Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Road to Recovery 1

Haggai 2:1-9 In the second year of King Darius, in the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the LORD came by the prophet Haggai, saying: 2 Speak 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, 3 Who 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? 4 Yet 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, 5 according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear. 6 For 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; 7 and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendor, says the LORD of hosts. 8 The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the LORD of hosts. 9 The latter splendor 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.

The Road to Recovery: Glory
01/17/2010 Bethany, Baptism of our Lord
Psalm 145:8-21 (call to worship)
1 Peter 5:7 (children)
Haggai 2:1-9 (message)

This week, we begin a series of messages on "The Road to Recovery". Recovery is a recurring theme these days, whether our national and international efforts at economic recovery, to the efforts of nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan, or to the recovery that is ahead for Haiti. Recovery is a common theme these days, and a necessary one.

Our focus will be on the Old Testament Scriptures from Israel’s Return, the return from exile: the prophets of Haggai and Zechariah and the account of Ezra-Nehemiah. In four Sundays we won’t even begin to cover them thoroughly, but we will uncover some significant spiritual themes for any of the recoveries we face – whether we’re focused on world-wide economic or earthquake or typhoon recovery, or on personal recovery from unemployment, addiction, divorce, tragedy. Today, in our first look at these Scriptures, we consider our nostalgia and the promise of glory.

Preaching from Haggai is frequently linked to church building campaigns or to giving campaigns: "Is it a time for you yourselves to live in your paneled houses while [God’s] house lies in ruins?" Haggai, admittedly preaching "the word of the LORD" knew how to tighten the screws of guilt.
But today we are focused on neither. We are looking at the experience of Israel’s return from captivity. Last week, we looked at Isaiah who was addressing the exiles before their return. He described the deliverance from captivity in terms of "ransom", and likened exile to kidnapping.
This week, we fast-forward a few years. At least the first of several waves of returning Jews have come back to the land. They find themselves strangers in their own land, surrounded by folks from other nations who had been forcibly settled there by the Assyrian and Babylonian empires. They find Jerusalem in ruins – no temple, no walls. And they begin a long and complicated process of rebuilding.

Context for Haggai:
538, Cyrus decrees return, rebuilding of temple
by 520 (2nd year of Darius), very little progress
Ezra 3:12-13 But many of the priests and Levites and heads of families, old people who had seen the first house on its foundations, wept with a loud voice when they saw this house, though many shouted aloud for joy, 13 so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people's weeping, for the people shouted so loudly that the sound was heard far away.

Haggai directly addresses the older generation, those who "saw the house in its former glory", the folks who were weeping – rather than rejoicing – at the laying of the foundation. And his words to them are appropriate for us in all our nostalgia, our attachment to a lost past or to a broken dream.

Particularly because Haggai speaks to the leaders of the people and addresses concerns of the entire body, his preaching is often applied to the experience of churches, many of which have been in long decline. Members remember the years when the church was twice the size, when the classrooms were filled with children, when it seemed like the entire community was connected to the church. In that long decline, churches struggle to pay bills, struggle to maintain a building, and are a little surprised when a single child shows up. Nostalgia sets in for the glory days of the past. And Haggai proclaims: "Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? ... as nothing? ... The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former" (Haggai 2:3, 9).

Haggai has a practical prescription for nostalgia: Work. "Take courage . . .; work, for I am with you" (2:4).

I have heard folks in many different communities share the same nostalgic concern: I used to know everyone who lived around here. The sense of community just isn’t the same anymore. But Barbara never complained about that. She didn’t get stuck in nostalgia. She did something about it, she Worked.
When she got older and didn’t want to drive as much or care for as much property, she moved off the farm into a new development, to get closer to town and closer to her kids. Nobody knew anybody there until Barbara got to work, baking pies and cookies and taking them to the neighbors. She turned a development into a community, with her trademark gift of hospitality. And, by the way, she baked the best pecan pie I’ve ever had.

