Saturday, December 28, 2013

In Heaven There is No . . . (Luke 20:27-38)

Im Himmel gibt’s kein Bier,
Drum trinken wir es hier.
Denn sind wir nicht mehr hier,
Dann trinken die andern unser Bier.

In heaven there is no beer.
That's why we drink it here!
When we're gone from here,
all our friends will be drinking all our beer!

     When you think of heaven . . . what do you think about?  Or, more importantly, what do you think will be left out of heaven?  In heaven there is no . . . beer!  Having spent many years in the bohemian parts of Nebraska among the many Polish, German, and Czechoslovakians—this is a song you quickly pick up on.  It is catchy, easy to dance to, and is among the top ten wedding dance songs along with the Beer Barrel Polka, the Chicken Dance, and Flying Dutchman.  With such images hidden in the recesses of the rock garden I call my mind, it is easy to see why “beer” would be the first thing to pop into my mind about what won’t be in heaven.  But, I doubt if that is the first thing that popped into your minds.  So, I go back to the original question . . . when you think of heaven, what do you think about?  And, what won’t be in heaven?

     I would imagine that if we open this up for discussion this morning we would have more than one answer . . . more than one opinion . . . and, maybe, a few heated discussions.  This is an age-old question that has never been close to being answered in such a way that everyone is in agreement.  It is in the center of our scripture reading this morning.

     Over the years, I have mentioned before that there were basically two groups mentioned in the New Testament scriptures . . . the Pharisees, which we all seem to think that we know; and, the Sadducees, who seem to be the lesser known of the two groups.  Either way, most of us understand that they were a constant thorn in Jesus’ rear end . . . constantly picking on him, ridiculing him, and generally making his life miserable.
     Our scene this morning is one in which Jesus is has been being questioned by a group of Pharisees.  They keep riddling him with tricky questions about the faith as they understand it.  The Pharisees, in a religious sense, are the upstart liberals in the time of Jesus.  The Pharisees believe that God reveals God’s will not just in the scriptures, but continued to speak to and through God’s people in their changing circumstances.  They added a few new books to the authoritative books, books like Isaiah and Daniel.  They looked around their world—their culture—to witness what was happening to see that the righteous suffered and the wicked prospered.  They knew in their minds and hearts that a just God wouldn’t let this be the final word.  They concluded that God would raise the dead . . . the righteous would receive their reward, and perhaps the wicked would receive punishment.  They believed in resurrection.

     Needless to say, in the climate of Jesus’ time, this was quite popular to a people who were under the iron fist of persecution of the Roman Empire.  This upstart group of liberals was popular among the people and was gaining power within the Jewish political realm—the Sanhedrin.  To say that the Sadducees didn’t care much for the Pharisees . . . and vice-a-versa . . . is an understatement.

     The Sadducees are the traditionalists . . . they tend to believe that there is no life after death, no resurrection . . . they were the voice of the culture of their time since the first century . . . well before the captivity of being under the Roman rule . . . and, they were wealthy, powerful, and quite close to the Romans.  They were slowly losing their power and status to the Pharisees with all of their liberal teachings, and in their eyes Jesus . . . the popular rabbi was right up the Pharisees’ alley.  This was an opportunity for them to kill two birds with one stone . . . so, they go after not only Jesus, but the Pharisees.

     Theirs is a simple question based on the levirate laws of marriage.  It is quite simple, if a man dies, leaving his widow without a child, then a kinsman—usually a younger brother is to marry the widow and hopefully father a child for the one who has died.  Since this is the situation of the law, hint the Sadducees to Jesus, what happens if a man dies, and his brothers step up to the plate to marry the widow . . . but each one dies, seven in all, and none have a child with the widow.  When the resurrection comes, whose wife will she be?  That is what they ask Jesus . . . and, what they expect as an answer is, none.  In their reading of the scriptures there is no resurrection, thus none of the seven would be married to the woman.

     But, Jesus shocks them all . . . Pharisees and Sadducees alike.  He tells them all that marriage is not of eternal importance.  He tells them that marriage does not define who any of us is in the eyes of God.  Kind of leaves everyone staggering back then . . . and, today.  Marriage is considered a cornerstone in just about every culture in the world . . . something that is considered good and successful . . . marriage plays a huge role in defining who is trustworthy, who is successful, and who is blessed.  Then and now . . .

     . . . but, not so for Jesus.  Jesus says: “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage.  But those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage . . .”  Sounds like there is no only no beer in heaven, there is no marriage.  That is heavy stuff.  Where is the Good News in this?

     First of all, the underlying foundation of the levirate marriage is security.  With marriage there comes family, with family there comes procreation and children . . . the future is carried on through the next generation.  Thus it is important that an heir is given to the father.  For a people who do not believe in an afterlife . . . believe in heaven . . . believe in resurrection, marriage becomes an important part of how they view themselves and their future.  I think that I can speak for many about how powerful this sense of security is in marriage . . . I have often thought about how I would survive . . . how I would continue to live . . . if something ever happened to my wife, D___.

     I heard it in the voice of my grandfather, the only time that he ever called me as an adult, when my first and oldest child was born.  The phone rang, and on the other end of the line was a crusty old Southern who only asked one question: Was it a boy?  And, when I answered yes . . . he hung up.  The future of the Keener name was secure . . . the old man died knowing his namesake would be carried on for another generation.  So, where is the Good News in Jesus’ words this morning?

     First of all, whether you are single or married, you need to understand that your life is not contingent upon whether or not you find or have found someone to marry.  No, your life . . . your real life . . . is based on your life in Christ. It is a life that is centered in love . . . it is a journey, an adventure in discovering who it is that God created you to be . . . and, it is being in relationship with God.  Jesus us shows us how it is done . . . and, we live it when we love God and others as we move towards fulfilling God’s promise in us.  Your life is based upon how you live it . . . how you love others . . . how you love God.

     Second of all, this does not mean that marriage is not important and sacred, because it is.  Marriage is a commitment to demonstrate a willingness to be a witness to this sacred journey towards living in Christ.  Marriage is not something we do for ourselves . . . marriage is something that we do for another.  In marriage . . . and, in love . . . we are committed to helping the object of our love to becoming the best that he or she can be.  We put all of our time and energy in nurturing the other to be who God created that individual to be.  Yet, marriage does not define us in the eyes of God.  It is who we are in the eyes of God . . . who we are in our relationship with God and others . . . that defines us.  We are God’s children . . . and, in the eyes of God, that is good enough.  There lies the real security that we all seek . . . a heavenly security that nothing, not even death, can separate us from God.

     So, when you think of heaven, what do you think that it is like?  What do you think will be missing in heaven . . . beer?  Marriage?  Here Jesus floors us with his response to the Sadducees.  I cannot tell you what heaven is like . . . I can tell you what other people think . . . I can tell you what the scriptures tell us . . . but, I cannot give you a definitive, end all answer to the question.  But, what I can tell you, is that we need to hang tight on who we are in the eyes of God as individual creations in God’s image, work hard to fulfill that blessing in our lives, and work even harder in helping others discover that for themselves.  God loves us for who we are . . . that is all that matters.  As my friend, Marilyn, likes to say: Boy, when I get to heaven, I sure have a lot of questions for God.  The day will come and we will all know . . . until then . . . well, drink that beer!  Amen!  

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