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Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost

Readings: Haggai 1:15b–2:9, 2 Thessalonians 2:1–5, 13–17 & Luke 20: 27–40

Let me start this morning by sharing a short story with you about a couple named Carol and Jack.

Carol awoke one night to find that her husband (Jack) wasn’t in bed.

She put on her dressing gown and went downstairs to look for him.

She found him sitting at the kitchen table, with a hot cup of coffee in front of him. 

He appeared to be deep in thought, just staring at the wall.

She watched as he wiped a tear from his eye and took a sip of his coffee…

‘What’s the matter, dear?’ she whispered, as she stepped into the room.

Jack looked up from his coffee, ‘I’m just remembering when we first met 20 years ago and started dating. Do you remember back then?’ he asked solemnly.

Carol was touched, to think that Jack was so caring and sensitive. 

‘Yes, I do’ she replied.

Jack paused. The words were not coming easily.

‘Do you remember when your father caught us in my car?’

‘Yes, I remember!’ said Carol, lowering herself into a chair beside him.

Jack continued. ‘Do you remember when he shoved the shotgun in my face and said: ‘Either you marry my daughter, or I will send you to jail for 20 years?’

‘I remember that too’ she replied softly.

He wiped another tear from his cheek and said…

“I would have been released today..!!!”

Nostalgia is a longing for the past, usually for a period of time or a place with happy personal associations. For Jack, this was obviously a time before he was married! I’m sure we’ve all probably experienced nostalgic feelings at one point or another in our own lives.

This was certainly the case for the people that Haggai was addressing in our first reading this morning. These people were Jews who returned to their homeland from exile in Babylon. Cyrus, the emperor of Persia, permitted the Jews to come home and rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. But the temple restoration had languished. The Jews’ commitment to reconstruction of the Temple had waned. 

In this reading, we find Haggai speaking to the people of Judah on God’s behalf. The listeners include those ageing members of the community, who still remember what the Temple in Jerusalem looked like before it was destroyed by the Babylonians. Haggai has asked these members of the community to comment on the progress of the Temple restoration. They inform Haggai, and the community, that the work doesn’t come close to the grandeur and beauty found in the original temple. They’re looking back with nostalgia on both the Temple and the times before they were sent into exile. It probably seems to them that the goal of rebuilding the temple to be better than it was, is an impossible task, and therefore pointless. Perhaps that’s why the restoration of the Temple had ground to a halt.

The Temple had been fundamental to the life of the community in Jerusalem, because it was the place where the community gathered to worship God. It had been the very centre of the community. But it seems the people have now forgotten about the Temple, and more importantly, they’ve forgotten what community values it represented: the praise and worship of God who had set them free, and love and care for their neighbour. 

So when Haggai asks the question “Is it not in your sight as nothing?” he’s not simply condemning the people for failing to rebuild the worship space. He’s calling them to account for not rebuilding the community of the children of God. 

When I was a young boy, most churches were the centre of their local community. People not only gathered there for worship, but they played sports (such as football, cricket and tennis), went to dances and other social events, and took part in various other community activities organised by the church. The life of the community revolved around the church.

In a sense, that’s what we’re trying to rebuild here at St Andrew’s. Not in the same way as in the past, I think those days are gone now, but to certainly try and make the church a place where the community can gather together. That’s what has been behind our attempts to engage with the community through programs such as Mainly Music and the Playgroup, and also through events like Neighbour Day and the music concerts we’ve staged in the past three years. 

And as we move closer to making the Parish Redevelopment project a reality, the opportunity will be there for us to do more in the local community. Our plan is that the income from the Redevelopment will cover the operating costs of the church, which will then allow us to use the monies generated from parish giving and fundraising, on mission or outreach programs within the local community, which will hopefully bring people within the community closer to St Andrew’s.

In his first letter to the Thessalonian community, Paul stressed the nearness of both the Second Coming of Jesus and of the Thessalonians’ salvation, in order to keep their hope alive, because they were experiencing hardship and persecution. In his second letter, however, the emphasis is reversed, and now they’re reminded that, though still near, the Second Coming of Jesus has not yet arrived.

The Thessalonians were so sure that the big event was just around the corner that they actually stopped working and moved to full–time waiting. Paul had to tell them it could be a long wait. His message to them was to remain strong in their faith, and to prepare themselves (and others) for Christ’s return, by spreading the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s essentially what we’re trying to do with our Parish Mission Action Plan (MAP). 

The Parish Vision Statement is “To be a welcoming Christian Family that seeks to enrich the life of our community”; and our Mission Statement is “Bringing the Word of God to all by engaging and connecting with our community”. Our MAP contains the strategies and ideas for how we might achieve these aims.

I’ve been asked several questions about the MAP, particularly in relation to the Parish Redevelopment. Questions that have come from both members of the parish community and from people outside of the parish. Now questions can have many different purposes. They can be posed to gain knowledge and understanding, analyse and assess a situation, challenge authority, shame an opponent, or win an argument or debate. 

In today’s Gospel reading, the Sadducees are questioning Jesus about the mystery of resurrection that they have already considered and rejected. They are not asking questions with the intention of creating genuine dialogue with Jesus, but for the purpose of prompting debate, with the hopes of showing Jesus up, and proving to onlookers that Jesus is not trustworthy or knowledgeable. Jesus seizes this moment of questioning as an opportunity to teach people about the nature of heaven. Rather than taking the questioning as a personal attack, Jesus uses the moment to teach about the love and mercy of God.

He answers the Sadducees’ question by describing how heaven and earth are not the same. The ways of God are not the ways of humanity. God’s judgments are not our judgments. Things do not work in heaven the way they work on earth. Jesus says in verse 38 that God is the God of the living—the God of newness, forgiveness, and liberation. People suffering under oppression and those who are victims of racism, sexism, classism, and other forms of discrimination, often struggle to look beyond the day–to–day reality, unable to see an alternative, unable to see even the promise of freedom. Suffering keeps people from imaging new possibilities, but faith provides hope.

I would like to think that our faith provides our parish community with hope that we can achieve the aim of our Parish MAP, and that we can make St Andrew’s the centre of our local community, where people can engage and connect with one another and with us, but more importantly, with God.

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