The Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 27, 10 November 2019

Track One:
Haggai 1:15b-2:9
Psalm 145:1-5, 18-22 or Psalm 98

Track Two:
Job 19:23-27a
Psalm 17:1-9

II Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
Saint Luke 20:27-38

Background: Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and the Resurrection

First let us identify each of these groups. The Pharisees were a scholarly group who were devoted to a meticulous observance of the laws given to them from the ancestors. They deemed themselves as the premier interpreters of the Torah. They also were believers in the resurrection, that there was life after death. The Sadducees were their opponents. They did not see the ancient laws as authorative, and they did not believe in a life after death. They tended to come from well-to-do elites, and from the priestly class. The Essenes mistrusted the whole establishment and moved into the wilderness, away from both Temple and city. Like the Pharisees, they meticulously observed the Law and ritual of Judaism, but they denied the resurrection of the body. These groups were actually a small component of Jewish life. Josephus estimates around 6,000 Pharisees, 4,000 Essenes, and 20,000 Priests (some of which were Sadducees). The vast majority stood outside these groups, and we have no way of knowing what their thoughts about the resurrection of the dead were.

Track One:

First Reading: Haggai 1:15b-2:9

In the second year of King Darius, in the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai, saying: Speak now to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people, and say, Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing? Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts, according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear. For thus says the Lord of hosts: Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendor, says the Lord of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lord of hosts. The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the Lord of hosts.

Haggai wrote in the late fifth century BCE, and was most likely one who returned to Jerusalem following the edict of Cyrus in 538 BCE. Haggai longs for the rebuilding of the Temple, and is concerned with its ritual purity (see Background above). It is the temple that is his concern and not a recovery of the Davidid monarchy – he supports the Persian designated governor Zerubbabel. 

Our reading for this day exhibits Haggai’s zeal for the Temple, indicating that God would come and make the new Temple more glorious than the former building destroyed by the Babylonians. It is a sign of the renewed land and people, born of an ancient promise. Indeed, Haggai refers to the coming out of Egypt. So, his dreams and vision are a continuation of the covenant and promise. Haggai uses a name for God that should be familiar to us from the Sanctus, YHWH Sabaoth, “The Lord of Hosts (Armies).” The Temple, Haggai argues, will become a place of peace.

Breaking open Haggai:
1.            In what ways has your church (temple) been destroyed?
2.            What might repair it?
3.            What role might you have in that?

Psalm 145:1-5, 18-22 Exaltabo te, Deus

     I will exalt you, O God my King, *
and bless your Name for ever and ever.
     Every day will I bless you *
and praise your Name for ever and ever.
     Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised; *
there is no end to his greatness.
     One generation shall praise your works to another *
and shall declare your power.
     I will ponder the glorious splendor of your majesty *
and all your marvelous works.
18    The Lord is righteous in all his ways *
and loving in all his works.
19    The Lord is near to those who call upon him, *
to all who call upon him faithfully.
20    He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; *
he hears their cry and helps them.
21    The Lord preserves all those who love him, *
but he destroys all the wicked.
22    My mouth shall speak the praise of the Lord; *
let all flesh bless his holy Name for ever and ever.

The first verse in the Hebrew designates this as a Psalm of Praise, the only one done so. The psalm is also an acrostic. Oddly enough a verse for the letter nun is not found in the Masoretic text, but a medieval version of this psalm, and a version found at Qumran (the Essenes) has the missing verse. The elided verses dwell on the Davidic kingship, and the closing verses focus on the attributes of the God whom this psalm praises. They are attributions of presence and care – the God who “preserves all those who love (God).”

Breaking open Psalm 145:
1.        Who are the rulers of your life?
2.        How is God a ruler in your life?
3.        How are you protected by God?


Psalm 98 Cantate Domino

     Sing to the Lord a new song, *
for he has done marvelous things.
     With his right hand and his holy arm *
has he won for himself the victory.
     The Lord has made known his victory; *
his righteousness has he openly shown in the sight of the nations.
     He remembers his mercy and faithfulness to the house of Israel, *
and all the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.
     Shout with joy to the Lord, all you lands; *
lift up your voice, rejoice, and sing.
     Sing to the Lord with the harp, *
with the harp and the voice of song.
     With trumpets and the sound of the horn *
shout with joy before the King, the Lord.
     Let the sea make a noise and all that is in it, *
the lands and those who dwell therein.
     Let the rivers clap their hands, *
and let the hills ring out with joy before the Lord,
when he comes to judge the earth.
10    In righteousness shall he judge the world *
and the peoples with equity.

I have no understanding of why an alternate psalm is offered here. Both are praise psalms, and perhaps Psalm 98 is provided due to its familiarity. Psalm 96 has a similar introduction. This psalm celebrates an undefined “victory.” As to whom this victory is over is unknown. Perhaps it is a generic enemy, anyone opposed to the God of Israel, or perhaps it is victory over the primeval chaos and evil (see verse 8, especially). There is a dose of universalism here, “all the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.” All the lands are bidden to offer praise, and the whole world will be judged by God. 

Breaking open Psalm 98:
1.        Where have you been victorious in your life?
2.        What victories has God done in your life?
3.        What victories need to be won in your community?


Track Two:

Job said,

"O that my words were written down!
O that they were inscribed in a book!
O that with an iron pen and with lead
they were engraved on a rock forever!
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
and 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, and not another."

