Haggai 1

I gave the following sermon at St. Paul’s UCC today, Nov. 10, 2013. The scriptures used were the elctionary including: Haggai 1:5b-2:9, II Thessalonians 2:1-5 and 13-17 and Luke 20:27-38. The title was Unexpected Answers and the text is as follows. This is what was scripted, but because I kept being called off script to really talk to the people, this is not exactly what I said. Just know this was the intent. Hope you can enjoy.

This morning as the introduction, I was going to give you a little background information about me, or maybe I should say a little update on me and my family, and at some point I will do that. But before I do that, I need give you two separate thoughts that to me really work together. The first is a learning theory that I studied in college. It was called Reader’s Response, and is about reading and literature, but really could be used to interpret all of life. The simple definition is that it is a theory about how we study stories. It is a belief that everyone brings their own ideas and experiences and past readings to a story, and all of those things influence how they interpret and feel about everything that you read going forward. But I think it is more than that. To me it is a life theory. It is the theory that everything that you have experienced or learned in the past makes you who you are in the present and is the basis for who you will be in the future.

The second thought connects to the idea behind the UCC’s Still Speaking campaign, and I remembered a big red poster with the Still Speaking poster on it used to be on the bulletin board at the bottom of the steps where the mailbox hangs; and no matter what anyone may try to say about how to interpret the Bible, I would just like to say, I believe that every time we open those pages, we better be ready to have the words we find there speak to us. And though some of those stories will get real familiar over the years, we better be open to the idea that on some days, we are going to get a different view. And, as our title mentions today sometimes the answer won’t exactly be what we are expecting.

So for the short version of the family update: My husband, James and I and our family attended church here some years ago. We moved from Jamestown to Herreid the summer of 1999, and began attending here with our three daughters, Jessica-8th grade, Victoria-6th grade and Paulina age 5. James was teaching first in Hoven then in Herreid, and I worked for the newspaper in Pollock.

Fast forward a few years, the older girls were attending college in Jamestown, James was teaching in Linton, where he is still; I was teaching in the Pollock School system and Paulina was going to be in the 8th grade there. Then things went a bit awry, the Pollock school consolidated with Mobridge, dropping their affiliation with Herreid, and putting our family at a cross roads. We had to make some family decisions, because others handed us some answers that we never expected. All through the H-P discussions both cool and heated, I always thought that the two schools would work it out, but it didn’t happen that way. We had to decide where I would work, and where Paulina would attend school.

As it turned out, we decided to go where I was offered a contract, and we could be together. As a result, we chose to join the UCC Church in Mobridge, and Paulina was able to be confirmed there and made some friends that she is still in touch with now as she attends college in Bismarck. And though that worked for a time, the driving and the late hours and the separation of James going north and Paulina and me going south during some tough winters took its toll. When Paulina was a junior, we cashed it all in and rented a small house in Linton so we could all be together there while she finished high school.

It was a great two years. James could walk to work, I filled in as a substitute at the drop of a hat; and Paulina picked up a whole new set of friends. In some ways, perhaps because we were living in a rented house, it felt like we were on a fulltime vacation. Any home owners know how much work a house and yard is to keep up. But among other things, there was no church for us in Linton, and this past summer we returned to Herreid, and today we are here joining you for worship for the second time in just a few short weeks. And it is good to be here.

This takes us to today’s gospel text.  Luke tells us of a question that the Sadducees put before Jesus. Without much digging into any “expert” texts, we can see that the Sadducees were the leaders, who did not believe in a resurrection. They pretty much believed that people lived, and then they died. After some digging, I found that they held very strictly to the teachings of the laws of Moses and though the Sadducees held some political influence among the wealthy and were favored by certain rulers, they really were not regarded very highly by the common people, and often had to agree with the Pharisees in order to keep peace with the people.

