Sunday, November 17, 2013

“Reading Signs”

A Sermon Based Upon Luke 21: 5-19
By Rev. Dr. Charles J. Tomlin, DMin
Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership
26th Sunday after Pentecost, November 17, 2013

“They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” (Luke 21: 7 NRSV).

People are not always good at reading signs. 

In my first pastorate, we lived at an intersection which was about a mile from the South Fork of the Yadkin.   They were working on the bridge that crossed the river and placed a ‘bridge out’ sign in front of the parsonage.   It didn’t help.  I wish I had a dollar for every car that went past that sign only to realize that indeed, the ‘bridge was out’. 

In a “Far Side” cartoon, a somewhat nerdy-looking boy is trying to enter the Midvale School for the Gifted.  He’s carrying a book under one arm and leaning with his other arm, with all his weight, against the door, straining, trying to push open the door. On the door there is a sign in great big letters that explains his problem.   It reads, “PULL.”  That’s us.   It doesn’t matter how smart we are.  Sometimes what we think we know gets in the way of what we need to know.  We’re not always good at reading the everyday signs.
 (This sermon originates with Jeremy Troxler http://www.faithandleadership.com/sermons/coming-soon.  I have adapted it, but I take no credit for originality of this sermon altogether.  His ‘take’ on the text was that good—like cake.  I only added more icing).

That’s also how it was with Jesus and the people he had to deal with.   Throughout the Gospels, people are coming up to Jesus and asking for a sign.    One of the most obvious parts of the New Testament witness is that Jesus did perform miraculous signs, sometimes performing one wonder after another.   John’s gospel is organized around 7 of them: water into wine, healing of a dying person, healing of a cripple, the multiplication of bread, calming of the sea, opening eyes of the blind, and raising of the dead.  But no matter how many signs Jesus gave, people wanted more---always one more.   Even when Jesus is dragged before King Herod, Herod wants Jesus do a sign.

CAN YOU READ THE SIGNS?
It’s pretty much the same today, everybody wants a sign, but few know how to read one, even if they got it.  People often go through life pushing at a door that says, “Pull.”   Not long ago a person was nearly killed in an accident.  They barely escaped with their life.  That person still didn’t get it.   Their life hasn’t changed much at all.  They still don’t realize the sign of deliverance as a gift of another chance.   I know another person who got a bad diagnosis, so the doctor scheduled them for another test.  It was a scary time, waiting, worrying, and wondering if they were going to live or die.  Later, the second test came back negative.  They told her that everything is fine.  Go back and live your life!  You’re o.k.    Do you think they came back to thank Jesus?  Even in the Luke we read that 10 lepers got the ‘sign’ of healing, but only one of them came back to thank God.   People get signs all the time.  Even seeing the morning sun come up and hearing the birds sing, those are signs, signs of life, of joy and of hope, they are signs.  Hey, to look into the eyes of person who cares about you, or to show that care to another, that’s a sign. Signs are everything.  But do you think most people get it?  

At one point, Jesus is so frustrated with people not getting it, that he throws up his hands in exasperation and says, “You people look up in the sky, you see the red skin in the morning, and you say ‘sailors take warning’  “It’s going to rain!”   Or you fell the south wind blowing and realize hot weather is on the way; you put on your shorts and T-shirts, and sure enough, the thermometer goes up.   You can interpret the signs of the sky, but why can’t you interpret what it means that Christ has come!   What’s up with that?”   People are not very good at reading the signs that that matter.  We tend to ignore them, even when it comes to reading them for the sake of our health.  A person is not exercising and doesn’t have any energy or breath.  A person can’t fasten their belt in the same loop.  Someone keeps on seeing the signs of what they need to do or what they need not to do, but they just stop seeing, listening, or reading the signs.

The disciples are not fairing too well either.   In our Gospel story these disciples are sitting there opposite the massive mega-temple, gaping at the shining stones and dazzling jewels, perhaps thinking silently that this Temple building, the central pivot point of Judaism, is will always connects them to God.  Then Jesus, who is unimpressed with this man-made structure, tells them, “All of that is going to be nothing more than a pile of rubble.” The disciples, shocked, ask, “Teacher, when will this be? What will be the sign that this will take place?”  

