Bible Study: 25 Pentecost, Proper 27 (C)

November 10, 2013

Andrew Moore, Berkeley Divinity School at Yale

“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.’” (Luke 20:34-35)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Haggai 1:15b-2:9;Psalm 145:1-5, 18-21; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17; Luke 20:27-38

Haggai 1:15b-2:9

Admit it, you had to check your Bible’s table of contents to find the Book of Haggai. One of the lesser-known prophets, Haggai was written approximately 70 years after the destruction of the temple and the Babylonian exile, as many Jews were returning to their homeland. As such, the book of Haggai is less concerned with questions of exile than with reclaiming and rebuilding the land. Specifically, Haggai prophesizes about the importance of rebuilding the temple. In the second chapter of Haggai, the people of Judah seem less than impressed with the beginnings of the rebuilt temple.

In today’s passage, Haggai is admonishing the people of Judah to keep faith, that God will help rebuild the temple to be even more splendid than the first. This must have sounded counterintuitive to the people. They were struggling to meet even their basic human needs. How could they possibly rebuild the temple in glorious fashion? Haggai reminds the people of God’s great promise of faithfulness to God’s chosen people. The work of rebuilding the temple is ultimately God’s work, not the work of the people.

What are ways in which we become discouraged when our attempts to do God’s work in the world are seemingly fruitless? How can we reframe our discouragement into an exercise of faith?

Psalm 145:1-5, 18-21

Psalm 145 is a hymn to God’s gloriousness. The last psalm attributed to David, it precedes the final group of songs of praise that end the book of Psalms. It is effusive in its praise of God and God’s works in the world. It paints a picture of God who is responsive and active in the world, worthy of unending praise. “I will ponder the glorious splendor of your majesty and all your marvelous works.”

Yet sometimes this effusive praise can be hard to hear, hard to speak. How hard must it be for the long-suffering to hear “He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he hears their cry and helps them.” It can be difficult to reconcile the God of action who is described in Psalm 145 with the God whose action can be difficult to discern. Perhaps the key to reconciling the two lies in verse 2: “Everyday I will bless you and praise your Name for ever and ever.”

Embedded in this song of praise is a call to faithfulness. We are called to continue to praise God and trust in God’s good works, even when we lack the evidence to see them.

What are the challenges you face in praising God effusively?  What holds you back?

How might a daily practice of praising God transform times of discouragement and suffering? What would it take to praise God fully in the most challenging times of our lives?

2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17

This passage from Paul’s Second Letter to the Thessalonians addresses a key theme continued from the gospels. When will the Kingdom of Heaven arrive? Many people believed that with the coming of the Messiah, the end was imminent. Paul warns the early Christians not to believe those who claim to know that the coming of the kingdom is near. He is essentially reminding us to not get ahead of ourselves and remain present in our earthly lives.

In the second part of the passage, Paul offers thanksgiving that God offers salvation.  This thanksgiving echoes similar passages in 1 Thessalonians. It is also invokes images of the Israelites in Hebrew scriptures. God chose to make promises to the Israelites just as God then chose to offer salvation to those who believe in Christ. Paul seems to be encouraging the Christians of Thessalonica to remain steadfast in their belief and their practices despite the fact that their hopes for the coming of God’s kingdom have not been fulfilled.

What are the ways in which you get ahead of yourself and focus on the promised reward and not your daily life?

How can we have faith in God’s promises even when we don’t see or experience the reward?

Luke 20:27-38

This passage continues a long line of reminders in Luke that we do not place value in the correct places in our earthly lives. The Sadducees were an aristocratic Jewish sect during Jesus’ time, often contrasted with the Pharisees. Historians describe the Sadducees as often being rude to their peers. As the passage indicates, they did not believe in the resurrection of the body or of the soul. They lay a trap for Jesus by invoking the Torah’s requirement that if a man should die before having children, one of his brothers should marry his wife. It was hoped that the woman would have a son so that the man’s family, and property holdings, could continue.

Yet Jesus deftly avoids the trap the Sadducees set for him by challenging the grounds for the question. Jesus reminds us that heaven will not be like earth. We are not able to comprehend just how different heaven will be from our earthly existence. We will not take the things we value with us into the afterlife. It reinforces Luke’s earlier messages about the importance of sharing our earthly abundance with the poor and suffering.

How do you picture God’s kingdom in heaven? How does it compare to your earthly life?

What parts of your earthly life do you value too highly?

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