a message by the Rev. Dr. Bruce Havens
Coral Isles Church
October 31, 2021
Mark 12: 18-27
18Some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, saying, 19“Teacher, Moses wrote for us that ‘if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no child, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother.’ 20There were seven brothers; the first married and, when he died, left no children; 21and the second married her and died, leaving no children; and the third likewise; 22none of the seven left children. Last of all the woman herself died. 23In the resurrection whose wife will she be? For the seven had married her.”
24Jesus said to them, “Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God? 25For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 26And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the story about the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27He is God not of the dead, but of the living; you are quite wrong.”
I know, I know, you are wondering what is going on here? Zombie fear, Ghostbusters, has the preacher lost his mind? Well come on, let’s have a sense of humor, right? It IS Halloween after all, October 31. And honestly, when I read this passage of Scripture for this Sunday knowing it was Halloween what jumped in my head was these 7 brothers all dead, fighting to marry this newly dead bride and “bam!” the word “zombies” jumped in my head. Now whether that was the Holy Spirit of Lucifer Morningstar talking to me I’ll leave to you to decide. But I hope you have a sense of humor.
I used the zombie term one other time in a sermon and it cost me a piano player. He was the son of an evangelical – and I mean seriously fundamentalist evangelical preacher, and this pianist was gay. I am sure he had to leave behind a lot of bad theology, but when I quoted another minister [ in other words this wasn’t my original idea ] who said, “Jesus must have been the first zombie, I mean he was raised from the dead, but instead of going around eating people’s brains he went around giving them new life.” I thought it was a pretty sound theological observation. He quit the next week. Oh, well, you can’t always count on a sense of humor. So I am hoping you all have one, or at least aren’t too offended to hear me out. I’ll give you one more reason – to laugh or to listen or both: you see I had an embarrassing moment last Halloween. A zombie was out looking for someone with a brain to eat and he walked right by me!
So the Scripture reading tells of a debate between the Sadducees and Jesus. They have come to “test” him. They want to see if he is “for real.” They want to see if he really “knows his stuff.” Bad choice. That would be like me throwing a baseball to Hank Aaron in his prime, to test him, to see if he really has his “stuff.” Remember those times when Charlie Brown would be pitching for his Little League team and he would get his pitch so hard it knocked his clothes off and left him lying on the pitcher’s mound? Yeah. That’s the Sadducees – and really all the religious “experts” who came to test Jesus. You might say they went away naked, exposed for being more concerned with proving they were right and someone else was wrong than in learning, growing, or knowing the actual truth.
Anyway they ask a hypothetical question because they want to prove that their theology is superior to Jesus’. I can imagine Jesus kind of grinning as they are warming up and preparing their pitch. Maybe shaking his head and thinking, “really? You’re going to try this?” In Jewish tradition, if a man died without having a male heir, a son, his brothers were supposed to marry the widow and provide a said male heir. Didn’t matter if they were already married. So much for those theories about “traditional Biblical marriages,” huh? But the smart-guy Sadducees, who didn’t believe in resurrection, say how about if this happens seven times. Then the widow dies. Whose wife is she in the resurrection.
Jesus’ answer is classic. “Your question reveals your ignorance not only of Scripture but of the power of God.” Boom! Talk about shuttin’ ‘em up! Then he gives a rebuttal that does two things. First, he explains there is no marriage as we know it in this life in the resurrection. I don’t really want to get into the physics, metaphysics, or the physical matters here. The point is relationships in the resurrection are not defined as they are here, where marriage in Jesus’ time was an exchange of property from father to husband for the price of a dowry and for the purpose of procreation to produce heirs for the economic security of the family. Not really about romance, relationships, or the stuff we associate with marriage.
What is important is that Jesus uses a rather circular logic to prove his point. He begins without saying it, but with the assumption that God is the God of the living, not the dead. But he begins by saying God introduced God’s Self to Moses by saying, “I’m the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” The point being that those guys were long dead before Moses, and so if they weren’t alive then God could not be their God, or at least would not introduce God’s Own Self as God of the dead to prove his power to Moses. God’s power is because God is the God of the living and not the dead, as God has the power to give life, and therefore to give life to the dead. Zombie! No, kidding. If you didn’t follow that I’ll have reprints of the sermon available tomorrow.
For me all the logic is less interesting than Jesus’ outright claim that God’s power is seen and known when we understand that God is the God of the living. We are living in a time when most people either believe God is powerless or not real, or they believe in a God whose power is built on judgment, hate, violence, and condemnation of those who don’t believe like the people who believe that God is like them. I would carefully suggest that is the sign of a closed mind and closed spirit. It is a fearful way to live. It lives in fear that somehow zombies are going to “get” us.
So what do you believe about God’s power? Because even if I am right but you believe something else about God’s power then all we have done here is waste each other’s time. Are you open to recognizing the ways you might have limited God’s power? Are you open to thinking and believing differently in order to better experience God’s power in your life? Are you open to the possibility you have been describing God’s power in ways that do not give others life, but steal it?
So often when we try to comfort someone who is grieving about the death of a loved one we say, “it was God’s will.” But if God is God of the living then it is not God’s will that we die. The resurrection of Jesus reveals that God intends us for life even when all the powers of earth are trying to kill us. It doesn’t matter if it is disease, or injustice and oppression and evil, or just plain circumstances and bad luck. The promise of Easter is that resurrection means God gets the last word. Life is the last word.
How often do we hear others or ourselves wondering why God didn’t change something – like a disease, or a death, or an injustice? Remember the whole “God is dead” movement from the 60’s? Is God dead or just powerless? Or does God just not care? Is God’s love only for those who believe like certain people believe? Of course, we “liberal” UCC folks don’t believe that, but we have to be careful we don’t mentally and spiritually consign those who consign us to hell for not believing what they believe to hell. Did you follow that? I mean, how often have I been tempted to send to hell those who think or believe differently from me, who make me angry, or who condemn me for what I think or believe to hell? I’m not counting.
I believe God has the power to transform this world into the Creation intended from the Creation by the Creator. I believe that God has the power to make this world heaven. I worry that I may not live to see it, but I keep sensing that Jesus is saying it is here now, even in its imperfect state. I keep hearing Jesus suggest you and I have the power to live in the perfect reign of God right now. The challenge is it requires a lot of trust, perhaps a lot of imagination [slash] faith to do that and too often I come up short.
Perhaps the alternative is to trust that God has the power and the intention to bring us into resurrection, into a heavenly reality, into real life here and now, not just after we die. To do that means we must be committed to growing in our spirituality enough to seek a greater awareness of God’s power and a greater trust in God’s purposes. The Sadducees had a dualistic mindset: we are right and those who believe in resurrection are wrong. The Roman Empire had a dualistic mindset: you either bow to Caesar and obey or you will be executed. Is that the way we see God’s power? Is that the way we believe God calls us to live?
Romans 14:8 says, “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” Futurist and author Octavia Butler reminds us in The Parable of the Sower, “All that you touch you Change. All that you Change Changes you. The only lasting truth is Change. God Is Change.”
This world is changing. We are changing. The challenge our faith offers us is to choose how we want to change and how we want the world to change. We don’t need more zombies. And we don’t need to live in fear of zombies or their power. We need to believe more in the power of God. The power of God is life, says Jesus. What do you want to believe about the power of God? AMEN.