Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost
Haggai 1:15b-2:9; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17; Luke 20:27-38
I am always wary of “gimmicky” preaching that is flashy and splashy, but is perhaps a wee scant on the real good news of Jesus Christ: that we are children of the Resurrection and God fills the house of our lives with splendor, as the prophet says today.
Having said that, I’m going to get a little gimmicky and show you a video this morning, forgive me if you must, about 3.5 minutes in length, from one of Tracey’s and my favorite shows in recent years, called The Rev. I have talked about it two or three times in sermons before, but never the scene we are about to watch together. The Rev follows a pastor named Adam who is loving, kind, and gifted but is not much of an administrator. He has moved from a stable, suburban parish to a dying urban one in east London. He works hard, tries many things, but the parish has simply dwindled too much to be salvaged. He is struggling to accept this failure which he sees as his own, and he has begun to question everything about his faith. Adam has slept little of late and is depleted emotionally and spiritually. Let’s watch what happens. (Watch video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Yo-UYCoZ9o)
Now, yes, this is a TV show, not real life but it certainly describes the essence of what I think the prophet Haggai and our Lord Jesus are communicating to us today. So, let it seep in as we share something.
There are two great events in the life of Israel (at least two): The Exodus and the Exile but the third part, which gets a lot less play in the OT, is the return from exile, which Haggai is placed squarely into. And our lives are formed, as people of faith, by that equation: we are released from our bondage to sin, despair, abuse, separation by the goodness, the faithfulness of God (let’s say our exodus). We fall away, we have life happen to us, and we find ourselves feeling God’s absence (that separation again; we’ll call that exile). Then finally, we understand, because of Jesus Christ, that we are brought back from exile, self-imposed or otherwise, to find ourselves squarely back in God’s presence: that is Resurrection. Resurrection is more than restoration, more than being brought back from exile; it is the understanding that God’s love is so powerful, His mercy and grace so unimaginable, that He brought us out of the wilderness for all time. We are no longer nomads, wanderers or exiles. We are the children of Resurrection; children of God for all time.
Yet, we still falter and struggle to live into, to experience the grace of God; God’s restorative love and healing. God hasn’t come down to us, dressed in a jogging suit, to place his hand on our shoulder, look us in the eye, and say, “I understand. I will always be here with you.” We feel more like the man in Luke’s parable of the good Samaritan, a man who has fallen among thieves and has been beaten and left for dead. People step over and around him, as they often do to us or to people we know or love. And besides all that, there are people in the world who are always or nearly always invisible and, when we are suffering, we may begin to understand what it means to be one of them.
Adam, in the show, The Rev, begins to feel that everyone in his life, other than his wife and baby daughter, have turned away; that he has let everyone down. We shoulder so much in this life and often, because pleasing others becomes such a priority, we forget where true grace, complete Resurrection is to be found. The grace of God, the abounding good news of Jesus Christ, is that God does come to us - humanly, lovingly – and lays himself down in our midst and offers himself for us and to us. Resurrection is about eternal union with God which gives us the hope, the joy, and the blessing and it is also about living resurrected lives where God raises us to new life in the here and now.
Mercy and grace are something that tries to explain what it means to be loved by God, so loved that God in Christ died and rose again; reminding us that the love of God never leaves nor dies.
Knowing Resurrection does not protect us from the challenges of this world. Job, the poster-child for suffering in the Old Testament, was honored and revered as the most faithful of all God’s creations; yet, much disaster befell him. It was his ability, in spite of his pain and hopelessness, to continue trusting in God that helped him find his way into the light again. But for many of us, we fail, over and over again, to see the promise of resurrection in our lives unless it is revealed to us in or through another. How are we instruments of Christ’s resurrection – grace, if that is more helpful – in the lives of the people we come into contact with?
Every week I receive a little devotion via email; using it as a vehicle for prayer throughout my week has become one way I am trying to breathe in resurrection, grace, more and more in my daily life. One suggestion that the creators of this email had is for me to think about the people in my life who are exemplars of God’s grace, Resurrection, in my life. The person who always comes to mind for me is my wife, Tracey. When we first met, I was a rather lost and angry person. I cannot imagine I was an easy person to fall in love with and even harder to continue to love, in those early years, but she managed it somehow. And as we both began to shed much destructive baggage from a life of trauma and challenge, we began to fall into grace more and more. Without resurrection coming to me, God’s redemptive love, in the guise of this particular person in my life, I truly don’t know where I would be. But this is not a story to place anyone on a pedestal. It is vital, as people who desire to be instruments of resurrection in the world, to remember to begin with those closest to us; the broken people in our own lives.
And as broken people ourselves, may we remember the words of Job, after he had lost everything: his children, his livelihood, his health: “Yet I know that my redeemer lives. And at the last he shall stand upon the earth and in my body, I shall see God. My eyes shall see him who is my friend, and not a stranger.” I go back to that image of God from The Rev, in a mismatched track suit, cup of coffee in one hand, leaning in, placing his hand on one of his children in pain, and reminding him that He, God, understands that pain and will be with Adam, with us. Jesus’ Resurrection is a reminder of our own: that God is ever with us with all the power of life and death. We suffer. He knows and loves us. We are called to be instruments of resurrection in the lives of others and, by doing so, we become part of it all over again.