Shake the Earth

Haggai 1:15b-2:9
Psalm 145:1-5, 18-21
2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
Luke 20:27-38

 

The Gospel reading today deals with marriage.  True, it was a trick question designed to show the people that Jesus was not the Messiah and, true, Jesus turned the trick back on them, as usual.

 

I picture Jesus sitting politely listening to the Sadducees present their conundrum, perhaps with a little smile when they said at the resurrection.  But he didn’t jump on that, even though Sadducees rejected any notion of life after death.  Nor did he quote the several passages from Job, Psalms, Isaiah, and others that refer to life eternal.  He chose instead to use the example from Exodus, probably because the Sadducees rejected all the writings except the Torah, the first five books.

 

He was able to use the encounter of God with Moses to show that life exists after death on this earth and he did it within the strict rules of the Sadducees’ belief system.  It is sad to consider the fact that nearly all the leading priests at the Temple were Sadducees and that many of the ordinary priests were as well.  I wonder at how they could attend to the worship without believing in the Living God.

 

Back to marriage.  Jesus spoke of the church as the Bride of Christ.  When I became a disciple of Jesus, I joined in a marriage contract with him.  As is common in wedding vows today, the two become one.  It is no accident that John placed the miracle of turning water into wine at the top of the list, the first public event in his Gospel account.  It is no accident that marriage plays a dominant role in his Book of Revelation of Jesus.

 

Do you remember?  God created all.  He came to us in the form of an ordinary man to show us how we can live and then offered to be our groom and stand with us in the eternal Kingdom, vouching for our purity even as we are impure.  Do you remember?

Paul Tillich was a professor of theology at Union Theological Seminary from 1933 to 1955.  In one of his sermons at the chapel shortly after the end of WWII he spoke of The Shaking of the Foundations.  Here are a few excerpts.

We know that in the ground of our earth, and in the ground of everything in our world that has form and structure, destructive forces are bound.  Laying the foundations of the earth means binding these forces.  When the unruly power of the smallest parts of our material world was restrained by cohesive structures, a place was provided in which life could grow and history develop, in which words could be heard and love be felt, and in which truth could be discovered and the Eternal adored.  All this was possible because the fiery chaos of the beginning was transformed into the fertile soil of the earth….

Why were the prophets able to face what they knew, and then to pronounce it with such overwhelming power?  Their power sprang from the fact that they did not really speak of the foundations of the earth as such, but of Him Who laid the foundations and would shake them; and that they did not speak of the doom of the nations as such, but of Him Who brings doom for the sake of His eternal justice and salvation….  He is the foundation on which all foundations are laid; and this foundation cannot be shaken….

How could the prophets speak as they did?  How could they paint these most terrible pictures of doom and destruction without cynicism or despair?  It was because, beyond the sphere of destruction, they saw the sphere of salvation; because, in the doom of the temporal, they saw the manifestation of the Eternal.

The Shaking of the Foundations  Charles Scribner’s Sons  1948

 

Exposition

Sixty-six years after the destruction of Solomon’s Temple, Zerubbabel was leading the reconstruction on the same platform.  This passage can be dated to the fall of 520 BCE and it is not too much of a stretch to say the work continued 590 years until the most recent destruction in 70 CE.

Now God through Haggai asks do you remember?  The question is intended for us as well.  Do you remember that God is present here and now?  He leads us by day and by night.  He accepts our gifts and forgives us our sins.  He is at the center of our lives in the way the Temple was the center of ancient Jewish life.

We modern Christians are fond of pointing out that the Holy of Holies in the Temple of Jesus’ day was empty.  The Ark of the Covenant had been carried away and the gold melted down during the captivity.  Therefore, God had no place to sit, so God was no longer present in the Temple.  Logical?

We believe God is everywhere, so why do we limit God’s presence in the Temple?  We say He is a Spirit.  Does a Spirit need a seat?

What are we to remember?  Temple worship was much more than butchering animals.  God was praised in song and prayer.  Sins were laid on the altar to be forgiven.  Sacrificial meat was salted to remove the last impurities.  The grape vine was present as the symbol of Israel, the living presence of God on earth.  Bread, the symbol of life, was offered to God and eaten by the priests.  Wine, the symbol of blood/life, was poured out on the altar as part of the sacrifice.

Psalms were sung, many like today’s reading.  Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise.  There are 150 psalms and most of them were written to be sung as a part of the Temple worship.  It is hard for us moderns to imagine that people used to memorize most if not all those 150; yet, there are many people today who can sing a hundred songs.  Setting words to music makes it so much easier.

Paul’s message to the church at Thessalonica was much the same as Haggai’s; don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things?  God chose you to be saved.

I’m not talking about predestination.  God has chosen every single person who has ever been born.  Because God is all-powerful, He can save everyone.  But he gave us the freedom to reject Him and some do so.  Paul says to remain faithful, don’t give up.  Things don’t look as good as you remember.  Solomon’s Temple was nicer than this one.  Your old life as a Greek was easier than this one.  All of my friends have nicer houses and cars than I do.  It’s OK.  Stand with God.

The Gospel reading today deals with marriage.  True, it was a trick question designed to show the people that Jesus was not the Messiah and, true, Jesus turned the trick back on them, as usual.

I picture Jesus sitting politely listening to the Sadducees present their conundrum, perhaps with a little smile when they said at the resurrection.  But he didn’t jump on that, even though Sadducees rejected any notion of life after death.  Nor did he quote the several passages from Job, Psalms, Isaiah, and others that refer to life eternal.  He chose instead to use the example from Exodus, probably because the Sadducees rejected all the writings except the Torah, the first five books.

He was able to use the encounter of God with Moses to show that life exists after death on this earth and he did it within the strict rules of the Sadducees’ belief system.  It is sad to consider the fact that nearly all the leading priests at the Temple were Sadducees and that many of the ordinary priests were as well.  I wonder at how they could attend to the worship without believing in the Living God.

Back to marriage.  Jesus spoke of the church as the Bride of Christ.  When I became a disciple of Jesus, I joined in a marriage contract with him.  As is common in wedding vows today, the two become one.  It is no accident that John placed the miracle of turning water into wine at the top of the list, the first public event in his Gospel account.  It is no accident that marriage plays a dominant role in his Book of Revelation of Jesus.

Do you remember?  God created all.  He came to us in the form of an ordinary man to show us how we can live and then offered to be our groom and stand with us in the eternal Kingdom, vouching for our purity even as we are impure.  Do you remember?

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

 

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