Sermons represent copyrighted material and are not to be reproduced, transcribed, or used in any form without the permission of Rev. Chris Moore or the speaker for that day.
Nov 6th, 2016
The book of Haggai’s importance in the story of our Jewish ancestors cannot be measured by our ability to find Haggai in our Bibles. For the mention of Haggai will send even the most seasoned Bible reader scrambling for the table of contents. But this little book speaks to one of the central moments of Hebrew anxiousness and theological turmoil. It was written just after the exile, when Israel was conquered by the Babylonians, the ruling class hauled off to Babylon, the temple, the house of God quite literally in the theology of the time, destroyed and the people dispersed, supposedly never to return. But, as happens with empires, another one rose to power, and the Persians vanquished the Babylonians and sent the Hebrews home with money to rebuild the temple as they began a search for a new identity as the people of God after an experience of a God who was not nearly as confined to the temple as they once imagined.
The problem that Haggai addresses is that two decades have passed since the return to Israel. There’s still no temple. Oh, the foundations have been dug, and the materials are stacked on the job site. And the blueprints! Oh, the blueprints are magnificent, the plans are bold, the expectations are grand, but the reality is pretty dull. And, after all this time, the question, “who are we?”, is no closer to being answered. Haggai comes to preach to them – lost in trying to figure out “what”, O Israel, you have forgotten to do “how”. Too busy trying to get all the decorations of faith just so, you have forgotten to simply be faithful.
Sometimes it is easier to dream about things than to do them, to believe in something but never quite live it.
When the religious leaders surround Jesus, it is always to trap him, to engage in the kind of political assassination that never does any good and always works. They don’t have to have a better argument or rationale or even vision…they just have to attack his. And while both they and Jesus share the dream of being in relationship with the Divine, the leaders remain convinced that relationship ONLY comes through a series of complicated rules. Only Jesus doesn’t play their game. Having just questioned his authority, always a good misdirect, and then asking him about the morality around paying taxes in a world where taxes and worship are intertwined, and being thwarted both times by a Jesus who sends their attacks back on them like a black-belt judo master, they hit him with the absurd. Seven brothers. The first took a wife. He died childless. The second married her and died, then the third, and eventually all seven had their turn, but no child. After all that, the wife died. That wife, now—in the resurrection whose wife is she? I mean, all seven married her…
Sometimes when we dream, we lose track of what we are dreaming about in the first place, getting lost in the immaterial details, or the theoretical minutia that can border on the ridiculous.
So when the Sadducees go for the theological jugular with this “family values” question, they set Jesus up perfectly to reveal a deeper truth. Marriage is not of eternal importance, he asserts. It does not define who you are in God’s eyes. It might play a huge cultural role in defining who’s trustworthy, who’s successful, and who’s blessed, but those are our terms, not God’s. The same is true of our political definitions, our social constructs, all important markers that require the work of inclusion and understanding, but we cannot get them confused with how God sees us.
In both the ancient words of the prophet Haggai and the story of Jesus written by this person we call “Luke”, we are presented with a God who is both in this world and not in this world…who lives with us but not like us…whose blessing works on a different order than the one we have created, and a vision about our identity that exposes how we define ourselves. For God is the God of the living not the dead, Luke reminds us, for to God all of us are alive. This makes me wonder if we have some issues with language, if when we say life and God says life, might we be talking about two different things?
We define ourselves to one another so often by our labels, even as we reject them. We have sort of a “love-hate” relationship with those labels, don’t we? We are a gender, or definitely NOT a gender, or a race or creed, a profession or a “graduate of”, a social role, like mother or aunt…and currently we are Republican or Democrat or Libertarian or “none of the above”, each label only a fraction of who we truly are. But in our deepest relationships, the most profound places we connect, often with only one or two other people, we are none of those things, but something deeper. If there ever is something like a “soulmate”, it is someone that you are able to know beyond those labels, where the essence, the wholeness of who we are is revealed.
In the language of both Haggai and Luke’s Jesus, we see a struggle…people trying to understand their place in life through one of the labels…asserting that if they claim that loudly enough, if it survives the most bizarre of scenarios that we might find our wholeness there…we might grasp it in a job, or a marriage, in the arrival of our exact expectations, or a baby or a victory or tenure or a certain outcome in a certain election. The prophets tell us instead of a God who knows us more deeply than this, who meets us in a more profound place than we can imagine and who loves us for a wholeness that even we don’t see.
We all know what’s coming up this week. And it will challenge us and push on our labels and make us feel really good or terribly hopeless, maybe all at the same time. It is a perfect morning to come to the table, where our labels are set aside and God welcomes us as God sees us, in our wholeness, in our perfection that comes from our flaws, in our beautiful, created selves, ready for the indwelling of God to revive us, even when our identity seems lost, even after the bleakest of circumstances, where we cannot imagine what comes next…so we might manage our expectations of chaos and hopelessness from some place other than our labels, our expectations, and fill ourselves with the warm and quiet calm of God’s hope, God’s ability to bring resurrection from the darkest moments.
God calls to us right now to see beyond our expectations, to trust in the action of a God who makes all things new, who creates life from death and hope from sorrow. Our real choice over the next week isn’t only a political one, though you should definitely go make that choice – Vote! Our choice lies in whether or not we trust that God is with us…for no matter the outcome Wednesday morning, we are still children of God, still followers of the one who calls us to heal the sick and welcome the stranger, to love our neighbors as ourselves, and to live resurrection.
Come to the table.