Based on Haggai 1:15b – 2:9, 2Thess 2:1-12, Luke 20:27-38
Much of my professional life as a critical care pharmacist was spent on teams with Trauma and Transplant surgeons and Emergency Department physicians. I spent enough time with them to make it abundantly clear that persons who chose to be one of those three subsets of doctor had a couple of things in common. The first is that they had remarkable focus – especially when everything around them was dissolving into chaos. They were so well trained in their protocols and procedures that the were able to ignore all the distractions and emotions and be present to what was happening. The second common feature was that a majority of them also were challenged with varying degrees of attention deficit disorder. They were all brilliant in their own way (as we all are) but when things were slow or they were asked to do something that wasn’t their preferred way to spend their time…they could get into a fair amount of mischief.
While these were my professional interactions and challenges with focus, I also have people close to me who struggled (and still are challenged) with issues of paying attention to detail. In fact, when those persons’ behaviors start dancing on my last nerve I have been known to cry out, “will you just focus”! It is this cry that echoes down to us today from our scriptures. The Sadducees are trying to get Jesus to focus on a non-issue and get tripped up in legalism; the minor prophet Haggai calls the people to focus on God’s hope and courage so that they can envision living again as God’s chosen people; the writer of 2Thessalonians has a focus of gratitude and thanksgiving that supersedes the realities of changing situations, distress and unknowable futures. Let us go to God now and focus ourselves on what God is doing with and among us to fulfill God’s promises…
The prophet Haggai writes his oracles to the people of the Exile in about 520 BCE (18 years after their release from Babylon). Things in Jerusalem and Judah are still in a shambles and the people are dismayed. The prophet opens his word speaking to the people of the jumble of stones that was once the Temple of Solomon. Into their despair, the prophet speaks words of hope and courage reminding them that they needed to get to work to rebuild the city with God’s help. The prophet tells the people that God’s Spirit abides with them, as it has since God brought them out of Egypt, so they need not fear. God promises that the people’s literal and figurative fortunes will change in just a little while. God is a God of the living and is always at work – put your trust and focus in God.
The writer of the second letter to the believers in Thessolonica is focusing this portion of the epistle on deceivers and the forces of evil and how the Lord Jesus will overcome them. Like last week, the judgment for the people who are aligned with the “lawless one” is condemnation. Those who have chosen to follow the delusions of Satan are headed toward death instead of into life and salvation for those who believe in the truth of Jesus. The writer is trying to focus these persecuted believers on the promises of Jesus and thanksgiving for serving a God who is alive and active and Almighty; One who will overcome all obstacles to God’s preferred future.
Some of the Sadducees, who were comprised of the rich and privileged of Jewish society, came to challenge Jesus. Sadducees were the dominant force within the Temple and its priesthood and had close working relations with the occupying Romans. The Sadducees refused to go beyond the literal understanding of the Torah and therefore denied the immortality of the soul, bodily resurrection after death, and the existence of angelic spirits. Therefore, their challenge to Jesus was wholly out of character as they were trying to confront him about an issue (resurrection) in which they didn’t believe…how ironic! Jesus corrects their literal interpretation of the Torah and seeks to help them understand that earthly concepts like marriage do not occur in the eternal life. Jesus tries to get them to understand what Moses understood, that is to focus on the fact that they are to serve the great “I AM” – the God of the living present and not spend time arguing about things in the future.
The theological construct of the resurrection presents us with a lesson about present and future times in relation to God. When we speak of time from a spiritual point-of-view we talk about “our time” as Chronos (that which can be measured and tracked by calendar and watch), and God’s time as Kairos (which is the measure of meaningful moments in a life). Moses, at some level in his focus on the bush which burns but is not consumed understands this; he comes to understand that life can be found again on the other side of death. A voice from a “burning” bush tells him that ALL things are in fact under the will and control of God. God speaks to Moses while a bush does not burn—two scientifically impossible things that nevertheless enter into the realm of the possible and present. Perhaps, on reflection, Moses senses that resurrection can look like not being consumed by that which should consume you. Therefore, resurrection can take many forms in any human life or set of human circumstances…because when we focus on Kairos time, God is always “I AM”.
We humans tend to focus ourselves on our to-do lists and our set of personal accomplishments, constantly battling with the running clock. We are all finite, never knowing how much time we have left in our lives. We run at break-neck speed from one activity to another, attempting to fill in every moment with some activity which will enhance our resume, show our worth, provide something that is unique and different from all the other human competitors engaged in exactly the same endeavors to the same ends. We focus so much on our activities that we neglect to focus on what God moments are happening all around us – thus we might miss our burning bush.
The prophet Haggai and the unknown writer of 2Thessalonians are both speaking to highly anxious populations that are focused on the devastation and persecution that surrounds them. The prophet and writer remind their constituents that God is not “here today and gone tomorrow” but a God who is always present. Throughout the Exile, God never left the people – and in fact moved King Cyrus to defeat Babylon and to release the exiles back to Jerusalem and Judah. God was already at work and the people just needed to go out and get to work with God and all would be blessed. Similarly, even though the new movement in Thessalonica was being persecuted, they were reminded to focus on the fact that they had been called through the gospel so “that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ”. They receive a blessing from Jesus and God the Father so that they might know the peace that comes from the healing words, “comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word”.
Over millennia there has been a focus on the Bible like that of the Sadducees. Some literally interpret and try to fit into chronos time the narrative of the scriptures. They have searched for evidence of the real-life Jesus and some have created destinations built around the idea of shoe-horning God’s Kairos time – a time measured in evocative moments – into our time frame. The focus on these literal and chronological efforts lead people into theological conundrums that distract and distort the real message of God. Jesus speaks to the Sadducees of His time teaching that limiting our focus on God to a literal reading misses the power of God in the experience of precious and sacred moments. The sacred moments when those we love who believe in God transition to be back with God. The sacred moments when we realize that we are loved beyond our understanding and are forgiven and redeemed. The sacred moments when we know peace, calm, comfort beyond our limited understanding that we can only marvel at as the mystery of God’s very presence with us.
Dear friends, no matter what is happening in our lives in our chaotic and disorienting chronos time, let us choose to focus ourselves on God moments, the Kairos time where God is always present and active. When we focus our limited and finite selves on the action of the infinite and timeless, then we find the strength and the courage to go out and overcome whatever evil, persecution or worldly devastation confront us. May God through Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit be our focus so that we might find our hearts comforted and strengthened for every good work and word. Amen and amen!