They want to know when the Temple will be destroyed. They want a sign to look for. Maybe they’re expecting Jesus to tell them something kind of mysterious, secret knowledge like (as Jeremy Troxler suggests), “In the month of April, a crow with red eyes will land on the steeple and caw three times.  It will then be eaten by a hawk wearing a purple ribbon and suddenly lightning will strike on the north corner and crop circles will appear in the cornfield, Mel Gibson makes another movie, and then you’ll know” … or something like that.    We all want a sign, a signal, a special knowledge that only we have, that God just gives to his buddies, but is that realistic for the God of the whole world? 

It’s funny, and serious, how Jesus answers.    He tells them what kind of sign they will have when it all comes down.  It’s kind of silly because it’s so obvious. The sign is not secret, hidden or mysterious at all. Basically Jesus tells them, “Well, when you see an army tank come into town, or soldiers marching by this big Temple about to take over, and they have really big guns, well, that’s when you’ll know they are going to tear it down.”   That’s your sign, Jesus says, and now here’s my advice: “When you see a great big angry-looking army about to take over the city, don’t be patriotic, prideful or brave. No, what I want you to do is not complicated: ‘Tuck your tail and run!   Don’t stay for the gun fight, get out of Dodge!  ‘Don’t be a hero,  clear and simple: head for the hills!”

There’s no mysterious sign here.  It’s a very obvious sign.  Even disciples who aren’t very good at reading signs, who are always pushing on doors that say “Pull” can get this one.  It’s like Jesus says, “Trust me, you’ll know.  It’s not complicated.  The sign will be obvious as the nose on your face, It’ll be right in front of you and everyone else.”   And sure enough, around the year A.D. 70, about 40 years later, before ‘this generation’ fully passed away’,  a large Roman army encamped around the Temple, and eventually raze it to the ground: and figuratively speaking, if not also very literally, “not one stone was left on another; every one of them thrown down.   When Jesus gives a sign it could be trusted.  There was no doubt. 

THE SIGN WE CAN ALL SEE
In the next breath, though, Jesus goes on to speak of other signs.  Jesus moves from describing the signs of the destruction of the Temple to describing the signs that will be seen when he returns, when he comes again in final victory.  And again, his message is that this final victory moment will be obvious.  They won’t be secret, mysterious or hidden.  He says, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, the roaring of the sea, people fainting, the powers of the heavens shaken, the Son of Man coming in a cloud” (vs. 25-27).
It’s as if Jesus is saying, “In my first coming, I came in hiddenness, born in a manger, cloaked in human flesh, visible only to the eyes of faith.  But when I come again in fullness, it will be in power and glory.” It won’t be hidden. As Revelation says, “He will come with clouds and every eye will see him…!”   It will be obvious to all, like when you go to the eye doctor and they ask you to read the largest line of the eye chart first. The signs will be that clear to see.  

And again, we need to understand what Jesus is saying here is that when the kingdom comes, when the coming age finally arrives, and Jesus returns to rule as the world’s prince of peace, the sign that we see can be trusted.  There are no secret messages.  There are no hidden agendas.  There will be no opposing enemies that stand a chance against him.  God’s rule will come once and for all, and it will be clear for the all the world to see.   The message of God’s power will be clear and plain.  No one will be left out.   No one will be ‘left behind’.

If tomorrow, we see some crazy stuff happening in the sun, in the and moon, and in stars; and then we see the Son of Man surfing on a stratus cloud way up at the sky, you won’t need any kind of preacher, prophet, or doomsday expert to tell you something’s going on. Jesus makes it absolutely clear: the signs of Kingdom come, the final victory, and the fulfillment of the Revelation (the unveiling)…whatever you call it and however it looks, it will all be so very obvious, you won’t even need Fox News, CNN or Al Roker to inform you.  You also won’t need C.I Scofield Notes, Hal Lindsey, Tim LaHaye,  nor Ouija boards nor any other prophetic key.

