10th September 23 – Haggai

10th September 23 – Haggai

Sing p1 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-jjKuyl4lg to 4:43

The destruction of a grand and glorious building, the hope of Buster Moon the koala, all his future – gone.

The Israelites in the Old Testament worshipped God at the Temple in Jerusalem.  That was, in their minds, where God lived.  So when their enemies came, and destroyed the Temple, and took the Israelites into exile away from their homes, it was devastating.  The House of God was gone, the enemies had won, there was nowhere to worship.  It might even seem that God had been defeated.

But the Israelites knew that God was faithful, and that he was allowing these terrible things to happen because they had gone against him; they turned back to God and trusted that he would restore them.  In the book of Ezra we saw how Cyrus, the king of Babylon, allowed them to return to their homeland and told them to rebuild the Temple.  And they started off well, but they got discouraged by opposition from their enemies.  They gradually stopped work and concentrated on their own houses which were much easier!

This might look like the end of the story, but it isn’t.  God is still faithful.

Today we are going to hear from a prophet who spoke to the Israelites at that time, who gave them hope.

Reading – Haggai 1:1-4, 12; 2:1-9

The Temple is rebuilt!  It might not look as grand, but God will be there.

And, just to finish off our other story:

Sing p2 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Shgdy41yd5I to 2:58

I found it interesting as I watched those film clips.  The flashy, opulent original building that, if you saw the rest of the film, you would know was struggling to survive.  The koala in charge was losing money and his last-ditch attempt to save the building was to put on a big talent show.  He pulled out all the stops to impress the rich sheep lady, and promised the contestants huge prize money, but it was all show and there was no substance behind it.  And suddenly it was all taken away.  His livelihood, his hopes and dreams, his inheritance from his father, all gone.

And he went back to his day job, cleaning cars for money.  He gave up on the singers and the theatre altogether.  Until one day he heard the elephant, who had been too shy to ever sing on stage, standing on the rubble and singing the song “Hallelujah”.  And the koala realized that it wasn’t about the show, it wasn’t about the building or the money, it was about the song.  They rebuilt the building (or bits of it at least!) so that people could come and hear the music.  And when they did, the rich sheep lady was so impressed she bought the building and rebuilt it even better than before.  But that came from the songs.  The singers did not need a flashy set, they just needed a place.  And their singing made it glorious.

For the Israelites, when everything had been taken away they too realized that there had been no substance behind their show.  The building of the Temple, and the rituals in it had meant nothing, because the people weren’t actually focused on God, he made no difference in their lives.  So God proved that lack of substance to them by sending them into exile, a devastating experience of loss and distance from him.  Would they realise that God wasn’t about the showiness, but that his will was supreme?

Well, they did; and they did return to God; that was the pattern of much of the Old Testament.  And God in his faithfulness returned them to Jerusalem, and it seems they began to rebuild his Temple.  It seems, too, that this was somewhat half-hearted.  They were discouraged by opposition, by enemies.  They changed their minds and decided to build their own homes first.  And Haggai came along to tell them to get back to work!  If they trusted that their restoration was from God, surely they should be returning to worship, and that needed the Temple.

Ok, so they start work.  And maybe in the beginning it looked a bit like that restored theatre we saw!  We see in Ezra as well as in Haggai that those who looked upon the new Temple as it was being built thought it was nothing compared to the old one.  But they forgot that it wasn’t about the building, it was what was inside it.  It was God who made the Temple glorious, not how big it was or how much gold was used or how many sacrifices it could hold.  And God promised that he would be in this new Temple.  His people would meet him there, and even the nations would come.

And God was in that new temple in more ways than one.  The first thing Mary and Joseph did when Jesus was born was to take him to the Temple; we have a record of them returning 12 years later when Jesus stayed behind in the Temple to listen to the teachers there.  Jesus returned to the Temple to teach, drove out the people misusing it, and finally spoke of his body as the Temple which would be destroyed and rebuilt.  The glory of God came to the Temple in the person of Jesus.  So we see every time, the glory of the new Temple was greater than the last.

