You can listen to the audio here.
First some back story… unlike much of our Scripture, this reading is dated carefully and precisely, in 520 BC/BCE, according to our calendar. Darius, the super-power of the day, recognized the right of the Jews to rebuild the Temple, but the Temple work languished. Haggai was utterly convinced of the folly of building elaborate homes while the Temple of Adonai (YHWH, The Lord) was still in ruins. He was equally convinced that they cannot prosper as a nation while neglecting the Temple, and calls them to “consider,” so that they can examine the situation and themselves and respond to his call… (Adapted from Intros by Rev. Stew Clarke)
Remember, prophets were not popular… we tend to idealize them, because we are looking back… but prophets were challenging the elite of society… always calling the people back to God’s purpose. He is calling them out for misplaced priorities. He was chastising them for being more concerned about themselves than with giving glory to God. And have no doubt… most of us here today would be considered to be part of the elite. Imagine if you will that Haggai was speaking today… calling the government, calling the religious institutions, calling the people to rebuild the temple, bringing it to its former glory.
Before you get all agitated, and think I am talking about pouring all our assets into buildings, remember that Jesus is the cornerstone of the temple. As Paul wrote in the letter to the Ephesians, (2: 19-22) “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.”
We are ‘built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.’ Jesus is the cornerstone of the temple… not the temple of bricks and mortar, but the temple of love God and love your neighbour as yourself. Haggai is challenging them… and challenging us… to rebuild for God’s glory, not ours. How do we give God glory?
Rebuild with faith… rebuild with love… rebuild with community.
You may have noticed that those three words are part of our vision/mission statement: Faith that matters, love that matters, community that matters. There is nothing in that statement about increasing membership and finances, two of the things that most churches worry about the most. There is nothing wrong with increasing membership and finances… it just depends on what for.
Is it so that we can boast that we are successful… or is it to feed the hungry?
Is it so we can brag about how many people are in this house… or is it to house the homeless?
Is it to expand Jesus’ ministry… or is it to keep things the same?
Again, please don’t misunderstand me, in these 10 short weeks I have been with you, your concern for those on the margins is very evident. Equally evident is your fear of what the future holds. What if we trusted more in God? That no matter what the future holds, we know that God is present with us?
Rebuild with faith, rebuild with love, rebuild in community!
At first glance, or hearing, it doesn’t seem that the two readings have anything in common. First a bit of background to what you are going to hear:
We are used reading of confrontations between Jesus and the Scribes and Pharisees. Today, we hear of Sadducees challenging him. Saducees were a relatively small group, made up of people of education and wealth. They accepted only the written Scriptures as authoritative, excluding oral tradition and commentaries. (They discounted resurrection, because it had no basis in Mosaic Law.) In today’s reading from the gospel of luke, a group of them confront Jesus with a trick question, based on the law of Levirate Marriage, in which the wife is primarily an instrument of inheritance, to keep the family wealth intact! Jesus waves the question aside, to look at a deeper issue. Let’s listen, as Luke tells it in Luke 20:27-38
20:27 Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him
20:28 and asked him a question, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. 20:29 Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; 20:30 then the second 20:31 and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. 20:32 Finally the woman also died. 20:33 In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.” 20:34 Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; 20:35 but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. 20:36 Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.
20:37 And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. 20:38 Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”
We are sometimes, often(?) like the Saducees. We are a people who like answers, the more concrete the better! Perhaps it is instinctive, perhaps it’s the way we were brought up and it is fostered by our education system. We are uncomfortable with mystery.
We want answers! Definitive answers!
For those of us who have had more than one spouse, perhaps this particular question that has crossed your mind. When I enter heaven, who will be my spouse? It’s not a bad question… perhaps we want to know that we will remain connected to those that we shared love and life. But in this example, the woman is simply a means of maintaining the inheritance. She is passed from brother to brother as a piece of property. She is simply valued for her ability to bear sons and to keep the inheritance in the family.
The question is simply posed to trip Jesus up. Basically, they were asking who would own her. Jesus lets the Saducees know that they are asking the wrong question. In the kingdom of heaven, those patterns of ownership and oppression will be eliminated!
The realm of God will be rebuilt with faith, with love and in community! It wasn’t some far off place to aspire to. The realm of God is immigrants welcomed from all corners of the earth! The realm of God is all the organizations in North Dartmouth that are working for justice and freedom from all kinds of oppression. The realm of God is right here, right now, in you and in me, and in this church… when we love God and love our neighbour as ourselves. That is the day of resurrection!
Are we up for the task of rebuilding?
The men and women who returned from the second world war set out to rebuild the world. There was a sense of optimism, evil had been vanquished or so they thought. They sacrificed in war and they sacrificed in peacetime. They built and rebuilt. They worked and worshipped. They loved and they shared love. They are responsible for many of our institutions, including our churches. And they thought that life was going to be one long trajectory upwards. But life often doesn’t turn out like we planned, does it. The baby boom, which built and filled so many of our churches is long over… The social upheaval that started in the sixties and in some ways is still going on has had an effect on how churches are viewed. The ugly, hateful rhetoric that is spewed by some so-called Christians, paints all of us with that brush in the public eye.
But that is not the only story! The So the question I have is this: Are we going to give up? Are we going to throw in the towel and quietly die? I say no! I say let’s live into resurrection! Let us ask new questions, let us find new answers. Let us build with faith! Let us build with love! Let us build community!
Thanks be to God for the challenge and the opportunity of following Jesus, amen.
Haggai 2: 1-9
Luke 20: 27-38
November 10, 2019
Stairs Memorial United Church
© Catherine MacDonald 2019