Sermon for November 6th, 2022
The gospel is weirder than you think! And by “gospel” I am talking about the good news of Jesus Christ. That good news is written down in the four accounts of his life, the four gospels, but THE gospel, the message about who Jesus was and what Jesus did, that isn’t just a biography of a good teacher; it isn’t just a book, or four books; it isn’t just a philosophy of being nice; it isn’t a set of rules that we must follow; it isn’t a blueprint for fixing the world or establishing world peace. THE gospel isn’t about something we can do. THE gospel is a good news message about what GOD has done in the world and it is a message about what GOD is going to do in the world. We often think that the gospel is just a past-tense account or story of what Jesus said and did, but the real gospel isn’t just about the past, it is about the future too. And the real gospel, THE gospel, THE good news, isn’t just about Jesus. What makes THE gospel such good news, what makes it so compelling, is that fundamentally it is about us. Each and every one of us. The real good news is that Jesus’s resurrection is a foretaste, a glimpse of our resurrection, and that really is weirder than most people think.
Christians have a long history of settling for less than the full good news of the gospel. We want to over-simplify it or sanitize it to make it more palatable to our skeptical friends. We want to strip it of the miraculous and make it mundane. We want to make it an instruction manual for this world, something else for us to do, and not the glorious vision of a transformed world to come that we have been offered, promised even, a place in. There is nothing mundane about a dead body coming back to life. Jesus wasn’t somebody that coded in the ER and was resuscitated. He crawled out of the grave. That is not something any of us have ever seen in our lives. You may have witnessed a miracle before, but you haven’t seen a miracle on that scale. The resurrection is a very weird thing. A glorious thing, but a weird thing. It is so weird that even people who wholeheartedly believe in Jesus’s resurrection still have a hard time believing that this is their destiny as well. It is so easy to make the gospel just about what God has done in Jesus, and not about what God is going to do in our lives, but that isn’t the full good news.
You know, if you ask a lot of Christians what happens when we die, they are likely to say, “well, your soul goes to heaven (or maybe somewhere else).” But a spiritual, disembodied heaven has never been the full Christian hope. It isn’t the full gospel. Our real hope, our real destiny is resurrection. God taking the dust the remains from our earthly existence and transforming it into a new, living creation that is no longer subject to sin and death. That is our real hope and it is a hope that takes place in a future day at the end of all time. A new heaven and a new earth. Our blessed dead may exist now in a realm of paradise and rest in the presence of the Lord, but that is not the ultimate end. The ultimate end is the day of the Lord when the dead are rasied to a new life in a new body, in a new and very different, although recognizable and familiar world. That is our real hope, that is the real good news, the full gospel message: we have been invited to be children of God. Children of the resurrection. We have been offered the promise to some day walk out of the grave, just like Jesus did. Not metaphorically or spiritually, but flesh and bone.
That is real good news, but it is real good news that people struggle with, in part because it is weird. None of us have seen a really dead body come back to life, so there’s that. But also, none of us have ever lived in a world that isn’t stained by death and sinfulness, so it is really hard for us to imagine what that might even be like. All of our relationships, even the most loving ones, still have the marks of this sinful, fallen world all over them. People struggle to imagine what a resurrected world and a resurrected life might look like, so the resurrection is a complicated and somewhat controversial idea for many people of faith, and that was true even more in Jesus’s day than it is in ours. There were some Jews who believed in the resurrection and hoped for it, and there were some who didn’t. The Sadducees were trying to make fun of Jesus’s belief in the resurrection in today’s gospel reading. They aren’t asking him a serious question; they are asking him a ridiculous question. A woman marries seven brothers, they all die. In the resurrection, whose wife will she be? In other words: who does she belong to? Belong to! That is what they are really asking. Think about that for a second…the Sadducees can’t even conceive of a world where a woman doesn’t belong to a man like a piece of property. Jesus’s response is basically: she will belong to God. Any world where we all stand equally before God as his children is bound to look a little different than the world we are living in right now. It isn’t that our loving relationships won’t exist in the next world, but they will be transformed, in ways that we probably can’t even imagine. That is good news too.
The devil does not want you to believe this good news. The world, and even many in the church, will sell you a gospel that is less than good news, or at least less than the full good news. Don’t settle for it. Don’t settle for anything less than the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Don’t settle for a gospel that is just about what Jesus said, and not also about what he did, AND, AND what he is going to do. Don’t settle for a gospel that is just about the past, and not also about the future. Our future, as people who have been promised our own resurrection and a share in a new world that God is creating; a world that our sinful minds can’t even properly conceive of. Don’t settle for less than that. Don’t settle for a gospel that isn’t weird. Because good news, really good news, can seem pretty weird sometimes, and even hard to believe.