November 6, 2016

25th Sunday after Pentecost

BIBLE READINGS
Job 19:23-27
Haggai 1:15-2:9
Psalm 17

Luke 20:27-38

REFLECTION

Prosperity gospel is a brand of theology that was developed in the post-war America and it bloomed during the boom years of 1990s.[1] At the risk of simplifying, Prosperity gospel teaches its adherents that God would bless them with great wealth if only they have the right kind of faith or think in the right kind of way.

The problem with this kind teaching is that it defines our relationship with God within such narrow parameters. One’s spiritual blessing is measured only through one’s material success. So, within these narrow parameters, a rich person is blessed by God, while a poor person is not.

But, spiritual blessing is not the same with material success. Remember Jesus’ beatitudes, or list of happiness, which is a part of what is most commonly known as his sermon on the mountain (Matthew 5:1-12). Not once he mentioned that those who are blessed or happy are those who attain great wealth.

Indeed, Jesus often gave warning about the danger of wealth to our spiritual life. He once warned his hearers that they couldn’t serve both God and money (Luke 16:13).

And, his life is consistent with his message. In his life, he never made the pursue of wealth his main goal. He did not even have a house and warned those who dared to follow him that they too would be ‘homeless’ if they chose to follow him (Luke 9:57-58).

So, Prosperity gospel, at its worst, goes against the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

But, we need to be careful here. Jesus may have not taught Prosperity gospel, but it doesn’t mean that our physical well-being meant nothing for him. Don’t forget he once fed more than five thousand hungry people who were following him (Matthew 14:13-21). In the prayer that he taught to his disciples, he asked them to pray for their daily bread (Matthew 6:9-13).

So, our well-being here on earth is an important element of Jesus’ work and ministry. Indeed, our well-being is the sign that the Kingdom of God is present in our midst.

This is the way we should read the passage today from the book of a ‘minor’ prophet, Haggai. He was a prophet faced with a daunting task. The people of Israel had just returned from their exile in Babylon to their homeland, and now they tried to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. But, they were short of money and, so far, the new temple was nowhere near as glorious as the previous one.

It was not a surprise. King Solomon built the previous temple during the most prosperous time in Israel. It was a hard act to follow, especially when you just returned after being taken away to another country forcefully.

Yet, God instructed Haggai to tell the people that, as impossible as it may seem, the glory of the new temple would surpass the glory of the old one. Wealth would come to the land because the silver and gold of this world was God’s (Haggai 2:8).

Here, we may think that God’s only concern was about adorning the temple with gold and silver. But, the final goal was not to make the temple the most glorious building ever. The final goal was to make the temple the place where the people would find prosperity and peace, or shalom, a Hebrew word that indicates wholeness, wellness, and security.[2] In the end, God’s main concern was about the well-being, or shalom, of God’s people.

Indeed, like what Jesus said, God is the God of the living, not of the dead. God’s main concern is with our well-being here on the land of the living. God is here now, with us, and God works in our midst to bring well-being and wholeness in our life.

That was the conviction of one man at least. His name was Job and his story was told in the book of Job in the Bible. He was a righteous man. Yet, in a short time, he lost everything that he had: his wealth, his children, and then his health. His existence became so pitiful that his wife told him to curse God and die (Job 2:9).

But, he refused to give up. More importantly, he refused to give up on God. He still had hope even in the midst of despair. He believed that he could still taste the goodness of God here on the land of the living and not after he died.

The story of Job ended with a happy ending. His life was restored. He died an old man, full of days (Job 42:17), which was a way of saying in Hebrew that he died a blessed man.

Job’s story is an affirmation of this life and its goodness and potential. Life, not death, is the arena where God’s blessing is experienced. And, God wills not ill, but well-being to everyone.

Likewise, the resurrection is also an affirmation of this life. Jesus’ life did not end on the cross or in the tomb. He was resurrected. He returned to this life, even though in a different kind of being and presence.

But, resurrection has always been a controversial issue. In Jesus’ time, just like today, there were people who didn’t believe in the resurrection. Some of those people were the Sadducees who made the hypothetical case about the woman with seven husbands to embarrass those who believed in the resurrection.

But, they perceived the resurrection in too narrow a view. The resurrection is not about to whom one is supposed to be married too. Resurrection is about an affirmation of this life because it tells us that this life is worthy enough to be resurrected into and to be transformed. Resurrection is the affirmation that God is the God of the living and not of the dead; that the land of the living, once again, is the arena where Gods’ goodness can be experienced.

Friends, last Sunday we commemorated All Saints Day, the day when we remembered and be grateful for the lives of our loved ones who had died before us. The next day, on Monday, many people celebrated Halloween, the day when objects of death became objects of amusement for many people, children and adults alike.

But, if there is one message that we can take from last week is that we need to trust the dead into God’s hands and focus on the living. God cares about us and about our well-being here in this world. We don’t have to wait until we die to experience God’s goodness because this life is the place where we can “taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8).” This life is the place where we can join the people of all ages to declare that God is good all the time. And the people of God say: And all the time God is good!

Rev. Toby Keva

[1] Hanna Rosin, Did Christianity Cause the Crash?, on http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/ archive/2009/12/did-christianity-cause-the-crash/307764/ (December 2009 Issue)

[2] Walter C. Bouzard, Commentary on Haggai 1:15b-2:9,  http://www.workingpreacher.org/ preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3053 (November 6 2016)