Saturday, November 9, 2013

The silver is mine, the gold is mine

Haggai 1:15b—2:9; 2 Thessalonians 2:1–5, 13–17; Luke 20:27–38
In our creeds, we state that we believe in the resurrection of the body. We might wonder what our bodies will be like. Will Mike’s resurrected body have his old knee, or the knee that the doctor installed a couple of months ago? Will our resurrected bodies still be able to enjoy chocolate? Will our resurrected bodies still play golf, or the piano, or mahjong? … Does it really matter what our resurrected body will look like? Are these not rather preposterous questions?
In today’s Gospel, the Sadducees ask Jesus a preposterous question. Usually, the Gospels report Jesus’ interactions with the Scribes and the Pharisees. In this story, it’s the Sadducees who ask the questions. The Pharisees include the Torah – the first five books of the Bible – as well as the Prophets and the Psalms among their sacred writings. The Sadducees claim only the Torah as sacred writing. Because there is no reference to resurrection in the Torah, they deny that resurrection is possible.  
The Sadducees create a preposterous question to ask Jesus, to see how he will respond. Their question is based on a law in Leviticus, describing how widows will be cared for, and how a man will have children even if he dies. The rule is this: If a man dies and his wife survives, but they don’t have any sons, the man’s brother must marry the woman. This law is designed to take care of the widow by giving her a home and a family. The first son born to the widow is the son of the deceased man when it comes to dividing the property.
The Sadducees use this law to provoke Jesus. “Suppose,” they say, “a man dies before having children, and his brother marries the widow. Seven times this happens. When the woman dies, who will her husband be in the resurrection?”
 Jesus replies that they don’t understand resurrected life. Life after resurrection will be different than life we know it on earth. After death, those who believe will be like angels, and they are children of God.
This is just about the only thing Jesus says about life after death that is not a parable. It will be good; it is something to look forward to. This promise gives us hope. Giving us this glimpse of life after death is one way in which God takes care of us. Creating laws to protect widows and laws regarding fair distribution of property are more ways in which God cares for us.
We can turn the image around, and see how we care for what God gives us. Five hundred years before Jesus, the Jews had returned to Jerusalem after the exile. They were slow in rebuilding the temple. They were busy building their own lives and businesses and weren’t really worried about the temple. Few, if any, of the folks remembered the temple in its former glory. By the time they returned from Babylon, the temple was a pile of rubble, huge stones piled one on top of another. The gold that once adorned the temple was gone, melted in the fires of the destruction 50 years before.   
The Lord said to Haggai, let’s get the folks back to work on the temple. Go speak to the leaders and tell them that the Lord wants the temple rebuilt, and will help make it happen. Say to them for me, “I am the same Lord who led you out of slavery and I promise to help you today and in the future. I will make the other nations bring you gold and silver so the temple will glow with my glory once again.”
Haggai makes it clear to the people that the gold and silver they will receive is not theirs to own, but God’s to distribute. I am struck by this verse, where God says, “The silver is mine and gold is mine.” There is no doubt about the owner of what we have. What we have comes from God, and we are to use it in ways that please God.
… I heard a story the other day. John’s salary was just enough, until one day, for six weeks, it dropped drastically. John and his wife had a baby, and their biggest need was baby food in jars. They didn’t know what they were going to do, but they decided to pray about it.
The next day a neighbor approached him with a puzzled look. I’m not sure why I have this, but someone just gave me a bunch of jars of baby food. I don’t have a baby, but I know that you do. Can you use it?
Of course, John was delighted to receive the food. For some reason, every week, for six weeks, until his salary went back to normal, the neighbor brought him a bag of baby food. As soon as John’s salary was restored, the baby food stopped coming. There was no explanation for why the neighbor had the baby food, but it was clear in his mind that it was his to give away.
When we don’t have enough, God does notice. We have what we have for our own use, and to give glory to God as we use it. We give glory to God when we help others in need.
… Many years ago, I was in Chicago during a poverty immersion experience. I remember hearing that the people of the Garfield neighborhood tithed, giving 10% of whatever they had. These were people who barely could feed and house themselves. They depended on the Bethel New Life Ministry for its soup kitchen and health clinic. Yet, every person there gave generously to the ministry, because they knew without a doubt that there were people who were worse off than themselves.
… Haggai and the other prophets called the people to pay attention to God and to those in need, like the widows in their midst. In Haggai’s time and place the folks were more interested in taking care of themselves than in taking care of the neighbor, and giving honor and glory to God. Rebuilding the temple took the focus off themselves and back onto God where it belonged.
The Scribes, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees were more interested in honoring God by paying attention to the letter of the law than they were in caring for those in need. They resented Jesus because he called attention to their sin, and they naturally resisted it.
Even with all their resistance, even from the cross, Jesus called all to repentance and acceptance of him. He called on God to forgive even those who put him to death. The gift of resurrection is offered to all people. Those who share what they have, who remember that the gold and the silver they have belongs to God, those are the folks who welcome the promise of the resurrection. In a community where all have enough, we experience a bit of the resurrected life on earth.
The people helped by New Life Ministry trust God to give them enough, even though they give a significant portion of what they have away. John and his wife prayed for God’s help, and suddenly, they had baby food. They are already experiencing resurrection life.
… So, why do you have what you have? Do you have it because you earned it? Do you have it to make your own life better? Do you have it to make someone else’s life better? Do you have it to give glory to God? Do you have it so you can experience some of the resurrected life today? Do you trust God to make sure you have enough?
This week, as you pray about how much you will give to Hope next year, remember that what you have is really God’s. Your silver is God’s, your gold is God’s, your paycheck is God’s, your retirement check is God’s, your Social Security check is God’s, your allowance is God’s. Consider how what you offer will give glory to God through Hope’s ministries.
Please pray with me. God of mercy, you give us what we need, and more. Teach us to share as generously as you do. Give us a glimpse of life in the resurrection here on earth, and give us the assurance of resurrected life with you when we die. Amen