Life after death? What is it like?
A sermon on Luke 20: 27-38 by Jill Friebel, 11th November 2007
 
In the Luke reading tonight Jesus’ words on the nature of life after death are at once intriguing, reassuring, and disturbing.  The question about the nature of life after death is as old and as timeless as the struggles of Job, who asked “If mortals die, will they live again”.  It is the question we cannot dismiss but cannot answer from reason or experience alone.  Is there life beyond death, and if so what will it be like?  A coincidence that it falls on Armistice Day, the day we remember the dead and the day the hostilities ceased.
 
It is a question that lies at the back of the mind of most human beings.  Some are definite that this is all there is, others are just as certain that there is something after death but as to what it will be like is simply a mystery.  Because Jesus said so little about the subject – a parable about Lazarus and the rich man, a word to the thief on the cross – this pronouncement in the Luke reading tonight is all the more important.  
 
This is the only time the Sadducees appear in Luke and as a group they are aligned with the chief priests, scribes and leaders of the people.  But in contrast to the Pharisees they denied the belief in resurrection and angels.    And the question they asked Jesus is designed to reduce belief in resurrection to the point of absurdity.
 
Both Matthew and Mark record this incident but Luke’s account differs from theirs and the changes heighten the contrast between the place of marriage in this life and in the resurrection.  Jesus replies,
Here and now, people make a big deal about pairing up and starting families. But for those who are accepted into the life that lies beyond death, such things will be superfluous. They will no more start families again than die again, because they will be gathered into the great family of God and have no need of anything more. And if you really want to know whether the dead are raised to life, you can take the word of Moses for it. In his account of the burning bush, he addressed the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Obviously he does not mean that God is the God of corpses. Moses knew that to God, all of them were alive, for God is the God of the living.
 
Depending on your experience here and now, this pronouncement will either be good news or could come as disappointing news.  For those sho have lived through violent, abusive marriages, the pronouncement about marriage may come as liberating news.  For others who have longed for partnership and marriage and the relationship it offers but haven’t experienced it, this could also come as good news.  For those who have enjoyed lifelong intimacy and companionship in marriage may well object that God has invested so much in establishing faithful, loving, and fulfilling relationships in this life that it is unthinkable that such relationships would be terminated in the resurrection.  If we leave aside the physical side of love and marriage (which belongs to the flesh) there will be no need to restrict love, intimacy or companionship to a monogamous relationship.
 
So in a couple of brief sentences Luke’s account has Jesus affirming life after death for those who are accepted, as both male and female it seems but there will be no marriage or childbearing but deep loving intimate relationships and companionship between those who are there.
 
When I was writing the last sentence I was aware of how hard it was to write the phrase “those who are accepted”.   For a good part of my life I have been sure of a lot of things.  These have included resurrected life after death, and it had seemed quite clear to me who was in and who was out, because of the way I had been taught the scriptures.  The second coming (in the Thessalonians reading) was another one with all the hubris and excitement of the rapture etc.  I also confess that I was so confident that I have argued loudly and strongly for my views and look back with a good dose of cringe factor.  However after a long and intentional journey of holding the pain of the blame and judging of myself and others, I have discovered a more gentle place of acceptance for some of the time.
 
The changes along the way are giving me a changed heart condition.  Before it was rigid and harder towards myself and others, now it is becoming well a bit softer, just as Jeremiah foretold God would do for us in the age of the Spirit.  He would take our hearts of stone and give us hearts of flesh.  This has opened up so much abundance for me.  In the process of letting go I am discovering big open spacious places within me that are being filled with love and desire for intimacy with others.  I am sure you recognize this in your own experience.  When and if you can let go of some of the stuff inside you, you will get a glimpse of desire and love for connectedness with another.  It isn’t a possessive clinging desire, (which comes from fear) it is one that longs for that heart to heart connection.  It isn’t just restricted to a marriage relationship and it isn’t sexual but it is intimate and comes from your deepest core of sexuality, who you really are.  It is a protective, caring love wanting to reach out to another.   What Jesus described in resurrection life is what we are invited to have in God right here and now. So we become children of the resurrection, children of God.   Even as he answered the clever teachers of the law, it wasn’t just a good argument, there was something about Jesus’ heart and longing for them.  Most of them were too defensive and proud to notice, but we didn’t hear the last verses tonight with said,  “Some of the teachers of the law responded, “Well said, teacher!”  And no one dared to ask him any more questions.”
 
