November 10, 2019

2019 Nov10_FrIan

Proper 27 - Year C

A Sermon Preached by The Rev. Ian M. Delinger

 

Today’s Gospel might appeal to the issue of marriage and re-marriage for some, and for others, it might appeal to wanting clarification on the Resurrection. Both are ripe for discussion based on this passage from Luke. But Luke has been presenting us with conflicts between Jesus and authorities and challenging our assumptions since summer.

 

Of the 14 references to Sadducees in the New Testament, this is the only instance in Luke’s Gospel. I found the interaction interesting for a couple of reasons:

 

  • The Sadducees were not simply Jewish officials. This sect of Jewish priests were wealthy aristocrats who maintained control over Temple affairs.
  • The elite status of the Sadducees meant that they were heavily involved in civic, political, judicial and military affairs, and in maintaining the relationship between the Jews and the Romans.
  • By contrast, Jesus was from a much lower social class: possibly middle class, but most scholars believe that Jesus grew up in the peasant class.
  • There is a plot against Jesus. In the preceding stories in Chapter 20 reports that the chief priests “sent spies who pretended to be honest, in order to trap him by what he said.”
  • This story is after the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, so Jesus’ own Death and Resurrection are not long off…just a couple of days.

 

So, this all frames the context of the exchange we read today.

 

Think back on a time in your life and career, or imagine a time, when you confronted someone of significantly greater status. You don’t just do it casually. You must be confident in your convictions and be secure in your own self. Of course, Jesus is all of those as the Son of God. But from the human perspective, what Jesus is doing in the Gospel is not easy.

 

Our society is codified – thanks largely to the Bible – into an authority structure that is based on wealth, age, gender, race and various other factors, as was the society in which the historical Jesus lived. Those who possess the most factors which are considered to hold the most authority are the ones who get to make the rules and enforce them. When those who hold the least factors challenge those in authority, it doesn’t often go well. You end up with situations like the French Revolution, the Civil Rights Movement and the #MeToo Movement https://www.facebook.com/hashtag/metoo?source=note&;epa=HASHTAG, in which challenges were made to wealth, race and gender, respectively. The run-up to the 2016 Presidential Election was a war waged between the Baby Boomers and the Millennials, as the media would have us believe, and continue to promote. The Silicon Valley is one huge upheaval of societal norms from numerous factors, including those already mentioned.

 

And then there is Jesus. Jesus famously said that He didn’t come to abolish the Law, He came to fulfill it (Matt 5:17). What we read in the Gospels looks more like Jesus challenging the Law, using His knowledge as part of the Divine Godhead and His human experience having grown up in a peasant village or poor suburb to allow for God’s will: that the Children of God can thrive and honor God while doing so.

 

This, of course, means
challenging the social structure,
which is exclusively controlled by
the wealthy, whom the
Sadducees epitomize.

 

The Epistle doesn’t have the same clash of classes, but it does address differences of interpretation. There were some in Thessalonica who were reporting that the “Day of the Lord” had already come, and Paul wrote to the Thessalonians to warn them and to illustrate that the signs of the coming of the “Day of the Lord” had not occurred.

 

A significant factor in both readings is ‘ideological framework’. The Sadducees were a small group, deeply unpopular, but very influential. Every community or society has a person or group who fits that description. Their ideological framework was based on the written Law, the Torah, and anything outside that was wrong. They chose the marriage law, long-established since Moses, to trick and trap Jesus. They also included Resurrection because the idea was not explicit in Mosaic Law, therefore they did not believe in it.

 

Paul was a Pharisee; we all know that. The ideological framework of the Pharisees was oral Law, or allowing a tiny bit of interpretation of the Law to make it more applicable to varying circumstances. Because of this, the Pharisees did believe in Resurrection. We tend to think of the Pharisees as the bad guys because of their strict interpretation of the Law, but compared to the Sadducees, the Pharisees were sometimes the ‘good guys’.

 

Then comes Jesus! He’s just a bit too flexible for either the Sadducees or the Pharisees. But Jesus, being the Son of God, has a better understanding of what the Law was passed down for in the first place: to ensure that the Children of God could live together peaceably and so all could flourish on earth, praising God and living a life worthy of the “Day of the Lord”. Jesus’ ideological framework was one which included as many people as possible, most noticeably the poor and downtrodden. He and Paul believed in the Resurrection.

 

Those in authority do not like to be challenged…but that is precisely what Jesus did throughout His ministry. It’s what we have been reading in Luke’s Gospel since June. In His challenging of authority and of the status quo, Jesus’ disproportionate focus on the marginalized shines through.

