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Pentecost 22 Proper 27C November 10, 2017

Haggai 1:15b-2:9
Psalm 98
2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
Luke 20:27-38

In our opening reading for today, the people have returned from their terrible time of exile in Babylon. They have begun to rebuild the Jerusalem temple, but they are getting discouraged. As they look at the dimensions of what they have begun to build, they realize this temple will not be as large or as beautiful as the original temple built by King Solomon.

Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah, and Joshua, the high priest, have been trying to encourage the people, and the prophet Haggai joins in this ministry of encouragement. He asks if there is anyone among them who remembers the glorious original temple, and we can imagine that among those who have returned, there might be some elderly folks who do remember that former temple and think the present effort is not very impressive.

But Haggai calls upon Zarubbabel and Joshua and all the people to take courage. He tells them that God is with them. Speaking on behalf of God, Haggai says, “ My spirit abides among you; do not fear.” And then HaggaI says those words that we remember from Handel’s Messiah. God is going to shake the nations. Historians tell us there was a great deal of turmoil in the world at this time. There were many rebellions in the Persian Empire, notably in Egypt. 

But little Judah, who was a very small part of the great Persian empire at this point in history, escaped all the international struggles. Scholars tell us that they rebuilt the temple. It took a long time, but they did it. They planted their crops, raised their families, and enjoyed increasing prosperity.

God is with us. Always.

In our reading from the Second Letter to the Thessalonians, the congregation is in great distress. Scholars tell us that irresponsible teachers had tried to tell the people that our Lord’s second coming had already taken place. This seems to be a popular false teaching. How may times have people proclaimed that the Lord is about to come and we need to go to the top of a mountain or out into the wilderness to prepare. The day comes and nothing happens.

Paul encourages the Thessalonians and us to stand firm and hold fast to our faith. He tells us not to be “quickly shaken in mind” by things we might hear. We are following Jesus, and, with his grace, we are trying to live in such a way that we will be ready to greet him whenever he comes to complete his work of creation. We are a people of faith, not fear.

In our gospel for today, Jesus has entered Jerusalem. His long journey to the holy city is now complete. He has thrown the money changers from the temple. He has wept over the city that kills the prophets. He has wished that the city would let him protect them as a mother hen protects her chicks.

The Sadducees are asking a question, but they are not asking it from a desire to learn. They are trying to trap and embarrass Jesus. They do not even believe in a resurrection, yet they come up with a far fetched example to test Jesus. This is based on the part of the law that says, if a woman’s husband dies, his brother must marry the woman and take care of her. The Sadducees put forth a highly improbable example of a woman who loses seven husbands. And their question is, whose wife will she be in heaven?

Jesus responds in a down-to-earth way. Here on earth, we need to marry and have children so that there will continue to be human beings on the earth, but heaven is entirely different. In heaven, people are like angels. In his First Letter to The Corinthians (15:44), Paul says that in heaven we have spiritual bodies, and I picture our spiritual bodies as something like the bodies of the angels in Madeleine L’Engle’s books— in heaven, we are pulsating beings of light.

Even though the Sadducees are trying to make Jesus look like a fool, he deftly turns the tables on them. And then he makes the most important point of all. God is God of the living, and we are all alive in God.

In this gospel we have a picture of religious authorities who think they are so brilliant with all their irrelevant questions designed to foil Jesus. But they are completely unaware that, in looking at him they are looking into the face of God. 

What are these readings saying to us today? Our lesson from Haggai reminds us that great things often have humble beginnings and that God calls us always to have hope. 

Our reading from Second Thessalonians reminds us not to let false teachers deceive us so that we get alarmed, or shaken, or upset. Any teaching we hear must be measured against the gospel of Christ. Paul writes, “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 deed.”

And our Lord reminds us that we are in life eternal. We are being transformed every day. We are growing more and more like our Lord. God is God of the living, and, as Paul says, “In Christ [we] are made alive.” (1 Cor 15:22.) Amen.

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