Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Dead Are Raised

Sermon on Luke 20:27-40
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
November 10, 2013 (Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost)

The dead are raised.  We know this because God didn’t create death in the first place.  Death is not a natural part of life, despite what many grief counselors (and even, unfortunately, many pastors) say.  We were created to live with our Creator.  And our Creator doesn’t do temporary things, because He Himself isn’t temporary.  He created us to enjoy His presence and His love forever.  Death only entered this world by sin, and sin is not more powerful than God.  Which means that when God and death tangle, God will, and must, come out on top.  Good and evil are not two equal and opposite forces.  Good and evil are not even two equal and opposite things.  Evil isn’t a thing; it’s the absence of a thing called goodness, just as darkness isn’t a thing, it’s the absence of a thing called light.  God is the creator, and Satan is a mere creature who deluded himself and therefore caught up others in his delusion.  God will, simply because He is God, have His way.

The true people of God have always had two errors on either side of them: one which affirms that God will raise the dead and take His people to be with Him eternally, but thinks that our own works are either how we get there or, at the very least, how we know we’re getting there.  The other side, if it even recognizes God’s existence at all, denies that God can do things which are outside the normal realm of human experience.  The former group has been know at various times in history as the Pharisees, the Monastics, and more recently in Protestantism as the Pietists (this is also the majority position among most so-called “evangelical” churches today).  The latter group has been known as the Saducees, the Humanists, the Rationalists, the Higher Critics, and the mainline liberals in our own day.

While the Pharisees are wrong when they make man the source of his own salvation and his own relationship with God, the Sadducees are worse because they make themselves into the arbiters of what is possible in creation itself.  When there is a disagreement between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the Pharisees are the ones who are in the right.  God’s people will be raised.  What we observe in this old, messed-up world is not all there is.  Yes, the laws of nature are consistent because God is a God of order, and therefore science can study natural things with the use of logic and reason.  But to actively deny that something exists because we can’t scientifically prove it does exist is arrogant and absurd (unless, of course, you want to argue that atoms, electrons, photons, and the like didn’t actually exist until we discovered them, and, well, if you go down that road you eventually wind up with cognitive breakdown and insanity, because the logical conclusion is that nobody and nothing else but me existed until I “discovered” it into existence).  Jesus points out in today’s Gospel that the Sadducees and their modern-day counterparts are simply flat wrong and are really putting themselves in charge of their own little imaginary universes, in which God is limited by what man can imagine, rather than the other way around.  Ultimately both the Pharisees and the Saducees are wrong.  The one tries to influence God by man’s action, the other tries to become god of his own little universe.  Neither give God the glory that properly is His.

But the dead are raised.  They are restored to what God originally intended them to be.  The Son of God took upon Himself the war and division which marks this fallen world, and even allowed Himself to be separated, body from soul, on the cross.  But you fundamentally cannot do that to the Creator.  The resurrection was not the end result of an uncertain battle between equal and opposite forces named “good” and “evil.”  The resurrection was, in fact, the necessary consequence of Jesus subjecting Himself to death in the first place.  Death isn’t a thing, it’s the absence of a thing called life.

What this means is that the dead are raised.  It means that there is more to our existence than can be perceived with our five senses (even when we enhance those senses using tools like microscopes, telescopes, and other scientific instruments).  We know this to be true because Jesus was raised.  There is no other credible explanation for the documentary evidence, not only inside but also outside the Scriptures, not only from Christian believers but even from their opponents, that has come from first-century Palestine, where all this took place.

And so, because Jesus was raised, we are raised.  Yes, life in eternity is, was, and will be fundamentally different than it is here.  We can describe all sorts of things that it won’t be like (Jesus uses marriage as one example, to refute the Sadducees’ objections here), but we don’t have the logical categories to describe what life in a place outside created time even means.  That’s how limited we are, and how arrogant we are if we assume that the rules of this creation are applicable to life before God’s face.  While there is an end to our existence in this world, but God in Jesus Christ has redeemed us out of that fate and given us to sit with Him at His Father’s right hand.  That’s what you will inherit.  That’s the place you enjoy even right now, though you can’t perceive it.  But you are there.  You are with the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.  The cloud of witnesses is here, gathered for His feast.  Amen.

+Soli Deo Gloria+

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