First Congregational Church
November 10, 2013
25th Sunday after Pentecost
"Dorothy, We're Not in Babylon Anymore"
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
While rummaging through her attic, Lena found an old shotgun. Unsure how to dispose of it, she called her parents. "Take it to the police station," her mother suggested. Lena was about to hang up when her mother added, "And Lena?" "Yes, Mother?" "Call first."
Sven lost his horse one day, so he got down on his knees to thank God. Ole was passing by and asked, "Why are you thanking God when you've lost your horse?" Sven replied, "Well thank goodness I wasn't on it at the time or I'd be lost too."
I don't know about anyone else, but I find a great delight in "watching" for those things that may seem ordinary or not even very worthy of notice, that point to God and what God is doing. This week, part of that "discovery" came near the end of one of my guilty pleasures: the television show, Grey's Anatomy. For those who aren't familiar with the show, it's a nighttime hospital soap opera, Dr. Webber is the former chief of surgery at Seattle Grace, and for the last weeks, he's been recovering from a severe electrocution. He's been laying low, regaining his strength, but this past week's episode brought opportunities for him to start getting back into the swing of the hospital again. In fact, the whole episode could be summed up in Dr. Webber's comment after doing CPR on another patient. He said, "I lost myself for a while, but now I'm back."
The other interesting "sign" that caught my attention this week was a little video from YouTube, about a homeless man named Jim Wolf, a United States Army Veteran. For decades, Jim has struggled with poverty, homelessness and alcoholism. Just a couple months ago, he volunteered to go through a physical transformation that included a good hair cut - and color - beard trim, and his every day clothes replaced with a white shirt, suit coat, tie and tack. When he was finally given the opportunity to look in a mirror, it was easy to realize that he wasn't much of a smiling guy, probably from his missing teeth, but the look of surprise even caught him. At the end of the little clip, it said that since the filming, Jim has taken control of his life. He is now scheduled to have his own housing and is attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for the first time ever. I don't know who Kathy Lynn Setser is, but it was her comment that made the link: "he was lost and now he is found."
Unless you have one of those really great memories, or you look at the Table of Contents, most of us can feel a little lost when it comes to finding the book of Haggai. And no, Haggai is not the plural for Haag.
In looking at the potential Lectionary passages for today, under normal circumstances, I would have probably glossed right over Haggai. But spending time with it for the Bible Study this week gave me understanding and insight that I may not have thought about. Lesson 1 has written all over it "forgiveness and grace and not judging a scroll by it's obscurity.
Our passage this morning is interesting, too, because it deals with a specific point in history. In 586 BC, the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem, captured the Hebrew people and took them back to Babylon, exiling them from their country. Nearly 50 years later, a Jewish governor of Persia named Zerubbabel led 50,000 people back to the promised land in order to rebuild the Temple of God in Jerusalem.
So the Hebrews get back to Jerusalem, and do some work on rebuilding the Temple. But the people also needed their own homes, and there were Samaritans who were causing some turf wars, and work on the temple stopped. It's understandable that after the immediate setting up of maybe the roof and altar, people needed their own protection from the elements. But the reasons for not working on the temple had become excuses.
One of the big "excuses" was that there were some folks who remembered what the old Temple looked like: huge, with gold covered cedar pillars (and many of us can appreciate how long it takes a cedar to get pillar-sized), silver covered this, ornate ivory that. But the Hebrew people didn't have the same resources to spend, and the temple that Zerubbabel was helping build was looking puny and pathetic. It was like going from a five bedroom, 3,000 square feet floor space home to a two bedroom apartment with 800 square feet. It may be a lovely apartment, but you aren't going to be able to do the same things as before, so why bother? God appreciates the efforts, and bucks up the people through the prophet Haggai. (By the way, before anyone gets nervous, this is not an introduction to a building project around here.)
Before Missi gets up here, I'll fill you in on a few of the other "names" in this passage. The subtitle is "The promised glory of the new house in the second year of King Darius. What's "odd" about the reference of the king is that he was not of Hebrew descent. The Hebrew people had been so "lost" away from home, they had no key people or events to mark their own time. It would be like us, in our country, having our history marked by the reign of Carl Gustaf XVI of Sweden.
