Haggai 1:5b-2:9. Psalm 145:1-21 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17. Luke 20:27-38
There are various reasons for telling someone to remember. In our reading from Haggai, the reason for remembering was twofold…to make them ashamed of their disobedience regarding the rebuilding of the temple and to remind them of God’s faithfulness should they choose the difficult path obedience. In Psalm 145 the reason for remembering was to remind believers of God’s power and His character so as to spur them on to worship. In 2 Thessalonians the reason for remembering was so that they would not be led astray by false doctrine. And finally, in Luke the reason for remembering was to correct a faulty understanding of Scripture and ultimately, a faulty lifestyle.
Today is remembrance Sunday…a day on which we remember all those who died in war. But why do we remember them today? Is it to remember their heroic efforts to secure peace? Or is it to remember them as people who had loved ones whose lives would be irrevocably changed with the news that they would never again hear, see, or touch their son, their father, their husband, their wife, their mother, daughter, or grandchild on this side of eternity? Or is it to remind us of the awfulness of war? Or is there perhaps something even deeper that we ought to bring to mind that may serve to positively affect our future and the future of generations to come?
In the fourth chapter of the Epistle of James we read the following: “What is the cause of your conflicts and quarrels with each other? Doesn’t the battle begin inside of you as you fight to have your own way and fulfill your own desires? You jealously want what others have so you begin to see yourself as better than others. You scheme with envy and harm others to selfishly obtain what you crave – that’s why you quarrel and fight.”
Buried beneath the surface of each and every reason for war is an ungodly lack of contentment and a cesspool of envious rebellion…rebellion against God in particular, primarily based upon the delusion that we can have what is not ours for the having…that we can somehow be equal to or greater than Him. Bear in mind that the first sin was committed because of the desire to be “like” or “equal” to God. Directly challenging the Word of God, Satan told Eve that she would not die, as God had warned, but rather if she ate of the fruit she would “be like God, knowing good and evil”. And we know that her lack of contentment led to rebellion…a rebellion that affected us all.
Now, there are various levels to this rebellion. In Haggai it began on the level of despondency and disillusionment and ended with disobedience. The returning exiles from Babylon had started to rebuild the Temple but after struggling against all sorts of difficulties and resistance from the local Samaritans they decided to abandon the building plans…this is too difficult, they said…so let’s beautify our own homes…we tried to obey God in the rebuilding of the Temple, but that didn’t work out, so let’s do what we can for ourselves. Haggai indicated that this attitude led to a reversal of their personal fortunes. Remember, he said…call to mind…consider…look what is happening to you. You have planted much but harvested little…why? Because the task of rebuilding the ruined Temple remains incomplete…you have rebelled against God…you have not obeyed the Word of the Lord… “It’s because of you,” Haggai said, “that the heavens withhold the dew and the earth produces no crops.” We must never forget that God cannot and will not bless disobedience. Yet notice His immediate reassurance of His blessing should they amend their ways. “I am with you, says the Lord!”
Then in 2 Thessalonians the rebellion was very much in the beginning stage and Paul wrote to them to nip it in the bud…it was based upon an inability to stand firm and to keep a firm grip on the teaching they had received. As in Haggai this inability was a result of despondency and disillusionment. Persecution and hardship had slowly chiseled away the original excitement that came with their salvation. And besides this, there were certain people, false teachers, who were saying that the day of the Lord had already begun…if that was true, then the Thessalonian believers had somehow missed the boat of blessing. We still have false teachers like this around today, only now they spread their false messages and hoaxes by means of electronic media, such as WhatsApp and Facebook and Twitter. Jesus is coming soon, they cry! The Temple is being rebuilt! Look at the signs and the times…wars and rumors of war…the sky is falling…earthquakes and so on. They seem to forget that these signs have always been present in one way or another and that there have been others who have claimed that they were living in the so-called end days hundreds of years ago.
