“A 10% Discount”
The Rev. Dr. Fred G. Garry
Scripture: Mark 12:18-27
18 Some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, saying, 19 “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no child, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. 20 There were seven brothers; the first married and, when he died, left no children; 21 and the second married the widow and died, leaving no children; and the third likewise; 22 none of the seven left children. Last of all the woman herself died. 23 In the resurrection whose wife will she be? For the seven had married her.”
24 Jesus said to them, “Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God? 25 For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 26 And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the story about the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is God not of the dead, but of the living; you are quite wrong.”
Some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that ‘if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no child, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother.’ There were seven brothers; the first married and, when he died, left no children; and the second married her and died, leaving no children; and the third likewise; none of the seven left children. Last of all the woman herself died. In the resurrection whose wife will she be? For the seven had married her.”
Jesus said to them, “Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the story about the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is God not of the dead, but of the living; you are quite wrong.”
When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
John Prine just wrote a song about heaven. The country singer seems to be surveying his life. His latest album is filled with calls for forgiveness, the need to come home, and that maybe sometimes leaving well enough alone would have made things better. He’s only 72 but his face on the cover of his album looks like he lived each year twice.
Of heaven he wrote,
When I get to heaven, I’m gonna shake God’s hand
Thank him for more blessings than one man can stand
And then I’m gonna get a cocktail . . .
Yeah, I’m gonna smoke a cigarette that’s nine miles long
I’m gonna kiss that pretty girl on the tilt-a-whirl
‘Cause this old man is goin’ to town
John Prine’s vision of heaven and the afterlife and the resurrection is not very religious. His idea of heaven is more down to earth. Later in the song of heaven he wrote, [when I get to heaven]
I’m gonna go find my mom and dad, and good old brother Doug
Well I bet him and cousin Jackie are still cuttin’ up a rug
I wanna see all my mama’s sisters,
’cause that’s where all the love starts
I miss ’em all like crazy, bless their little hearts
The cigarette that is nine miles long doesn’t appeal to me, but this does, the idea that heaven is where the love starts and still is and always will be. I like the idea of heaven as finding the ones you lost. I like that.
I told Justin the other day that in all the years I have done funerals, sat with people as they were dying, sat with the ones who grieve, no one ever talks about resurrection. Heaven, they talk about heaven as home as rest as reunion. I have read the passage of John where Jesus goes to prepare a place, a home for us, many, many times. But no one ever asks me to read 1 Corinthian 15 where Paul talks about resurrection. I have read Romans 8: who will separate us from the love of God? But no, “death, where is your sting. Death is not resurrection.
Nope. No resurrection talk, but I do hear about reunions.
Call it an occupational hazard but I like to read obituaries. Find them fascinating. Recently I read a very brief one that has become a favorite.
The obit reads: Feuerstein- Herbert. My dear dear friend is gone, but will never be forgotten. What a great, unbelievable life you lived, and how well you lived it. Say hello to Judy for me. Until we meet again. Love, Ira.
Like Ira, I lost a dear, dear friend last month, Ralph Green. Ralph was funny and witty and lived his life with gusto. With Ralph’s passing I lost an Easter tradition. Each Easter Ralph Green came to church. He sat next to Lu, his wife. At some point during our traditional Easter exchange Ralph and I would embarrass Lu and delight their sons who laughed at our sparring insults.
The Easter tradition was a word of thanks. Every Easter I would thank Ralph Green for coming to church. For with his attendance and the roof holding in spite of him, our insurance agent gave us a 10% discount. “If the roof holds when Ralph Green shows up, all is safe,” I would announce with all seriousness. To this Ralph would respond, “oh shut up.” This is what would embarrass Lu as Ralph didn’t whisper.
My exchange with Ralph Green is not the traditional Easter greeting of “he is risen; he is risen indeed.” “Thanks for showing up” and “oh shut up” is not commonly used by many on Easter, but looking out at the crowd here today, it could be.
Ralph fought with cancer for almost two years. He had some really bad days. Sometimes when I sat with him, Lu and I would talk and he would grunt in response to my persistent challenges to his character. One of the many times he was in the hospital I found him surrounded by two of his grandchildren and their spouses. Ralph taunted me by declaring, “You married them all. Do you remember?”
Turning to the two young couples, I said, “I remember. Yes, I do.” And then I asked them, “So, how is that whole marriage thing going? Working out O.K.?” The four of them darted their eyes back and forth and then affirmed, “Yes. It is going well.”
“That’s a relief,” I said. “Makes me feel I have done something right. I am trying my best to work with your grandfather but he is such a hopeless sinner I fear my work will all be in vain.” They laughed and Ralph said, “oh shut up.”
Ralph and I talked about a lot of things as he struggled to live. Yet, not once did we speak of resurrection. We talked about joys and children; we talked about friends we knew, the ones we liked. Dying can bring clarity and focus. Mostly we just talked about how thankful we feel. Like John Prine we both feel we could shake God’s hand and thank him for more blessings one man can stand.