Here’s the sign that matters most:  In a sense, the sign of the end is always near.   Like I heard someone say a few weeks ago, “I left home without kissing my wife and kids, and then suddenly I realized, hey, I might never come back.”  The end is always near to any and all of us.   And when it comes, Jesus says, “Trust what I’m telling you---you’ll know it.”  You don’t have to be like the little kid on the long car trip who keeps asking every ten minutes, “Are we there yet?” “Are we almost there yet?” When we get there, we’ll all know.  This is what Jesus keeps trying to get across to his disciples.  Stop wondering, quit your worrying, and get back to work…when it’s time to quit you’ll know.  We’ll all know.   If everybody can’t see it, then you better realize you’re probably seeing things.   As Governor Sarah Palin, once told Senator Joe Biden, “It’s just ain’t so, Joe!

In early American history, a bunch of Baptist got all hyped up thinking they could figure out when the end would come.   They all followed the teaching of a man named William Miller who used a man-made scheme of numbering in the Bible to figure out when he thought the end would come.  It just happened to come out to 1833 New England.  I guess that’s a good a time as any.   People were so convinced that he was right that they all sold everything and even got on their roof tops to wait on the moment.  People said they were all crazy.  Other’s didn’t see it.   They should have realized that what Jesus said is true.  If everybody doesn’t see, then you don’t see it either.   But they didn’t think it through.   They were all fooled.   But do you know what they did anyway.  They didn’t go back to church and ask for forgiveness, but they started a new denomination.  The denomination of Jesus is 'coming soon'.    

People still don’t realize that there is no sign unless everybody sees it.  You, nor I, nor anyone will have an inside scoop.  Hey, Jesus didn’t even say, you needed your Bible to figure it out.   When it happens, ‘they will see’, or ‘you will see’---and we all will see.   It will be that clear. 

THE SIGN JESUS WANTS US TO SEE
So what do we do ‘in the meantime’?   Are we almost there?   That’s the wrong question because the ‘last days’ started 2000 years ago.   Jesus gave us signs that the new age had come close when he performed signs that the Kingdom of God had broken in among us.  God’s future is not something we have to wait on in the future, but God’s future has already entered into our present.  Jesus says, “It is at hand,” which means it’s come as close as the hand at the end of our arm.   It is “at hand” (Mark 1.15).  

The kingdom has come and it’s still coming.  The train of God’s final redemption has already left the station, and we can hear its far-off whistle.   Don’t you remember what it was like when you first visited Tweetsie as a child, with your children or with your grandkids?  You enter the theme park and you can hear it coming.  You can’t help but feel the excitement.  That’s how close God’s kingdom is.  It’s coming around the mountain.  Scripture defines it as ‘close’ and ‘soon.’, but ‘soon’ could mean tomorrow, it could mean a thousand years from now, but soon means it’s really coming.  Soon means we are one day closer to it today than we were yesterday.   This is where Jesus takes us in this text: One day it will be fulfilled, and when that day comes there will be no doubt, no hidden messages, but it will be plain and clear. 

But there is one final sign:  This is the ‘sign’ that Jesus is looking for and wants all to see, more than anything else.  Jesus is much more interested in the signs to be seen here on earth, than the signs to be seen in the heavens -- not signs in the sun and moon and stars, but signs in me and you, and in us.   Jesus says, in these final verses, that we’re not so much looking for signs, but WE are signs. We are the Signs of God’s kingdom. We are the sign before the signs. We live the heavenly life here on earth, signs pointing to God’s good future and final victory.

The theologian Karl Barth had a painting of the crucifixion in the wall of his study that was painted by the artist Matthias Grunewald. In the painting there is an image of John the Baptist, his extra long finger raised this way, directing and pointing the onlooker to the cross of Jesus in the center of the painting. It’s said that when Barth would talk with a visitor about this work of great art, he would direct them to the image of John the Baptist in the painting, and he would say, “I want to be that finger.” I want to be a sign pointing to the victory of Christ.  It is a victory already present in me, but it is coming for us all and for the whole world.  Could that be what the football player might mean when he scores and points to the sky.  A bigger victory is coming and the victory begins with me?

