Mine and Thine
Passage: Haggai 1:15b-2:9; Luke 20:27-38
Date: November 10, 2007
Preacher: Rev Laurie M. Vischer
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Last month, a dear friend of ours died, after a long and fruitful life. It seemed to us that, more than most people, he embodied Christlike love, and tried his whole life to align his actions with what he discerned to be God's loving, compassionate, peaceful way. Our children had been too young to really remember him, but they could tell from the way we spoke of him, that we loved him and would miss him. While our family sat at the dinner table, my husband said "If there is a heaven, then Robert is there." There was a pause, and then, our oldest son said, very thoughtfully, and with a bit of shock, "Well, there aren't going to be any dead people in heaven!"
I share that story because it really gets to the heart of the gospel this morning. Jesus made it clear, too: "God is not of the dead, but of the living, for to him, all of them are alive." This Sunday, with the names we shared last week, on All Saint's Sunday-still fresh from our lips and as we remember Veterans who had died-we wonder, what does the gospel say to us about life and death? What does this say about heaven? About the resurrection of the dead? About being in this life? What implications does this have for how we live, here and now? If we look very carefully at both passages from scripture, from the ancient prophesy of Haggai, and the controversy in Luke, we see another theme, and that theme is about property. What is God's and what is ours?
We are wading into an area of mystery with questions of life and death and resurrection. The Sadducees, who were trying to trap Jesus, did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. They intended to show the absurdity of the idea of resurrection, by the example of seven brothers marrying the same wife, and the mess that would result in the next life. But resurrection is not immortality.
It is not a continuation of life that we know, including marriage and family as ancient Israel knew, or as we know. Resurrection, life in God, is about abundant life. It is about grace, redemption, peace and love that is beyond our understanding. I believe it is about life that we live now, and the mystery of life after death.
The challenge of Jesus' words to the Sadduccees is easy to miss today. Unlike our society, based on the value of the individual, the basic unit of the religious and social world of ancient Israel was the patriarchal family. Marriages were based on alliances between families, and not based on romantic love between mates. Having sons to carry on the accumulated family wealth and honor and name was the primary purpose of the family. Women were valued as property as they could provide sons. Levirate marriage, that is, the marriage of a man's widow to his brother, in order to have sons to carry on the name and property-that is the tradition the Sadducees are referring to in their question. "Whose husband was she?" It was a question about resurrection and about property. But Jesus' answer transcends the question. Jesus' response takes us to a different level of understanding.
I find it interesting that this story comes on the heels of the passage in Luke another trap for Jesus, from the chief priests and scribes, about whether or not to pay taxes. The issue there, becomes loyalty to Caesar, the Emperor, and loyalty to God. Both these passages, call the followers of Jesus, then and now, to admit where our cultural expectations and our own possessiveness keep us from true life in God. From Luke 16, we read: "Everyone must make a choice between God and mammon. . ." Mammon includes not only property and money, but also the family which possesses property and money. The gospel proclaims that we can't serve both, Mostly, it comes naturally to us, to be loyal and to love our own families. But this is the challenge that Jesus calls us to: Don't just love your own people. Love beyond the boundaries of your own families, your own tribe, your own nation and religion. Love your enemies.
Love one another, for all are mine.
The other reading from this morning, is from the prophet Haggai. This passage also deals with property and ownership and it is addressed to a people suffering from the devastation from war, exile and the loss of their land and economy. Not much is known about the prophet Haggai. It seems that unlike the professional, cultic prophets of the time before the Babylonian exile, whose fake optimism had been harmful to the nation, Haggai presented a message of hope grounded in the hard reality of a destroyed land.
His message from God to the people came at a time when Judah's economy was very weak, still suffering from the devastation from Babylonian conquest, and just as some in exile where returning home. At this time, community and religious life centered around the temple. A summary of the little book Haggai might be this: "It is the story of Haggai's involvement in the restoration of Judah. The rebuilding of the temple gave witness and testimony to the reign of God, both in the present and in the future."
From Haggai, we read that God will "shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all the nations shall come and I will fill this house with splendor. . . The silver is mine, and the gold is mine. The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts."
Brokenness. Broken families, broken nations, broken churches. Some of us spent this weekend in Albany, at the Cascades Presbytery meeting. The presbytery is part of the larger church to which we all belong, be virtue of our being Presbyterian. Our Presbytery and our denomination has been struggling over Biblical interpretation and theology and the way this conflict plays out over divisive issues.
This weekend a great deal of time and intense conversation and prayer was spent on a congregation that has withdrawn from Presbyterianism because of those differences. Sometimes we step back and wonder, how can the body of Christ survive, when we can't even love each other? In some ways, we may be much like the kingdom of Judah, following the exile, seeing the fallen remains of the temple, and perhaps feeling that we've reached the end.
But God is working on us, even in the midst of brokenness and doubt.
"God will shake all the nations. . . The silver is mine and the gold is mine. The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former. . ." says the Lord of hosts. How the body of Christ is being rebuilt, we can't see right now. But first and foremost, we must remember that we belong to God. The church, the body of Christ, belongs to God. We must keep clear on who and what belongs to God, and let our lives and our church fall in alignment with that.
War and division between people is not new. Struggles around property and ownership have deep roots and scars in our nation's history. I recently saw a video clip of a powerful singer and speaker, Wintley Phillips. He told the story of the origin of the hymn, "Amazing Grace." He noted that the writer of lyrics, John Newton, was a slave-trader who bought and sold African slaves. The tune Newton heard from an African slave. If you look for name of that slave in the song's credit, it is usually listed as "Unknown." Wintley Phillips said that when he gets to heaven, he's looking forward to talking with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but most of all, with "Unknown." Now, didn't God work through that slave trader and that slave, to create a unity of song and words that touch us still? It doesn't matter if you are black or white, male or female, slave or free-you are blessed God's grace and mercy. Living in that grace-that is the life Jesus shares. "God is the God of the living." We belong to God. There really aren't going to be dead people in heaven!
When we've been there 10,000 years, bright shining as the sun;
We've no less days to sing God's praise than when we've first begun."
What would the world be like? What would our lives be like if we lived as God's own people in this life? What would the church be like? What if we loved our enemies as much as we loved our own children? What if unity in Christ meant that Love was at the center of dealings with every person? What if we knew that first, above all, we belong to God? What would our lives and the world be like then?