A sermon for Proper 27 & All Saints
Proper 27: Haggai 1:1-5b – 2:9, Psalm 145:1-5, 18-22, Luke 20:27-38
All Saints: Ephesians 1:11-23
Tuesday is election day. The responsibility to vote is relatively new. In Samuel and Chronicles, the people do have a say in approving who is appointed to be anointed King, but not who the person is. But it is not so much the story of voting as it is the story of their turning away from God. Ancient Athens and Rome had something like voting, and the selection of popes and the Holy Roman Emperor included a type of vote. But what we think of as elections first appears in 17th century Europe in limited ways (Britannica). The responsibility to vote in the United States is a long ~ ever changing story. In 1776 only males who owned land could vote; just 6 percent of the people were eligible to vote for president when George Washington was elected. In 1856 all white males gained voting rights, in 1870 voting rights could no longer be denied because of race, in 1920 women gained voting rights, in 1947 all Native Americans gained voting rights, 1952 people of Asian Ancestry gained voting rights, legislation guaranteeing voting rights was passed in 1963, ‘64, ‘65, ‘66, and ‘67, in 1971 the age to vote was lowered to 18, and in 2000 residents of U.S. colonies become citizens, but cannot vote (KQED). If you have not already voted, I encourage you to exercise the relatively rare responsibility to vote.
There is also some biblical direction to vote. In Romans Paul writes:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore, whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed (NRSV, Romans 13:1-2).
Without getting caught up in the resisting authority bit, Paul implies God is at work in establishing governments, and we have a responsibility to follow the established rules, which includes voting. To thoughtfully and prayerfully exercise your responsibility to vote is following God’s way.
I do understand that this has not been an easy nor comfortable election season. Many people I know are not comfortable with either the Republican nor the Democratic candidate. I know several who voted for one of the many other choices; there are 8 presidential candidates on the Arkansas ballot and as many as 31 candidates on ballots scattered across all the states (Politics1). I know many people are feeling vulnerable because of the implications of threats from self-appointed poll watchers. There was an incident in Arkansas; a person was standing in the doorway telling at least one person to shut up and go home (Musa). I know folks who are uncomfortable with the thought that people will not accept the results if their candidate does not win. I know folks who are genuinely concerned about the sporadic talk of taking up arms. So yes, this is a season in which you might very well feel vulnerable. So, it just may be a good thing that our observation of All Saints Day and election day fall so close to each other. But before we get there, let’s remember that we are not the first people of God to feel vulnerable.
Haggai is a prophet in Jerusalem some 20 years after the return from exile. They have not yet rebuilt the Temple, as they were supposed to. It’s just not right. Some of the older folks remember the splendor of the Temple Solomon built, and they don’t have the money or material resources to rebuild it. Besides that, all the important things inside the Temple, like the Ark of the Covenant, the protecting Cherubim, the Tablets of the Law, the molten sea, and so much more are all gone (Wines). It is a bleak time; the people feel dejected; their homeland is still in ruins, and the Temple where the Lord’s glory had shone can never be rebuilt. It is a world that provides few reasons for hope (Lynch).
Haggai acknowledges all of this. He hears the people wonder “How will God ever be among us if this is God’s house? And then he reminds them that God chooses to be among us. Haggai assures the people God is establishing shalom; abundant life and peace for God’s people (Bratt). I know it sounds strange, but Jesus is following Haggai’s example in his encounter with the Sadducees.
The Sadducees follow the first five books of the Jewish Bible. There is nothing there about resurrection, so they do not believe in resurrection. Along comes this itinerate street preacher attracting all sorts of attention, in part by teaching about resurrection. He is making them feel vulnerable. While their ancestors got depressed when vulnerable, the Sadducees go on the attack. In fact, they form an alliance with their usual enemy the Pharisees. They present an absurd story, built on the Jewish tradition that a brother of a dead childless Jewish man marries his wife to continue the family name. Jesus counters their story by referring to Moses meeting God in the burning bush where God calls Gods’ self the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And as everyone knows God is the God of the living, so Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob must be alive. The implication is, there is some sort of resurrection.
And yes, it is a trap. And yes, Jesus best them. However, Jesus is not out to defeat them. Jesus is seeking to calm their vulnerability by giving them the opportunity to expand their imagination and accept God who is far bigger than they have imagined before (Lewis, Resurrection).It is like Jesus’ sermon off the mount way back in chapter six.
In Luke’s version of the story, Jesus comes off the mountain to the people gathered on the plain. They are vulnerable; there is lots of illnesses, troubles with unclean spirits, and just plain ole hard living (Luke 6:17). Jesus comes to the saints of the day. Then, like now saints are not perfect, nor pious, nor zealous; saints are people who know they are vulnerable. They know they need help, they know they are dependent on someone else, divine or otherwise (Lose, Saintly Vulnerability). As Haggai does for the people in Jerusalem, and as Jesus does for the Sadducees, Jesus brings the presence of God to them.
All this is part of the foundation the Letter to the Ephesians stands on in its argument for our inheritance of new life in Christ where no one is vulnerable (Alfaro).
I suppose the question this morning is what do we do with our feelings of vulnerability? The first step is to admit that we are vulnerable. And all of us, one way or another are vulnerable. We can try to ignore the things that make us uncomfortable or pose a risk, or that make us sad; but, in doing this, we also dull our ability to be satisfied, or feel happy or to be joyful (Lose, Saintly Vulnerability). We can try to remake resurrection life like we want it, and risk missing the promises Jesus offers for our lives not only in the future but also for today. We can spend all kinds of energy trying to imagine the unimaginable, or [pause] we can use that energy to join with all the vulnerable saints of ages past by choosing to live in the presence of the Kingdom that is right here right now (Lewis, Resurrection). And who knows, our efforts just may appear as a saintly inspiration to another vulnerable child of God.
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KQED. us-voting-rights-timeline. n.d. 4 11 2016. <http://www.kqed.org/assets/pdf/education/digitalmedia/us-voting-rights-timeline.pdf>.
Lewis, Karoline. Dear Working Preacher Singing on All Saints Sunday. 6 11 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.
—. Dear Working Preacher Who Says There’s No Resurrection? 6 11 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4706 1/3>.
Lose, David. All Saints Sunday: The Sermon I Need to Hear. 6 11 2016.
—. All Saints’ Sunday B: Look Twice. 6 11 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/>.
—. All Saints’ Sunday C: Saintly Vulnerability. 6 11 2016.
—. Commentary on Luke 20:2738. 6 11 2016.
Lynch, John J. “Study of the “Last Things” – Proper 27(C).” 6 11 2016. Sermons that Work.
Musa, Aziza. Election commissioner in Pine Bluff accused of voter intimidation. 3 11 2016. <arkansasonline.com/news/2016/oct/06/10m-grant-to-let-uams-further-alzheimer/>.
Politics1. p2016. n.d. 4 111 2016. <http://www.politics1.com/p2016.htm>.
Wines, Alphonetta. Commentary on Haggai 1:15b2:. 6 11 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/>.