Now, do you see how Jesus tells us, not only how to read the signs, but how to BE a sign—a sign that the kingdom has come near and will be fulfilled.  Jesus says to them and to us: “Be on guard that your hearts are not weighed down…..  Don't be constantly drunk with wine or with worry, but stay prepared (vs 34)---now that’s a good sign: staying sober and sane because you have purpose.   Then, Jesus gives another sign:  “Be alert at all times and pray to escape all these things because you are ready to ‘stand before’ the Son of Man” (vs 36).   Along with staying sane and sober, be a person of constant prayer in hope---now that’s another good sign.  When we are people who know the Lord now, who read the book, and know how the story ends, knowing in our hearts that in the end, God wins;  when we know how God has already won our hearts, and we are living a life of love, grace and hope, so hopeful that we are not running away from God, but we are staying with God and standing hopeful in the world, because he is in us, and we ourselves are a sign.  When 'we' are a sign, we don’t have to stand on a street corner holding a sign that says “The End is Near”, but our life is a sign saying: “Lift up your head, Redemption is Near” because God is as close as me to you.  We are the beachhead of the kingdom.  We are like the preview or trailer of the movie that makes people look forward to seeing the full show.  We're the warm-up act that gets people pumped up for the concert.   We're the appetizer that makes people hunger for the full feast -- like the moment we were before supper, Teresa gave me a taste of that new ice cream called Chunky Monkey, and then later she gave me full cup.  People don’t have to gaze into a crystal Bible ball to look into the future. They can simply look at the life of the faithful, loving Christian who is sober, alert, ready and hopeful.   This is the sign Jesus wants us to be, and the world to see, right now.

It was a wet summer and the leaves remained green longer than normal.   But if you looked around in early September, even though the trees were still very green, you might have seen a maple somewhere, with a one bright leaf that had already fallen in a yard.   Maybe that leaf is was bright yellow, brilliant orange, or if you’re lucky, a vivid red that looked like it’s on fire.  It’s only one, but it looks so different from all the others are green or already turned brown.  That one single leaf has a story to tell, doesn’t it?  It’s says: “More leaves will be turning and following after me, so get the rake or leaf blower ready.” It says: Fall is coming. A change is in the air.  Beauty is coming.  Believe it will happen.” “Look at the fig tree…So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near” (vs. 29-31).  We are that leaf.  We are ahead of time.  We are the sign that change that is coming, of the beauty that is about to follow. We can shine some color now and be beautiful. We don’t wait for the world to change, or for everything else to change its color. We can go ahead and be changed.  We can point others to what is coming and live the heavenly life now. We can be a sign of God’s peace and purpose for the world.

This world will set up all kinds of signs for people, telling them -- us -- which way to go. Some tell people to push when the door really only opens with a pull.   Most of them are stop signs.  Most of them say that the road we are travelling on is a dead end.  There is no other way you can go.  But the church of Jesus sets up another sign in the world: “Coming Soon.” We are a sign.  A ‘soon’ sign.  And we are the only ‘soon’ sign Jesus gives that can be trusted.   Amen.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

“Answer In the Questions”

A Sermon Based Upon Luke 20: 27-38
By Rev. Dr. Charles J. Tomlin, DMin
Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership
25th Sunday After Pentecost, November 10th, 2013

“Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”  (Luke 20: 38, NRSV).

Life is full of questions isn’t it?    We start asking questions quite young.  Can’t you remember that younger brother or sister, nephew, niece or grandchild who kept on asking you “Why?”   Why is the sky blue?  Why is the grass green?  Why do I have to go to the dentist?  Why can’t I have my cake before supper?  Why?  Why?  Why?   Too many questions can drive you insane.   You probably ask a lot of them too.

Our lives are filled with more ‘questions’ than ‘answers’.  Humans are the only species on this planet which have this powerful, even maddening capacity to reason, to imagine, to doubt and to question.   The animals that I have had, even the smartest ones, do not question things, but they react to things.   People however, raise questions concerning things they know little or nothing about.   We have strange and even complicated curiosity.    We encourage our children to raise questions, because asking questions can make us make us smart, or maybe it will turn us into what my mother called me a couple of times, a ‘smart aleck’.  

