Old Testament: Haggai (1:15b:2:9)
In the second year of King Darius, in the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai, saying: Speak now to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people, and say, 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? Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts, according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear. For thus says the Lord of hosts: Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendor, says the Lord of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lord of hosts. 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.
The Response: Psalm 98
1 Sing to the Lord a new song, *
for he has done marvelous things.
2 With his right hand and his holy arm *
has he won for himself the victory.
3 The Lord has made known his victory; *
his righteousness has he openly shown in the sight of the nations.
4 He remembers his mercy and faithfulness to the house of Israel, *
and all the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.
5 Shout with joy to the Lord, all you lands; *
lift up your voice, rejoice, and sing.
6 Sing to the Lord with the harp, *
with the harp and the voice of song.
7 With trumpets and the sound of the horn *
shout with joy before the King, the Lord.
8 Let the sea make a noise and all that is in it, *
the lands and those who dwell therein.
9 Let the rivers clap their hands, *
and let the hills ring out with joy before the Lord,
when he comes to judge the earth.
10 In righteousness shall he judge the world *
and the peoples with equity.
The New Testament: 2 Thessalonians (2:1-5, 13-17)
As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here. Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God. Do you not remember that I told you these things when I was still with you? But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth. For this purpose he called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter. 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.
The Gospel: Luke (20:27-38)
Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him 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. Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.” Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; 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. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. 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. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”
by the Rev. Mike Kreutzer
Those who participate in our Sunday morning Adult Forum know that it is hard to pin down a precise date or even a precise century when some of the books of the bible were composed. Sometimes, the best that scholars can offer is an educated guess that a particular narrative probably came from sometime within a span of two or three hundred years.
But the book of the prophet Haggai, from which today’s first reading was taken, is a notable exception. (Now, don’t feel bad if the name doesn’t sound familiar: this is the only passage from Haggai that we get on Sunday mornings in the entire three-year cycle of readings; and sometimes, even that one gets replaced by All Saints Day.) Whoever edited and passed on the words of this prophet is careful to date each of its five oracles. They all come from the year 520 BCE; but it’s even more precise than that. The book gives exact dates for each: from August 29 through December 18 of that year. The dates are essential for understanding what the prophet is saying. But then, the historical context of every part of scripture is important for understanding what is and what is not being said. As an old saying among biblical scholars puts it, “A text without a context is just a pretext” for meaning whatever somebody wants it to mean.
Here’s a brief context for this reading. Sixty-seven years before Haggai spoke these words, the armies of Babylon had destroyed Judah and Jerusalem along with the magnificent temple built four centuries earlier by Solomon. They had slaughtered many of its people, and had taken many others into exile. When the Persians, under Cyrus the Great, conquered Babylon, they allowed the Jews in Babylon to return home – but there wasn’t much of a home for them to return to. Jerusalem lay in ruins. What the Persians now called “Judah” consisted of only a tiny part of what had been a nation. And the returnees found themselves living in severe poverty and hunger and virtually without protection from their hostile neighbors. Life for them was miserable.
During that year 520 in which Haggai’s less-than-four-month prophetic career took place, they managed to build a small temple, a house for God, on the hill where the old one had been; but it was far from impressive, to say the least. The book of Ezra (3:12) recounts: “Many of the priests and Levites and heads of families, old people who had seen the first house on its foundations, wept with a loud voice when they saw this house.” It was obviously a severe disappointment as was the entire life that they had managed to build for themselves in the devastated land.
It was in that bleak context that Haggai (2:4-5) proclaimed, “Take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts, according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear.” His words acknowledge the obvious fact that what they had known was gone and would never return. But, at the same time, he insisted that God’s presence among and with them was not gone, that God would lead them into a new beginning and into a new life.
One of the reasons that Haggai’s words are not heard very often might be the fact that his focus on the importance of building a temple directly contradicts the teachings of some of the more prominent books of the bible, such as Isaiah and Jeremiah. These prophets condemn Israel’s confidence in the presence of the temple: a confidence to which they clung even though they were neglecting those issues that lie at the heart of a genuine life as God’s people, issues such as justice and care for the poor. Speaking in the decades before the Babylonian invasion of Jerusalem, Jeremiah insisted that God’s intent was to destroy the temple because it was leading the people away from God instead of being a place in which they could encounter God.
Jeremiah proclaims that the temple is not important and has even become a source of evil. Haggai proclaims that the temple is important and its reconstruction has to be a top priority. The two directly contradict each other; but then, so do many other passages in the bible.
The key to understanding how this could be is the realization that the bible is not a collection of eternal, immutable truths. Instead, it is essentially the story of the way that God’s people, in the Old Testament and New, came to understand and experience God and the ways of God working in the world. Their experience of God and their understanding of God necessarily changed from one historical context to another.
Not only that, but by the guidance of God’s Spirit, the people of God over the years and over the centuries came to new insights into the nature of God and of their relationship with God. They saw things that their predecessors had not seen; although some refused to acknowledge and accept that change, just as some people do in every age including our own.
One case in point involves the Sadducees in their encounter with Jesus in today’s gospel reading. The Sadducees were comprised of members of the upper class of Jerusalem society. They were wealthy and powerful and closely aligned with the high priestly family. They were the conservatives of the time, politically and religiously. They refused to accept what they considered to be the new liberal ideas that had sprung up in more recent times: ideas like a belief in the existence of angels and especially, a belief in the resurrection of the dead. That wasn’t part of the “old religion” in which they had grown up. And so they tried to trap Jesus with their story about the woman who had had seven different husbands. They wanted to make him, and the other liberals like him, look foolish.
But Jesus turned the tables on them. Using their own approach to scripture and their own logic, he cited the story from Exodus 3 about Moses’ encounter with God in the burning bush and insisted that “He is the God not of the dead, but of the living.”
That statement can serve as a powerful reminder that no one way of viewing and understanding God is adequate for all times and all circumstances. Faithfulness to a living God requires openness to a living experience of God, one that evolves and develops and deepens in the ever-changing universe of which we are a part.