Haggai 1:15b-2:9; Luke 20:27-38
November 10, 2013
Robert Browning began his 1864 poem Rabbi Ben Ezra with these memorable lines.
Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in His hand
Who saith "A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!''
The poem was inspired by the life of twelfth century Rabbi Ben Ezra but is not his biography. Underneath the words are the love of Robert Browning and his wife Elizabeth Barrett Browning who had died in 1861. Theirs was one of the great love stories and marriages of literature. They did not get to grow old together as he was 49 when she died at 55. Yet his words brim with hope not grief. Candy and I are coming up on 45 years of marriage, three times as much as the Brownings enjoyed, and we can also affirm love’s improvement with age as I know many of you can as well.
Our daughter-in-law Leanne turns 40 this month. Maybe she’d rather I didn’t broadcast that. I commented to Candy that when I turned 40 I felt I had finally become a real adult, and she quipped about putting “welcome to adulthood” on Leanne’s card. Of course, we didn’t. Now that we are closer to 70 than 60, I’m feeling a certain calm and confidence of soul I had neither known nor expected.
Browning suggested “trust God,” “see all” and “be not afraid.” We are invited to grow old on our journeys accompanied by the eternal God. Aging isn’t easy, but concluding a full life is satisfying. At his 80th birthday, my Dad told his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren that he had accomplished all he had hoped in his life and had no unresolved relationships. Our son David still refers to this as “Grandpa’s nunc dimitus” from Simeon’s song in Luke 2:25-35. “Now let your servant depart in peace.” We can live each day in hope that what lies ahead outshines what is left behind.
The prophecy of Haggai we read this morning comes when the people of Judah had returned to Jerusalem from Babylon and were rebuilding the Temple. After about 70 years, some of them remembered seeing Solomon’s Temple when they were children. Not only was that much more glorious than the one being built by Zerubbabel, but I’m sure that in their childhood memories Solomon’s Temple was gigantic and spectacular. What they saw now was as nothing in their sight. (Haggai 2:3)
But Haggai delivers an amazing word of encouragement from the Lord of Hosts, “The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former.” (Haggai 2:9) This suggests physical splendor, but the New Testament recasts the Temple in terms of the coming messiah and God dwelling among the community of faith. Haggai 2:6‑7 hints that the later splendor of the Temple will be unexpected, even cosmic, and come as God shakes heaven and earth, sea and land, and every nation.
I want to be careful not to allegorize Haggai or inappropriately apply his prophecy to 1st Christian Church of Odessa, but I think we can relate to the message. Remembering past decades can leave us feeling about the present, that is seems as nothing in our sight. I suggest we can claim God’s word through Haggai, “Take courage, the later splendor shall be greater than the former.” But just as then, it will come with God’s great shaking, and what emerges will be different than what we remember.
Todd is a friend of our son David and around 40. This week he posted on Face Book, “OK I know I'm old but the world was a better place without bitstrips and hashtags.” Nostalgia easily distorts our perspective on the present. We long for what was familiar and are bewildered by changes coming faster than we can assimilate them. Even when conditions deteriorate, we can trust God that we are headed toward a latter splendor that shall be greater than the former. We can live each day in hope that what lies ahead outshines what is left behind.
In Luke 20:27-40, Jesus anchors this hopeful perspective on the future in our relationship with God.
Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to [Jesus] 28and 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.
29Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; 30then the second 31and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless.32Finally the woman also died.
33In 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; 35but 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.
36Indeed they cannot die any more, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.
37And 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. 38Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.’
39Then some of the scribes answered, ‘Teacher, you have spoken well.’ 40For they no longer dared to ask him another question.
As children of the God of the living, we belong to the resurrection, which means however good or bad things may seem at the moment, the best is yet to be. Though we are still living in this age, we belong to the age of the resurrection. That does not mean ignoring the present age but bringing resurrection hope to bear on daily realities.
We see our human relationship through resurrection eyes. Almost all of the young people on one high school mission trip to Syracuse, NY had a sibling in the group. Our Bible studies were about how to get along as sisters and brothers in the family and in the church. At the end of the week, my oldest son Jon, wrote a “nurture note” to me that he signed, “Jon, your son and future brother.”
As children of the resurrection, we are living into God’s future today, confident that what lies ahead outshines what is left behind. In a world of pessimism, our mission is to welcome discouraged folk into a relationship with the God of the living.
Jesus’ conversation with the Sadducees suggests both continuity and discontinuity between this age and the resurrection. I have found Paul’s analogy in 1 Corinthians 15:38, 42-44 helps me grasp this.
As for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain.
So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body.
If you look at a seed of any kind: a grain of wheat as Paul suggested or an acorn, you would not guess from the seed what the mature plant looks like. Yet, the DNA in every cell of the seed not only includes all the instructions for the mature plant, it is present in every cell of the mature plant. Of course, Paul did not know about DNA, but he knew wheat seeds only produced wheat, not oak trees or squash vines. God gives our mortal bodies resurrection life, which will be as much more glorious as an oak tree is more glorious than an acorn. Yet, they are intrinsically connected. So as a child of the resurrection, I am not waiting in the dark for something better but am germinating now so we can live each day in hope that what lies ahead outshines what is left behind.