So in this passage in Luke, they posed a question about a somewhat archaic law to Jesus. They really weren’t after an answer, which seems to be a bit of a theme when one group or another of the Jewish leaders question Jesus. They don’t want an answer, just the opportunity to trick Jesus into saying something wrong one way or another, so they will have an excuse to get rid of him.

Of course as usual, Jesus sees right through their question. They ask about which husband this woman will have in heaven. At first I was too busy thinking about this woman with all of the husbands and the law they have about the brothers filling in for the brothers as they die. I suppose if we would want to turn the question into a joke we would ask why the last few brothers weren’t afraid to marry her when so many of her first husbands died. But Jesus catches the irony of the question in a way that we or at least, I did not at first.

Jesus could easily have said that she was with the first husband, or even the last one, or he could have taken the stance that John the Baptist did when he told Herod that it was wrong to marry your brother’s widow. But he didn’t take the bait. Jesus realized that the Sadducees do NOT believe in a resurrection. According to them, there is no heaven, yet they ask Jesus a question concerning the resurrection. What they don’t expect is how Jesus comes back at them with a story about Moses, Moses, the very law that they are quoting. Jesus reminds them that when Moses stood on holy ground and looked into the burning bush and heard the voice of God, he was talking to the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. Then Jesus says that God is the God of the living, and If Moses referred to God as being the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, then they are living, and not dead, and thus, almost like an “If…then” geometry proof, there must be a resurrection.

Jesus takes the question they are asking and gives the Unexpected Answer. He lets the Sadducees know that their focus is what is messed up in their question. The issue is not about who the woman has for a husband, but the fact that there is a resurrection where we are welcomed by the living God as one of his children. God welcomes us into his presence just like he has already welcomed Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.

In the letter from Paul to the Thessalonians we see that Paul writes to assure them that they were not at the end of time. He says that though some believe it to be the end, the evil one will need to be taken out of power before that happens. In the final verses Paul sends words of encouragement for them to keep the faith and keep working for Jesus return. These are words that certainly cannot be a waste for any generation to read, especially the verses where Paul reminds them they were called so they could experience the Glory of God. We are all called to follow Jesus so that we too may experience the resurrection when it is our time.

And finally the Old Testament lesson from the prophet Haggai. This story happens after the Israelites return from exile in Babylon. People are going about their own personal rebuilding and trying to put their lives back together, but they don’t seem to be getting any good results. Finally God sends Haggai to explain that it is because they are not spending any time or energy rebuilding the temple. God has sent drought and famine and even when they have reaped a crop; it has not been of any satisfaction for them. Nothing works until they listen to the prophet and rebuild the temple. God helps them in the rebuilding and provides the treasures they need to make it even greater that it was before it was destroyed.

Another point I realized as I was speaking is that perhaps this wasn’t so much about the rebuilding of the physical temple, as the relationship with God. These people were so busy with their everyday lives that they forgot about what they needed to do to repair their place with God. Something we too need to consider for ourselves.

It seems that it is in the unexpected answer when God provides what the people need to repair and rebuild their sanctuary to be better than the one they had in the past even though they were living in a time of famine. They had been lamenting because things weren’t going well, but God sent word that if they would just concentrate on rebuilding the house of God, things would be better. God stepped in to provide and to replenish. They only need to supply the labor, God provided the treasure.

Perhaps in a sense that is what we also need to hear. If we would just provide the labor, God will supply the treasure. Perhaps we just need to figure out what in our case IS the labor and the treasure. If you can remember all the way back the beginning of how this started. We need to bring all of our experiences, ideas and learnings with us when we read your word, but mostly we need to open our minds as we read and as we listen, because we know that you are still speaking to us, even here today in this place, you have something in mind for us whether it be together or on separate paths. We just need to be sure to keep our hearts open to the answer. Amen.

Last note: I usually get the “message” as I am writing, today I didn’t receive it until I was speaking. It was an awesome experience. I don’t want to have too many more of those, but it made me realize more and more where this arrow is pointing. May you all have a wonderful weekend, Veterans Day and week to come.

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