St Francis, Terriers - 3 Before Advent (06.11.2016) Tony Dickinson

When I was young, ever so many years ago, though not quite when woolly mammoths roamed the Thames Valley and the British Isles were still physically joined to Europe – but back in the 1950s and early 1960s – when I was young, my school friends and I used to love asking questions to catch one another out. Questions like this one: “There were twenty-six sheep in a field. Two of them died. How many were left?”

Does anybody think that they can get it right? Anybody know the right answer? Well, there is no right answer, because it’s a catch question, and the catch is this: if you were to think “twenty-six sheep, take away two: that leaves twenty-four” – well, I’m afraid that would be the wrong answer, because what I actually said was “twenty sick sheep in a field.” So if you take away two, the answer is that eighteen were left. But if you think “Oh, I know this trick”, and say “Eighteen”, you would still be wrong, because what I actually said was “twenty six sheep”, so obviously the answer is “twenty-four.” I’ve caught you again – and I always will.

Now, the question that the Sadducees asked Jesus is a bit like one of those questions. They tell Jesus that weird story about the much-married woman with no children in order to catch him out, to make him look silly, and show that the idea of resurrection is a nonsense. Whose wife will she be at the resurrection? What do you think?

What did Jesus think? Well, as Luke tells the story, he is quite polite in his reply. Mark and Matthew have him telling the Sadducees that they are totally out of order. “You know neither the scriptures nor the power of God…. You are quite wrong.” As put-downs go, it’s pretty darned crushing.

But whether we go with Matthew and Mark, or whether we go with Luke, the answer is the same. Don’t think of the resurrection life as being like this life. Don’t think of the age to come as being like this age. There is a huge step-change between the two. And don’t underestimate God.

When we talk about God, we have to do so in human terms, because human beings are what we are. But it’s a massive mistake to think of God as another being, maybe a bit like us humans, but bigger and more powerful. God isn’t a being. God is Being with a capital B. Your life is lived in him. My life is lived in him. Everybody’s life is lived in God, whether or not they realise it, whether or not they like the idea. “To him all of them are alive,” just like Abraham and Isaac and Jacob; just like all the great (and not-so-great) figures from the past who we remembered a week ago in our celebration of all God’s saints: just like the people we have known and loved and who have died, including the people we remembered on Wednesday evening at our Commemoration of All Souls. “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.”

When we realise that, when we realise that all life is lived in God, it changes the way we see the world. As St Francis discovered, it changes the way we see the rest of creation. It changes the way we see ourselves and other people. It changes the way we understand life and death, how we cope with sorrow and suffering. In the “story about the bush” that Jesus mentioned, Moses met God, speaking to him out of a bush that was blazing with fire but was not consumed – not like the wood at our bonfire party last night, which certainly was consumed! The bush was not consumed, because during that meeting, it was ablaze with the undying life of God.

When we realise that God’s life is in us, we too can blaze with the fire of God’s life, God’s love, the life and love he shows us in the coming of Jesus. Even in the times when sorrow and suffering threaten to overwhelm us and put out our flame, we can find, like Job, the confidence to declare “I know that my Redeemer lives”. Death isn’t the end, as the Sadducees taught. It isn’t the catch that trips us all up and makes us all look foolish. Though we may yet not realise it “to God all of us are alive,” not just now, but eternally; and to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit...