection? To whom will she belong?
Jesus gives a startling answer. Not only does Jesus promise that there is a resurrection, but he changes all the terms in the Sadducees' riddle. Not only is there life in the resurrection, it is not just some version of life in this age. But if this woman is going to heaven, it's because she is a child of God, not because she's a wife, or a widow, or a mother. It won't be because she was barren or fertile or married or widowed or forgotten or remembered on earth.
It's because she is, as Jesus says, "considered worthy of a place in that age," and like everyone else who enters the resurrection, "cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection."
Jesus says that in the resurrection, life will be different. There are things like marriage and customs around marriage and family life that are for this age. In that age, in the resurrection, your concerns about things like living on through others, like leaving behind someone to remember you, like dealing with the hardships of wanting something really badly or being told you should have something you can't, won't be important. What will matter is being children of God.
Being family with Jesus isn't always easy, and all the children don't always follow their family traditions. They often squander their inheritance. They don't always pass along the faith as they should. They sometimes ignore or don't live up to the heart's desire of the family. They need all the help of the good relationships of this age they can make and that can be nurtured by the church because this age is hard.
And yes, folks, there is a resurrection. And those who will live in that age will be there whether their names are remembered in this age or not--because they are remembered by God. They are his children.
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