21. November 2019

Sermon on November 10th, 2019

Sermon: Sonja Herler

Sermon to Luke, 20, 27-38

Dear congregation, when I was still young, I had the luck that I was hardly ever confronted with death. I barely thought about a life after death, because life gave me and still gives me enough to solve here and now. I have to admit that this text from the Gospel of Luke never actually appealed to me. Now that I am older and had to let some people go when they died, and who were also close to me, I read these lines from Luke from another perspective. He only spoke to me when I read the text for the second or third time. 

In this text, the Sadducees asked Jesus a question about the resurrection of the dead. For your information – I have looked it up – the Sadducees were, like the Pharisees, an elite group of Jewish priests. They were very conservative, denied life after death and believed that keeping the law assured them a good life blessed by God. The five books of Moses were crucial for their faith. That is what they focused on. 

Now the Sadducees came to Jesus and told him a hypothetical story in which a woman’s husband died. The marriage was without children. According to the old law, one of the man’s brothers should marry the woman to ensure that there would be an offspring. In this case, the woman remained without children after her marriages with each of the man’s seven brothers and finally died herself. To whom should this poor woman, who had to endure seven marriages, now belong to in heaven. A terrible thought… With this question, the Sadducees wanted to provoke Jesus and ridicule the resurrection. Jesus does not enter into any discussion. He replies: Marriage is something for this age. In that other age, it has no meaning, because it will no longer be necessary to ensure there are offspring. At the resurrection, people are like angels. They are God’s sons and daughters. And at the end of the text he adds: “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”

I see two topics here that come to my mind. On the one hand, the image of God that the Sadducees convey here, and the one that Jesus shows us, and on the other hand the life after earthly death. To me, both are connected here. 

To the Sadducees’ image of God:

The Law of Moses plays an important role in the religiosity of the Sadducees. God reveals himself in the commandments. God punishes those who do not obey them; those who obey them are rewarded with a blessed life. In this way God is, so to speak, “straightforward” to people. 

I notice again and again, just how comfortable it is to rely on explanations and laws, and to use a written word as the benchmark for every human being. Explanations and laws make us feel secure and we keep track of things. We often want to do the same thing with God. Often we confine him to narrow thought patterns and believe to know what God wants, and in that way we often exclude people who think or live differently. We confine love, life. We try to adjust God to ourselves and basically become self-righteous. It is good to have an overview of God and life. Pretty arrogant and ridiculous, actually. Well, because what is up to us human beings? By fate, a well-adjusted life can fall apart with one blow and everything is different. The image of God must be shaken. Death then seems to be like a threat, because the whole construction of my life, which I was proud of, collapses – what will come after that, if there even is anything after that – What benchmarks will be set then? Insecurity is spreading. 

How liberating is the image of God that Jesus conveys. Jesus shows a God who is with us in the current and in the future life, who cannot be confined within limits. Through the life of Jesus, we get to know God a little. We cannot comprehend God, but recognise him in fragments. And Jesus shows us a God, who does not judge people, but who sees the heart, the innermost part of a person and who is nothing other than love. Jesus lets us see the commandments as wise and good living advice. They enable us to live together well with other people. Jesus summarises all commandments of the Old Testament with these two commandments:

Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind – and: Love your neighbour as you love yourself. If one keeps these two commandments, then all 10 commandments are kept. 

In Jesus we feel the vastness of God. 

Experience shows that God does not necessarily reward the keeping of commandments with a good and successful life, but rather that he guides us through all turmoil, through all highs and lows of life, that he carries us through good and difficult times and encounters us in people who love us, in prayer, in worship, in the songs as an often refreshing joy even in difficult times, when we would rather run away. We cannot confine God, and we cannot confine life. 

The life after death? After the earthly death?

Jesus speaks of the resurrection of the dead. It is written that after his crucifixion he met some women and his disciples. We do not know exactly what life after death looks like. What we may already know in this life, however, is that love is not ephemeral, but that it goes on and that we return to it after our physical death, because God also carries us through death, to where no other human being can accompany us. 

In the light of this love, we will recognise how many thoughts, actions, inner attitudes that we have had in our lives, have blocked this love and how much guilt we have burdened on ourselves through that. How good is it to know that if we recognise and admit where we have acted against this love, whether consciously or not, God will forgive us in Jesus Christ and we can always start anew in this life. 

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a Swiss doctor and thanatologist, who died in 2004, has studied dying people for decades. Numerous interviews can be looked up. She summarises the findings of her work in one sentence: “As soon as we have done all our work on this earth, we are allowed to discard our body, which holds our soul captive like a cocoon the butterfly. When the time has come, we can let our bodies go, and we will be free from pain, free from fears and sorrows, free like a beautiful butterfly returning home to God.”

In the end, most of us can only believe what we have experienced ourselves. I also mostly belong to this group of people. And, as I said at the beginning of the sermon, I am usually busy enough with the tasks that I have to complete in this life. 

And yet, it still feels good to believe in a God of love, who holds us in his hand, and that he never withdraws that hand, not even in death and beyond it, whatever may come after that. He gives eternal life, which already begins now in small ways. In mutual love, in pure joy, in beauty, in reconciliation. Those who surrender themselves to God in this life, to this indescribable love, which has become visible in Jesus, who strive for it in everyday life, in cooperation, can get an idea of what the new life after death will be like. We will be one with this love, which is the answer to the question of meaning that we so often ask ourselves in this life. Amen.