First Reading: Job 19:23-27a
23“O that my words were written down!
O that they were inscribed in a book!
24O that with an iron pen and with lead
they were engraved on a rock forever!
25For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
26and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then in my flesh I shall see God,
27awhom I shall see on my side,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.”
Psalm: Psalm 17:1-9
1Hear a just cause, O Lord; give heed to my cry;
listen to my prayer, which does not come from lying lips.
2Let my vindication come forth from your presence;
let your eyes be fixed on justice.
3Examine my heart, visit me by night,
melt me down; you will find no impurity in me.
4I have not regarded what others do;
at the word of your lips I have avoided the ways of the violent.
5My footsteps hold fast to your well-worn path;
and my feet do not slip.
6I call upon you, O God, for you will answer me;
incline your ear to me and hear my words.
7Show me your marvelous loving-kindness,
O Savior of those who take refuge at your right hand from those who rise against them.
8Keep me as the apple of your eye;
hide me under the shadow of your wings,
9from the wicked who assault me,
from my deadly enemies who surround me.
Second Reading: 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
1As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, 2not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here. 3Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. 4He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God. 5Do you not remember that I told you these things when I was still with you?
13But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 14For this purpose he called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter.
16Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, 17comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.
Gospel: Luke 20:27-38
27Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to [Jesus] 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.”
Most of you know Deacon Barbara who writes many of the sermons given here at Bethany but does anyone remember Saint Barbara? Today is All Saints Day and I thought we might look at her story. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition she is called the “”Great Martyr Barbara. She was born in Rome in the 200s. She was so beautiful her father chained her in a tower where her window overlooked the beautiful countryside. She became convinced that idols were not gods. So her father set her free and she became a Christian though women she met in town. Her father was building a bath-house with two windows but he went on a trip and Barbara had a third window added to represent the Trinity, confessing her faith to her father upon his return. Furious, he beat her and tortured her to death but God struck him with lightning. Saint Barbara not only died for her faith but was connected with lightning and explosions making her the patron saint of miners and people working with explosives. Deacon Barbara’s maiden name was Miner! Dec. 4 is the day Saint Barbara is remembered. When you think of a ‘saint”, what do you think of? Share with your neighbor briefly.
Saint: an Internet definition “any of certain persons of exceptional holiness of life, formally recognized as such by the Christian Church, especially by canonization.”
Let us pray. Lord may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.
Today is All Saint’s Day when we remember and honor martyrs and saints. This holiday that goes back to the 4th century, was formally adopted in the 9th century by Pope Gregory and has evolved into a collection of social traditions we now are just as likely to associate with Halloween. We think of saints as exceptionally holy people who died for their faith or the “good guys” who are living in heaven. Catholics have a process of canonization to decide who are the official saints. We may associate a saint with a uniquely good person like Mother Teresa who served the poorest of the poor. We might rarely refer to someone who has been very kind to us as a saint. Seldom do we refer to ourselves as saints…in the Lutheran tradition anyway.
Saint Barbara was sainted for the suffering she went through by refusing to deny her faith. God affirmed her when he struck her unbelieving father with lightning, ending Barbara’s suffering. The unnamed woman in our text today cannot compete with Saint Barbara. In the text, Jesus is tempted by the Sadducees with a story about a woman who was handed from brother to brother, seven times, as they died and until she died. No child was conceived. As a woman, I can imagine the humiliation she must have felt at not being able to conceive not only with one man but with seven brothers! Surely the problem was her! Asking the question of who she belongs to in an eternity the Sadducees did not believe in, is horrible. She probably felt more like a curse as she was handed down. Whether the story is true does not matter for many women today live her life, being a pawn in social relationships because of their gender. Ultimately this woman is not canonized but used as the brunt of a cruel story to try to trip Jesus. Today we try to find the truth that reconciles Mother Teresa and this Nameless Hand-me-down. Jesus speaks of “People of this age” versus “People of the Resurrection and the age to come.” Is Jesus drawing another line in the sand?
Saints: People who do good or People who are good?
“…they are like angels and are children of God,
being children of the resurrection…”
The Old Testament talks about saints is Psalm 31:23,
“23 Love the Lord, all you his saints.
The Lord preserves the faithful,
but abundantly repays the one who acts haughtily.’
In the New Testament Paul seems to tie the word “saint” to anyone who is a follower of Jesus as he addresses his epistles “to the saints in Rome, Ephesus, Corinth, Galatia, or Philippi. Biblically saints are not necessarily exceptionally good people nor necessarily people who have performed miracles. One of the foundational beliefs of the Reformation that we celebrated last week was that we are saved by faith alone, as a gift of grace alone, as declared in scripture alone, and through Christ alone. Saints are not exceptionally good people who share their merit with us ordinary sinners condemned to purgatory but are people who are declared in this passage by Jesus to be like the angels, sinless.
Please marinate in that truth for a moment. You are, and will be, like an angel in the eyes of God because you have forgiveness now through Christ and you will live eternally. Our Hand-Me-Down woman in the text by the standards of the kingdom of this world is nothing but useless. By the standards of God and in the heavenly kingdom, she is of eternal value, a saint not because of anything she did or did not do but because of what Christ is about to do for her.
I note that the text talks not only about “those who marry” but also about “those who are given in marriage.” This sermon is not just about women. Men also face the value criteria of our world and often of the church. It is easy to feel that a man who is not the pastor, is not Augustine, is not a martyr, that he is somehow less a saint than those whom the church honors today. In God’s eyes the faithful mailman is just as valuable as the faithful preacher and will in eternity be like the angels.
