Haggai 2:1-9 & 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5; 13-17 & Luke 20: 27-38
This week has been a big one in both the world of church celebrations and for the secular world also.
In the church, since last Sunday we have celebrated All Saints Day, also known as All Hallows Day and All Souls Day. In the secular world, all Hallows has become the Halloween celebration and we’ve seen another celebration and day of feasting and gambling in the running of the Melbourne Cup.
But amongst these celebrations is one that often gets overlooked and that is Reformation Day. 499 years ago this week in 1517, the German Catholic priest ,by the name of Martin Luther, nailed on the doorway of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, his 95 Theses or complaints about the way the Western Catholic Church was operating.
It started the Protestant Church and the reforming of the Roman Catholic Church. One of these 95 complaints pertained to how the church promoted the understanding that we have been justified before the Lord by our good works and fulfilling our obligations.
Luther took passages from the Old and New Testaments to make his point for the very different view.
In Romans 5:1-2 we read ‘Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand;’
and in Habbakuk 2:4b “but the righteous live by their faith.”
Faith precedes and guides our good works, not the other way around. Good works is no substitute for faith in Christianity.
How do we define faith? In this last week we’ve heard people demean the word ‘faith’ by using it on Melbourne Cup Day saying things like ‘I have faith in that horse or that jockey’, a little like the way we bandy around the word ‘love’, as in ‘I love ice cream.’
In the Bible we have some good definitions of faith.
You may like to look at Hebrews 11 [the whole chapter] or in a shorter version try 2 Corinthians 5:17.
We might use words that define or are synonymous or sit as adjuncts with the word ‘faith’ – words like, conviction trusting [beyond ourselves], hope, love, affirmation, promise, confidence and as a belief not necessarily reliant upon empirical or scientific proof.
Believing, trusting, hoping and love are both features of faith and also part of its outworking.
What are other ways in which we express that faith?
All four of the lectionary readings set down for this week give us some examples.
Haggai was one of the minor prophets who returned with the people to Israel after a seventy year exile in Babylon.
He tells the people to rebuild the Temple as an expression of their faith. He is no different from those before and after, who have shown their expression of faith in God and his ‘set apartness’ from the secular in the way they honour him through building.
Interestingly, I was reading recently [I think it was in Insights magazine] a discussion of whether country churches should be torn down or sold if not in use. The argument was they should not – as simply through their presence – they bring an outward sign of hope to the community. You may think otherwise.
In the reading from 2 Thessalonians, Paul begins by reminding the early Greek Christians that things will get worse before they get better, but that faith is not based on the outward circumstances, but is based on what is inside that makes us act in faithfulness – the actions of faith he speaks about to them are to stand firm in the faith [verses 13-16], to encourage one another and believe the truth.
And what is truth? It is having a Jesus perspective, not the perspective of Pilate. In John 18:35-38 as we are reminded of Jesus coming before Pilate while his enemies bayed for his blood:
‘Pilate replied, ‘I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?’36 Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’ 37 Pilate asked him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’ 38 Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?’
Jesus Sentenced to Death
After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, ‘I find no case against him.’
Luke’s gospel reading reinforces the fact that faith action is about changing your worldly attitude/perspective into a supernatural one.
In this passage, the Sadducees are trying to use their own definitions of religious law in the Temple to trick and trap Jesus.
According to the first century Jewish historian Josephus, as distinct from the other priestly castes – the Pharisees and the Essenes – the Sadducees did not believe in resurrection or reward after death. So they are starting their argument on the nature of an afterlife from their own falseness and closed off attitude.
Jesus talks about Heaven not simply being the earth transplanted to a different plane. He continues to turn their world on its head; heaven is not about the dead, but about the living – for God is the God of the living and the ever-living.
How is it then that you show or express or understand your faith? I would really like you to think about it this week and if you are bold enough – talk to someone about it.
Maybe you show your faith in acts of kindness, and sacrifice. Maybe it is in justice making, in acts of love or maybe it is in the public commitments you make [like Bernita in worship last week]. Maybe it is in the way you dress, how you speak, the language of generosity you use, remaining silent rather than bad-mouthing others, not spreading false rumours, acting with integrity. Maybe your act of faith is seen in inviting others to church and partaking in the leadership of programs.
Maybe, for you, as it is for me it is expressing our faith in shifting the focus from a world out of control to a God in control.
Our faith can so easily falter or get blurry when we see what bad things might be happening to us or around us – bus drivers being set on fire, parents raping their children and not seeing that it is wrong, war and terrorism and environmental degradation, and the politics of smear and hatred and division.
My faith, however, relies ultimately not on the strength of it, but on God’s strong faithfulness towards me.
As it says in Romans 8:28 ‘And we know that all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.’
I have been truly lucky to have seen and recognised God’s faith outworking for good many times in my life.
Next week we will explore the outworking of God’s faith. In the meantime you are invited to meditate on a time when God’s faith outworked on you to bring transformation. Think too on whether you would like to share this and let me know during the week.