Leighmoor, Murrumbeena, Coatsville combined service
Sunday 6 November 2022
Readings: Psalm 98, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17, Luke 20: 27-38
Title: God’s truth
Rev Anneke Oppewal
Psalm 98 is a beautiful song of praise filled with joy and bubbling with imagery that is uplifting and heart warming. Rivers clapping their hands, mountains that jump for joy, the sea bubbling with excitement while trumpets and other musical instruments play jubilant tunes. It sings of a God that conquers the world with justice and faithful love, that comes to save and shows the world what righteousness, a life according to God’s hopes for the world look like.
In the Church of my youth in Holland there was a hymn that caught that mood perfectly. And to this day it is still one of my all time favourites. Even hearing the first notes lifts my mood and my heart and I’ll keep humming it for hours after I have heard or sung it. I’m sure there is an equivalent in English, but, up till now, I’ve never encountered an English rendition of Psalm 98 that does the same as the Dutch one does for me.
I hope you have hymns or songs or music like that. That lift you wherever you are or whatever you are doing or feeling at the time and will take you to another level of being. If only for a little while.
That Jesus would have known and sung this psalm makes it even more precious I think. It was the spiritual food he would have been raised on. Words that accompanied him on his journey and shaped his way of worshipping and prayer every day. Singing God’s praises with words that went back to the time of Kin David and some of them even to before that, singing and reciting words that have stayed with his followers for centuries after.
Old, old songs and words that have renewed, revived and revitalised people for thousands of years now. And we are still singing them. How good is that?
What happens in the gospel reading is in stark contrast to the joy and boundless energy with which the Psalm speaks to us. The mood is cold and dark, the words are clipped and angry, the imagery conjured up is one of confusion, conflict and angst. Jesus has entered Jerusalem, he has entered the temple, he is in the place where that joy for God should have been more abundant than anywhere else and the tension and simmering passive aggression is palpable.
Tell us Jesus….. The sadducees, priests that were in charge of the temple grounds, wealthy, powerful and considered authorities on matters of religion, come and put an absurd question to Jesus. Not because they want to learn something. Not because they are interested in debate. But because they want to cut Jesus down to size, diminish him in the eyes of the people, embarrass him if they can.
The question is in the same category as the question that kept theologians in the middle ages occupied for a while about how many angels would fit on the top of a needle.
And the answer is very simple: We don’t know.
So, if the law in Jesus day, designed to protect widowed women and make sure males had a maximum chance of continuing into the future through their offspring, even if they died, could result in an absurd scenario. Should brothers continue to die and a widow continue to be handed down the line of a group of brothers, what would happen if they all turned up in heaven after the resurrection is a question we cannot know the answer to and that the scriptures don’t, anywhere, even attempt to solve.
What Jesus does, when that absurd and unanswerable question is put to him, is show up the people that ask it as people that lack faith and imagination in even coming up with the question.
They take a law that was designed to keep women, who at that time lost everything when they got married, safe by ordering that their new family would continue to look after them. And that a man who died without children might still have his name continue into the future through a child his brother might have with his wife. So the brother, through this child, could be present when the end of times would come to bring praises to God.
The sadducees, with their question, turn a law that was designed to protect and secure life into an absurd questioning of what might happen after we all die in a place that none of us can know exactly what will happen about.
Look, says Jesus, as he shows them up quoting from their own sacred scriptures. All I know is that God is a God of the living, even after they have died. Moses, Abraham, Isaak, Jacob: God has never stopped loving them and they are, still, alive, for God as well as for us in who they were and how they lived. For God that difference, that may be such a big thing in our minds and hearts, the boundary between life and death, is simply non existent and of no importance. God is here. And in God all who have lived are still alive. And all who have lived we may know are still loved, known and cared for by God. As we are loved, known and cared for.
That’s all we need to know. And how that works out? Well, perhaps all we need to do there is trust that in God’s way, in God’s time, in God’s world that will be worked out in a way that we may simply not be able to imagine.
What the sadducees at the time of the question didn’t know, but what Luke, at the time of writing did know, is that the temple where this debate takes place, the home ground of the sadducees where they feel confident enough to waylay Jesus with their questions, will soon no longer be. That the whole structure of how the Jewish faith is organised and especially the priestly caste of the Sadducees is about to disappear completely from the face of the earth.
Those who Luke was writing for would have also know that, as we do. Which makes the question of the Sadducees even more poignantly absurd. They worry about what might happen to a imaginary woman in an imaginary scenario after death, while their own death and all that they stand for is imminent without them realising it. Where will they be when the time comes? How will they live on in God’s love and care? Where will they be when the time comes?
Even larger of course, for Luke, for the people he writes for and for us, looms the death and resurrection of Jesus and how in him life after death will take on a completely different meaning and dimension. Here, now, God is the God of the living Christ and the living Christ a reality that continues in our midst. Here, now, life after death, the death of Jesus, is taking shape in our lives and faith. Here, now, a new temple has come about, not one of bricks and mortar but of living faith in Christ.
We, and if we read those few verses from 2 Thessalonians correctly, they too, keep struggling to come to terms with that. While we continue to quibble about minutiae that really don’t matter that much in the context of eternity and the eternal and limitless love and care of God for all people, present, past and future, we find it hard to focus on the bigger picture.
The God who Moses met at the burning bush, the God who called Abraham and travelled with his offspring, the God who kept widening the circle of grace and love until it included all of creation in his longing for life and light, that God is not going to let us go. That God will be around after our buildings and theological systems and dogmatic constructs have gone to dust and will continue to love and care and save and bring justice and joy to those who open their heart to that God.
That is all we need to know. God is faithful, God will remain faithful, God has been faithful in love, in the pursuit of justice, in the working of miracles that bring and sustain life in abundance. Here, now and everywhere.
Sing a new Song says the Psalm and it is really a very old song we are called to take up anew. For a God that works miracles, that comes to bring justice, peace, healing and righteous living, a God that loves, cares and guides towards a life filled with joy and praise into eternity. Amen.