Sunday 10 November 2019: Remembrance Sunday
Living God’s Future Today
Context: a diverse congregation in Milton Keynes
Aim: to explore what it means to be children of the resurrection
What are your hopes for the future? Often our hopes revolve around our families. We want our children to grow up safe and happy, protected from violence or war. We want our parents to live to a ripe old age and die peacefully at home. These are good dreams to have, but today’s Gospel reading challenges us to dream wider and bigger.
Luke presents us with an animated debate taking place between Jesus and the Sadducees. These men were very wealthy religious leaders who inhabited the upper echelons of society. Their great wealth had been preserved down the generations through the patriarchal system of levirate marriage whereby the widow of a man who died before bearing an heir was subsequently married on to his brother. This second man then had the duty of fathering a son by his brother’s widow in order to secure his brother’s line of inheritance. This tradition ensured that property was kept in the family, thus maintaining the Sadducees’ social standing. Luke describes how these men, believing this status quo to be God-given through Moses, cannot envisage a world beyond their own vested interests. They are blind to the injustices of privileged power, perpetuated through this practice, and to the subordinate treatment of women. The resurrection cannot possibly exist, they say, because… well… in the next world, which of the hypothetical seven deceased brothers would the hypothetical one woman end up being wife to? The system would fall apart, and that would be unthinkable!
In the light of Eternity
At a distance of two millennia, it is easy for us to think how selfish and short-sighted the Sadducees were. But let’s not rush to judge: there are many ways in which we all continue to perpetuate abusive and unjust systems: we’re not always rushing to abandon our consumerist lifestyles for the sake of the planet’s future; nor are we pressing to reform trading arrangements so that poorer countries may gain in prosperity.
If the Sadducees fondly imagine that their present privileges should endure into eternity, Jesus reminds them that God’s future is categorically different. In this world – the world of levirate marriage – Jesus says, men and women marry and are given in marriage. But in God’s future, patriarchal structures are no more, and there is an end to the ways in which the wealthy store up their privilege. Those who belong to God share God’s new life. They are the children not of patriarchal marriage, but of the resurrection, Jesus says, and the heirs not of worldly fortune, but of God’s Kingdom. In God’s future, men and women alike resemble the angels: liberated from death and sinful, human systems, they all become heralds of God’s just and loving purposes.
The New Future is now!
But when is this future? According to Jesus, it’s now! Luke reminds us that in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, God’s future has already started. Jesus proclaims that he has come to announce good news to the poor and liberty for captives – not just for the end of time, but here and now. In Jesus, God’s promised future breaks into the present: prostitutes as well as Pharisees are welcome at the table, the sinner is forgiven and the blind man whose sight is restored no longer needs to beg for his living. Wealthy Zacchaeus pledges to give away half his possessions to charity – in stark contrast to the Sadducees who are anxious to maintain the line of inheritance. Meanwhile Jesus calls both men and women to leave their homes, trades and lifestyles in order to follow him, never suggesting that a man’s purpose under God is to father an heir or that a woman’s is to be subordinate in marriage. On the contrary, Jesus draws his followers to resurrection life by seeking and affirming Kingdom values within them: hope and love, service and sacrifice, forgiveness and faith. Jesus already lives in God’s future, and he calls his disciples to do the same.
So, it is not enough to pray for God’s peace, but live unquestioning of the arms trade. It is not enough to give thanks for creation but turn a blind eye to the pollution of the oceans. It is not enough to proclaim that we believe in the resurrection but sit waiting for the next world to arrive. Today is the day for living in God’s future. Now is God’s moment for practising forgiveness, denouncing injustice and building community. We live today as children of the resurrection and as heralds of God’s just and loving purposes.
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