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Why do people become Christians? It's an age-old question that has a number of answers. Some join the church because they need to repent of their sins and be forgiven. Some come because they've always gone to church, from childhood on, and consider it part of their very being. Some come to church because Jesus offers a way of life that is compelling. Others come to Christianity because they seek everlasting life. That is, resurrection. Others seek fellowship. Still others want an hour of peace on Sunday. Many come for the hymns.
The question of resurrection has been with us a long, long time. It divided the Jews even before the time of Jesus. It divides people today, especially those who think that realism and faith are mutually exclusive.
In our Gospel the Saducees were asking Jesus about the resurrection. We presume they were not considering conversion. Rather, they were trying to trap Jesus with an explanation of something so impractical that he would lose credibility and popularity.
I was looking for something lighter about resurrection or conversion the other day and found a joke. An old Jewish man asked on his deathbed to convert to Christianity. His family was shocked. ``Why would you do such a thing?'' they asked. "I know I'm about to die,'' he replied, "and I figure, better one of them than one of us!"
Well! I thought. I can't use that joke. Or so I thought until I read further down the screen and saw the same joke, only it was a Catholic converting to Protestantism on his deathbed so that "one of theirs will die."
In other words, I didn't get very far on this issue in terms of humor. But what I did realize is that my joke highlighted a strong suspicion of mine: people will go to considerable lengths to undermine other faiths and, at the same time, ignore the irregularities of their own.
I find it extremely interesting that folks get so worked up over the improbabilities of faith. When Jesus promised his followers eternal life he used language that was clearly metaphorical. Yet people speak openly of the many mansions Jesus' followers occupy and imagine bodily resurrection and reunion with all their long gone loved ones. I admit that I enjoy that last notion myself, quite a bit. For example, I imagine with pleasure my parents meeting all of you.
Perhaps the best evidence that this issue is irresolvable this side of the grave is that rather than give evidence of the certainty of the resurrection, Jesus addresses in our Gospel the question of resurrection by simply pointing out that it is a total change from the life in this age to the life of "those worthy of a place in that age and resurrection." He mentions that people don't marry in the resurrection, but mostly he makes it clear that the things that concern us in this life won't concern us in that life.
A reasonable person interested in such a life, one free from the constraints and concerns of this life, might ask, "Then how do we gain eternal life?"
That's really where Jesus wants people to go in their thinking. Not to the details of who's currently married to the seven-times widowed woman (as if she'd be needing a husband in heaven, right?).
Jesus wanted his followers to know that they had a soul, that it was alive and that it would live on after their earthly end. It was in communion with God and God treasured the souls of the dearly departed. There is no small irony in this reading from the Gospel of Luke materializing one week after All Saints Sunday.
But to go back to the beginning of this sermon, why do you think that these Jewish religious authorities were so interested in Jesus' teaching on resurrection? It's highly unlikely they were considering converting, don't you think? They even didn't think much of Jesus prescription for a godly life, achieved by loving God and loving our neighbor. Were they worried about their sins and being forgiven?
We weren't there and so we don't know what was in the minds of Jesus questioners. But we can infer a few things. One is that they weren't interested in debating the issues. Partly because Jesus was famously able to turn back on his questioners their own issues and motives. We also know they felt Jesus was undermining their religion and their authority with their followers.
What we do know is that Jesus was interested in letting the people who heard him know that they were not just human beings. They were spiritual beings as well. This information gave his followers the ability to reconsider how they lived their lives and make decisions that enabled them to live at peace in the lives they had, difficult as their circumstances may have been at that time.
This is a lesson that applies for us today. We live in times of massive division. We have experienced the erosion of our ethical standards and our standard of living on a massive scale over the past couple of decades and especially in the past two years.
This was not an accident. It has been the intentional campaign of the politically powerful and the immensely wealthy and the people they have convinced that taxes and government are somehow unnecessary at least and evil at worst.
The lessons that Jesus taught his followers and which are ours in faith help us realize that how we live our lives is what matters. If we yearn for a utopia where everyone's treated well and equally, where poverty ceases to exist and the economic playing field is truly level we are going to be frustrated, at least for a while. But if we choose to live in a world where our hearts are filled with the love of and for Jesus and his way, we will be successful beyond measure.
Jesus wanted to heal our hearts, to help us find paths of peace and goodwill amid the scorched earth policies of our current administration and the increasing prospect of a deadly environment due to climate change and political inaction. Jesus wanted us to find our comfort in helping others, not in power and acquisition. So it's no surprise that the Sadducees were unhappy with Jesus. They wanted people to reject this peace and love business of Jesus and his notion of a spiritual resurrection. Their world had no room for people who didn't need to follow all their rules.
Ours does. We can turn to Jesus in any situation or circumstance and engage directly with the peace which not only passes all understanding, but which also powered the creation in the first place. It is the all in all. Amen
A sermon preached on the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost, Nov. 11, 2019, at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Poughkeepsie NY by The Rev. Tyler Jones, Rector