Pharisees, Rabbit Holes and Resurrection

Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
November 10, 2019
Gospel: Luke 18:27-38 

Mother Hymes’ sermon today. Gospel Luke 20:27-38. “Pharisees, Rabbit Holes and Resurrection”

Posted by Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church on Sunday, November 10, 2019

Roger Ebert of the famed film critic duo, Siskel and Ebert, reviewed all genres of movies for more than 20 years. Beyond their insightful reviews sealed their approval or disappointment of a film with the now iconic “thumbs up” or “thumbs down.”

Later in life Roger Ebert would be faced with a long journey of fighting jaw, thyroid and salivary glands cancers, leading to the removal of his jaw bone and ultimately his death. During the time of his illness, Ebert wrote his memoir, published in 2011 entitled, “Life Itself.” This book was required reading for my chaplain residency, and is one of my top five books on the experience of dying, glimpsed through the lens of Ebert.

What struck me the most from his narrative is when he was able to release his anxieties about the unknown which were causing him to suffer spiritually. “What if” I die, then what? He reflected poignantly on death as the means through which a soul moves from the terrestrial to the celestial. When questions are posed to me about life after death, and fears about the life left behind, I tend to offer Ebert’s practical perspective.

He said, “I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state…My lifetime’s memories are what I have brought home from the trip.”[1]

Ebert seems to suggest that human “life itself” is a means to an end; a vehicle for the soul to return to the “perfect contentment” in the source from whence it came. For so many, “life itself” is a compilation of events which are nothing more than means to ends in this temporal world.  As Easter people, we are reminded that this gift of life has woven into it, for those who believe, the promise that life is not a means to an end; but the means to abundance in the one who was with God, and who was God, in the beginning.

As a former hospital and ER chaplain, I know that human beings staring into the face of death have questions…so many questions about the purpose of life and death and about what will happen after they die.  Questions upon questions with few, if any, adequate answers to satisfy the questions.

Speaking of questions, Luke, chapter 20, in which our passage today is situated, is a series of questions aimed at Jesus’ authority.  Each time, Jesus silenced the questioners with irrefutable responses.

In our Gospel passage today, we find Sadducees mixed into the crowd, firing off another loaded question, although there is no indication that they were trying to trap Jesus with their question.

Sadducees were anti-resurrection. They only recognized the authority of the five books of Moses, the Torah, and if something was not explicitly referenced in the Torah, it was denied. Resurrection was one such topic.

They asked Jesus, “What if” a man’s brother dies, leaving a childless wife? What if the wife marries her brother-in-law and remains childless? What if there were originally seven brothers, all of whom the wife married due to their successive deaths and still no heirs were produced?  And, what if the wife—portrayed as merely a means to an end—finally died—who will she belong to in the resurrection?

This absurd rabbit hole of “What ifs” centered on Levirate marriage—brother-in-law marriage—in the book of Deuteronomy.  The practice of brother-in-law marriage was to ensure that the deceased husband’s name was kept alive through procreation between the deceased husband’s brother and the deceased husband’s wife.[2] The practice also ensured that the widow would be provided for.

The questioning, sought no real response; again, the Torah had no explicit reference to the resurrection.  Therefore, for the Sadducees, it was a moot topic. But Jesus, responded with an implicit reference to the resurrection in Exodus—a book the Sadducees viewed as authoritative—when God told Moses, “I am” the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, not “I was.”

Amidst the questions of the rabbit-hole “what if” scenario, Jesus was not distracted. In my former career in public relations, we would train spokespersons to control the narrative in their interviews. Whether or not the interview was anticipated to be confrontational or friendly in nature, the spokesperson was in control of the narrative—always focused on the purpose of the interview. And Jesus, in this context of questioning, controlled the narrative.

Jesus was always focused, not on the human attachments to things, people, places, ideas and practices, which enslave the human soul, but on the heavenly—where all false realities of this this decaying world cease to exist. Jesus’ irrefutable response again shut down the questioning.

Jesus was not distracted by the concerns of the Sadducees about how Levirate marriage would work in the resurrection because those belonging to “that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage—a core message in Jesus’ narrative during this public interview, if you will.

The Sadducees were unable to grasp and accept the truth of resurrection, that all who are alive in Christ are heirs to God’s heavenly kingdom because they couldn’t prove it in the Torah. Jesus was not distracted by their inability to comprehend; he remained focused on teaching for those who had the ears to hear.

Think about the myriad distractions of this life—those things that hinder, even obstruct, one’s ability to focus and embrace the fullness of life in the risen Christ, received in their baptism into His death and resurrection.

Distraction is so pervasive amidst the external priorities of daily living and the internal pressures of navigating spiritual angst caused by anticipating life’s unknowns.  Where is there room for God in this whirlwind of human activity that blinds non-believers and believers alike to the truth beyond this age? When we make room for God in this age we are reminded that resurrection is about God’s act upon Jesus. The focus is Jesus, and we must resist distractions from our focus on the risen Christ, and focus on the Easter narrative.

As Easter people we believe by faith that the God who created human life, and who resurrected Jesus from the dead, will do the same for those who are alive in Christ forever. And yet, as we go about proclaiming this good news to those who do not yet know Christ, some will receive the divine message and some will remain blinded by their own human understanding.

For many years I was blessed with the spiritual guidance of a powerful soul, Mother Albertine Rouse. She was an Episcopal priest, who journeyed with me when I embraced the courage to say, “Yes,” to God’s call on my life to become a priest. When I told her, through tears and frustration, that my dear friend, also a life-long Episcopalian, just didn’t “get” why I was making such a drastic life change. Mother Albertine said to me, “Baby girl, it’s hard to convince someone that you’re going to the penthouse when they believe that the elevator only goes to the 10th floor.

Be patient, and let God use you to help her move from the 10th floor, all the way to the penthouse.”

Friends, the Sadducees believed that the elevator only went to the 10th floor, and so many souls, whom we have yet to meet, are stuck on the 10th floor.

May God equip us to resist distractions and keep us focused on the risen Christ so that we can be used to help people realize the truth of God in Christ so that all may move from the 10th floor all the way to the penthouse!”

May it be so.

 

[1] Ebert, Roger. Life Itself (2011), p. 412.

[2] Deut. 25:5-6