Sermon Seeds: Take Courage
Sunday, November 6, 2022
Twenty-Second Sunday After Pentecost | Year C
(Liturgical Color: Green)
Haggai 1:15b–2:9 and Psalm 145:1–5, 17–21 or Psalm 98
Job 19:23–27a and Psalm 17:1–9
2 Thessalonians 2:1–5, 13–17
In and With: Keep Watch (Click here for the series overview.)
Cheryl A. Lindsay
Time may be measured in at least two distinct ways. One is based on its place on the calendar. We measure seconds, minutes, hours that become days, weeks, months, years, and so forth. We can place events on that same timeline that may be completely unrelated and removed from one another. We share birthdays and anniversaries with countless people we will never meet as we consider time as an appointment on the calendar.
But time may also be considered as a moment. While it has reference on the calendar (chronological time), its significance transcends the specific hour and minute on a particular day, month, and year. Those moments are more appropriately measured in its impact and import. The rare person has a memory of their own birth; it’s a date on the calendar, but the details of the event–the moment–remain vividly etched into the memories of those able to remember the experience of the birth. Even if you forget your anniversary date in a given year, you likely may recall seeing your soon-to-be spouse for the first time that day, hearing, speaking, or signing the words that signified your commitment, and feeling their touch as you exchanged symbols of your union. That’s how we experience time as a moment.
The focus scripture opens with a reference, seemingly to chronological/calendar time, but those details also point us to the moment in the life of the people.
The book may likewise seem to hold little significance for contemporary readers; however, it is a helpful model for encouraging a hurting, disillusioned community, and it offers profound reflections on the connections between past, present, and future during times of rapid change. Its ambivalent attitude toward the Persian Empire also deserves attention in a global, postcolonial age.J. Blake Couey
During Babylonian captivity, the temple was destroyed. In fact, that conquering army came through decimating and dismantling virtually everything in their path as they also extracted everything of value for themselves. Not content to merely find a point of entry, they tore down the walls of Jerusalem. Every structure of any significance was pillaged and leveled. The royal residences and the temple were their ultimate goal and they successfully brought those practical, symbolic, and central structures to the ground. No metal or gem–nothing worth keeping–was left in the rubble. They killed those in authority, including the high priests. The Babylonians not only conquered, they ruined all that had been treasured by their foe.
I remember, in the first weeks of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, looking at pictures comparing a particular city in Ukraine in a before and after state. The before could have been any cosmopolitan location in the world, with modern paved roads, impressive buildings (old and new), people stopped at cafes and moving down sidewalks. The signs of traffic seemed familiar, and even the clothing pointed to a nation connected to the present in the way that only fashion can describe.
The after told a different story. The vibrancy of the recent past gave way to a place seemingly washed out in tones of gray as if a filter had been applied. Buildings, partially standing and partially blown out, testified to the deliberate destruction that had taken place. While reports assured us that people still lived in these communities, we had to take the information on trust as the landscape was bare. The people who had moved about freely were forced to live in secret and seclusion in the desperate hope for safety. I remember thinking, even as I believed that the Ukrainians would ultimately prevail, how insurmountable a task rebuilding a nation after war could be. There’s proof of that all over the world–nations that never regained their former position or lived in their former glory. Even communities in this country have never recovered from natural or human-initiated disasters. Of course, the resulting demoralization is the point of an all-encompassing assault on people, resources, and land. That too was the Babylonian way.
The Persians had a different approach. The rise of their empire, not only over the Babylonians but the known world at the time, created a different dynamic that led to the possibility of repair and rebuilding. The children of the covenant were not given full freedom but in many ways the bonds of being conquered were loosened during the reign of Cyrus, who say himself–and desired that history portray him–as a liberator. He wanted to be known as benevolent so he returned some of the freedoms, if not sovereignty, to the peoples living under his dominion. Darius, named as king in this text, was heir to Cyrus’ heir.