In a picturesque Italian town stands a tall 14th century cathedral, its spire rising above all the other buildings in town, its walls filled with beautiful and faithful art, its complex a destination for tourists. But when the new priest arrived, he discovered that it was empty on Sundays. In consultation with the townsfolk, they decided to build a new church and moved the worship center to a small, ugly cinder block building furnished with folding metal chairs. The building is packed on Sundays. "The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house." Unhindered by nostalgia, the priest and the people accomplished a miracle, focused on the mission of making disciples, and made an incredible difference. (Retold from Dramatic Preaching, 5/1993, viii.5, p 23; quoted from Lift Your Souls by Vincent Dwyer, OCSC, Doubleday, 1987, p 177).
The priest and people of this town took hold of the practical prescription for nostalgia – work. But they also understood Haggai’s spiritual promise for nostalgia – glory.

Isaiah: I am doing a new thing
Haggai: The glory of the latter house shall be greater than the former
Paul: If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation
Revelation: New heavens, new earth, new Jerusalem

In all our nostalgia over a lost past or broken dreams, God’s promise is a new thing, a fresh glory, that eclipses what we have lost or broken. The best is yet to come; you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet. What an incredible gift! It is so much easier to believe that the best is behind us, that what is to come will barely measure up. We suffer through unemployment, lose our confidence, find ourselves on the bottom of the economic ladder and we’ll never make it back where we were before. We suffer through divorce, with all the financial cost and custody issues, with the broken hearts of children and the broken dreams of our youth, and we’re convinced that no matter what comes in our future we’ll always be marked, always be less than glorious. We fall into addiction, break all the most important promises in our lives, hit bottom and then hit bottom again, and we’re sure that we can never be trusted again, never be loved again, never be accepted. And the nostalgia of broken dreams is manifested in a life filled with regret.

But God has a plan for us. The practical prescription – work. The spiritual promise – glory. The best is yet to come; you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet. "Once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth" (2:6).
Once more? Oh yes.
You know that time when Moses went up the mountain and received the tablets of the law – God’s glory came down, lightening cracked, and the earth shook at the voice of God. Well, God has barely begun!
Once more I will shake the earth.
You know that time when the children of Israel were marching around the walls of Jericho? Then, on the seventh day, as they lifted their voices in praise, the earth shook and the walls of that fortified city were no more. You ain’t seen nuthin’ yet!
Once more I will shake the earth.
You know that time that the prophet Elijah fled from Jezebel’s hit men to the holy mount and hid in the cave – an earthquake came and shook the earth. The best is yet to come!
Once more I will shake the earth.
You know that time when our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified? The whole earth shook – the veil that kept the people out of the Holiest Place was torn in two, the graves of the righteous were opened, the sun was eclipsed for 3 hours, and by his mighty hand salvation has been worked and won on our behalf.
Once more I will shake the earth.
You know that time when the church of Christ was gathered for prayer? The answer came and the earth shook (Acts 4). Yes, even today as we lift our praises to God, God is hearing us, answering us, and shaking the earth. The best is yet to come!
Once more I will shake the earth.

(Sing "Gloria", Lesser Doxology, Meinecke)

God has always been a mover and shaker.

God is shaking the earth for you and me. And the desired of all nations, yes, the Lord Jesus Christ himself, comes to set us free. Free from our past with all our hangups, failures, regrets, unfulfilled dreams, secret sins, hidden fears. Free from our future with all its uncertainties. Free to live grandly and lavishly in his glorious grace in this present day. Because there is no glory like today’s glory, no time like the present to walk with God and know his saving power.

Our lives may look like a construction site. They may look incomplete, unfinished. They may be rather rough, cinder block, metal folding chairs. They may not measure up to the kind of righteousness we think is necessary. Oh, but the glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house. So, be strong and follow the practical prescription: do the work that God has given you. Take courage and seize the spiritual promise of glory.

You ain’t seen nothin’ yet. The best is yet to come. Glory to God!

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