Monday, November 11, 2013
Continue from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.
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: 2Speak 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,
3Who 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?
4Yet 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,
5according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt.
My spirit abides among you; do not fear.
6For 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;
7and 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.
8The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lord of hosts.
9The 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.
27Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him 28and 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. 29Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; 30then the second 31and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. 32Finally the woman also died. 33In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.” 34Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; 35but 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. 36Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. 37And 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. 38Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”
This is the Word of the Lord
Thanks be to God
Over the last several years, I've noticed something peculiar about American culture. We are totally youth obsessed. We spend untold amounts of time and money to avoid the reality of our own aging. Maybe it’s because we remember the past more fondly than we read the present. Maybe we look towards the former glory of our houses because we have become discouraged with the work required to maintain them, to rebuild time after time.
I think that's because, at some level, we know that we have a shelf life. We are limited both in our ability and in our time. Our limits terrify us, the death and loss we experience during our lives are so far beyond even the illusion of our control that we reach into the illusion of eternal youth to avoid dealing with the most terrifying events in our lives. We are consistently taught, as American Christians, that grief and fear are “bad” emotions, and should be treated as though something is broken in our minds.
But the human condition is a frightening one, throughout our lives, we have to deal with loss, with grief, with pain, much of the time through no fault of our own. In my work at the hospital, even the most gifted doctors much eventually face that everything they do is just a stall tactic. Avoidance of these frightening realities may be easier than dealing with them, but pretending they don’t exist doesn’t solve them, and I’m not convinced it actually makes it more bearable.
I think that when we run as hard as we do from the things that frighten us, it makes us think that we have to bear them alone when they do finally catch up to us. When we can no longer avoid the grief over the loss of a dear friend or relative, we feel like we cannot reach out to anyone else because no one else is grieving in the ways we are. By avoiding them, we are allowing them to fester, merely so that we can keep up the cultural illusion that we are not susceptible to those dark emotions.
Death is a reality, and an eventuality, for us all. And that is a terrifying prospect, so much so that we go to great lengths to avoid even the appearance of approaching that end. Searching for a way to increase our reach into the future, straining for something beyond the scope of our life on this planet. We search for eternal youth, for a measure of immortality, the idea that our deaths are only in part.
The Christian claim is not one of immortality, it is of resurrection. Because we will all face the trauma of loss and death. If we trust a continuity based on our own abilities, we will find ourselves paralyzed in the face of the limits of our imagination.
The prophet Haggai finds himself in that position. He is among the Jews who return to the promised land after what's called the Babylonian captivity. It's one of the pivotal moments in scripture, for before this time the understanding of God centered around the protection of the law, the covenant, and above all the holy city of Jerusalem which housed the temple. God was one who preserved the life of his people.
But the temple has been destroyed, the people of the land have been carried off to a foreign country, away from their ancestral inheritance. Though some of the people have survived, and have been allowed to return home, they have lived through a trauma so severe that American culture has no common frame of reference. Everything they understood about reality, about their identity, about their God, is dead.
But the covenant is not one of immortality, but of resurrection. God speaks to their spiritual death:
"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?"
The temple-centered religious practices are dead. But God is not. Though lives have been lost, though faith has been lost, the God of their covenant is working on their resurrection, and encourages them to rebuild, not because they are invulnerable to another conquest, but because not even death can separate us from the love of God. It is not the glory of the temple that matters, it is the glory of God. Though the temple may be lost, the presence of the LORD is still among us. So God tells us to not be paralyzed by our fear that even the greatest of our works will fade in time.
"Take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord;
Work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts."
It is easy to become discouraged when they look around and see the limitation of their humanity, and the fruits it has borne for them. There is much to fear, Haggai's congregation do not have a King of the line of David on the throne, they have a governor appointed by their captors. They have a high priest, but no place for him to carry out his duties. The work of their hands has been laid waste with fire and sword at the hands of the Babylonian army. Their exile has been real, so have the deaths that they have witnessed on their journey.
Just so our own journeys take to places we would not choose to go. Sometimes they take us to a sports field, where we begin to realize that our bodies can no longer do what we ask of them. Sometimes they take us to a rite of passage and we are confronted with the vision that the one who we are so accustomed to seeing as a child has become an adult, and our relationship has irrevocably changed. Sometimes they take us to the edge of a hospital bed, where we hear the doctor say words that we cannot accept, news of finality, of saying goodbye instead of new greetings.
The theoretical Widow in our gospel passage has found that grief time and time again, having buried seven husbands. But it’s not her grief that concerns the Sadducees in our gospel passage this morning. These learned men, wealthy and powerful, pose the question as a trap, to get Jesus to admit that the resurrection isn’t logical.
Well they’re right, it’s not.
Where’s the logic in the grief of a seven-fold widow being transformed to songs of praise? Where’s the logic in a barren mother being called a child of the resurrection? Where’s the logic in a conquered people reinvesting in a temple to a God who hadn’t prevented disaster?
Where’s the logic in a God who refuses to give up on us when we so consistently abandon God? Where’s the logic in an all-powerful God who goes to death, even death on a cross?
The resurrection is not about logic, it’s about the greatness of God, who can triumph even over the fact of death.
God’s covenant is not one of immortality, it’s one of resurrection. Where there once was only death, now there is life, and life abundant. For God is not of the dead, but of the living. John Donne wrote that “All [humanity] is of one author and one volume, and when one [person] dies, a chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated.” And as we wait for our own translation, we will lose access to friends and family who are taken by death before us. That loss is real, and deserves to be mourned.
We confess that Christ was crucified, died, and was buried. But through the loving power of our God, death was not the end of his story, and it’s not the end of ours. Because we are witnesses to resurrection: the creation of life where there was only death. That resurrected life will be one of greater glory than we can now imagine.
The Sadducees assumed that in the resurrection, everything would be back to the life they understood, the life that had enriched them, that they understood and could work within, only with everybody alive again.
But the God who writes and rewrites the laws of nature does not just raised us from the dead, we are reformed in this resurrection. Not just humanity either, all of creation is redeemed through the death and resurrection of Christ, that is the new form of humanity. “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; ...The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts.”
The resurrected life is one where we dine with our Lord, no longer held back by our fears and grief, but loved through them. Our fears are redeemed to joy, our grief to gratitude, our despair to faith. Because the power of the God of resurrection makes it so.
Because the God who loves us enough to become a human, with all of our limits, like us in every respect except sin, will let neither sin nor death separate us from God. The God whose sovereignty speaks into being things which do not exist declares us to be children of the resurrection.
So the widow no longer needs to be defined by her ability to bear children and continue the family line. The sinner no longer needs to be cast out for his uncleanness. The wealthy businessman no longer needs to focus on acquiring enough stuff to pass on his legacy. The temple no longer needs to compare itself to a faded memory of its own glory. The church elder no longer needs to hold up the church on his own, fearing that if he steps away that no one will fill the void.
Now they are all called children of the resurrection, worshipping God in spirit and in truth, not in a temple or church.
“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.” Because ours is a tradition not of immortality, but of resurrection. Our tradition says that death may be more powerful than we are, but our God is more powerful than death by far. We will grieve those we have lost, and we will grieve for ourselves when we lose parts of ourselves. When our time comes, others will grieve for us as well.
But that grief is not the end of our story, because God’s story continues forever, and God’s love for us is such that he wants us to be a continual part of that story. A story of creation, resurrection, and everlasting praise.