by Rev. Jonathan Gale
Sunday 4th May, 2014
Haggai 1: 13 – 2: 9
13Then Haggai, the messenger of the Lord, spoke to the people with the Lord’s message, saying, I am with you, says the Lord. 14And the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God, 15on the twenty-fourth day of the month, in the sixth month.
The Future Glory of the Temple
2In the second year of King Darius,1in the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai, saying: 2Speak now to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people, and say, 3Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing? 4Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts, 5according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear. 6For thus says the Lord of hosts: Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; 7and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendour, says the Lord of hosts. 8The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lord of hosts. 9The latter splendour of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the Lord of hosts.
1 Corinthians 3: 10 – 17
10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. 11For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. 12Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. 14If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15If the work is burned, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire.
16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.
After the reign of King Solomon the Kingdom of Israel split in two – the ten northern tribes taking the name Israel, and the tribes of Judah and Benjamin in the south taking the name Judah.
The Northern Kingdom of Israel was defeated by the Assyrians and most of the able people deported to Nineveh in about 721 BC. The descendants of the remnant left behind were known in Jesus’ day as the Samaritans.
The Southern Kingdom of Judah succumbed to the power of the Babylonian Empire and was exiled to Babylon in about 586 BC for a period of more or less 70 years. The Jews, as they were now known, unlike their northern counterparts, returned to Israel under the leadership of people like Ezra and Nehemiah. Out of the ruins of Jerusalem the walls of the city were rebuilt and finally a second temple was constructed – a very disappointing structure compared to the original temple built by King Solomon.
We read in Ezra 3: 12 – 13 But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away.
Those who knew the former temple wept aloud with disappointment.
Disappointment is a difficult thing to handle. Whether you have let yourself down or whether you have been let down by someone else, it is tough to ride out disappointment.
Disappointment not only shatters one’s dreams in the feelings of loss it engenders, but leaves the ashes of bitter experience in one’s mouth: an unpleasant situation which is the unexpected reality one has to deal with on an ongoing basis.
The people of Judah had always been proud of the first temple. God had blessed it with a glorious sense of his presence. It had been the centre of their universe – the home of God amongst the people of God – a situation unique in all the earth. The temple had given them a sense of being a special people with a special mission but all that lay shattered before them as they viewed the paltry house of worship we know as the second temple.
Disappointment can be a lonely experience too because not everyone sees or experiences it the way you do. They may have had lesser expectations. We read, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise.
Some were ecstatic. They were blind to what those weeping could see – namely that the second temple was a sad reflection of the first.
I think the most pertinent example of this kind of disappointment is experienced by people in abusive relationships, where nobody else can see or understand what they are going through. This can affect human relationships in marriages, in the workplace – anywhere where people come together for a greater purpose.
How disappointing it is for the battered woman whose dreams of a godly and happy marriage founder on the rocks of an abusive man who has never resolved the power issues he first faced as a child. Especially when no-one else sees the dark side of his behaviour.
How disappointing it is for a principled worker whose dreams of a life of meaningful and honest employment are shattered by an employer whose private fears and insecurities lead him to carry out a double life – respectability in the face of the public and a manipulative lack of integrity in the workplace itself. Especially when no-one else suspects that there are cracks under the façade.
But next to the disappointment people feel when let down by the members of their family, is the constant and nagging disappointment we feel when we have let ourselves down; whether it be in not reaching our potential, in unwise decision-making, in moral compromise or in a poor response to an unfortunate turn of events.
Letting oneself down is the bitterest pill to swallow, because we have no-one to blame but ourselves.
But what does God have to say about this? Well, in our reading this evening from the prophet Haggai, quite a lot.
The first thing to do is not to try and paper over the truth. Face the situation squarely. God speaks through Haggai to the leaders of the new community and says 3Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing?
It is difficult to admit these things. But whether you are victim or perpetrator, it is essential for healing.
In the very next verse Haggai proclaims, 4Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord;
Courage. Three times in one verse they are enjoined to take courage. Achieving anything takes courage because in any endeavour there is the risk of failure. But with God in the picture we can happily take courage if we’ve taken the first step of honesty. Courage is important because without it we will remain inactive, and as we will see in the very next word uttered by the prophet, there is a call to action.
take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts,
Work. Do something. Some have said doing something – anything – is helpful. But God encourages them to work – to continue with the task in hand, no matter how disappointing the situation appears to be. Life is not perfect and it is normally people who are the fly in the ointment. Never allow that to discourage you: work, for as the prophet says, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts,
God seldom promises to rescue us from tough times, but he always promises to be with us in them. That is so important to remember. God does not abandon us. As David famously said, Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me.
And God is with us, as Verse 5 says, 5according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt
The reason we can move forward without fear is because God is a promise-keeping God and has promised to be with us. My spirit abides among you; do not fear
And finally, whether in this life or the next 7and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendour, says the Lord of hosts.
This is a promise worth recalling. At some point all will be made well.
When disappointment comes – as it surely will – we need to acknowledge that in a fallen world these things are bound to happen. We need to face up to the reality of our situation, take courage because God promises to be with us in all that we do, and move forward.
The most important thing is to learn from our mistakes, whether we have made them or they have been made by others to our disadvantage. Paul in 1 Corinthians gives us a clear steer that we need to be careful how we build. The foundation is Christ and so our building must be Christ-like.
But God is merciful and where we have built inadequately, the fire of testing will destroy the un-Christlike work but the builder will be saved.
However, there is a stern warning for the abusive. Let us be scrupulously honest as to how we relate to other people. We are not the only people God cares for and that means we need to tread carefully when it comes to the abuse of others. Our reading from Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth ends, 16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.
As Christians the hallmark of our lives should be love. William Vanstone, in his book Love’s Endeavour, Love’s Expense, suggests we use three marks as a touchstone to measure whether we are compromising love.
The mark of limitation. This is when we limit the love we are prepared to give someone. Love is conditional or at best it is downgraded to kindness that costs little. In effect love is withdrawn when we lay down conditions as to the circumstances under which we are prepared to love.
The second is the mark of control. This is where the one who professes to love is in control of the person loved. Love is not self-seeking and control whether by manipulation or more direct methods is not loving.
The third is the mark of detachment. This is where one withdraws emotionally from the person we profess to love, where we are not prepared to be vulnerable.
All these marks – things that deny the authenticity of love – are a destruction of the temple of God: of another person made in the image of God. They deny freedom and freedom is the essence of love. We do not love expecting something in return – not as Christians we don’t.
When we limit the love we are prepared to give, when we seek to control someone, when we detach ourselves from them – no matter how we try and hide it – they have an uncanny ability to sense what is happening. We are very good at fooling ourselves in these matters but we seldom fool those affected by our false love.
But let’s not let disappointment overwhelm us. When we feel our love fading, the voice of Haggai should ring clear, “Courage, courage, courage … and work.”
And when we do, let us walk carefully, preserving the holiness of our fellows – especially those over whom we have power – for God’s care for them is fierce.
Sgt. Phil Esterhaus, on the TV police programme Hill Street Blues, ended the introductory roll call to each week’s show with “Let’s be careful out there”.
Let’s do so indeed.