So, Paul wrote to the Thessalonians to help them evaluate the false teaching in light of what they had already been taught. That’s the way believers throughout the ages have separated the wheat from the chaff…the truth from the falsehood…by remembering…by comparing the message with what has already been written. With various false teachings threatening to rip our beloved Anglican Communion apart, we too need to return to what has been written and we too need to continue to stand firm and to keep a strong grip on the teaching we have received…not wavering regardless of what insults or slurs or slaps come our way.
And then lastly, in our Gospel lesson for today, Luke 20, the rebellion was more serious. We are told here that the Sadducees – the religious leaders of the day – did not believe in the resurrection. Well, that’s not so bad you may think. But there is more to this denial than what meets the eye. Think on this a bit. If there is no resurrection…no afterlife…no hereafter…no punishment or reward for good or bad deeds for eternity…then one can live as you please, right? And that’s exactly what the Sadducees believed. According to Josephus, a Jewish historian living at the time of Jesus, the Sadducees were “not concerned in our doing or not doing what is evil.” They were the revisionists and liberals of their day. In their thinking, acts of evil or good had no consequence and therefore anyone’s opinion was valid. Does this sound familiar? It should because that is what many folks in the modern-day Church are wanting us to believe. That it simply no longer matters how one lives…it is all a matter of personal choice and everyone ought to be free to do as they please. You’re ok…I’m ok…everyone is ok…moral standards are for those who are phobic.
As in our other readings, here Jesus told them to remember what was written in the Word of God. Jesus said that when speaking to Moses, God called Himself the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob…He was the God of the living, not the dead.
Now think on this: in correcting their false teaching Jesus was also calling them to account…if there is a resurrection then you will be liable for what you have done or failed to do in this life. Not based on your opinion or my opinion but based on God’s Word. Has God really said? Has God spoken? Yes, dearest beloved brethren, He has. In the final verses of this chapter in Luke, Jesus rightly warned His disciples against these teachers of religious law. While they appeared to be holy and authoritative, they shamelessly cheated widows out of their property while pretending to be pious by making long prayers in public. Because of this they would be severely punished.
And so, today we remember those who have died in the many wars of this world…but we would fail them and dishonor them if we did not remember the cause of these wars and if we did not address that cause head-on; striving to seek to bring the peace that only God can give through Jesus Christ; striving to bring that peace to bear upon our lives and the lives of those in our sphere of influence. Like with those who sought to rebuild God’s Temple in Jerusalem and like those who sought to live holy lives in the midst of a corrupt and wicked Roman society and like Jesus who sought to bring His people back to their original mooring, we too may be persecuted…our efforts may be misunderstood…we may be slandered and have all sorts of labels slapped on us…but we must always call to mind…we must always remember that for this cause, Jesus came to die in our place…to remove the cause that brings division and strife…to reconcile us to God and to each other.
This is why I believe He used the word “remember” when instituting the Eucharist. “Do this in remembrance of Me.” This is no soppy emotional remembrance of His death and sacrifice. No, rather this is a remembrance that tells us never to forget that there is a price to pay when seeking to live obedient lives according to the Word of God. If the world hated Jesus, they will hate us. If the world slandered Jesus, they will slander us. If the world rejected Him, they will reject us. If the world killed Him, they will kill us. But we must also never forget that through His death and resurrection He has overcome the world!
So now, through the reenactment of that death on the cross, Jesus calls us to remember…remember what lies behind His death…what lies behind the death of those who have died in war…what lies behind the death of us all…to remember so that we do not repeat the same mistakes of our ancestors.
I am not so naïve as to think that wars will cease before Jesus returns…Jesus Himself said that in this world we will have trouble and that we will be persecuted and suffer wrong. I know I cannot change the whole world…but I can change the small corner of the world in which I live…and so can you.
And so today, as we remember those who gave their lives for the sake of their loved ones…let us also remember Him who gave His life for us all…He fought the good fight and gained for us the victory over sin, death, and the devil…therefore let us seek to honor them and Him in our attempts to bring peace…not the kind of fragile temporary peace the wars of this world claim to bring…no, rather let us bring the kind of peace that only a life surrendered to Jesus can bring…a peace that is not shaken by anything, whether it be false teaching, false living, or false promises…a peace that remains even in the face of war.
© Johannes van der Bijl 2019