“An important discussion was taking place in the mid-priced hotel just five blocks from the church. It wasn’t so much a deep theological discussion about atonement or predestination or the authority of Scripture, it wasn’t about the level of poverty in the inner-cities or the poor high school graduation rates of at-risk youth. Instead, it was about socks or no socks! That’s right! The clothing we wear next to our feet that keeps our skin from touching our shoes,” writes Robert Naylor, UCC pastor and father of two pre-teens. “It was an animated discussion,” he continues. “It was the Sunday of my interview and sermon to what would become my new call as Senior Pastor to a congregation in Connecticut. And, along with the worship leadership I had been asked to attend a coffee–a get-acquainted time, an hour and a half prior to the worship service. The lively “sock” discussion was over whether our two children would wear socks with their dress clothes. It was all the fad–regardless of the season–to go sockless. And since I believed good first impressions are made with socks–I was wearing them–therefore I thought it was even more important that my sons, in spite of their charming personalities, should also wear socks. My wife was the mediator. There became two options: wear shocks and not go to the coffee hour before worship or wear no socks and go to both the welcoming coffee and the worship service. They attended both events wearing no socks and, believe it or not, I still got the job. I had raised my blood pressure unnecessarily and made the family less enthusiastic about attending the coffee. The lesson here, as I look back on that day, is this: Don’t sweat the stuff![I]
In our Scripture lesson from Luke it would seem that making all the small stuff into big stuff is part of the human DNA, at least in religious circles. The Sadducees in an attempt to trap Jesus and brand him as a heretic, asked him a question about marriage and resurrection. That hypothetical sequence of marriages and deaths that we just heard about. But then of course, the real reason for the hypothetical: The trap if you will; the perplexing question. “Since this woman was married to all seven brothers and had no sons with any of them, when she gets heaven, whose wife would she be?” But Jesus, as was often the case, didn’t answer the question directly. But instead he offered a theological reflection. In his answer to the Sadducees’ question about the nature of resurrection, Jesus proclaims that through his resurrection even death cannot separate the humanity from the sustaining presence of the Divine. In other words, Jesus reminds them that God is the God of the Living.
What a brilliant answer! Brilliant, because it “sterilized” their question. Jesus took their loaded question, their attempt to undercut his authority, and turned it into a teaching moment. He was basically saying, “We shouldn’t be concerned about what happens after we die, instead, we should care about caring the living.”
Now, this message is just as important for us in our time as it was back then. It’s important because Jesus is calling us to focus our concern on the living. Not on some dusty old dogmatic creed, but on the needs of our fellow human beings. Jesus is in essence saying here that it’s not about getting people saved, worrying about who’s in and who’s out. Rather it’s about making this world a little better place.
Now, I think, the Gospel of Mark, as he described this same encounter, digs even deeper into the core of Jesus’ message here. After Jesus had silenced the Sadducees with his theological response, Mark offers this additional exchange: “One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he had answered them well, he asked, “What commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Love God and love neighbor! Love God by loving your neighbor. My friends, that’s the big stuff! Jesus says to his inquisitors that sharing the love of God, honoring relationships, having compassion and empathy, thinking of the other before self, these things are the big stuff! And the sub-text here is that the overseers of the Law, the Sadducees in this case, spent too much time on the minutia of the Law by equating the two basic commandments with the other 600 or so laws that were on the books and by misunderstanding the meaning of resurrection.
You see, resurrection finally isn’t about who’s married to who in eternity, it isn’t about continuing the relationships we propagate here on earth, rather, it’s about living in perfect relationship with God, with each other, and with all of creation. I’m convinced that when Jesus talks about resurrection he isn’t talking about resuscitation; he isn’t talking about these bodies of ours popping up out of the ground someday. But rather, it’s more like what he taught us to say in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” AND this heaven-like earth is brought about when we love God by loving our neighbor! If you want to usher in the Kingdom of God, you don’t have to cast your eyes toward heaven, instead, look across the street. Look at your neighbor! Look at the homeless veteran living under the bridge, look at the hungry child in the Guatemalan slum, look at the lonely elderly person next door, look at the family being denied asylum at the border, look at all of these neighbors… and then ACT! That’s the crux of Jesus’ teaching here! God is God of the living! God is the God of all humanity… ALL Humanity! And God is God of all of Creation. That’s the big stuff and that is our calling as people of faith.
One final thought this morning. I realize that I’m making it seem like loving one’s neighbor is a pretty simple thing. But I don’t think that’s really the case. If we’re honest with ourselves, loving our neighbor, the with whom we disagree, the neighbor who we suspect might be “playing the system”, loving the neighbor who’s just plain difficult to love; that ain’t easy. But Jesus reminds us, here in this text, that to God, “all are alive.” In other words, we must suspend our judgment of others because it’s finally God who does the judging. And Jesus insists that God is the God of the living, and since all are alive, God is the God of all people, no matter where they are on their journey, no matter what mistakes they, we, you, me… might have made in the past. God is the God of grace and forgiveness, of compassion and mercy. God is the God of me and you. And I think that’s a beautiful thing, an awesome thing; loving God and neighbor, that’s the best thing; that’s the Big Stuff!
So, socks or no socks, let us all come before the God of the Living, as we join in singing…