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St Matthews Church Oxhey Hertfordshire

Sally Sanderson's sermon


7th November 2004

Sally Sanderson

The Third Sunday Before Advent

I would like to introduce myself. I am Sally Sanderson and I live in Bedmond, which is part of Abbots Langley parish, where I am Reader. Yes I know another Sally. You have Sally Best well now you have Sally the least, who has to bring her own stool to stand to preach from! I have agreed, (if you will have me) to help out at St Matthews to support David with preaching, taking the odd funeral service and other non-Eucharistic services. So I will be dividing my time between Abbots Langley and here. When we were married my husband and I came to live in Bushey and stayed there for twenty-eight years, worshipping at St James, before moving to Bedmond. So I am not a total stranger to this part of Watford, and on the two occasions that I have worshipped here lately, your sidesmen and women at the door have made me very welcome, and that felt very good.

I would like at the outset to make an apology for one of my most dreadful faults (only one! you can find the others out later). You have the advantage of remembering my name because of the other Sally, but I have a terrible memory for names. Forgive me if I ask you several times and still don't get it right. It is a fault that doesn't improve with age! As I said I live in Bedmond with my husband - Bill - my children having flown the nest. My daughter lives in Watford and my son in Madrid with his wife. Bill is a committed Christian, but he does like the comfort of his favourite pew at St Lawrence in Abbots Langley and so he may only accompany me occasionally. The Deanery Eucharist may entice him here on 21st November.

But I have come here to preach the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is a gospel that upsets people because it goes against the usual things that people hold dear. It is a gospel that turns the values of the world upside-down. It is a gospel that gives power to the weak and that is very scary for those in authority who pull the strings of leadership in both religious settings and in governments. And it is no wonder that Jesus was criticised by the leaders at the time, as he proclaimed the blessings which we know as the Beatitudes (so revolutionary to the ears that heard them first time round). Oh, how this went against those in power who fraudulently gained from the poor and the frail. A man who ate with sinners and who talked of destroying the temple, so not likely to make himself popular with the religious leaders either.

I was half listening to the radio the other morning and I don't know the context of the conversation. But I heard someone say quite vehemently "that is the problem when you mix religion and politics. They should be kept poles apart." But that was the place where Jesus preached. He was right in the centre of all that went on, both political and religious. And the leaders, for whom the message was too challenging, were there, confronting Jesus on every corner as he stood to talk to the crowds. They were trying to trip him up, because they could not accept his radical teaching. So it is in that context, we hear in our gospel reading this morning and it is now the Sadducees' turn to criticise Jesus, and if our reading went on a couple of verses more we would realise that the Pharisees were there too, trying to justify their own teaching. On this occasion he is getting flack from both sides, politically and religiously.

The Sadducees, though they were never popular, stood for the interests of the priestly aristocracy and the rich and they exercised great political influence. Their religious stance was that they only accepted the authority of the Torah (that is the first five books of the Old Testament) and ignored the writings of the prophets and the oral tradition of interpretation that had been developed by the Pharisees. Now none of these five books have anything to say about resurrection so they believed that the resurrection couldn't be real.

People who want to trap you with religion usually take a small portion of scripture to make their point. This is how fundamentalists try to screw up the word of God. And the Sadducees did this very thing in their encounter with Jesus. For you see, tucked away in the corner of Moses' law, in Deuteronomy (25, 5) is the idea that if a man died childless it was up to his brothers to create children with his widow to keep the family line. All the evidence suggests that this law, which is known as the law of levirate marriage, wasn't even practised in Jesus' day. But perhaps the Sadducees had a peek in the other books and discovered that in the book of Tobit there is a story of a woman who had had seven husbands and so it added credulity to their theological conundrum.

I feel that if they had truly been looking for an answer rather than an argument with Jesus they would have asked a straighter question. You see we all ask these questions about resurrection, but usually when we have come face to face with our own mortality, if we are ill or a loved one dies.

Knowing the Sadducees were not in the situation where people are really wanting to know, Jesus gives them an answer that they were not expecting; that the next age for all of us will be different.

At funerals, people who have very little Christian faith want to be reassured that there is resurrection and just as important that they will be reunited with their loved one who has just died. They expect the next life to carry on where this one ended, possibly with the proviso that everything will go smoothly second time round - no more family rows! That God will put right all that was wrong in this world and all deformities and calamities will be taken away. But Jesus says that it will not be so. It will be all different.

Just think of your life so far. A long time ago, and it is more for some than for others, you were very comfortable, warm (in fact just the right temperature), had no cares, was fed with no problem at all, in your mother's womb. Nobody bothered to tell you that at some point that comfortable life would end, and in fact it would be one of the most traumatic experiences of your whole life. But you made it and you learned that life from now on would be different. In that first 'existence' your mother completely controlled your way of life. How she looked after her own body was reflected in how you were nourished. In this life you have learned how to look after yourself, and you have chosen how you will do it, and have you chosen well?

The advantage we have now is that we can prepare ourselves for the next life, although we cannot be so precise as to the timing when it will be, as we can for that of the birth of the foetus. We can nurture our relationship with God. We can begin to let God in and allow him to take over our lives. We can love God and our neighbour, those two fundamental laws that Jesus gave, rather than nit picking over small portions of scripture that make us so blinkered with his true gospel message.

Resurrection is not an extension of our lives as know it here on earth. In resurrection we are all united with God, we will be changed - we are told we will be like angels, children of the resurrection, and we will have come to the position where we are content to leave everything to God.

"For I know that my Redeemer lives, and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God."

Amen

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