A sermon for Proper 27
Haggai 1:15b-2:9, Psalm 145:1-5, 18- 21, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17, Luke 20:27-38
Bradley’s summer job was in a casting mill. His shift ended at 10:00 pm, and when he got home, he was dirty, really dirty, greasy, sweaty, dusty dirty. It’s what happens when you pull fresh cast metal grates, from their molds. His family had a swimming pool and the back yard that was very private, so he got into the habit of coming home, stripping off his work clothes and swimming for a bit. When he had relaxed, he’d climb out of the pool, wrap a towel around himself, pick up his clothes, and go in the house, and head off the bed. It worked well, until his older brother was home did not know he was in the pool, and locked the back door as he came in the house after a night out with his friends. Knocking on his parents’ window at 11 at night dressed only in a towel, is a story the family loves to tell.
Bradley loves the story, for the laughter, but also for an older memory. In quitter moments he will tell the story of being at his grandmother’s house. When it came time for lunch, no matter what he has been doing, running all over the huge back yard or sitting quietly in the den, she’d call him, and send him upstairs to take a bath and dress for lunch. He never argued, no one ever argued with grand-maw. But it took a long time for him to glean, this before lunch bath was not about hygiene, it was about cleanliness, about purity, about respect for the lunch table.
In time he saw the connection between this grand-mother’s insistence of a pre-lunch bath and his delight in his late night swims, aspects of both were about purity about respect, which is about relationship.
Relationship with God is at the heart of the Haggai’s prophetic work. We don’t know much about him, all there is, is 38 verses about is role in rebuilding the Temple. The verse that grabbed my attention was:
The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former,
A little vocabulary work reveals, that kābôd , translated ‘splendor’ also means honor. And when we realize the actual appearance of the rebuilt Temple is far less spectacular than the previous, in fact it is rather pathetic, [i] the notion of honor emerges. Moreover, the Temple never was about silver and gold splendor, the Temple, from its prior form as a tent, to the day, was always about being in the presence of God.
It’s important to know the Jews have returned from captivity in Babylon. They have rebuilt their homes. They have restored their fields to prosperity. But all is not well. Haggai knows their neglect of the Temple reflects their relationship with God and he knows it needs to change. [ii] In verse 14, which we did not read, Haggai speaks to the unclean hands of the people. [iii] The implication is that rebuilding Temple is a process through which the people honor God, and is a purification ritual of sorts. As with all rituals, by itself, it is paltry; however, because of God’s presence, the ritual has the effect of cleaning the people, of rebuilding respect for God, of restoring the relationship between God and God’s people.
The tiff between the Jesus and the Sadducees is about the relationship between God and God’s people. Note, today’s reading is from the end of chapter 20, and there are only 4 chapters left. Tensions are high. So that Luke tells us the Sadducees do not believe in the resurrection, and then tells the story of their push it to the edge of logic question about resurrection lets us know, that they are not interested in Jesus’ answer, save that it gives them an excuse to act against him. Good plan, except that Jesus blithely side steps the trap, and shares a teaching about God’s relationship to God’s people.
To glean the fullness of the story, we should know the Sadducees see the world through the lens of God’s Covenant Promise. Following the tradition of the Pharisees Jesus extends the boundaries within which God works. Luke writing, which is not only after Jesus’ death and Resurrection, but also after the Romans crush a Jewish rebellion, and burn both Jerusalem and the Temple to the ground, holds out Jesus as proof that neither the Romans nor death will have the last word. [iv] There will be life after the Romans, there is life after death.
Every week, as we recite the creed, we proclaim our belief in: the resurrection of the body. And we need to be careful that we do not make similar mistakes to the Sadducees, who presume life after the Resurrection will be a grander form of our current life. Nothing in the Old Testament says that. Nothing in the New Testament says that. [v] Scott Hoezee writes:
that the mysteries yet to be revealed remind us that precisely what our bodies and existences will be like in the life to come is not clear.
The truth is the Sadducees are right. The Resurrection is hard to make sense of. We who build our lives around the hope of our heritage in Jesus’ resurrection, simply cannot explain it. David Loose notes:
The resurrection is not the same as immortality of the soul, scripture is clear we die, period.
Secondly, Jesus does not say we will not know our beloved ones, neither does he say what our relationship with them will be like.
And finally, scripture at best, vaguely describes resurrection life. [vi]
The truth is scriptures calls us to depend on our relationship with God through Jesus, to respect the promises made enough to trust, without evidence, that God will do, what God has promised.
And it is that trust, that has the Thessalonians all stirred up. They are afraid they have, or are about to miss out on the apocalypse, the end of time, Jesus return! We really don’t think about it very often, when we do it tends to be brought up by a news story of a cultic group taking extreme actions, and more folks than not snicker. But the apocalypse is all the Thessalonians can think about. [vii]Paul is telling them:
Clam down, don’t be fooled by any of these dooms day profiteers.
You, by Jesus, are, will be, clean in the presence of God, your divine relationship is strong;
you respect what God through Jesus is doing;
We live right next to Missouri, the Show Me state. We live in a Show Me world, we are coached to seek empirical evidence before we make any decision, in short we are coached to Show Me. God does not work with in any boundaries, God is not bound to the limits of the Covenant, God chose to go beyond them to secure our salvation. If God chooses to act beyond the promise of the Resurrection to accomplish God’s purposes, God will. What God always does, is to keep God’s gracious promises. God promised to cleans away human sinfulness, done. God promised a path to life in the divine relationship for eternity, done, and in process. God doesn’t expect “Show Me” God expects respect, God expects trust.
The answer to that is your story in The Story, It is yours to share with all who seek God or a deeper knowledge of him. [viii]
[ii] Steed Davidson, Working Preacher, November 10, 2013 Haggai, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1844
[iii] New Interpreter’s Study Bible, Haggai, 2:10-19
[iv] Richard Swanson, Working Preacher, , November 10, 2013 Luke, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1844
[vi] David Loose, Questions about the Resurrection, Working Preacher, November 10, 2013 Haggai, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1844
[viii] Book of Common Prayer, Prayers of the People II, 386