Grace, or law? by Pastor Noel

November 10, 2019   Proper 27,C


     There is grace, and there is law.

     By grace I mean knowing that we are God’s beloved and living as God’s beloved.

     By law I mean the human behaviors that keep us from knowing God’s grace.         

     This law says that we can earn our way into God’s grace. We push and shove our way up whatever ladder we think is there so that God will notice and say “good job!”

     There is divine law, too. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

     When that is our law, and guides how we live, we are living in grace.

     The stories Jesus tells, and the stories we have about Jesus, are about the difference between God’s grace and human laws.

     I am finding out more about what all this meant in Jesus’ day, how these stories sounded to his listeners.

     I find that I have sometimes had the wrong ideas about where to find grace and law in the Scriptures. Our Christian ideas have often been wrong about Jewish ideas.

     Unfortunately, we see that in violence against Jews, and others, who are different.

     Our church history has taught us that Pharisees were bad guys, but that is not how Jesus’ listeners would have seen them.

     In our gospel for today, Jesus takes the side of the Pharisees against the Sadducees.

     Pharisees and Sadducees were sects, or divisions, within Judaism in Jesus’ day.

     Sadducees were the Temple aristocracy. They aligned politically with the king, and were supported by a few wealthy families.

     As we hear in the gospel, they did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, nor of spirits and angels. The Bible they read was the Pentetuch, the first five books, and there is no mention of an after life there.

     For them, “eternal life” meant having sons to carry on the family name. There was a law that supported this, so you can see why they used the story with Jesus.

     But their example is absurd.

     Sadduccees did not believe in “fate” nor in God’s participation with humanity. They believed in strict law-keeping, and would have appreciated Ben Franklin’s saying, “God helps those who help themselves.”

     Do you  remember Hyacinth Bucket in “Keeping Up Appearances”? I’ll bet she was a Sadducee.

     Pharisees were the group of the people. They taught in synagogues and lived out in the countryside.

     Their Bible included the Prophets and Writings, and they found the idea of eternal life and resurrection there.

     Like all of God’s gifts, resurrection is for everyone. It is the fulfillment of God’s presence, and it includes all Creation.

     God’s presence, or God’s kingdom, is also the fulfillment of God’s justice.

     This is another split between Pharisees and Sadducees. Sadducees were cynics. They knew that God’s justice was not being fulfilled. So they more or less ignored it.

     The Pharisees also knew this. (Who doesn’t?) But they had hope, and so they worked for God’s justice to be evident and active in the world.

     They wanted all Creation to thrive. They wanted God’s grace to abound.

     In that, Jesus was a Pharisee.

     Jesus gives us grace and law as he compares the children of this age with the children of light.

     He’s saying that the children of this age live by human law. They are concerned only with possessions, with status, and with keeping human law so they look good.

     Children of the light are children of God. They are here, and also in the age to come. They connect with God spiritually, so they are alive with God always. I think that’s why Jesus says “they cannot die anymore. Their connection with God never dies.

     So we pray about “angels and archangels and all the company of heaven” alive to God.

     Well, this may sound more like a lecture or a teaching than a sermon.

     We can’t really understand this gospel without the background.

     The important thing always is to think about what each passage means to us, and what we will do about it.

     Jesus says that we are children of light, children of God, if we choose to be that.

     Otherwise we are children of this age.

     Where do you think you are? Having heard about the Sadducees and Pharisees, whose team are we on?

          Law or grace—which helps us to live with God’s love? Hint—it’s grace. God’s grace.

The Rev. Noel Bailey

The Reverend Noel Bailey was born in Providence, is now back in RI for the 4th time, and hopes that this stay is longer than some of the others. She was ordained Priest at St. Michael's, Bristol, in May 1988, More details