Living under Persian rule, with a king in the lineage of a new philosophical approach to dominance, must have been disorienting. The Persians did not adopt destruction as their strategy; they did not seek to make generational enemies of their captives. Rather, they sought to engender the gratitude and allegiance of those they nevertheless continued to rule. The Persian kings were not true liberators; liberation cannot exist unless the people are free. Receiving portioned freedoms is a poor substitute for self-rule and full autonomy. This was the moment of the text.
During times of rapid change, it can be tempting to look back wistfully on a selectively remembered past. While space should be allowed for appropriate grief, this sense unit cautions us that excessive indulgence in nostalgia may hinder a community from living wholeheartedly into its future. Moreover, the text encourages us to be sensitive to persons with very different experiences of the past. Some white Americans, for example, have positive memories of the 1950s, while many African Americans remember the same period as a time of institutionalized segregation and racial injustice. The “good old days” were not equally good for everyone.J. Blake Couey
The denigration of foreign nations in verses 7–8 might make contemporary readers uncomfortable, especially in contexts in which hypernationalism poses problems. One should remember that these words were written for a community adjusting to imperial subjugation. It may be unrealistic and even unfair to expect victims of recent injustice to forswear resentment against their oppressors—especially when one’s instinctive sympathies lie with the oppressors. Most contemporary American readers of Haggai, after all, have far more in common with citizens of the Persian Empire than the postexilic Jewish community.
In the text, the prophetic imperative begins with confronting the present condition of the temple. “How does it look to you now?” The truth is that generations have passed, and it is highly unlikely that anyone of this remnant actually saw the former glory of the temple. Their discontent with their rebuilding project arises from an idealized memory that has been given life. Sometimes, we may find ourselves amplifying the good we perceive from the past in order to encourage us in the present. The effectiveness of that nostalgic exercise may be debated.
Do we not find ourselves looking back nostalgically at the “former glory” days of the Christian church? In comparison to our idealized memory of full sanctuaries and widespread cultural influence, we may perceive the contemporary church “as nothing.” Our perception of past circumstances are influenced by our attitudes toward current conditions. Maybe our past was not as great for anyone as we “remember.” Maybe that so-called influence enjoyed by the church was much like the benevolence of the Persian Empire, an allusion designed to make a people still bound believe that they were really free and prospering.
The Holy One exhorts them to be encouraged:
The book of Haggai speaks in signs, which are intended to lead us to the signified. The first sign is the temple that the people are constructing. To the people who are discouraged about their modest construction in comparison with the magnificent temple of Solomon (2:3), YHWH requests them not to look to yesterday but to tomorrow, when “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” (or “glory,” 2:6-7). This solemn declaration refers to future events that will occur in the world. The Lord will soon interfere in the world’s history, and God will defeat the existing evil social structures. God’s purpose is to bring salvation and a new structure into the universe. Then all the nations will spontaneously come to Jerusalem with their silver and gold as offerings to the Lord of cosmos. The glory of the rebuilt temple will be greater than the glory of Solomon’s edifice (2:9). But its greatest glory will be the presence of YHWH.Paul Kalluveettil, CMI
The Holy One is the true liberator. Prosperity promised here connotes well-being and God’s peace. The barriers to flourishing will not come through destruction, pillaging, and war; it will come through abundance and generosity. The kindom of God will be realized not through cultural dominance but through a reimagining of human interactions, relationships, and structures. It will be the advancement of the kindom of God that will bring a greater glory than the former, based on the standards of empire, could ever achieve.
No calendar date is given for this manifestation, but the moment is promised and may be anticipated. The kindom will come. Take courage.
Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.
Allegedly the worst is behind us.
Still, we crouch before the lip of tomorrow,
Halting like a headless hant in our own house,
Waiting to remember exactly
What it is we’re supposed to be doing.
& what exactly are we supposed to be doing?
Penning a letter to the world as a daughter of it.
We are writing with vanishing meaning,
Our words water dragging down a windshield.
