November 7, 2004
First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct  06776
Rev. Michael Moran
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Scripture Readings

2 Thessalonians 2:1-2, 13-17
As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here. But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth. For this purpose he called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter. Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.

Luke 20:27-38
Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.” Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”

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Sermon: First Fruits and Final Outcomes

In the first lesson this morning we read how Christians must live their lives as the first fruits of salvation – holding fast, Paul says, to the traditions that they have been taught by the Apostles. In the lesson we just read we hear the guardians of tradition, the Sadducees, try and put Jesus on the spot by asking him a question based on a very fundamental tradition of their society, the tradition of marriage.

The issue of the tradition of marriage has become a divisive one in our society and many appeal to the Bible to back their view. But what are the traditional we hear in this passage from the Luke. We hear marriage described not as a personal option but as a family obligation; we hear marriage described not for the purpose of emotional fulfillment, but for family continuity – for the procreation of the next generation. The woman has an obligation to marry and not just to marry but to bear children. And if she cannot meet this obligation she becomes an object of pity and shame.

The story the Sadducees tell is particularly well drawn, because if the widow in this case cannot bear children with one brother, then she has six more standing in line to give it a go. It goes without saying that the view of marriage in this passage has almost nothing to do with our modern conception and is a historically conditioned and provisional view indeed.

And Jesus makes this point in answering their question – he draws a distinction between how things are in this age and how they will be in the age to come. In the age to come, he says, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage, so the question which you have labored over, the problem you anticipate, will not be a problem when the new age dawns.

There were many ways in which breaking from established traditions marked the birth of Christianity. Paul himself, for all his talk of tradition, was a key leader in all of this. There were many people at that time who were attracted to the Jewish religion because of it’s belief in one God, it’s prophetic witness to justice, and it’s historic roots in the ancient world. But these gentiles were put off by the ritual requirements around circumcision and diet. So Paul comes along and tells them you can have everything that Judaism offers and more, but without those rules and traditions that you find so offensive – because in Jesus the law has been fulfilled and we now live in a new freedom.

For women, too, Paul had a radical message. He told them that they no longer had an obligation to marry and bear children. They could live a life as disciples and be part of this new family, the church, which was characterized by the ethic of the age to come where there was neither slave nor free, Jew nor Greek, male nor female.

Apparently people took Paul’s invitation to heart, and we find later passages where he warns them not to go too far too fast. Paul wants the protection of the Roman government to allow the Gospel to spread, and he doesn’t want to upset the social apple cart too much for fear of repression, so he warns slaves to be obedient to their masters and wives to be subject to their husbands – but in the back of his mind is the thought that this is only a temporary situation, for the age in which we live will soon end, and the powers of this world will soon pass away, and then the fullness of God’s reign will make such social conventions and the problems they pose a thing of the past.

Christianity has long struggled with how to bear witness as the first fruits of Christ’s salvation and how to live in hope of what is yet to come in a world that seems stuck on a treadmill of sin and fear. We have a hard time trying to figure out what is eternal and what is merely passing. It comes up in our personal life, it comes up in our political life, and there are times when the changes that surround us cause great confusion. Perhaps the best we can do is follow our conscience and remain confident that God is moving the world towards the final outcome that was made known in Christ and in the preaching of the Good News of saving love. To quote an old hymn:

For even now the reign of heaven
Spreads thoughout the world like leaven
Unobserved and very near
Like the seed when no mank knoweth,
Like the sheltering tree that growth,
Comes the life eternal here

Not for us to find the reasons,
Or to know the times and season,
Comes the Lord when strikes the hour
Ours to bear the faithful witness
Which can shape the world to fitness
Thine, O God to give the Power. Amen

We believe the life eternal is seen in the gathering of a community around the table of our Lord. We celebrate an open communion. This sacrament is for all who wish to know the presence of Christ and to share in the community of God's people. Christ welcomes you. Christ recognizes you. Christ invites you into the circle of fellowship in his name. Let us join together in a prayer of thanksgiving

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