The reference to Joshua in our passage has nothing to do with the Joshua of many colored coat fame. He was the son of Nun. This Joshua is the son of Jozadak, another in a long line of high priests. This mention of Jozadak is a reference that points to the lineage of the Jewish people and with that lineage, God's presence through time. Pretty clever reference, especially when we gentiles can figure it out. So God speaks to the civil side of life to Zerubbabel and the religious side of life to Joshua through the prophet (Haggai.)
Haggai 1:15-2:9 (NIV)
15 on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month.
The Promised Glory of the New House 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,[a] 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.”
Thank you, Missi. Lord Almighty, that's a lot of Lord Almightys! That, too, is an interesting reference, because in Hebrew, it has something to do with the God-of-the-Angel-Armies. I don't know that it is as much a reference to the "battle" linked to such armies, but perhaps more to do with the numbers that are in God's Angel Armies. And that isn't a reference that some folks might grab on to today, except that it is interesting that three times - that religiously significant number of three - God says, "Be strong."
God says, very pointedly to Zerubbabel, Jozadak, insert your name here, "Be strong," right before Haggai makes reference of God shaking the heavens and the earth that will announce the completion of the temple. Interesting that at the moment when Jesus died, there was an earthquake, and the veil in the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom, rather than bottom to top, which would have given more "evidence" for human interaction.
I think another of those "God pointers" came in the realization that over there at desperatepreacher.com, there is still only one comment on this Haggai passage, verses the bunches of comments on the gospel lesson from Luke. (I double checked this morning.) In fact, the last comments about this section on Haggai came from November of 2001 - just weeks after the heavens and earth shook around the Twin Towers in New York City. How "God-ciental" is that - realizing that the Lectionary is created months ahead of a new year?
God said to the people then and to us now, be strong - and get to work. The reference to the gold and silver belonging to God? God is already at work, and has the "materials" so-to-speak, ready for us. Have we perhaps forgotten that we need to bend down and pick up bricks? For those with back issues, you don't get an excuse, because God has all kinds of jobs to meet all our abilities - or even what we might call dis-abilities. And much of the work God has need of us is not so much physical as it is of the heart.
Doing the work gives us a nod back - way back before Haggai, Zerubbabel and Joshua - to the days and time the Hebrew people spent enslaved (again lost from home) in Egypt. If God could deliver thousands of people through the desert over forty years, and God can provide what is needed to rebuild the temple, then what is it that is stopping us from doing the work God needs us to do? The reason - more than likely - has nothing to do with materials or necessary abilities.
Disappointment, fear, being lost, and losing our way are great reasons that so easily become excuses. We may have been in Babylon for a while, but Haggai reminds us that we're not there any more. Through this passage and Haggai, we are reminded that exteriors are not unimportant. Just check out all the chapters that gave instructions on how to build the temple in the first place in those beautiful devotional books of 1 and 2 Chronicles, Kings and Samuel. Paying attention to such a thing as an exterior of a building can mirror other attitudes that are important. But the exterior is not the heart of the matter. As God said it, ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’
Be strong and do the work. You know when you've done a good load of poles, as a friend of mine used to say? You know when you've cleaned out that closet or sorted out those files or whatever it is that you've been "excuse-ing" away, and when you finally get down to doing it, how good that feels? I think that's what God is talking about in the granting peace in that place - that place we know as the temple of God in our hearts - maybe not so much the files at home. To get the process started, let us pray.
Great Lover of our souls, we thank you for the direction and encouragement you give us - even in the ordinary things of life. Help us realize the materials that you've given us to build up the temple in our hearts, that place where you reside. Help us be strong and do the work that we know we need to do, whether it's extending a hand in greeting, calling someone up for coffee, laying hurt feelings to rest, and the myriad of hurdles that impede our faith and wholeness and peace. Thank you that we are not in Babylon anymore, that we are here, with good and important work to do. So send your Holy Spirit to enable us to do that work well, as all your people say, Amen.