It gets better!
The book of Haggai was written when the people were devastated. Once again, the kingdom of Israel had been overrun. Take courage! The prophet says that God is telling them, from the king on down, to not pay attention to the devastation, but rather to the promise of God. Then comes the clear promise:
“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.” Do you notice the ownership here? The silver and gold are mine, says the Lord. You get to use them, or not, but they do not belong to you, they are mine. All we have is in trust. None of it, not one bit, belongs to us. We are borrowing it.
When we think about things we call “ours,” one of the big ones is our children, isn’t it? But here’s the truth of the matter. “Our” children are not ours either. They are God’s, and we get to take care of these children who belong to God, not us. We are entrusted with their care. That is part of what this whole business of sponsors or godparents is about. The sponsors “stand in” for God – not for the parents. They stand in for God, reminding the parents that they are there to make sure that the children are being brought up to remember God, to remember that their real parent is God, and to pay attention to God’s rules – which hopefully the parents are following. I remember one of the most difficult things that happened in the 60’s (remember those?) was when the hippie children started taking seriously the things that their parents had said were true, the things that they had learned in Sunday School, things about loving everyone, and holding all things in respect, and sharing with those who needed help, that kind of thing. The early hippies started taking this quite seriously, like the early church did, and boy was there hell to pay! The parents had a fit, much like the father of St Francis had a fit when Francis sold his father’s goods to give to the poor, because isn’t that what God wants? That’s certainly what it says in the Bible!
So sponsors, do you get your job description here? And parents, and this goes for all parents, you are the long-term babysitters, and God will be coming back occasionally to check in and see how you are doing with your job. And what is it that God will be looking for? I think it will be things like this: do your kids know how to love? Are they considerate of others and of the natural world? Do they share easily? Do they know they are loved?
There was a wonderful football video that I shared last week. Now if you know me at all well, you will know that a) I do not watch TV, we don’t even own one, and b) I am not into sports. But here’s the deal. This 8th grade football team, without talking to their coach, managed to let the special needs kid that had been assigned to their team score a touchdown. The kid who should have made the touchdown stopped just short of making it, which made the fans really mad. But then what happened was magic. They handed the ball off to this special kid, and then surrounded him so he would make the score. The special needs kid was just in awe about the whole thing. His parents were in tears, as were all the adults watching. But the other interesting group was the rest of the team. Doing this changed them. A couple of the guys on the team were the ones who thought it up – just a couple, and then the rest of them went along with it. The rest of them didn’t think about it too much. They acknowledged that they would not have thought it up, but they were willing to go along. That’s important when we think about how much effort it takes to get some good going. But afterwards, they interviewed the teammates, and they had changed. They were much more likely to do something else like this in the future. They liked the way they felt about themselves. This is what I think God wants us to be doing.
So on to the Epistle. Remember that the word “epistle” is just the old word for “letter.” So the Epistle to the Thessalonians is the letter to the church in Thessalonika, which is a city in Greece. At the end of our section for today, we read Paul’s blessing, just like I give the blessing at the end of the service: “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.” Isn’t that beautiful? But let’s unpack it a little bit. Paul asks Jesus himself and God to comfort their hearts and to strengthen them in their work. And, because Paul can’t help himself, he waxes eloquent about God – who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope. Hope is an incredibly important concept. Last week, a young woman in Pacifica lost all hope and took herself out of our reach. It is so tragic, her friends and family are stunned. The rates of suicide among young gay people is terribly high, and one of the projects to try to combat this is known as “it gets better.” If you go to youtube and type in “it gets better,” you will find videos from the NYC police to Bishop Robinson telling you that it may be hard now, but that it gets better. They explain that they understand, they have been there, and it gets better. They are trying to give hope.
Hope comes from love. We can all get into situations where we have reason to give up hope, to forget that we are loved. As Haggai says, look around and what do you see? It’s terrible, no question about it. However, God loves you, even if right now it looks like no one else does, God does love you. Because of that, we promise you, it gets better.
I think about what it looks like in the Philippines right now, some 10,000 dead, devastation as bad as the recent tsunami was in Japan, and it’s just a good thing there weren’t any nuclear power stations in the way there! We are the ones now to give hope, to offer our hands and hearts to help, to let them know they are not alone, that they are loved. We will take a second offering in the wooden bowl to send to our Filipino brothers and sisters, so please get ready for that.
And why do we do all of this? Because as we read in Luke, our God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. This story that Luke tells about the Sadducees really is pretty funny. The Sadducees were a religious party, a rich one. They were fond of nice things, and they were powerful. Today we might call them the country-club set. They thought they would have a little bit of fun at Jesus’ expense. They did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, so this whole story was an obvious attempt at trying to “get” Jesus. The context you need to know here is something called the levirate marriage law. Here’s what happens: the eldest brother marries – and of course he would be married first, and then he dies. But he dies before he has a child to be an heir. Because of this lack of heir, the next brother down is required by this law to marry and have sex with the woman to try to give the dead brother an heir. Only it doesn’t work, and he dies. At this point, if I was the third brother in line, I would leave the country! Something very wrong is going on here! However, this is a story to make a point, which is rather obvious now. The woman gets handed off from one brother to the next, having married each of them, but not having any children. Finally she dies – from exhaustion, no doubt! The Sadducees want to know: in the afterlife, whose husband is she? The answer Jesus gives is brilliant, as usual. There is no marriage in heaven, he says. But you are so wrong about thinking there is no afterlife, because it is a “place” of life, not death. For God, all are alive.
With God, there is always the possibility of relationship. This is the basis for our hope. God is always coming after us, reminding us that it gets better. No matter how awful things may look like right now, God is there for us, God will be there for us, promising that it gets better. And, we do not have to worry about whether that “better” is in this life or the next, because God is the God of the living, in this world and the next. Thanks be to God!