November 3, 2019
Rev. John Watts
Nampa First UMC
THE SADDEST SOUND
I would like to introduce you to two people as we get started this morning. On the left is Liz Bohannon. On the right is Leo Szilard. Liz is 32. Leo would be 121. He died in 1964.
A little about Liz first. She is the founder of an international fashion company called Sseko Designs. She started this in Uganda. Her goal was to create a “flipflop that didn’t flop.” And her larger goal was to employ young Ugandan women and provide them an opportunity to go to college. She succeeded in both, and now is greatly in demand as a public speaker. “Forbes” lists her in their top 20. She just released a book called Beginner’s Pluck.
Here’s one of the pearls of wisdom from this remarkable young women:
Get hooked on making and keeping promises. That is
what will make you stand out and be successful at what
you are doing.
She says we must not make promises we cannot keep. It’s not the number of promises we make that counts. It’s the promises we both make and keep. People make promises all the time. And people break promises all the time. If you want to stand out, don’t be afraid to make promises. And don’t forget those promises once you make them. Those you have promised won’t forget. So “get hooked on making and keeping promises.”
That’s Liz Bohannon. Now Leo Szilard. He did not found an international fashion company. He was a scientist who is often described as an eccentric genius.
He left Germany when Hitler came into power and ended
up in America. He wrote the letter signed by Albert Einstein that persuaded President Roosevelt to authorize the top-secret Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb. But before the bomb was dropped on Japan, he warned that it must never be used. He felt so guilty over what he had helped unleash that he left atomic physics and devoted his remaining years to the study of molecular biology.
As is true with many brilliant people, Leo Szilard did not do well with everyday life. He was so smart, people thought he was dumb. There are many stories. One goes back to grade school. The teacher asked him to close the window because it was cold outside. He pointed out to her that if he closed the window it would still be cold outside. Teachers love smart alecks like that!
His passion for logic served him well as a scientist, but as a human being it got in the way. Here is what his biographer said of him: “He was logical to the point of insanity” (Genius in the Shadows, William Lanouette).
So first Liz Bohannon. “Get hooked on making and keeping promises.” Then Leo Szilard. “Logical to the point of insanity.” And finally Jesus Christ and our scripture for today. “Jesus meets the logicians of his day – the Sadducees.”
They had a perfectly logical question for Jesus. They had heard Jesus talk about the resurrection. The Sadducees by the way, were the elites of Judaism who did not believe in the resurrection. The resurrection is not mentioned in the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. Therefore it can’t be true. That’s the way they reasoned.
And so here’s their question for Jesus, actually a trick question:
Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies,
and leaves his wife, the man must take the wife and raise
up children for his brother (Mark 12:19 / Deuteronomy 25:5).
That’s the way they did it back then, and that’s the way they still do it today in some cultures. If my brother dies, I marry his wife. Not sure Helen would go along with that, but the rationale is that this ensured that widows and orphans would be cared for. In those days, women had no protection, no security, apart from men.
The Sadducees continued with their impeccable logic:
There were seven brothers; the first took a wife, and when
he died left no children; and the second took her, and died, leaving no children; and the third likewise; and the seven
left no children. Last of all, the woman also died. In the resurrection whose wife will she be? For the seven had her
as wife (Mark 12:20-23).
You remember the musical, “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”? This is, “One Bride for Seven Brothers.” They all die. They all go to heaven. So tell us Jesus – to whom is she married in heaven?
Can you picture the Sadducees the moment after they have asked Jesus that question? Sitting back, stroking their beards, grinning like a poker player with four aces. But they have met their match. Jesus has the perfect answer: “In the next life there is no marriage, but we are all like angels.” Which is interesting, because some of us are pretty sure we have married angels here on earth.
What Jesus is really saying to the “logical to the point of insanity” Sadducees is this: Your brilliance is not adequate here. Your reasoning cannot climb that high. Your logic is not the key that will unlock this door. But he says, there is a key that will.
Have you not read in the book of Moses, where God says to Moses, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?” He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are quite wrong (Mark 12:26-27).
Here is his reasoning. You will miss this unless you listen carefully. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses were all promised the Promised Land. But they all died before that promise was fulfilled. Moses came closest. He died just on the east bank of the Jordan River. That close. He could see the Promised Land. But he couldn’t make it in. Like all the others, when he died God’s promise made was not yet God’s promise kept.
Are you following so far? God gave them this promise. They died still waiting . Remember Liz Bohannon? God is hooked on making and keeping promises. Therefore, the only way for God to keep this promise after they have all died is for there to be a resurrection.
