We could not have a worse Gospel Lesson for this morning’s service than the one I just read from Luke, chapter 20.
On Annual Meeting Sunday, I was hoping that maybe the First Lesson would be from the First Book of Kings … recounting King Solomon’s temple building project in Jerusalem, and how he paid for the brand-new HVAC system that he installed in that temple for the cold winter mornings in Jerusalem. On Annual Meeting Sunday, I would have been happy to have a lesson from Paul’s letter to the Romans, recounting the giant tent in which the Roman Christians worship, which had been tanned and cured in Paul’s leather-working business. On Annual Meeting Sunday, I would have been thrilled to have a Gospel reading from Luke about the constitutional changes that were necessary in the foundational documents of the 12 disciples, when they had to replace Judas with a new disciple after his death. I would have even taken a psalm that sung praises over the blessing of mission campaigns for the good of the church. But nooooooo! We get this funeral homily text from Job, that talks about life with God after our flesh is destroyed. We get this 2 Thessalonians text about the end of the world. And we get this whacky lesson from Luke about levirate marriage.
All right, show of hands … has anyone here EVER used the term Levirate marriage in your dinner conversation? Yeah, didn’t think so. Does anyone understand what this lesson is all about? Well … the gist of Levirate marriage is that if a man died before he was able to birth a son with his wife … Then his brother would take this widow as his wife, and bear a son to her, so that the deceased brother’s genetic and hereditary line would continue through the wife.
The Sadducees in our Gospel Lesson came up with this ridiculous scenario of a woman dying before her husband and his six brothers could bear a son to her. The Sadducees who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, were hoping to trip up Jesus in his teaching, and discredit him in the presence of those who had gathered to hear him teach. It could not be a worse lesson for Annual Meeting Sunday … it is a crummy lesson to preach on ANY Sunday of the year. (Turn away to go back to the altar area … then stop.) Well … as I think a little more about it … maybe, not.
The purpose of Levirate marriage was to continue the family heritage of a man who died. Its purpose was to keep families intact, so that they would be blessed with children … with grand-children and great-grand-children … who would carry on the traditions of their fathers and mothers. It was a way of strengthening the early Hebrew community of faith in their formative years as God’s children. It was one way the early Jewish community strengthened their heritage of God’s people.
Heritage, of course, is something that churches understand and cherish, also. And strengthening the community of faith is a core value of those who take the name of Christ as our own name as people of faith. So, in case you are wondering … yes, Levirate marriage still exists today – we call it “Annual Meeting Sunday.” Now before you write me off as a whacko, hear me out. Our purpose today is celebrating the great heritage that has been built here at St. Peter’s, since that day almost 140 years ago in 1880, when seven men gathered to write a few paragraphs as the first constitution of a congregation that would be built in “the village of Green.” A year later, St. Peter’s first church building would stand on the site of our church cemetery in Neffsville, tucked behind the corner of Lititz Pike and Valley Road. And following a couple of modest geographical moves over the next 80 years, and a few additions to that first building dedicated in February of 1960 here on the corner of Delp Road and Lititz Pike … we are still striving to strengthen this community of faith, so that it can live out its call to serve in the name of Jesus.
Now you may think that we have annual congregational meetings to complain about the budget … and elect officers and Council members … and everyone’s absolute favorite … vote on changes to the constitution. Sure … those are pretty predictable realities at most congregational meetings. But our real purpose today is furthering the mission of this congregation in God’s world. We are called to try to identify the opportunities which God has placed before us for ministry around the corner and around the world. We live in a world that is changing rapidly. And God has called us to be vibrant witnesses in the midst of that changing landscape. That Christian witness doesn’t happen unless each of you are the ones shaping our ministries and helping to lead our mission efforts. That is the reason we have included as part of our budget, the proposal to engage in a feasibility study early in 2020. It is the best way to make sure that you all have a say in what the next exciting frontiers of ministry will look like here, and how they will be enhanced by a mission campaign that is being proposed by your fellow Congregation Council members. You’ll hear more about that appeal from Adrian during the meeting when we consider our budget.
For now, simply reflect on God’s call to be people of mission in this place. Ponder what that call looks like … not only in the next ten minutes … but in the next ten years. Consider your share in God’s “call to serve the world in God’s name.” And recognize that you are part of a long history of covenantal life. It is a love-affair with God … it is a love-affair with God’s Word … it is a love-affair with God’s people. You can call it whatever you like, if the term Levirate Marriage doesn’t work for you. But know that it is the call of God upon your life and mine. Amen.