Certainly, in the Sadducees in today’s Scripture could have been called ‘smart alecks’.  Several times in this chapter various religious leaders come to Jesus with questions.  In fact, the whole chapter is built upon 4 questions, 3 which came from religious leaders themselves and one which came from Jesus.   All the questioning in this chapter starts with one very big, leading question: “Tell us, (Jesus) by what authority are you doing these things?”  The question that comes in our text near the end of the chapter builds upon this one.   The Sadducees, as Luke explains-- ‘those who say there is no resurrection’---came to ask Jesus a question (vs. 27) about the resurrection they did not believe in.   Of course, they were trying to trick Jesus into giving a wrong answer.   The answer they got gave them a big surprise.   The greatest rabbis in Judaism often answered questions by raising even bigger questions.   It was a culture which said you ought to think through and answer the big questions yourself.

JESUS TELLS US WHAT HEAVEN IS LIKE
Let’s begin with a look at the actual question the Sadducees asked.  It was a question about the Resurrection of the Dead.   As a part of the conservative and wealthy elite in that day, the Sadducees only considered the original Bible, the Torah, that is, the first five books of Law, as their Bible.   Since the teaching about Resurrection did not develop until many years later, after the Exile, they did not believe it.   They didn’t’ think any true Israelite ought to believe in anything more than this life. 

While it might seem to us that this ‘question’ about the resurrection is silly, is really isn’t.   We all have questions about what’s on the other side of this life---what’s heaven like, will we have a body, what is life like after death?   John Killinger tells about a certain bright-eyed, comical little woman was the kind of person who enjoyed a joke till the day she died. During her last years she was a diabetic, and the doctors restricted her from adding sugar to her coffee and salt to her food. She managed very well without sugar for her coffee, for there were marvelous sweetening substitutes. But she never got used to doing without salt, for the salt substitutes were not so effective. We heard her say on more than one occasion, as she stared at the unsalted breakfast eggs on her plate, "If heaven is the way it is supposed to be, I am going to spend my first thousand years licking on a great salt block!"  (From a sermon by John Killinger, “What Is Heaven Like” at www.good preacher.com).

None of us know anything about heaven or about the resurrection, except through faith.  So we are free to imagine all sorts of things.  C. S. Lewis, the famous Christian writer, said he hoped heaven will be filled with good cigars that never burn up.  Karl Barth, perhaps one of the greatest theologians who has ever lived in the modern world, loved the music of Mozart.   He said, in heaven, the angels play the religious music of Bach when God is around, but they play Mozart when God isn’t listening.

Most of us who believe, have some image of heaven and resurrection in our minds and in our hearts.  But the Bible is wise to remind us that heaven can’t actually be described in earthly terms.   The apostle Paul wrote, “Eye has not seen nor has it ever entered into the human heart, what God has in store for those that love him.”  Heaven, Resurrection of dead bodies, or Eternal life, are images of hope and final salvation that defy human imagination, except in some kind of the zombie-like images people imagine in the movies.     
Because we imagine heaven by “faith, not by sight” the door is open for all kinds of speculation or doubt.  It is the kind of speculation which is suggested in the Sadducees question about the woman who was married seven times to different brothers.   The Sadducees skeptically ask Jesus, “In the Resurrection, whose wife will she be?”  It's really is not a bad question, and the answer Jesus gives is an even better answer.   Jesus says that in heaven, marriage does not mean what it means ‘in this age’.   People in heaven are not like people of earth, because resurrected people don’t die, but are more like “angels” and are “children of God” (vs. 36).   The point Jesus is making is not that we will not recognize each other, but that we will different.  We have to be different if we are going to be ‘of the living” and no longer ‘of the dead’. 

Of course, we’d all like to know more, wouldn’t we?   How different would our lives be if we knew exactly what life is like on the other side?    We really can’t say, but we can say what life is like without any hope of life on the other side.   The apostle Paul told the Corinthians that: “If the dead are not raised, then we are miserable people, and our faith is in vain.”   Faith demands hope, even hope of some kind of bodily resurrection.  But in a world like ours, what good is Resurrection without marriage, without everything being just like it is here, and even without ‘sex’?    O.K.  I said it, yes where marriage and human relationships are not the same as they are now.    What good is Heaven or resurrection without human sexuality?   