It’s logical. The Sadducees can appreciate good logic. Since they all died still waiting for the promise to be kept, and since God always keeps his promise, therefore they will all be resurrected from the dead in order for the promise to be kept.
This is an argument for life after death based on the promise of God. God is a promise keeper. So if the promise is not kept in this life, it will be in the next. Because God’s promise is stronger than death.
We find this same argument in Hebrews. See if you can recognize it here:
They all died in the faith, not having received what was promised, but having seen it and greeted it from afar. They were seeking a homeland, a better country, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for God has prepared for them a city (11:13,14,16).
You see, here in Hebrews the Exodus journey to the Promised Land is interpreted as that restlessness we all have for a better life – that restlessness we all have for a time when things will finally be the way they should be.
Jesus says to the Sadducees and to the Sadducee in you and me: You don’t get there by logic. You get there on a promise.
Get hooked on making and keeping promises. Not just making them. Keeping them. It’s the most fragile thing in the world. Promises are broken all the time. What a sad sound it is – is there a sound any sadder? – than the sound of a promise breaking!
Parents make promises to the tiny, helpless, beautiful babies who come to live with them for a few short years. You promise that no matter what, you will always love them, always protect them, always care for them. Children are bonded to parents with a promise. It’s this promise that you are loved. The saddest sound in our land today is the sound of that promise breaking.
When we enter into a relationship, whether marriage or a close friendship, there is a promise of fidelity. I will always be there for you, no matter what. You can count on me. For better or worse. For richer or poorer. In sickness and in health. It’s these promises that we make and that we keep that make life so rich and so good. That’s why there is no sadder sound to us than the sound of that promise breaking.
When we start caring about the larger world and develop a sense of social responsibility, when we see so many of God’s precious children whose lives are so hard, we are moved to that highest of all human gestures. We extend our hand to another human being in need. When we do that, we can reach clear across the continent. Clear across the sea. Clear around the world. We do that because we know deep inside that we have a promise even with those we do not know and may never meet, fellow human beings, to give them kindness and dignity and decency. The saddest sound is the sound of that promise breaking.
If this world is going to make it, it won’t be because rational men and women sit down and work out a logical plan. It will be because we are faithful to the promise that binds us together as sisters and brothers in the family of God. Is it even possible for us to see a child starving in Uganda, or orphaned in Mozambique, or battered in Nampa and not hear the sound of a promise broken?
Making and keeping and trusting promises. It’s what life is all about.
God has given you a promise. The Bible word for promise is “covenant.” There are many covenants in the Bible. Each one a promise God has made that God will keep. As Christians we believe God has entered into a New Covenant with all humankind in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And we believe that at the very least this is a promise that there is more to life than the life we know here on earth.
I flew to Portland and back in one day a week ago Tuesday. I conducted the funeral for my Uncle Bud Galbraith. You can tell I was in a hurry because I didn’t even have time to see our granddaughter! On the flight home, I had a stop in Seattle. It was late. I was tired. I was drifting in and out of sleep. I looked out the window and what I saw I could not believe. I saw a city, a beautiful city, high up in the clouds. It looked just like heaven. I wondered if I was still asleep. Or maybe I had died. It was so beautiful. But it was also so strange.
Then I realized what it was. I was looking at Seattle, Space Needle and all. We had flown north of Seattle while I slept and now the plane was making a big turn to head back south to Sea-Tac. The wing outside my window had dipped low, but I didn’t realize it. So when I looked straight out my window, it looked exactly like a city perched high in the clouds.
One day we will visit that city. Not Seattle, but the city I thought I was looking at. The city of God. Heaven. The saints we remember today are already there. God is hooked on making and keeping promises. Today we claim God’s promise for our saints who have died. And we claim God’s promise for our saints who still live. We claim it for each one us in this room right now.
There’s a lot in life that doesn’t make logical sense. As we think of those who have left us this year, there’s a lot about the manner and the timing of their deaths that we just plain cannot understand. But those who try to think their way through life come up against brick walls all the time. The door to heaven does not open when you try to beat it down with logic. The door to life closes all the tighter the harder you try to force it open. But that door swings wide open all by itself when you approach it trusting God’s promise.
Dear God, each time we share in communion we are reminded of your promise – your new covenant – made with us all through Jesus Christ. We are reminded that while you always keep your promises, we don’t always keep ours. As we come to your table this morning, may we find there a sense of the presence of the saints who have gone before, an assurance of your abiding love, and a renewal of our baptismal covenant to love you and to love our neighbor as long as we still have breath. And longer. In Jesus’ name, Amen.