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Thursday, November 04, 2010
Lectionary Scriptures: Haggai 1:15b-2:9 and Psalm 145:1-5, 17-21 or Psalm 98:1-9 OR Job 19:23-27a and Psalm 117:1-9, II Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17, Luke 20:27-38

We are creatures of time. We can look back on many experiences, as well as the longer history of family, nation, and the human race. We live in anticipation that there is much yet to come. Most of life is experienced, however, day by day in the now.

We sometimes look back to “the good old days,” like the people Haggai is addressing. They have returned from captivity to view the ruins of what is left of Jerusalem. They look at the ruins and are overwhelmed. How can it ever be like the good old days? The Lord recognizes this when he says to them, through Haggai, “Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing?”

Most of us have some good old days to which we look back. In recent weeks, the old days many people long for are the days when politics was more civil. The good old days for some may now become the days of Obama’s first term.

And then there’s the future. I’m convinced that a lot of what has fueled political debate in recent years is belief that one or the other party is going to destroy everything we have believed in and worked for. Instead of finding ways to work toward the common good, we feel we’ve become engaged in a battle to save the future. The result is gridlock. We’re stuck.

Maybe the returning exiles were stuck. Some felt that God had abandoned them—first by letting them be held captive in Babylon. Now they could see that the house where God lived no longer stood, so maybe they just gave up on God. Some had come to realize that God was not limited by geography or the walls of a building, but to have a powerful symbol destroyed was devastating and affected everyone’s psyche. Think the Trade Towers in New York or Pearl Harbor in an earlier era.

The word of the Lord through Haggai is that things will get better. First the most important promise: “My spirit abides among you; do not fear.” (Haggai 2:5) I have not abandoned you. That should be enough. We shouldn’t need bigger and better symbols, temples, but Haggai says even that will happen: “The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the Lord of hosts.” (Haggai 2:9)

The future isn’t always what we hoped for or expect, but there will always be possibilities for us and God will be in it with us. Most of us, like the people in Haggai’s day, want something a little more concrete. We want to see what the future is like, especially when we face our mortality.

Most of the Hebrew people during much of Old Testament history believed that their children was their immortality. We see a hint of that in Psalm 145:4—“One generation shall laud your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.”

Gradually, a belief that God’s people would experience physical resurrection grew up—not just the resurrection of one person, but of all. (That debate is behind some of Jesus’ conversations in the New Testament, including today’s story from Luke—which we’ll get to soon.) The writer of Job may have been one of the first to catch of glimpse of this possibility. In this drama about a man, Job, who suffered undeserved loss beyond imagination, he argues with God and his “friends,” maintaining his innocence. He is struggling to find a way through all this into the future. He cries out: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.” (Job 19:25-27a) (This verse was inspiration for words in Handel’s Messiah as well as a common hymn of worship.)

Whether Job’s talking about something akin to what we call eternal life or simply declaring that all will be well again in his relationship with God is not clear. Like the people to whom Haggai is speaking, he wants the good old days restored. He declares his faith that better times are coming and that God will be with him.

Like many who try to find a detailed calendar for end times, the people to whom Paul is writing in II Thessalonians, thought they had it all worked out. Jesus was coming again soon so they might as well just sit back and wait. Paul writes to them saying, “ . . . we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work.” (II Thessalonians 3:11) Don’t let your anticipation of the future keep you from living in the present. In fact, past, present, and future come together in this reading from II Thessalonians. Remember the past and “stand firm and hold fast to the traditions” (II Thessalonians 2:15), but take to heart this benediction: “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.” (vss. 16-17)

No matter what the past has been or the future brings, we live in the present, where we are to continue doing the good work, coming together to make this world a better place. God has left some of the building of the future in our hands. Are we up to the task or are we going to spend all our time longing for the good old days or waiting to be swept up in some miraculous future.?

This week’s Gospel lesson is an amusing encounter between Jesus and the Sadducees, the Sadducees being among those who rejected any belief that believers look forward to some kind of resurrection. It was Jewish law that if a man’s brother died he was to take the widow as his wife. If there is such a thing as resurrection, these Sadducees want to know, what if there are seven brothers who die one by one, each taking the original widow as a wife? (Luke 20:27-31) Finally she dies. (vs. 32) “In the resurrection,” they want to know, seeking to trap Jesus with they sly question, “whose wife will the woman be?” (vs. 33)

There’s much to puzzle over in Jesus’ answer, but some things are clear. Jesus resists their attempt to tie down the details of the future. You don’t get it, he says. Life will be lived on such a different order that old ways of thinking about it won’t work any more. Everyone will be like family, as if all are married to one another. (vss. 34-36) More importantly, what you should be focused upon is “living,” whether it is now or in that time after life as we know it, for God “is God not of the dead but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.” (vs. 39) Those whom we think of as “dead” and those whom we know as “living” are all connected in a great “Communion of Saints.” Paul puts it this way in Romans 14:7-8: “We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”

Let’s not worry so much about past, present, and future. Let’s be about our living right now. Let’s worry less about what destruction this political party or that political party may bring. Let’s move beyond such divisions and work together on the things that build up life—even today, for it is out of today that the future is built.

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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