Sermon: The Living

November 6, 2022

Job 19:23-27a
Luke 20:27-38

by Eric Anderson

I had completely missed something about this encounter between Jesus and a group of Sadducees in the Temple until I read these words of Maren Tirabassi at GiftsInOpenHands:

“It isn’t really about levirate marriage,
mocked in the Sadducee story
of the woman married to seven brothers,
the early welfare meant to care
for destitute widows.

“All wealthy men, Sadducees,
they tell it like the poverty of women
is half stand-up comedy joke,
half trap for the out-of-town prophet.”

You can tell something about a person by the stories they tell. These Sadducees told a story about suffering, and they told it callously. A woman’s husband died. What about her grief? What about her loss? What about the risk that she would lose her home, would have to turn to begging or worse to keep body and soul together?

What about the indignity of Levirate marriage? Although it benefited widows who might lose their homes, its purpose was to provide heirs to their deceased husband. The description of this tradition in Deuteronomy 25 says, “the firstborn whom she bears shall succeed to the name of the deceased brother, so that his name may not be blotted out of Israel.” Her comfort and security were secondary to the status of her husband and family.

The story the Sadducees told piled suffering upon suffering. Man after man married her and died. How did she feel about each one? Were there men among them that were cruel? Were there men among them that she truly grieved over when they died? Amidst the insult of being valued only for her ability to produce heirs to these men, how did she feel about the absence of children?

I don’t know. Jesus didn’t know – it wasn’t his story, after all. The storytellers didn’t care.

As Emerson Powery writes at Working Preacher, “Sadly, but true in all patriarchal societies (ancient and modern), the female body often becomes the place of theological regulation. For this unnamed woman, Torah would determine her earthly relations but could not resolve her future life. And, as readers were tipped off in advance, the Sadducees had little concern for her future implications because of their theological assumptions.”

You can tell something about a person by the stories they tell.

Jesus refused to join them in this story. The resurrection is not about the preservation of family names or masculine pride. The resurrection is not about protecting women from the callousness of society because… that callous society has passed away. The resurrection is like… what story could Jesus tell about it? The resurrection is like…

It’s like Moses. At the burning bush. When God summoned him out of his fear-filled exile and assigned him to lead slaves to freedom. It’s like Moses when he hid his face but God said, “I have seen the misery of my people in Egypt.” It’s like Moses when he heard God say, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”

Personally, I would have simply heard that as a reference to the past. “Remember Abraham? I was the God he talked with. Remember Isaac? I was the God who blessed him. Remember Jacob? I was the God who wrestled with him, and he took some wrestling, let me tell you.

“Have you made the connections? Do you know what God you’re dealing with now?”

Jesus, however, heard something different. He didn’t hear, “I am the God who was with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” He heard, “I am the God who is with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Not past tense. Present tense. As far as Jesus was concerned, centuries before at the burning bush, God had revealed the ongoing life of faithful people. Even as God was summoning a new life for the enslaved people, God was ensuring a continuing life for those same people, in the company of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

I mean, even the burning bush was one of the living. It was not consumed by the fire.

You can tell something about a person by the stories they tell.

The Sadducees told a story about the dead, a callous story that disregarded the suffering of its characters. They told it in a callous attempt to trap a theological rival and indeed to discredit the resurrection theology not just of Jesus, but of the Pharisaic movement of Judaism.

Jesus told a story about the living, about the redeemed, even about the resurrected.

I like Jesus’ story better.

What stories will we tell? What stories will we raise up? What stories will we embody?

You are probably aware that a man broke into the California home of Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives, and struck her husband in the head with a hammer. Paul Pelosi was hospitalized for six days with a fractured skull. You are probably also aware that it takes time after an event for the facts and the timeline to be established. You may be aware that misinformation – deliberate falsehood – has been rampant around this attack. Some of it has been amplified by Speaker Pelosi’s political opponents, including the new owner of Twitter.

You can tell something about a person by the stories they tell. Or raise up. Or amplify. Or embody.

We have got to tell better stories than that.

Debie Thomas writes at, “The realm Jesus describes is the kingdom of God.  It is the very kingdom we supposedly invite into our daily lives each time we pray the Lord’s Prayer: ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’  If this is the case, why do so many Christians continue to support discrimination against women, against the LGBTQ community, and against a myriad of other oppressed minority groups — two thousand years after Jesus described a realm of radical freedom, radical love, and radical equality?  Why does any iteration of the Church continue to support patriarchy and its anxiety-ridden views on sex, gender, race, and sexuality? Jesus’s description of the kingdom of God is clear.  Do we want God’s kingdom, or don’t we?”

Our stories have to be rooted in Jesus’ truth, in God’s truth that we share life with an entire planet – even with the planet itself – and with those who have gone before us to a new life. Our stories have to value the woman grieving for a husband and the husband who is no longer with us. Our stories have to value the person on the Bayfront sidewalk who certainly needs shelter, who may need mental health or substance abuse treatment, but who certainly needs to be acknowledged as one of the living. Our stories have to go beyond the typical stories of “might makes right” and “wealth means virtue” and “male means better” and “my way is always the right way.”

Our stories need to be ones which honor the living, the living of this world and the living of the next, rather than dehumanizing them or accepting their casual callousness.

Our stories need to set people free. Our stories need to see them grow. Our stories need to see them live.

Let us tell our stories of the living.


Watch the Recorded Sermon

Pastor Eric does make changes to his prepared text while preaching, and hopes they’re a good idea.

The image is The Pharisees and the Sadducees Come to Tempt Jesus by James Tissot (between 1886 and 1894) – Online Collection of Brooklyn Museum; Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 2007, 00.159.143_PS2.jpg, Public Domain,

Categories Sermons | Tags: , , | Posted on November 6, 2022

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  1. by Maren Tirabassi

    On November 6, 2022

    Thank you so very much!

  2. by holycrosshilo

    On November 7, 2022

    Thank you for helping me understand this text.

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