All of us have imagined Heaven, or we’ve heard or read reports of people who claim to have been there and back through some sort of “Near Death Experience”.    The late Bishop James Pike, in his book, The Other Side, shares several alleged conversations he had with his dead son Jim.  On one of these occasions, the bishop and Jim were discussing Jim’s being in heaven and what it was like.  Pike asked if Jim recognized persons there as individuals. Jim replied that he did, and added that he wanted to know more people and know them better.      "Do you think of people as male and female?" asked the father. "Is there something like—like intimate expression?"

The terms of the answer seemed amusing.  It was very much like his son, Jim. Without a pause: "Sex? Yes, there is sex.  But it is not like it is here. It is not physical, of course, but actually there is less limitation.  It is more obviously like what sex really means.  Here you actually can enter the whole person. It is like you are in fact merging—becoming one" when you communicate.  Can you imagine able to get into the heart and merge with everybody—to feel what they are feeling, to communicate perfectly, to understand everything together where there is no limit to true love and understanding?  If you’ve been married to someone for a long time, and you have become soul mates,  you can imagine how close people can become, knowing what the other thinks, coming out with the same questions, answers and responses.  If you can imagine two people taking trips together, talking long walks, holding hands, sharing hearts over tea or coffee, even reaching out to make sure someone is there in the night---then you might be able to understand that what Jesus means is that heaven and resurrection is not less, but more of the best we can have on earth.  “They are like angels” (This story is also from John Killinger’s sermon as cited above).  

JESUS GIVES US AN ULTIMATE ANSWER
But of course, everyone has not had loving, trusting, caring experiences on earth and it very hard for them to imagine such a place like this?  It’s too hard to trust anyone or anything, even Jesus.   Many who have come from broken families or go through broken relationships have difficulty with any kind of positive hope or promise.    They live mostly in the now, seeking the ecstasy that will heal their unspoken pain---whether it is forbidden sex, drugs, over-indulgence of food and alcohol.   Part of the reason so many live addicted to the extreme, demand constant entertainment, or have little discipline in their life at all, is because there is no peace or promise in their hearts. 

I imagine the Sadducees as people like this.  They were wealthy aristocrats.  They knew so much and in a material way had so much, but they always fell short on the emotional and spiritual values of faith, hope and love.   This is why we need to see that the Sadducees’ question wasn’t really about the resurrection.  They already had their mind made up about that.  They did not believe in any kind of after-life or resurrection.  They were the wealthy who had their life here and now, with no thought past the physical realities of this life.  They were closed-minded, dead-end thinkers, and had no time for someone like Jesus who opened up life to all kinds of new possibilities.   They wanted what they wanted and wanted to keep things as they were.  They did not want to let go of one single thread of what they had believed, even if it wasn’t working for everyone else.    That Jesus came with a different kind of ‘authority’ was nothing less than a threat.

You can live a very sad existence when your life is only about you; only your wants, only your views, only about continuing your existence, and only being the honored guest at the party you only throw for yourself or your own.  (Maybe this is why might also call them: “Sad You Sees”).    These ‘Sad You Sees’ kind of people could not allow this “God man” Jesus to bring any new authority for their lives.  Their own view of God was narrow focused, closed-minded, and self-centered.   This is why, in response Jesus refused to tell them the source of his authority.  “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.” (20:8).  In divine wisdom, Jesus knew that you can’t argue anyone into heaven nor can you argue ‘heaven’ into anyone.   You can only share the good news and let people make up their own minds.   This is why Jesus left the Sadducees to their own conclusions.   

So what kind of ‘authority’ does Jesus really have in this world?  In a world of anti-establishment, where the church is part of that establishment that is being rejected, what kind of real authority can Jesus have?   In a world where many, even in the church, have their mind made up as to what they will and won’t believe and how they will or won’t follow Jesus.  In a world like this, what kind of authority can Jesus have?   When Jesus leaves the freedom to decide in our own hearts, what kind of authority is it that lets us be, does not tell us everything, but only offers us an invitation, but never forces anything upon us?  “Tell us,” (Jesus), “by what authority do you do these things?”  Jesus refuses:  “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things” (v.8).  Can Jesus’ teaching, especially his silence on so many things that trouble our lives, give us reason enough to him be the ‘authority’ for us in our own world?