Even the best argument or finest intellect is powerless to change a person’s heart.  We read that among the gifts of the Spirit there is both knowledge and wisdom.  Knowledge is important but it is not wisdom.  You can have 3 PhD’s and not understand wisdom.  Wisdom does not come through information and education.  It is not something you achieve and it can only come through contemplation.  Contemplation is not something you “do”, it’s a different way of thinking, a different consciousness a contemplative stance.  It takes practice and time to be still and to learn to let go of the thinking.
 
Philippians describes this self-emptying or non-clinging, non-holding of Jesus.  God is 1 yet 3, 3 yet 1.   The Father letting go to the Spirit, the Spirit letting go to Jesus, Jesus letting go to Father, the most intimate relationships experienced between them with mutual deferral and loving and being in the other.  This is the Dance of Life.
 
God invites us into this circle this dance of intimacy.  Contemplation is the only way into this dance, the way of letting go of the thinking that goes round and round in our heads.  It is a different way of operating, a different stance.  I have heard it said that 92% of our thinking is repetitive and useless.  We go over and over the past and worry about the future.  It is only through contemplation and learning to let go to that we can change our internal operating system.   There is no other way into this life.
 
My need to know, didn’t satisfy my heart.  The need to convince others of my thinking caused more violence and hurt to others and myself. Even good information and arguments don’t transform people.  They are very important and helpful, but they are not enough.  
I hear this longing for intimacy and community expressed over and over from many of you here.  It has moved us to make decision’s about music and children with a desire to listen and care for the other and to connect more deeply.  But those decisions, good though they are won’t be enough on their own.  They could even potentially create division and ill feeling.   There has to be a letting go before there can be a filling.  You have to empty something before you can pour something else is.  The Spirit can’t come into a place which is full of “thinking”.  It is the Spirit that is what happens between us.  It is the cherishing of each other and reaching out to those beyond us.
 
My earlier confidence in the resurrection has changed.  For years now I can wake in the night or early morning in a panicked and anxious state.  Doubts of all kinds race through my head and I feel paralyzed with fear.  I know now that it is only by stilling myself, letting go of the thoughts, emptying myself in contemplation, and being with God that calms me.  This life now takes far more trust and practice than when I was sure and felt confident in what I knew.    I can’t prove anything, I can only live in hope and trust.  The only thing I know for sure is love, because I am changed by it and it changes others who I can love.  When I can focus enough to empty myself in contemplation, it opens up my arms, my eyes, my ears my heart to embrace God and life and you and my family.  I know this love doesn’t come from me; I am not capable of it.  I know this is experiencing God.
 
I just find it such a struggle to stay in that place.  Life’s demands and culture suck me into anxiety, fears, guilt, blaming, fear of dying, and especially hopelessness with all the suffering around me and a world that is groaning under the burden of greed and rape.    I can go under in a flash and find myself in a dark and lonely hole.
 
I need you to keep me accountable for my contemplation, to accept me, to love me, you need me to keep you accountable to contemplate, to accept you, to love you.   We need to contemplate everyday, because every 6 hours we will be sucked back again.  Accountable to contemplate daily, to let go of the thinking, to empty ourselves and let the Spirit of Christ fill us with love and desire for each other. Soon we are going to celebrate the greatest gift of love.  Cherish Jesus, contemplate him, let go and take him in.  This wounded Christ who hung between heaven and earth with arms nailed back in love, both human and God, in a male body but with a feminine heart invites us to eat and drink and live and love.  We are invited to experience resurrection love now.