  • Healing the man with the Gerasene Demon
  • Sharing the Parable of the Good Samaritan
  • Feeding the hungry
  • Caring for children
  • Healing a crippled woman on the sabbath
  • Telling the leader of the Pharisees to invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind to his banquets.
  • Being seen with tax collectors and sinners
  • Warning against serving both God and wealth
  • Sharing the parable of the leprous man in heaven and the rich man in hell
  • Healing lepers
  • And sending out His Disciples to heal the sick and cast out demons, demanding that the Disciples give up their possessions before they go.

 

This is the stuff we have been reading all summer. This is not the stuff of the God of the Elite and what they want to hear. That’s more like: “The poor, the sick, the orphaned – they are the ones that the Law protects us from; the Law is intended to preserve the elite!” But Jesus says over and over again: That is not the intent of the Law. The Law is to protect all of God’s Children, to preserve all of God’s children, so that they can be “children of the resurrection.”

 

So, what do we make of this? Well, as followers of Jesus, we need to challenge authority when we see that it is not caring for the poor and the marginalized. After all, it doesn’t really matter who marries whom if you believe in the Resurrection. What matters is that the truth of the Law is heard by all and supports all.

 

This is a call for Christians to challenge authority rather than remain quiet and comfortable. As an institution, The Episcopal Church has regularly challenged the political authority in this country. In September 2017, the House of Bishops wrote an open letter to the President and Congress not to end the immigration program known as DACA:

 

As bishops of The Episcopal Church we implore you not to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as DACA. To do so would endanger the lives of thousands of young people and their families and run contrary to the faith and moral traditions of our country. It is unfair to threaten the well-being of young people who arrived in our country as children through no choice of their own…Any of these scenarios [the outcomes of ending DACA], we believe, is cruel.

 

The letter is headed with Hebrews 13:1: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers for by doing so, some have entertained angels unawares.”

 

Across the Pond, the students of the University of Kent in Canterbury are challenging the University’s administration and, by extension, Church itself. The roughly-10-year meeting of the bishops across the Anglican Communion is taking place there next summer. When the Lambeth Conference took place there in 2008, there was only one openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, who was not invited. There are now several openly gay bishops, many of whom have spouses. The last two Lambeth Conferences have had parallel Spouses’ Conferences. The University’s Students Union wrote in March:

 

We are deeply disappointed that the Lambeth Conference has decided to exclude same-sex spouses from its 2020 conference. This is not a value that we expect to see on campus and we are committed to championing inclusivity in all events. We appreciate that the University has a commercial arm to its operations and we understand that the Lambeth Conference may be relying on a legal exemption in the Equality Act 2010 to support its stance. However, we believe any externally organized event which occurs on campus should respect the diversity of both students and staff, the values of the University, Kent Union and the environment that they want to utilize.

 

And then there is Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg who organized a worldwide school strike to bring attention to climate change, and at the age of 16, earlier this year, took on the ultimate challenge of authority. Greta addressed a full session of the United Nations and rebuked all of the nations, and essentially all of the world for not addressing climate change so that she and those after her can have a healthy world.

 

“This is all wrong,” she told the United Nations and the world. “I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”

 

While the power-holding elite can simply ignore these admonitions, and probably will, we are still called as Christians to stand up for our values, to stand up for the poor and marginalized, whether on a global scale or in our own communities. As far as we know, the Sadducees did not yield to Jesus’ way of thinking. Yet, whom do we follow today?

 

Every time you read the newspaper, watch or listen to the news, or read a campaign flyer, you have to remember that Jesus challenged the authorities on behalf of the marginalized. His ministry wasn’t focused on keeping the poor away from the rich. His ministry wasn’t focused on shaming unwed mothers. His ministry wasn’t about keeping foreigners out. His ministry wasn’t focused on making sure only those who could afford healthcare got it. His ministry – His entire ministry – was focused on making sure that the beneficiaries of the Law included the poor, the struggling, the foreigner, the sick.


“If your biggest concern about the Resurrection is who is married to whom,” says Jesus, “then you understand neither the Law nor the Resurrection. You don’t understand God, you keepers of the Temple.”

 

We often get our priorities wrong, and we go to that comfortable place where we don’t have to worry about the difficulties of life, particularly the difficulties of other people’s lives. But we end up missing the point. When we are feeling confident about our place in society – our houses are paid off, our children are stable, we’re in the right organizations, we go to church regularly – remember this story, and remember that Jesus made it very clear that the priorities of the religious elite were wrong.


If you’re comfortable, there is
probably something else you
should be doing. So, go do it.

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