Once I worked with a young man who had a great heart for the problems of the world and he had potential to be a good leader.  Though he came to our youth group, he told us that he thought Jesus and religion was something good in the past, but had no real relevance for life today.  “We have moved on beyond Jesus”, he told me over and over.  As he was about to graduate and leave the community for the university, I knew that it was impossible for me to convince him to follow Jesus.  So, as he departed and we said our farewells, I told him,  “Christian,  I know that you have great promise for leadership in this world.  I am praying for you.  Even though you don’t believe in prayer like I do, I am praying.  And I’m also praying for you that you will do better than Jesus.” 
With a little shock, he asked, “What do you mean ‘better’ than Jesus? 
I answered, “Well Christian, you said that Jesus is someone good in the past but not for life today and that we’ve moved on past him.  Well, I’m just saying that there is some truth in what you say, for even in the Bible Jesus told his disciples that they would do greater works than he did.  That’s what I hope from you…”greater works than Jesus”.  I hope you will do something Jesus never could have done….
But I will add only one thing, I continued.  If one day in the future, when you are going through a troubled time or you’re facing something you can’t see your way through, please also remember that Jesus did something for you that you, nor I, could ever do, no matter how good we are or what great thing we might accomplish.  I challenge to do ‘better than Jesus’, but also I hope you will someday discover what Jesus did ‘better’ for you, and for the whole world.

We live in a time when people go toward two extremes about Jesus: One, to think of Jesus as the person who died just for me to give me comfortable life I can live on my own so I get to go to heaven when I die.  The other extreme belief is that I have very little time to about Jesus at all in my everyday life, except to consider him good or great teacher who once lived, taught and died, but means little to my every day decisions.  Neither of these are correct views of this Jesus who not only came once, but still comes to us.   As the great Albert Schweitzer, who met Jesus in the midst of his own busy, successful life discovered and then became a missionary doctor in Africa.  In a book entitled, The Quest for the Historical Jesus, written over 100 years ago, he wrote:  “He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside,   He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same words: "Follow thou me!" and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.”  http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/518564-he-comes-to-us-as-one-unknown-without-a-name).

Did you catch that last line:  “They shall learn in their own experience Who He is.”  What Schweitzer knew about Jesus is why Jesus did not explain any more to these Sadducees.  You can only know Jesus as you serve Jesus.  Jesus is not some religious belief you can have in your heard or heart and then put back on a book shelf and forget.   You might have heard something about Jesus, or came to believe something about him, but you did not meet Jesus.   Jesus is living ‘one’ that captures you whole heart and life, or he has captured nothing at all.   It is not at all important ‘who he was’, but the major importance is who is this one who lives in us as we live in and for him!     

CAN WE LIVE WITH THE QUESTIONS WE STILL HAVE?
We always live with unanswered questions about ‘heaven’ and about ‘Jesus’.    The answers we have accepted into ourselves are in no way at the ‘final answers’.   We have only been given ‘holy hints’, hints that are definitive clues which are alive and well, never completely answered, but always calling and compelling us to ‘come and see’, to ‘have faith in God,’ or to live a life of possibility by ‘asking, seeking, and knocking’ on the door of the most important questions humans ever ask.  But remember, we never have all the answers we want.  The Sadducees didn’t get all the answers they wanted from Jesus either.  They didn’t even like the one they got.  But this is not all bad, if you think about it.    If heaven is real, and if the resurrection is still to come, then we living toward the final answers, not away from them.  This is a promise, not a problem.

So are you ready to love and live the right questions?   Once you answer a question, it’s dead.   Jesus is the question who keeps on questioning us.   “He comes to us as One Unknown….whom we know in our own experience of Who He is.”   Are you living the right questions in your life?   Jesus can reset your life, by pushing your buttons, if you let him.   He can make you ask the right question, just like Bishop Pike’s son Jim did in a dream.   The dead son told his Father in that dream,  “Father, you on earth are the dead ones, we are the ones who are really alive.”  I think Jesus was saying the same thing, when he said:  “God is the God of the living, not the dead, for to him, all who have died are alive in him.”   

Any more good questions?  I sure hope so.  The living of our lives and dying in faith depends on it.  Amen.