When you think back to the past, when God was at work, what do you think of?

Do you think of the days of Christendom when everyone went to church and the country could truly be described as ‘a Christian country’?  Do you think of this church, or your previous churches, and activities that used to go on – church holidays, Noah’s Ark, holiday clubs, well-attended study groups?  Do you think of your own life and things you used to be able to do but can’t any more, or relationships you have lost?

It is easy sometimes to look back at the past.  We look at how things used to be, and wish we could go back.  Even if we ignore the fact that we look with rose-tinted glasses, that it was never as perfect as we think it was, the fact is we can’t go back.  We can live with a sense of dissatisfaction about that; we can look at what the world is today, what the church is today, even for some of us what our lives are today, and lament over the fact that it is not how it used to be, that the ‘glory days’ are over.  But if we live in that dissatisfaction, even if we try with all our might to return to the way things used to be, that serves no purpose but to destroy.

I invite you instead to look at the present.  Because the fact is, God is here now; in the world, in the church, in our lives.  The outside stuff might be less comfortable for us than it used to be; less showy than it used to be; but the God at the centre of all of it is absolutely as glorious as he ever was.  And maybe if we look at what God is doing now, if we see what he is building, we will find something even more glorious than what has gone before.

Do not be discouraged by what ‘used to be’.  Do not be distracted by wishing you could go back.  We may have lost a lot – but we have not lost everything.  God is still God, God is still glorious, God is still at work.  What is he doing here today?  This very day he has gathered us together in worship.  This very day he leads us and teaches us.  This very day HE IS HERE!  What more glory can we ask?

And God promises us that as he was with us in the past, as he is with us now, he will be with us in the future.  He promised the Israelites, ‘the glory of the present house will be greater than the glory of the former house.’  I will only be with you for a few more weeks, but the church remains.  God remains.  And God will continue to pour out his Spirit in this place if you continue to seek him.  Seek his future, not your past.  I don’t know what that looks like, at times it may not look like much, but I know God will be glorified in it.

The Bible is full of this hope.  Over and over, things don’t work out as people had planned, and yet God continues to work, going ‘from glory to glory’.  Paul writes of the glory of the new covenant (that is based on Jesus) surpassing that of the old covenant (that is based on the Law), and of us as Christians being transformed into the likeness of God ‘with ever-increasing glory’ by the Holy Spirit.  So the church, too, the new Temple consisting of the people of God, will go from glory to glory as it seeks the Lord.  And this church will grow, this church will be a light to the community, because God will make it so.

And finally I want to encourage us all in our lives.  Especially those of us who are getting older, or who are suffering losses of various kinds.  It is so tempting to look back and say “God worked through me when I was healthy.”  “God blessed me when I had my husband.”  “God gave me joy when my children were young.”  But what about now?  Do you know that God is the same God?  God who worked through you in health can work through you in sickness.  God who blessed you then can bless you now.  God who gave you joy in family will continue to give you joy in both biological and spiritual families.  What is God doing in your life?  Because he wants his glory to show in it.  You might think it doesn’t look like much, but God never intends us to fizzle and fade; his glory will shine through us until the very end.

We might, like the Israelites, look around us and think, ‘this is not what it used to be.’  But if God is here, if he is in us, and I trust he is, then we can take heart in the glory of his word.  As we do our best to make a place for him, he will glorify it, for it belongs to him.

Let us pray.

Lord God it is so easy to look at the past and think how good it was, and resent the present.  Give us strength to live in this day, to see you at work in this place, in this life, in this moment.  Give us the ability to see where you are leading us, to trust in the future you have for us.  And Lord may your glory shine through, not in the show and the brilliance of a building or a fancy lifestyle but all the more in our weakness and simplicity.  Be at the centre of our church, of our lives and transform us from glory into glory for your name’s sake.  Amen.

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