Summary: A sermon for the 24th Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 27

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23rd Sunday after Pentecost [Pr. 27 November 11, 2007 “Series C”

Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, you sent your Son, Jesus the Christ to reveal your Word of grace and truth, and to redeem us through his death and resurrection. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, open our hearts and minds to hear his Word for our lives, and give us the strength to embrace it as we live our lives. And increase our faith, that trusting in our baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection, we might be empowered to walk in newness of life, and have hope in the life to come. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.

As a pastor, working with our confirmation students has been a real joy. I love to see our youth grow in their understanding of the Scriptures and to mature in their faith. And I will admit, that it has also proven to be challenging at times. After all, we have had some very bright students in our class, and they have asked some very difficult questions over the years, as they explore the relationship of Scripture and theology to their daily lives.

Asking questions is an essential part of learning. We learn and grow by asking questions about what we don’t understand. No question is a dumb question, if it is designed to help you acquire knowledge or information. However, there are some questions that are wrong to ask, because they are not intended to acquire knowledge. For example, there are questions that are specifically intended to shift the topic away from what I am trying to teach. Some of our students are very good at this, too.

And there are questions that are wrong to ask, because they are intended to trick or trap someone into a corner, to set a person up to look foolish in the eyes of others. We have an example of this kind of question in our Gospel lesson for this morning.

Luke tells us that there were some Sadducees who came to Jesus, and asked him a question. I believe this is the only time in Luke’s Gospel that we hear of the Sadducees, and so, I would like to share with you a little background information about this group. The Sadducees were an ultra- conservative religious party who accepted only the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, as the authoritative word of God. These are the books that contain the Law of Moses.

Since they rejected the writings of the prophets, where the Law of Moses was given further interpretation, the Sadducees were very strict and legalistic in their religious life. As a result, they rejected as heretical many of the things that Jesus was teaching, such as loving your enemies, or encouraging the payment of taxes to the hated Roman authorities.

They also found many of the actions of Jesus to be unorthodox and in violation of the law. To them, Jesus defiled himself with his frequent association with known sinners, social outcasts, and tax collectors. And Jesus openly broke the law by allowing his disciples to eat with unwashed hands, and when Jesus healed a man of his sickness on the Sabbath, he had blatantly snubbed for disregarding the sacred laws of their faith.

Because of their limited view of the Scriptures and their disregard for the ensuing theological development of Israel that developed over the years, the Sadducees view of life was very pessimistic and joyless. They did not believe in the hope of resurrection, a concept that developed in the theology of Israel two hundred years prior to the birth of Christ, or any kind of positive life beyond their earthly existence. To them, when a person died, their soul went to Sheol, a placed deeply imbedded in the earth, where at best, you lived a diminished sort of life.

Thus, when Jesus taught that the kingdom of God was eternal, and that the resurrection would bring new life to the faithful, who would sit at a great banquet, and have the wrongs they endured in this life ultimately made right, the Sadducees had to challenge Jesus. And so they came to Jesus, and asked him a question that was designed, not that they might learn or expand their understanding, but to make Jesus look foolish in the eyes of those who had come to believe in him.

The Sadducees begin by quoting their beloved Torah. “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.” Of course, we who live in today’s society may find this to be rather offensive to think about. But in that paternalistic culture, a woman was dependent upon her husband or her sons for her support. She was not allowed to own property or to inherit her husband’s estate. Thus, we might view this Law of Moses as providing a means by which the widow would be cared for.

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