Haggai 1:15b-2:9

This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on November 6th, 2016.

haggaiWhat happens when our reality does not live up to our expectations? For the returned exiles of Israel, this was the question. During the reign of King Darius, the people of Israel returned to their land and started to rebuild the temple. Pretty soon they noticed that their new temple did not live up to the picture of the temple they had from the past. One can sympathize with them. During the long exile no doubt the stories of the temple were told. The thought of returning home and seeing that former glory must have helped ease their pain during the nights they spent in a land that was not their own. Yet, they stood before a new temple that was under construction and it could not live up the first, no matter what they did.

The question of the exiles is one often asked by churches. Most churches can remember a sort of golden age. The time when the budget was better and more people were in the pews. Or maybe just a time when things seemed easier or when the world made more sense. It can be easy to look at the congregation, budget, connection with the community, or a whole series of measures and think “this is not what I expected it to be.” The question does not even have to stop at the church. It can extend wider to denominations or even take root at a personal level in one’s life. This question has relevance to us today in many ways.

The problem the exiles had was that there was work that needed to be done on the new temple, but the construction efforts were being hampered by the dissatisfaction of the workers. Why should they even try when their best could never be as good as it once was? It was in this situation that the word of the Lord came to Haggai.

The question of the text stands out. What words would help? What can one do? In an effort to move forward, the prophet first names the problem. He calls for those who have “seen this house in its former glory.” These old timers were around seventy years old and would have seen the temple before it was destroyed. Haggai speaks out to this crowd that the new temple might not be what it once was. Interestingly, these elders would have probably only seen a temple that was not at the peak of its splendor. By the time the temple was destroyed it had been plundered of much of its valuable objects and artifices. While the building would have still been impressive, it was not maybe the full image they thought of now. As is often the case the past can be better in memory. Still, the word that Haggai gives is not concerned with this unrealistic, idealistic view.

Instead, the words of Haggai make an unexpected move. They reach out to the past, but just farther back. Haggai tells the people to “take courage” because the Lord is with them. The God that brought them out of Egypt also stood with them that day. Scholars remark that even the words used here harken back to older formations that would have been familiar to the people listening. The words are not meant to pander but to invoke comfort in the original meaning of their story. God has been with the people in the past and is with them in the present. The hope is to return to what was important before even the first temple was built.

Golden days hold sway in our minds for many reasons. They were exciting times with a lot to do and felt good. But often lost in the nostalgia of the past is what is truly important for a church or faith community. The core of faith usually existed before a golden time and will exist after. Getting lost in the past can often make us forget that fact. The words of Haggai to the people then, as it is to us now, are a reminder of why we are here.

So, what do we so with the last verses promising splendor along with gold and silver? Does the Lord mean that the current temple will have more gold than the former one? One way to read these verses is to take the talk of splendor in the sense of things that matter more than gold and silver. The Lord will fill the temple with things of value. These things just might be different than expected. Perhaps a better, different way to interpret this would be to see the statement of the Lord as saying all things belong to God. To worry about the gold and silver is to think that these things are now beyond God’s control. Instead, the word of the Lord says to not worry about what is missing because the Lord already has command over those things. Instead, just be concerned with what is present now.

When we find ourselves in a time of life that is not what we expected, it can be easy to think about what we don’t have, but the Lord has all we need. Instead, perhaps the focus can shift on what we can do. The work ahead might not be easy. It might not be as glamorous as it once was, but it is still good work. We can take heart that even though our circumstances change God does not. He will give us strength for the task ahead.


img_2476Nicholas Deere
Broadus Memorial Baptist Church, Charlottesville, Virginia





Tags: nostalgia, provision, remembrance, promises, past

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