It is easy to see the world and despair, or fear, or do nothing. But take courage, God is with you, and you will be strengthened to be a part of God’s healing.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 32 C
Texts: Haggai 1:15b – 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17; Luke 20:27-38
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
They couldn’t see how to restore what was once so beautiful.
The Jewish exiles returned home from Babylon to disaster. Jerusalem’s walls broken, homes burned, and, worst of all, God’s Temple destroyed. Being home was wonderful, but what now? How can they imagine starting over?
The Thessalonians couldn’t see a possible future. First, they’d become terrified when their loved ones still died as they had before, even after believing in Christ. So Paul had to reassure them. Now apparently they got another letter, claiming it’s from Paul, warning them that the end of the world was at hand. How do you live with that fear hanging over?
The Sadducees couldn’t see the hope Jesus offered. They didn’t believe in resurrection, and Jesus, like the Pharisees, did. In spite of his wisdom, his teaching, his acts of divine power and mercy, they couldn’t see anything in Jesus except someone to be mocked, someone to be trapped into saying something ridiculous, if possible.
So the Judeans turned inward; they took care of themselves.
They rebuilt their homes, started picking up rubble, made a life in the midst of devastation. But as we hear Haggai speak, 18 years have passed since their return, and the Temple still lies in ruins. They haven’t rebuilt their house of worship, the house of God.
The Thessalonians fell into frightened inactivity. If our loved ones are dying, what’s the point of faith? If the world’s going to end, what’s the point of doing anything? Some apparently stopped doing work entirely.
And the Sadducees respond to their inability to see what God is doing in Christ with cynical baiting. They make up a horrible story based on Jewish law that mocks anyone who believes in the resurrection from the dead, trying to trick Jesus. They don’t seem to want enlightenment, just entertainment. Or worse, evidence for a trial.
Sometimes our readings seem to speak directly to our situation. Today is such a day.
The Church has long ended the Church Year with readings about the end times, apocalyptic Scriptures. Today, that seems fitting. The anxiety of all these people feels like our own.
We haven’t returned from exile, but as we look at the state of our beautiful earth, how we’ve destroyed it, how so much is in ruin, we despair. Even if everyone in this country agreed to start working on ending our contribution to climate change, even started trying to reverse it, finally joining the rest of the world in this task, we have no idea if we’re too late. We don’t know if we’ve ruined our home permanently and irreversibly. And we still can’t even get everyone to agree it’s a disaster.
Our cherished institutions of democracy and government seem to be on the verge of failing, too. Things we took for granted – rule of law, decency, the idea that there are facts, truths, that exist beyond personal opinion – we seem to be in danger of losing forever. We don’t know if we can restore any of this, even if we could get others to agree it needed to be restored.
So, like the exiles, we are tempted to despair at the sheer amount of work to be done, and turn inward, taking care of our own needs. Like the Thessalonians, we are tempted to do nothing, to sit out all these problems. If it’s all crashing down, what’s the point? And we are tempted to take the Sadducees’ path, mocking what we don’t understand, hiding our anxiety behind cynical criticism, pretending we’re not worried or despairing.
But did you hear what else was in our readings? Did you hear God’s voice?
God speaks in all these readings with hope and promise in the midst of the despair, the fear, and the feigned indifference.
Jesus – the Triune God’s Word in the flesh – ignores the cynical question and goes straight to reassurance: the point of resurrection, Jesus says, is that it is God’s life that makes you alive. You are children of the resurrection, children of God. What life after death will be like, don’t worry about that, Jesus says. Just know that right now, already, you are resurrection children, God’s life in you.
And that, Paul says, is where your hope comes from. God “loves you and through grace gives you,” Paul says, “eternal comfort and good hope.”
And Haggai brings it all together: “take courage,” he says three times, “take courage, says the Lord, for I am with you. My spirit abides among you; do not fear.” I am with you. My spirit lives in you. Don’t be afraid. That’s God’s answer to your despair, your fear, your confusion, even your inability to act.
And that’s not an empty promise. God’s Spirit is in you. You are not alone. That means things can change.
Paul says that the God who “loves you and by grace gives you eternal comfort and good hope” will also now “comfort your heart and strengthen it for every good work and word.” All this Christ-work, this servant work we’ve heard Jesus call us to this summer and fall, all that is ours to do, but it’s ours to do with the comfort and strength of God in our hearts.
So, Haggai says to his people, you can rebuild the Temple. God will be with you, and it will happen. Paul says to the Thessalonians, you can do your calling as followers of Christ, get out of your idleness, step up and be Christ, because you are not alone, God is with you. And Jesus’ calling to you and to me is grounded in our reality of being resurrection children. As Paul said to the Ephesians last week, the same power that raised Jesus from the dead now works in you.
And that’s how this world will be changed. That’s how God will restore all things.
It’s all about the heart, it turns out.
“Take courage,” Haggai says. Courage, literally heart-strength. That’s God’s gift to you. And that’s good news to all who suffer from injustice and oppression, all who despair over the devastation of this world, all who are torn from their families by our own indifferent and wicked leaders, all who struggle to be heard and seen for who they are, all who in any way wonder where God is, and whether God sees any of this, and whether God is going to do anything. God says, I am here. You are not alone. And in these my children – in you, God means! – I am bringing healing and life.
Dear friends, God is with you, giving your heart courage, and you are needed to make a difference. If God can raise Jesus, God can bring life to anything that is dead. And you will be a part of that. And so will I, and all God’s children, until the whole creation sings again.
In the name of Jesus. Amen