A God For All

Rev. Sarah Buteux
November 10, 2013
Luke  20:27-40

I’d like to begin by sharing something very personal with you all that I feel I can share because although it is very personal, this particular event in my life was in no way private.

Those of you who have been here since the beginning of my pastorate will no doubt remember that before Andrew and I were blessed with George and Genevieve, I had a miscarriage.

And it was a miscarriage every one in the church knew about because in my initial enthusiasm, I had told everyone in the church that I was pregnant on Mother’s day.

Most couples now a days wait till the 12 week mark before telling people, simply because miscarriages are so common, but for whatever reason I honestly didn’t think that would happen to me. I was so excited I couldn’t keep the good news to myself.  And in retrospect, I have to say that I’m not entirely sorry about that.

Although it was hard to have so many people know - to feel so exposed in our grief and feel so sorry for the grief we caused in others- ultimately I’m really thankful that I didn’t have to bear all that grief alone.

The way the people of this church surrounded us with their love and concern, their own stories of loss and renewal, and prayers – prayers I swear I could feel upholding me day and night- was absolutely remarkable and incredibly healing.

Birth. Death. Life. Loss. These are areas of deep mystery for all of us…even pastors. We might know a lot scientifically speaking about these things, but deep, deep down we still don’t really know where we come from any more than we know where we’re going.

It’s hard to put words to any of these mysteries, but the loss of a life that never quite was is a particularly slippery thing, both to explain and to grieve, whether you’re talking about a miscarriage or a still birth or even the inability to conceive at all.

It is in many ways an amorphous grief. There is so little to show for it, which is precisely why the witness and care of our brothers and sisters here sustained us the way it did.

In my experience you feel a little crazy mourning something that wasn’t, but those of you who cared for Andrew and me through that time assured us that in some mysterious way even what wasn’t still was. You acknowledged us - our loss and our pain - as real.

It counted…. That’s the best way I can say it. It counted, and for that I will be forever grateful.

That degree of sensitivity, that level of love and care, is the sort of thing you hope to find in a community of faith, but the truth is you don’t always. Jesus certainly wasn’t in the presence of that kind of compassion when the Sadducees descended upon him the way that they did.

There is no sense in today’s reading that these men are seeking any kind of common ground or mutual understanding with Jesus. They have not come in search of wisdom, the better to understand life’s mysteries or bring comfort to those in grief. They have simply come to debate with Jesus, hoping - no doubt - to make a fool of this poor, uneducated, back woods preacher.

In fact, it is well documented that the Sadducees didn’t even believe in the resurrection. They thought the whole idea was ridiculous, a fabrication of unorthodox minds which, if you really thought about it, had the potential to create “more problems then it solved.”[1]

As an example, they invent a scenario based around the most pathetic character they can possibly dream up: a barren woman who was widowed not once, but seven times over - passed from brother to brother like so much chattel - before she eventually died. If the resurrection were true, they wonder, to which of the seven husbands she had known here, would she belong to in the hereafter?

And Jesus’ response is fascinating, not so much for the glimpse he gives us into eternal life as for the glimpse he gives us into the very heart of God.

He knows their question is not serious, just as he knows this woman is anything but real, and yet he takes their question as seriously as he takes this imaginary woman’s plight.

What to the Sadducees is a laughable absurdity - a woman who would be given in marriage 7 times over and still not produce children - becomes a possibility that Jesus handles with surprising tenderness and concern, almost to the point where this woman becomes real.

She may be nothing more than a figment of their callous imagination, but in Jesus’ mind, even she counts. Jesus lets them know that not only does he believe in the worth of this idea of resurrection, he believes in her worth as well.

They had hoped their riddle would reveal that the whole concept of a resurrection was nonsensical and what is so interesting about this exchange is that in a way, Jesus actually agrees with them. He lets them know that that their idea of resurrection is nonsensical, precisely because the way they think about the resurrection is all wrong.

Resurrection is more than just the promise of life eternal, explains Jesus.

After all, there are many- like your poor widow for example- for whom more life, if it was merely just more of the same - the same suffering and shame and servitude they have endured here upon the earth - would be anything but good news.

That might be the sort of resurrection you’re talking about, says Jesus; but when I say resurrection I’m not just talking about life eternal, I’m talking about a whole new way of life… for all.

You’ve come wondering what man this poor pitiable woman will belong to in the after life, says Jesus. Well I’m here to tell you that the only one she will “belong to,” is God.

No one is “given” to anyone else in heaven, says Jesus.  There will be no more buying or selling, owning or arranging: of women or children or slaves or captives or anyone else you pompous asses think you have the right to control, for every last one of the least of these will be like the angels.

They will be lifted up and treasured because they are children of God, precious beloved children of God, and maybe you want to think about that the next time you mock a barren woman or shun a widow or arrange a marriage for your daughter with the same level of attention you’d use if you were trading your favorite bull.

In a way, Jesus is telling the Sadducees that the resurrection they don’t believe in, is not a resurrection he believes in either. Life eternal will not be like life here, thank you Jesus. We’re not slated for an eternity of more of the same, but invited into a new reality where every last one of us down to the very least of us will dwell safe and secure in the heart of God.

Although we might wish he gave us a little more detail about that sweet by and by – you know, maybe like the menu, the schedule, or a few words about the accommodations - all Jesus really tells the Sadducees, and by extension all Jesus really tells us, is that we will be raised to a new life that will be fundamentally different from this one.

In fact it will be so different that the most useless, meaningless, worthless life you can conceive of, will still be a life remembered, redeemed, and treasured more fully then you could ever imagine.

In heaven, in the words of Nancy Lynne Westfield, Jesus teaches us that all:

…those who have been dehumanized will be restored;
those who have been oppressed will be set free;
… those who have been treated as inferior will be raised up
and called beloved.[2]

In the resurrection, unlike here, no one is disposable. In the resurrection, unlike here, no one gets left behind. In the resurrection no one “belongs” to anyone else, because in the resurrection we all belong to God and God’s not going to let any one of us go.

I read somewhere once, that “God loves all of us (his children) as if there were only one of us.

In heaven, everyone will count.

****

The week I lost my baby was also the week we lost Norm Barstow Senior.  It was a tough week all the way around. But after the funeral Robin, one of Norm’s daughters, came up to me. By then she knew what had happened and she told me that she had lost two babies too and she said that one of her consolations was the idea that her Dad was now in heaven watching over them.

Those of you who remember Norm know that there was nothing on this earth he loved more than children and knowing that I knew that too, Robin offered to pray and ask her Dad if he would watch over my baby along with hers.

Now of course I don’t know if it works that way or not. All I know is that a tremendous peace came over my heart when she said that and even a sense of hope and joy. Thinking of Norm playing with three little angel babies, I felt for the first time as though that little life had a future, as if that little soul had been redeemed.

I wish Jesus had told us a bit more about the resurrection, but in some ways I think he’s told us the most important thing we need to know.

I mean, if he could treat the woman at the heart of the Sadducees’ story with such tender concern, a woman who was fabricated out of thin air simply to confuse him, how much more tenderly will he concern himself with us and with all those whom we love?

Jesus doesn’t really answer our questions. He doesn’t give us specifics. What he does is let us know that every life is precious in the eyes of God no matter how short or insignificant or fleeting that life might be.

We all have a place in the heart of God, no matter what our place was here. We all count; and nothing and no one will ever change that.

Thanks be to God.

Amen and Amen

[1] Barbara Brown Taylor, “God of the Living” found on p 205 in “Home By Another Way”

[2] Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol. 4, p 286