Luke 20:27-38                              11/6/16 Epiphany, Norfolk

Our Gospel Passage for this morning is sort of a strange one. First, we need to remember that the Sadducees were the old temple priests who stayed behind during the Exile, when the Jews were deported to Babylon for about 70 years. And they did not believe in resurrection or afterlife. One’s afterlife was accomplished through one’s children.

The Pharisees were the lay scholars who assumed the position of religious leaders, in Exile, while the Jews had no priests. The Pharisees did believe in, and teach, that there was an afterlife, and resurrection from the dead into that afterlife.

In today’s reading, the Sadducees try to trick Jesus with this question about the widow and the seven brothers. Jesus clearly leans toward the position of the Pharisees.

Well, that’s interesting to the debate between Sadducees and Pharisees, but that’s not what’s really important about this passage. The important thing is that it becomes the Biblical basis for celibacy. We usually think of celibacy as a “Roman Catholic thing”, but in reality, you run into it in a lot of denominations other than Rome, including our own. For instance, in the Greek Orthodox Church, and the other Orthodox churches known as “The Eastern Church”, clergy are not required to be celibate, but to be selected as a “patriarch”, which is like our “bishop”, one does have to be celibate. So, their clergy are not, but their patriarchs are. Incidentally, their patriarchs also must sport full untrimmed beards.

Some Anglican and Episcopal clergy take vows of celibacy, by choice. Nobody ever suggested it to me, and I never did. Also, the Episcopal Church has a number of “religious orders” – nuns and monks. Many of them take vows of celibacy, but not all. I found it kind of interesting that back in the 90’s when the Episcopal Church was wrestling over whether or not clergy could be gay – da – they finally decided that it was o.k. as long as the clergy were celibate. Then they decided it was o.k. as long as they were in a “committed relationship.” Well, that was a “flip.” Now, we seem to have better things with which to concern ourselves – Praise God.

But the whole idea comes from this passage in Luke, and I think it’s a great example of how some little thing can be taken out of context and given a life of its own, forgetting what the original issue  even was. In fact, if you take literally what Luke has Jesus saying, no one who gets married can attain resurrection or get into heaven. I don’t think that’s quite what Luke had in mind, but that’s what the Bible says if you want to stump a “literalist.”

But now, I want to skip ahead to the last line of our reading: “Now, he is God not of the dead, but of living; for to him all of them are alive.”

Somehow, in the back of all of our minds, I think we sometimes think of God as a “God of the Dead”, and the church is responsible for a lot of this. We are taught that we will “meet our maker when we die.” God will judge us, and if we led a good life, we will go to the “arms of our God” when we die.

And perhaps that’s so, but it doesn’t work very well for me. I don’t know what happens when we die, beyond what the Gospel tells us. But I do know something about living. I’ve said it before, and I’m saying it again, that God is my very best friend, right here in this life, while I’m living. I have a sense of daily walking hand in hand with God, right here on earth, while I’m living. I can’t imagine going a day without talking to God, reflecting with God, and just having a sense that God is working in my life to accomplish something that is far beyond me. I could not care less, right now, what’s going to happen to me when I die. Right now, I’m living, and that’s a major job that I don’t take lightly. I need every bit of divine help I can get in just living my life to the fullest, day by day, hour by hour.

In some ways, my life is very simple, but in some ways, it’s very complex. And I can mess things up, a lot. I make wrong decisions. I say the wrong thing. I put unrealistic expectations on myself and on others. I get confused. My mind gets scrambled because I don’t always know exactly what I’m supposed to do in every situation. I need the “hand of God” right now, not when I die. I don’t need a “God of the Dead.” I need a “God of the Living” who can walk with me, leading me though some of the complexities of this life. Once I’m dead, I guess I’ll worry about the dead, but right now, I’ve got a lot of living to do, and I need God now, not after I’ve finished this life.

Somehow, I have a sense that if I do the very best I can with this life that God has given me, things will take care of themselves when it’s over. My focus now is on living – living the best life I can with the skills, and the gifts, and the limitations that seem to be mine, to make my little contribution to the greater creation. And I’m thankful that there is a “God of the Living” to help me do that.

Some of you have heard me tell this story, before. Back when I was a teenager, and everything seemed very confusing, as it does to teenagers, I made a naive and simple “deal with God.” And that deal was that if God would put opportunities before me, I’d work really hard at doing something with those opportunities. I would do the best I could.

I’ve never forgotten that deal. As simple and naive as it was, it set a “rule of life” for me that has stuck with me. And I try to watch my life for those opportunities. I haven’t always succeeded. I haven’t always interpreted “opportunities” correctly. But sometimes I have. And THAT has become a life challenge for me. And that’s the focus of my spiritual life. That’s what makes me “tick.”

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


Posted November 9, 2016 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

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