Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Proper 27 Year C

Proper 27 C
(Revised Common Lectionary)

Haggai 1:15b-2:9; Psalm 145:1-5,18-22; OR Psalm 98; OR Job 19:23-27a; Psalm 17:1-9; II Thessalonians 2:1-5,13-17; Luke 20:27-38

Having been released from Babylon's captivity due to the conquest of the Persians and the sympathy of King Cyrus, God's people straggled back to Jerusalem, which is in ruins.  These are the people Haggai addressed.  Merely the first work of rebuilding Solomon's Temple has just begun and there is  much to be done.  The Lord's representative asks the people, Who among you can remember the former glory of the Temple?  Then he offers assurance of the Lord's assistance and he issues a directive to "work for I [the Lord] am with you."  This assurance is an extension "according to the promise that I made to you when you came out of Egypt."  He continues, "My spirit abides among you; do not fear."  The Lord also relates through Haggai that "the treasures of all nations shall come, and I will fill the house with splendor."  Which will even be "greater than the former...."

The singular purpose of this psalm (145) is to praise/exalt/bless the Lord for now and future generations for God's "mighty acts." It concludes with personal testimony by the psalmist that the Lord is "close" to all who call upon the Lord and "guards all who love" the Lord.  "The Lord's praise lets my mouth speak."


The psalmist praises the Lord who is known in "victory" and "bounty"  for the Lord's people in the eyes of other nations.  Instruments, such as the lyre and trumpet, join with "the sea and all its fullness thunder," "the rivers clap...the mountains together sing gladly."  The cause for this praise is for one reason-- the Lord "comes to judge the earth... in justice."


Exhausted from the calamities he has endured and the futile attempts made by him and his friends to make sense of it, Job blurts out a full, unequivocal certitude he is willing to write in stone: "I know that my Redeemer lives."  He is equally certain that "after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side,and my eyes shall behold him, and not another."

The psalmist is certain that the Lord will hear the "rightness" of his plea for justice.  She reviews the intimate interactions with the Lord that have given her this certitude.  "I called You, for You will answer me, God...."  "Your mercies abound.../Guard me like the apple of Your eye..."

Expressed in the apocalyptic language  prevalent in the time, the write of this "second" letter to the Thessalonians wants to be absolutely clear that they should  not be rattled by those who teach "that the day of the Lord is already here."   For one thing, the writer continues, an event expected in Jewish apocalyptic writing-- the appearance of an anti-God figure-- has not yet occurred.  He concludes by encouraging them to "stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that were taught by us either by word of mouth or by our letter."  Be strong and full of hope.

Luke's narrative concludes the major section devoted to the life, ministry and teachings of Jesus with a series of encounters with his growing list of those who oppose him.  The presenting problem is a debate about "resurrection."  The "Sadducees" present their arguments that conclude there can be no resurrection.  The response form Jesus Luke provides is not a direct response to their burning questions.  Instead Jesus talks about those who are already "children of the resurrection."  This response leaves open the interpretation that Jesus is returning to the theme of so much of his prior teaching about participating here and now in an alternative way of considering and living this life.  The "God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" is not a God "of the dead, but of the living...!"  To God, "all are alive." 

These readings and excerpt from Luke are not a speculative debate about the living and the dead in some vague future so much as they are about who is dead or alive, engaged right now.  They do not respond to questions human beings are inclined to ask, they turn the tables and ask are you 'dead' or 'alive' right now.

Standing before the ruins of their homes, nation and Temple, God's people are given assurance by the Lord's messenger, Haggai, that the story begun in the rescue of their ancestors from slavery in Egypt will have a new chapter written by them with God' help.  The psalmist (145) testifies that it is "the Lord's praise" that gives him something worth saying/singing.  On another occasion, the psalmist (98) is so engaged in her song of praise to God whose primary passion is justice that the sounds of nature seem to accompany her.  Job and his friends have pursed the narrative of nihilism to its logical conclusions and he abruptly changes his story: I know that my Redeemer lives, whom, when I meet, I will discover was on my side.  The psalmist (17) expresses a deep, personal confidence that the Lord hears and responds because "Your mercies abound...."

In the introduction by the editor of Paul Ricoeur's  collection of essays, Figuring the Sacred, Mark Wallace observes: "Everyone needs a story to live by in  order to make sense of the pastiche of one's life.  Without a narrative a person's life is merely a random sequence of unrelated events: birth and death are inscrutable, temporality is a terror and a burden, and suffering and loss remain mute and unintelligible." (p.11)

Ricoeur himself writes in this same collection: "it is within the structure of the narrative itself that we can best apprehend this intersection between the text and life that engenders the imagination according to the Bible." (p.146) "Everyone needs a story to live by."  Jesus invites each to merge her or his own story with God's story as one who is already a "child of the resurrection."