Let us take a moment for “popcorn prayers” where we thank God for people from our past or present or who are living now who have blessed us and for whom we are glad that they will be or are like angels in “the age to come.” Thank you Lord for….
“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”
Jesus tackles a second stumbling block in this example, marriage. Not only do we think of saints as exceptionally good people but often we associate them with people who do not marry but devote their lives entirely to their faith. Saint Barbara refused marriage, Mother Teresa never married whereas the Hand-Me-Down woman not only married but was handed down to seven brothers like property. I joke with my husband about whether I will find him in the men’s dorm in heaven and if I’ll be in the women’s dorm. Then for those of us who are the second wife or the rejected first wife, we ponder how that will all work out. We don’t much deal with “blended families” and all those complications in sermons. So why is marriage in this description of a saint?
Jesus says the Sadducees are mistaken, there will be no giving and taking in marriage in the age to come. Again we are talking to men and women. My thoughts on this go back to creation. “It is not good for people to be alone” and so God created a “helpmate”, Eve for Adam. There is this underlying idea that we, in ourselves, are not complete without a spouse and certainly without a relationship with God. As people of this age, we are incomplete but as children of God we will be whole – not just physically and spiritually but perhaps also socially. We will not need to come to faith to be whole for we will be living with God. We will not need to marry to be people of value in the eyes of heaven. We will not have to produce children, especially male children, to be honored. The angels do not identify themselves as the mother of … or the father of … or the wife of …. Or the husband of ….. There will be a wholeness and completeness that is hard for us to understand now, so Jesus refers us to the angels.
As a woman I am also caught by the word “given in marriage.” Our Hand-Me-Down Woman was owned by her birth family and by the family of her first husband. She was part of her birth family’s decision to marry her to him, possibly without voice. We don’t know the reasons behind the marriage. It may have been for prestige, for wealth, or for political power. She is a bit of a pawn in social relationships. The story, while an exaggeration to trip Jesus, still shares a truth about the nature of marriage for many people. Some enchanted evening they look across the dance floor and are enchanted with some beautiful other. Men can feel trapped by family expectations to marry a certain person or to follow the family business. They face social expectations that pressure their lives too. “Ownership” of one person by another will not be in the age to come, only identity in Christ. We will be known as “children of the resurrection.” It is yet to be revealed what that means. But, we will be complete in Christ.
38Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living;
for to him all of them are alive.”
Saints are not just people who have died as martyrs, are not just the exceptionally good people, but are people like you and me. And so we come to the third point. The kingdom of this age offers us glory in our death for a good cause. The heavenly kingdom offers us life eternal with people from all ages and with an eternal God. Here is a mouthful. It is hard to get our minds around being a good person like Mother Teresa or Saint Barbara. It is hard to get our minds around living like angels and not being married to someone in eternal bliss of intimate relationship. If those are hard to grasp, it is hard to imagine eternity. Will we be sitting on a cloud, singing? People in the choir may like that image. Will we be like Clarence Oddbody trying to earn our wings as portrayed in It’s a Wonderful Life? Perhaps it will be like the Chronicles of Narnia, “Higher up and higher in.” We don’t know. But we do know we will be living.
Jesus refers to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as people living in eternity and referenced by God to Moses at the burning bush. This historical reference grounds his comments in Jewish history but also gives us a sense of historical continuity. For many it is a comfort to think of reuniting with past family, friends, and meaningful others. There is a hint that what we see through a glass dimly and don’t fully understand will, in the age to come, be understandable and communal. Maybe you don’t long to meet Abraham or Moses but there is some other hero you would love to have a heavenly latte with. That is a date I look forward to!
Those three men also speak to saints. Abraham is called “the father of the faith” and yet he lied and allowed his wife to be taken into the Pharaoh’s harem. I would consider him flawed. Isaac, the son of Abraham, was plagued with family problems. His wife did not conceive and he lied about her. Sibling rivalry between his twin sons, Jacob and Esau, is part of his fame. He was flawed like us. Then there is Jacob, the deceiver, who ran from his home having tricked his twin brother out of birthrights, only to be tricked on his wedding night by discovering the next morning the bride was the sister of his true love. How humiliating. His two wives and two concubines gave his 12 sons who became the tribes of Israel with colorful stories to match. All these men were flawed. They were not exceptionally good but exceptionally human, just like us, and had to trust God for their righteousness.
The Kingdom of Heaven, future and present, is eternal life with people like us who are not exceptionally good but who become sinless by the work of God. Heaven is made up of broken, incomplete people like us who need each other but who become whole because of the work of God. Heaven is not a place and relationship God may walk out of some day and leave us feeling dead and used, but is a forever commitment to be together. We don’t understand it but we trust and believe.
Let us close by pondering for a moment the implications for our lives today. We are the living saints. One of my favorite verses is Eph 2:8-9 that talks about being saved by grace but then continues to verse 10.
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
We have been become children of the age to come, not because of our good works, but because God has good works prepared for us to do. We do not do good works to earn the eternal but out of love for God who gifts us. We do good works, forgive, and go the extra mile because of God. Today is All Saints Sunday, not only celebrating the work God did in lives of martyrs, in the lives of our beloved departed but also celebrating God’s work in our lives today. To him be the glory.
Let the people of God say “Amen.”