Year C — The Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Commentary for November 10, 2013
by  the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

Click here for today’s readings
Click HERE for the Lectionary Lab Live podcast

Haggai 1:15b-2:9
Haggai speaks to a community that was discouraged, downtrodden, and that faced a daunting task in the rebuilding of the temple destroyed by the Babylonians. No money, not enough people to help, lack of sufficient leadership resources…hmm, sound familiar?

God’s words through Haggai speak to practically any and every situation we might face in our congregations today. “Take courage…work, for I am with you.” God still “shakes the heavens” when they need shaking — and it’s not bad to notice that all the silver and the gold belong to God, as well. The good news is God has all the money we need to accomplish the purposes God has for us.

Of course, as the punch line to the old preacher joke goes, the bad news is “it’s all in your pockets!”

Psalm 145:1-5, 17-21
By now, we should all be pretty familiar with the computer jargon acronym, GIGO — it stands for “garbage in, garbage out.” Despite the incredible technological advances and ultra-high speed machines that are a part of our daily lives, computers still can’t think for you. They will only do exactly what you program them to do. (And, that’s a good thing, as any Terminator fan will tell you!)

Our brains function pretty much the same way, when you stop and think about it. If we are dumping negative thoughts and unhelpful information into our systems all the time, it will be almost impossible to produce a life that is positive and uplifting. GIGO when it comes to what you allow into your head and heart.

The psalmist proposes a better approach: GSIGSO. “Good Stuff In, Good Stuff Out.” Verse 5 says, “On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.” Meditate — think — ponder — analyze — appropriate. Put the good stuff in your brains, people — and you’ll be amazed at the good stuff that will come out!

Psalm 98
Of all the reasons to worship God, steadfast love and mercy certainly rank right up there!

Job 19:23-27a
This passage from Job (perhaps the Bible’s oldest book, in terms of the time it emerged from oral tradition to written form) is often used as evidence of belief in a resurrection in Hebrew scripture. That may be true, though the translation of these verses is particularly tricky.

That does not stop it from being an assertion of Job’s firm faith in the eternal purposes of God. Job had some pretty tough things to say about God’s treatment of him (see v.6 in this same passage, for example — “…know that God has wronged me and drawn his net around me.”) But, he never did give up and he never cursed God (though he was certainly urged to do so.)

Maybe that’s the word of the Lord for us this day!

Psalm 17:1-9
More awesome descriptions of the ways that God works in our lives — God really is a God focused on the good of the Lord’s people. However, an interesting detail caught my eye: notice in v.1 that the prayer that God is able to hear is one that comes from “lips free of deceit.”

Deceit? When speaking to God? Surely none of us would hold anything back, or misrepresent our situations, or “bend the truth” when speaking to God…would we? As Psalm 19:14 teaches us — “May the words of my mouth…be acceptable in your sight.”

2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
The folks who were following the way of Christ during the 30 or so years after his resurrection and ascension were evidently getting a little nervous about his promise to return and “take you to be with me” (see John 14:3.) Paul is doing a little clean-up work on just exactly how and what Jesus might have meant.

Hold on — don’t get too shook up — or, in the words of the gospel song that came many centuries later — “wait on the Lord, trust His word and be patient — have faith in God!” (Click here for Have Faith in God, by legendary Baptist hymn writer B. B. McKinney.)

Luke 20:27-38
Many are the teachings and interpretations that have sprung from these apocryphal words by Jesus. I ain’t about to get into speculation about knowing your husband or wife in heaven, or how we all may (or may not) recognize one another when we get there. I’m just taking the promise of v.38 to be the gospel truth: “Now God is not the God of the dead, but of the living; for to God, all of them [us] are alive.”

That’ll do!

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

A few years ago the Oxford American magazine had an article about what it called “mysterious traffic stops and starts;” those times when interstate traffic just slows and stops and then speeds back up, though there is no wreck or construction to cause it.  A group of traffic engineers investigated this problem. They tested a number of theories, and here’s their conclusion: they don’t know. They honestly don’t know why it happens. It just does sometimes – for no apparent, detectable reason.

There’s something within me that rebels against the notion that things can happen with no cause and no purpose. But life feels like that sometimes. There are times when it feels like we’re buzzing down life’s highway making good time, purposely going about our business; when suddenly things happen which cause life to appear totally meaningless.

That’s what happened to Job. As the book opens, he’s really making good time on the highway of life; things are great. Wife, kids, job, spiritual life; everything’s wonderful! Then it all grinds to a halt, the wheels fall off, and he’s left sitting on the side of the road in the burned out shell of his life.

No rhyme, no reason, no poetic justice, no novelistic irony, no cinematic climax; just meaningless disaster. His friends explore a number of theories as to the why of his predicament. Most of these ideas have to do with either Job’s hidden sinfulness or God’s lack of justice. Even Job’s wife tells him he should just curse God and die.

And yet, it is at this particular moment that Job makes his impassioned statement of hope,
“O that my words were written down! O that they were inscribed in a book! O that with an iron pen and with lead they were engraved on a rock forever! For I know that my redeemer lives.”
In the midst of his darkest night, Job holds on to hope.

In today’s Gospel lesson, the Sadducees ask Jesus a very silly question about the resurrection. They don’t really care about the answer. They don’t believe in the resurrection. They are simply trying to trap Jesus into saying something objectionable; the way news reporters ask leading questions trying to get public figures to say something that will offend somebody enough to make news.

Jesus’ answer was a firm affirmation of the promise of God that there is life after death, there is a resurrection.  His answer offended some, but gave assurance to others. After his wife of just a few years died of cancer, C.S. Lewis said, “You never really know how much you believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life or death to you.”

The questions before us today are these: Is life meaningless, like the unexplainable fits and starts of interstate traffic? Was Job a fool to continue to hope for redemption in the face of his suffering and loss? And, how much do we, here, today, believe, really believe, the gospel we read and preach and hear and recite Sunday after Sunday?

When we recite the creed – do we mean it, or do we just say it? Is the Gospel of Jesus Christ a matter of life or death to us? Or are we like the Sadducees, making idle chatter and asking silly questions about things which we don’t really care about?

How committed are we, as individuals and as a community, to the most important truth we know; which is the truth that God is love, and God’s love is so deep and so true and so endless that God came and lived, and loved, and taught among us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

The truth that God’s love is so complete that, in a mystery too deep for us to fully comprehend; when Jesus died upon the cross, it was God pouring out his life for us, going to hell for us, fighting sin and the Devil for us.

Indeed, God’s love is so immense that on Easter morning, God brought Jesus out of that tomb, and in that moment broke the chains of Sin, Death and the Devil for all of us.

To have faith, to really believe, to hold on to hope, is to embrace God’s story, as our story, and to see every moment of every day as a moment and a day that has meaning and importance because it is a moment and day lived in the presence of God.

We are called to lay ourselves upon the altar of God and to cry out with Job, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and until the day when He shall stand upon the earth, I will serve him.”

Amen and Amen.

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