Weekly Seeds: Take Courage

Sunday, November 6, 2022
Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost | Year C

Focus Theme:
Take Courage

Focus Prayer:
Divine Redeemer, we remember the past for encouragement for the future. Strengthen our work and prosper the work of our lives. Amen.

Focus Reading:
Haggai 1:15b–2:9
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.

All readings for this Sunday:
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
Luke 20:27–38

Focus Questions:
1. How do you measure time?
2. What moments in your life stand out with vivid detail for you?
3. How does engaging your memory of previous events impact your ability to cope with current struggles?
4. How do you define prosperity?
5. How does your hope for the future impact your actions today?

By Cheryl 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.
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.

J. Blake Couey

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
Our testimony.

Amanda Gorman, Excerpt from “Ship’s Manifest.”

For further reflection:
“If you walked away from a
toxic, negative, abusive,
one-sided, dead-end
low vibrational
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

A preaching commentary on this text (with works cited) is at https://www.ucc.org/what-we-believe/worship/sermon-seeds/.

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Minister for Worship and Theology (lindsayc@ucc.org), also serves a local church pastor and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments below this post on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.

About Weekly Seeds

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Weekly Seeds is a service of Local Church Ministries of the United Church of Christ. Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version, © 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.