This may sound strange, but I am not all that convinced the resurrection has anything to do with death. Death is a part, I will concede that. But it is not the point, the purpose, the meaning of the resurrection. Paul talks about resurrection a lot and he talks about death a lot. They go together in his mind, but I am not sure they go together in the Gospel of Mark.
The Sadducees question Jesus about the resurrection. But their question is not really about the resurrection; it’s about death and eternal life. Mostly, though, their question is about control. They seek to define life in a way that makes it a matter of certainty and control. That is about death then. For death is certain.
The answer Jesus gives to the Sadducees has little to do with control and contradicts the connection with death. He says to them, you don’t understand the scriptures and you don’t understand the power of God. The example he gives does have the presence of three people (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) all of whom died. True. But the example is to show they are not dead. They are alive. God is the God of the living, not the dead.
Far from the grave people have asked me questions about heaven. What do I believe? People have asked when they are not dying about resurrection. What will it be? Each time I answer with an admission of limitation. “Those are matters well above my paygrade,” is my admission. I like the idea of heaven as a reunion; I like the notion of being gathered again to those I have lost. Maybe that is why I like Ira’s obit for Herbert, “Say hello to Judy for me.” That works for me and I don’t even know Judy really.
Maybe my problem is that I don’t associate heaven and the resurrection. I am not saying they are opposed to one another or contradict one another. Heaven is about eternal life; to me, resurrection is about this life.
I saw this twenty years ago when I went to Israel. It was my first time. When I went the first time, I experienced what everyone does: the bible came alive. Places now had context and color; events had a place and the distances and districts and landscape all had meaning. The bible came alive. I expected a part of this. What I did not expect was Galilee.
Galilee is the place where Jesus walked and ministered; Galilee was the place Jesus grew up and the place he lived as an adult. Galilee is where the miracles happened; it is where the parables were told; it is where the arguments and healings took place. Yes, Jesus did miracles in Jerusalem: he raised Lazarus from the dead; he healed the paralytic at the Sheep Gate. When he did these, though, Jesus was visiting. Jesus walked through Samaria, true; but he lived in Galilee.
I say this because Galilee is the key to the Easter story in Mark. Jesus was arrested on Thursday night; crucified on Friday afternoon. That night Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimethea placed his body in a garden tomb. On Sunday morning women who followed Jesus went to tomb to care for his body, to tend to the needs of the dead. When they got there the tomb was empty and there was an angel where Jesus should have been. The angel told them “don’t be afraid. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”
Go to Galilee; he will meet you in Galilee; he told you this. Go to Galilee: go home. He’s at home. He said, “I’ll meet you at home.” What I learned twenty years ago was that the Easter greeting of the angel is: go home. He’ll meet you at home.
What if the resurrection is not about death. What if according to Mark it is not about heaven. What if the resurrection is about finding your home here in this life, amongst the living? What if the resurrection is finding the God of the living here and now?
Emily Dickinson wrote a lot of poems about death and heaven. One of my favorites has this as its first line: going to heaven. She wrote,
Going to Heaven!
I don’t know when
Pray do not ask me how!
Indeed I’m too astonished
To think of answering you!
Going to Heaven!
How dim it sounds!
And yet it will be done
As sure as flocks go home at night
Unto the Shepherd’s arm!
Perhaps you’re going too!
If you should get there first
Save just a little space for me
Close to the two I lost
The smallest “Robe” will fit me
And just a bit of “Crown”
For you know we do not mind our dress
When we are going home.
Please don’t half understand me here. I believe in the resurrection; I believe in eternal life, one vouchsafed by the death and resurrection of Jesus. Not much point in doubting those. But what if the power of God and the scriptures, what if understanding them is seeing how the resurrection is for the living, here and now? What if we are to live resurrected lives on earth? Is this not the point of the prayer: thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven?
We can make quite a mess of this. We can live lives that are very much not at home. We can struggle to find even a shred of peace let alone a great whole cloth. The Sadducees certainly were far from home. They wanted to know things with a certainty that can only come from the risk of love. When you want to limit life, you must reject the power of hope. Too many times we try to determine what should be free, control what should be unbounded, define what is powerful only as mystery. Death is the only real certainty. The best things in life can be found, but they are only kept without control, without certainty.
The Easter message of Mark is this: go home. Go home and find the resurrected life. Don’t wait for heaven. Go to Galilee; go home. That is where the love of God is found. For those that we have lost we take great comfort that God is the God of living. Hence we bid Ira, say hello to Judy for me or we don’t worry about our dress.
Home is not always easy. Home is messy, ambiguous, fragmented, broken. Sometimes finding home is the last thing we want to do. The women ran away and said nothing. And yet, how much more down to earth can the resurrection take us, than to take us home? We need to hear this Easter greeting and be sure we know where home can be found. Do you have a Galilee? We can find it in the scriptures and we can find it in the power of God. Can you find Galilee in your heart? Do you have a home here and now?
As a matter of full disclosure I feel I must say, the 10% discount was a joke. I wish it were true that would have saved $1400 a year. No. It was a joke. Ralph got the joke. But he also got the message. I am glad to see you my friend. Welcome home. Amen.
- Mark 16:1 - 8
- Mark 12:18 - 27