There is a difficult decision to be made here. Should one read this as an introduction to the Gospel for this day in which there is an argument regarding the resurrection of the dead? Or, should we take off our Christian glasses and read it as the poet intended, seeing Job’s speech in the courtroom, the redeemer actually the advocate who pleads Job’s cause in the trial at hand in the speech? In this context, the “stand upon earth” is literally standing up to speak to the court rather than being “raised up” as would be used in language about resurrection. One commentator sees in the part of Job’s speech regarding “after my skin has been thus destroyed” a reference to the iron pen and the stone in the previous verse. Here is it God who has written on Job’s flesh a better inscription than the one that Job attempted to make with his life? Job’s argument that he is a righteous man is the statement he will need to make when he comes face to face to the God who put him into this situation (see the Pretext in Chapters 1 and 2). The question is, what comes with righteous living?

Breaking open Job:
1.      How is your spiritual life a trial for you?
2.      Who is the judge?
3.      Who is the advocate?

Psalm 17:1-9 Exaudi, Domine

     Hear my plea of innocence, O Lord;
give heed to my cry; *
listen to my prayer, which does not come from lying lips.
     Let my vindication come forth from your presence; *
let your eyes be fixed on justice.
     Weigh my heart, summon me by night, *
melt me down; you will find no impurity in me.
     I give no offense with my mouth as others do; *
I have heeded the words of your lips.
     My footsteps hold fast to the ways of your law; *
in your paths my feet shall not stumble.
     I call upon you, O God, for you will answer me; *
incline your ear to me and hear my words.
     Show me your marvelous loving-kindness, *
O Savior of those who take refuge at your right hand
from those who rise up against them.
     Keep me as the apple of your eye; *
hide me under the shadow of your wings,
     From the wicked who assault me, *
from my deadly enemies who surround me.

Here is a psalm of supplication that could come from the lips of Job but is instead seen as a “David Prayer.” The psalmist sees himself surrounded by foes, wicked people who assault him. Yet he sees himself as innocent, “listen to my prayer, which does not come from lying lips.” Verse 3 is redolent with images from Jacob’s wrestling with a stranger in the night – a psychological testing and struggle. The result is that the psalmist survives the testing, “you will find no impurity in me.” His request that God listen to him is repeated in verse 6, God bending down to hear the plea. 

Breaking open Psalm 17:
1.        Who are your enemies?
2.        How do you survive them?
3.        How does your faith help?

Second Reading: II Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17

As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here. Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God. Do you not remember that I told you these things when I was still with you?

But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth. For this purpose, he called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter.

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.

Paul wants his readers to be aware about the End Time, and thus issues some warnings about the Parousia. Our reading also includes another pericope, namely a second thanksgiving prayer that concludes the reading.

The warnings that Paul gives are these: 1) Don’t think that the Parousia has already come (2:1-2), 2) The Lawless one must be revealed first (2:3-5), 3) The Lawless One is being restrained (2:6-7 - not a part of our reading), 4) The Lawless One will be destroyed (2:8-10 - not a part of our reading), and 5) Those who do not believe in the truth will be destroyed (2:11-12 - not a part of our reading). 

Paul, in his second thanksgiving prayer (2:13-17) gives thanks to God for having chosen the Thessalonians. They have been called through Paul’s proclamation of the Gospel. So now, they must take in the teachings and traditions and hold them in their heart. This will sustain them as they look forward to the second coming of Jesus, the Parousia. But it must not be an idle waiting, but rather one filled with “every good work and word.” Some commentators see this reading as one that anticipates The Feast of Christ the King on 24 November.

Breaking open II Thessalonians:
  1. For what do you hope in the future?
  2. For what do you hope in the future of the Church?
  3. How are you spiritually active as you wait for the future?

The Gospel: St. Luke 20:27-38

Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus and asked him a question, "Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally, the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her."

Jesus said to them, "Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed, they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive."

We are moving toward Jerusalem and to the momentous events that happen there. In the chapter that precedes this one we see Jesus and the disciples as pilgrims approaching Jerusalem, and the people will provide the requisite praises. What will follow are a lament over the city and the cleansing of the temple. In this reading we have a questioning of Jesus authority as prophet and priest. The Sadducees (see Background above) use the Mosaic provision for Levirate Marriage as the situation which will challenge Jesus’ teaching. In his answer Jesus’ makes us and his questioners aware that there are two ages, “those who belong to this age.” But there is another age – the Kingdom of God – in which the children of God cannot die anymore. This is an age of the righteous, as Jesus reminds us in Luke 14:13f. 

“Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

What has passed as the usual, the normal, is all transcended. The categories have changed. Jesus sees God as a God of the living and uses the story of Moses and the Burning Bush to that end. The Sadducees are blind to what is happening about them.

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.        What are your hopes regarding eternal life?
2.        What is the “resurrection of the righteous” in your mind?
3.        How are you living now?

General Idea:              What do we see in our time? How are we righteous in our time?

Example 1:                  Realizing a place of holiness (Track One: First Reading)

                                      Knowing our own righteousness and God’s vision of us (Track Two: First Reading)

Example 2:                  What should we be doing in our time? (Second Reading)

Example 3:                  Being righteous in the kingdom – in our time (Gospel)

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday. 

O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life: Grant that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves as he is pure; that, when he comes again with power and great glory, we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2019, Michael T. Hille


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