The poet’s diagnosis is that what we have lived
Has already warped itself into a fever dream,
The contours of its shape stripped from the murky mind.
To be accountable we must render an account:
Not what was said, but what was meant.
Not the fact, but what was felt.
What was known, even while unnamed.
Our greatest test will be
–Amanda Gorman, Excerpt from “Ship’s Manifest.”
For further reflection
“If you walked away from a
toxic, negative, abusive,
relationship or friendship
— you won.” ― Lalah Delia
“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report written on birds that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books about birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'”― Anne Lamott
“Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
Couey, J. Blake. “Haggai.” Gale A. Yee, Ed. Fortress Commentary on the Bible: Two Volume Set. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014.
Kalluveettil, Paul. “Haggai.” Daniel Patte, General Ed. Global Bible Commentary. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2004.
Suggested Congregational Response to the Reflection
Invite diverse voices to share their memories of a shared event or era from their unique perspectives.
A Bible study version of this reflection is at Weekly Seeds.
Haggai 1:15b–2:9 and Psalm 145:1–5, 17–21 or Psalm 98
Job 19:23–27a and Psalm 17:1–9
2 Thessalonians 2:1–5, 13–17
2 In the second year of King Darius, 1 in the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the LORD came by the prophet Haggai, saying: 2 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, 3 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? 4 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, 5 according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear. 6 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; 7 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. 8 The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the LORD of hosts. 9 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.
Psalm 145:1–5, 17–21
1 I will extol you, my God and King,
and bless your name forever and ever.
2 Every day I will bless you,
and praise your name forever and ever.
3 Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised;
his greatness is unsearchable.
4 One generation shall laud your works to another,
and shall declare your mighty acts.
5 On the glorious splendor of your majesty,
and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
17 The LORD is just in all his ways,
and kind in all his doings.
18 The LORD is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
19 He fulfills the desire of all who fear him;
he also hears their cry, and saves them.
20 The LORD watches over all who love him,
but all the wicked he will destroy.
21 My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD,
and all flesh will bless his holy name forever and ever.
1 O sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done marvelous things.
His right hand and his holy arm
have gotten him victory.
2 The LORD has made known his victory;
he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.
3 He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness
to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the victory of our God.
4 Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth;
break forth into joyous song and sing praises.
5 Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre,
with the lyre and the sound of melody.
6 With trumpets and the sound of the horn
make a joyful noise before the King, the LORD.
7 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
the world and those who live in it.
8 Let the floods clap their hands;
let the hills sing together for joy
9 at the presence of the LORD, for he is coming
to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with equity.
23 “O that my words were written down!
O that they were inscribed in a book!
24 O that with an iron pen and with lead
they were engraved on a rock forever!
25 For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
26 and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then in my flesh I shall see God,
27 whom I shall see on my side,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
1 Hear a just cause, O LORD; attend to my cry;
give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit.
2 From you let my vindication come;
let your eyes see the right.
3 If you try my heart, if you visit me by night,
if you test me, you will find no wickedness in me;
my mouth does not transgress.
4 As for what others do, by the word of your lips
I have avoided the ways of the violent.
5 My steps have held fast to your paths;
my feet have not slipped.
6 I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God;
incline your ear to me, hear my words.
7 Wondrously show your steadfast love,
O savior of those who seek refuge
from their adversaries at your right hand.
8 Guard me as the apple of the eye;
hide me in the shadow of your wings,
9 from the wicked who despoil me,
my deadly enemies who surround me.
2 Thessalonians 2:1–5, 13–17
2 As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, 2 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. 3 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. 4 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. 5 Do you not remember that I told you these things when I was still with you?
13 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. 14 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. 15 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.
16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, 17 comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.
27 Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him 28 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. 29 Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; 30 then the second 31 and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. 32 Finally the woman also died. 33 In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.”
34 Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; 35 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. 36 Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. 37 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. 38 Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”