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Rumors, Disappointments, and Trickery
November 06, 2022*
By Pastor John Partridge
Haggai 1:15b-2:9 Luke 20:27-38 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
As I read this week’s scriptures, I was repeatedly struck by how much each one reminded me of an election year and all the ads with which we are bombarded on television, radio, newspapers, internet ads, and junk overflowing our mailboxes. It doesn’t take a genius to spot half-truths, twisted truths, innuendo, exaggerations, and outright lies by almost everyone running for every party. Everyone says that they are in favor of “family values” but no one seems to think that integrity is a family value. No one is ever as good, or as righteous, as they are portrayed in their campaign commercials, and the opposition is never as wrong, greedy, power hungry, or evil, as the candidates want us to believe.
But life is like that. Life is not black and white. None of the candidates are as pure as the driven snow or as evil as the devil incarnate. None of them are going to bring about socialism, or fascism, or bring about the end of democracy as we know it. Every candidate, like every one of us, is their own unique mixture of good and evil. There is some truth in every campaign commercial. But I doubt that you will find a commercial that is 100 percent truthful and that’s what makes choosing whom to support so difficult.
It has always been like this. In the very first presidential election, Jefferson’s campaign accused John Adams of being, um, equipped with the reproductive parts of both genders, and Adams’ campaign threatened that Thomas Jefferson would openly promote prostitution, incest, and adultery. But if you’re like me, you find the whole exercise in election year democracy to be disappointing. I expected, and I expect, better. I genuinely desire truth in advertising. I’d really like to see a debate with real-time fact checking, and Family Feud style buzzers with a big red “X” … or something. Because the truth gets so intermingled with the spin and the deception that it becomes almost impossible to tell the difference. I mean, just once, can we have a candidate that tells us what they’re for, without spending half their time telling us what the “other guy” is for?
That’s enough ranting for today, but let’s listen for those same messages, eerily repeated from thousands of years ago, in our scriptures today. We begin with Haggai 1:15b-2:9, which records for us the thoughts and the feelings of the people of Israel as they have returned from Babylon after seventy years of captivity. They should have been filled with joy, right? But one of the first, and principal emotions that the prophet Haggai records for us is… disappointment.
In the second year of King Darius, 2:1 on the twenty-first day of the seventh month, the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: 2 “Speak to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, to Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people. Ask them, 3 ‘Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? 4 But now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ declares the Lord. ‘Be strong, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty. 5 ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’
6 “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea, and the dry land. 7 I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord Almighty. 8 ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty. 9 ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”
The people of Israel finally get permission to go home, they leave Babylon, they travel 1600 to 1700 miles, on foot, and arrive in Jerusalem to find it, as it was left, in ruins and now overgrown with vegetation. It was something of a letdown for all of them even if they expected it. They had heard the news. Letters from Jeremiah and others had gone back and forth. Their minds knew that it had happened, but that didn’t change the reality of the impact that it had when they saw it in person. And the disappointment was worse for those who had seen, visited, and had lived in, Jerusalem, and knew her magnificence and beauty, before she was destroyed.
But God’s word to his people is to be strong “for I am with you.” “My Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.” And God promises that although the foundations of the new temple didn’t look like much, and although it was politics and the threats of their neighbors that had halted construction so that not a single stone had been moved in two years, what was coming was going to be even better than before. God owns all the gold, all the silver, and everything else in, on, or under the earth. And God’s promise was that the glory of this new temple would be even greater than the old one, not just because of its architecture, but because God’s presence would make it a place of peace. And it was that temple, which was later renovated, redesigned, and expanded by Herod the Great, that still stood in the day of Jesus almost six hundred years later. And as we see in Luke 20:27-38, they were still playing political games.
27 Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a question. 28 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a woman and died childless. 30 The second 31 and then the third married her, and in the same way the seven died, leaving no children. 32 Finally, the woman died too. 33 Now then, at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”
34 Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. 35 But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, 36 and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection. 37 But in the account of the burning bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ 38 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”
The Sadducees, although not technically a political party, was one of the primary factions vying for power, control, and influence in Israel in the time of Jesus. Knowing that Jesus had things to say about the resurrection and the life to come after death and judgement, and as a group, completely disbelieving in the possibility of resurrection, they come to Jesus with a trick question. The question is a total set-up. The plan for this entire encounter is for the equivalent of today’s debate soundbite that makes the other guy look stupid. They believe that they have designed an impossible question that sounds reasonable on the surface but cannot be answered without looking foolish or making the Sadducees appear to have superior reasoning.
But it doesn’t work.
It doesn’t work because Jesus isn’t guessing. Jesus isn’t theorizing about what the theological implications might be, or whether there is, or isn’t an afterlife, or whether there is, or isn’t a resurrection, or judgement, or whether God’s house is a real place. Jesus isn’t guessing. He’s been there. He’s seen it. He knows how it works and he knows the rules. And so, when the Sadducees come to him with a question that they have carefully crafted and spun to push their own narrative, Jesus stops them cold by simply saying that they’ve completely misunderstood the rules. Marriage was created for us, for humans, to reveal to us a glimpse of what God’s love for us will be like in the next life. But in the next life, when God’s love has been revealed to us in full, there will be no need for marriage.
Some time later, the church in Thessalonica is being unsettled with internal strife between its members because of theological and politically motivated internal rumors that were designed to divide the church. Yikes. But, although our situations are distinctly different, this does sound a little familiar to us in the Methodist Church about now. In any case, into this internal struggle, Paul writes his second letter to the church and includes these words in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17.
2:1 Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, 2 not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come. 3 Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessnessis revealed, the man doomed to destruction. 4 He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.
5 Don’t you remember that when I was with you, I used to tell you these things?
13 But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruitsto be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 14 He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
15 So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachingswe passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.
16 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.
There were words spoken, letters written, rumors circulated, and even prophetic speeches, which were fake news. There were stories that were attributed to Paul, Silas, Timothy, or others on their mission team that claimed that the second coming of Jesus Christ had already happened. Some person, or persons, unknown were, for their own purposes, attempting to deceive the church most likely to gain an audience, or a congregation, or even a group of churches, that they could somehow use for their own benefit.
And Paul answers these rumors by saying yes, there is a day coming when a rebellion against God will happen on earth, and yes, there is a day coming when Jesus Christ will return in judgement over all of humanity, but today is not that day.
Today, we can expect life to be filled with disappointments when our fellow human beings, and we ourselves, fail to live up to our expectations. Today, human beings will continue to vie for political power, authority, and influence and continue to use trick questions and twist our words to embarrass us. Today, there will be rumors, letter writing campaigns, and even prophetic type speeches, and other sorts of fake news designed to divide us and distract us from our mission. And, as sad as that is, we must remember, and cling to, the good news that we heard in each of these stories.
God’s word to his people today is the same as it has always been. Be strong “for I am with you.” “My Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.” Remember that our God is the God of the living and the dead, that our lives do not end when our hearts stop beating on this earth, but that we have an eternity for which we must, even now, be using our time to prepare. Remember, that God chose you. Remember that God called you to this mission, through the gospel message, so that you might share in the glory of Jesus Christ. Stand firm and hold fast to the teaching that has been passed on to you in your home, in your Sunday school classes, Bible studies, in church, or in what you have read and studied in the scriptures. Do not be deceived. Test everything. Test the rumors against what you know to be true, but also do not be afraid to test your own biases against those scriptures as well, for too many well-meaning people have been suckered into believing a lie because that lie just happened to align with a bias that they already held.
God’s word to his people today is the same as it has always been. Be strong “for I am with you.”
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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org. These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com . All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.