Monday, November 8, 2010

Sermon for Nov 7, 2010, Haggai 2:1-9

Rev. George Miller
Haggai 2:1-9
“Claiming Courage”
Nov 7, 2010

My name is Aaron. I am 13 years old. This is the only kind of life I have known: ruin, destruction and loss. The streets are torn up, the land is dry and unusable, and the Temple is blackened blocks of charred mess.

I live in a broken down house that I share with my parents and grandparents. It’s a time of economic hopelessness where Dad has to work twice as hard to make half of what he should.

Across the street is my friend Sarah. Her parents gave her that name because it reminds them of the past when God had done an amazing thing.

I look around and see the ruined buildings and skinny cows and say “God is dead.” That makes my grandmother cry and my grandfather Joseph upset. He tells me to never say such a thing, but I do anyway.

Dead, dead, dead, God is dead. Don’t believe me? Just look at what happened to our city 67 years ago.

Grandpa Joseph said that Jerusalem was like nothing you’ve ever seen. The city was the highest point of Judah and the Temple was the highest building. He said that when the sun hit it just right, the Temple shined.

The land was good for growing, the city’s location perfect for trading and God had blessed the people with milk and honey and the promise to always be with them.

But as Grandpa Joseph tells it, people forgot about God and bad things began to happen. They were attacked by the Babylonians who leveled everything: the stores, the houses, the fields, the Temple.

They took people away to be treated like slaves. My grandparents were just 5 at the time. Grandpa Joseph said that in Babylon they were forced to work long hours and were teased for their beliefs. And they wonder why I say God is dead.

My grandparents were married in Babylon, and had my father. Somehow they kept their faith, believing that one day they would return to Jerusalem.

Their beliefs came true 50 years later. The Persians defeated the Babylonians and set my family free. As joyful as it was for my grandparents, it was confusing for my parents: they had been born in Babylon and that was the only placed they knew.

Everyone was devastated when they came to Jerusalem and saw it in ruins. For fifteen years the people tried to rebuild the Temple, but with no luck. The Temple remained in a state of defilement and uncleanness.[i]

Instead they worried about the economy, and they focused on their own needs, struggling for a long time.

I was born here. My parents named me Aaron after Grandpa Joseph’s father who has died during the exile. I hate my name and that I’m named after a foolish old man who believed in a God who is dead.

I said that once and it broke Grandpa Joseph’s heart.

One day this guy, Haggai, a real charismatic fellow, comes up from nowhere claiming he has a message from God. He tells everyone that we are too stop being so wishy-washy and worrying only about ourselves and to get to work on rebuilding God’s Temple.

I was there to hear it. It was a pretty powerful speech; got people real excited and motivated.

Grandpa Joseph said that Haggai had some real matzos to say what he said. Grandma and Mom were embarrassed but Dad and I laughed.

Haggai told everyone upfront: “Take courage, take courage, take courage oh you people, and work, for God is with you.”

I was with Sarah and I said “Yeah right, God is not real and I don’t want to work as much as I don’t like girls.” For some reason that made Sarah run away and cry. I guess I forget that she is a girl.

My father made it very clear that God was calling us all to pitch in and help, and that since I was part of the family I was expected to help too. I said no.

Well, Dad made me cut down my own switch from the tree. After giving me a good what for, he, Grandpa Joseph, mom, Grandma, Sarah and her family and myself all went to work helping in any way we could to rebuild the Temple.

I hate God….

My name is Aaron. I am 16 years old. This is the only kind of life I have known: ruin, destruction and loss.

The streets are still torn up and the Temple is a hodge-podge of half done walls and unfinished floors.

Across the street is my friend Sarah. She’s been promised to me in marriage. Our parents decided that we won’t get married until the Temple is finished. They want us to have a proper Jewish wedding, the first in either family for 70 years.

God and I are still not doing that well. I can’t say that I hate God. But I still don’t care about or get God.

The older I get and the more I learn about what my family went through in the exile, the more I ask how a loving God could allow such a thing to happen.

But Dad still has us working alongside everyone else. I tell you one thing, the work is hard but it’s done a wonder in keeping our minds off of our worries. It’s also done a wonder for our bodies, making us strong and tan and feeling like for the first time in a long while like we can do anything.

While we work people tells stories and sing songs from the days before the exile, about God’s deliverance and goodness, and I’ve enjoyed hearing some of the tales, even if they seem far-fetched.

But it’s not like things have been easy. First, the elders haven’t been too happy. You know how old folk can be. Always talking about the “good old days” and the “way things used to be” and “we didn’t do things like that back in my day.”

Makes me wonder if I’ll be the same way when I get to be their age.

Anyhow, here’s what happened. Haggai got everyone so excited about rebuilding the Temple. We’ve done more in 3 years then were done in 15. But it seems like nothing we do can compare to the splendor of the original Temple.

People keep bringing up the past and how it used to look, but Haggai has to remind them that back then we still had the Ark of the Covenant and all that other religious stuff that was taken by the Babylonians.

Haggai also reminded them that it’s not their Temple, but God’s Temple, and that it’s more important that the Temple is rebuilt then it being an exact replica of the original.

Well, I still wonder why we even need a temple to worship a God who seems to be asleep. Dad tried to explain that the Temple is more then just God’s house, that it’s where we gather as a unified community and become as one.

“Yeah, yeah,” I thought, “Blow it out your ear.” Although I don’t say it to Dad lest he make me get another switch; I already learned my lesson last time.

But something really sad happened last week: Grandpa Joseph died. It bought near killed my grandmother, especially her knowing that Grandpa did not live to see the Temple restored.

We did what we could to give him a proper funeral. We took Grandpa Joseph’s corpse and washed it, covered it in a white shroud and buried him the same day he died. We put three pieces of broken pottery on his eyes and mouth.

Next we put a handful of dirt under his head. Then it began to hit me: this wasn’t just dirt. It was dirt from Israel, his…my, homeland.

We each shoveled dirt onto Grandpa Joseph’s body and said a prayer that went “may the Omnipresent comfort you among mourners of…Jerusalem.”

That’s when Grandma and Dad really began to cry, because the appeal to Jerusalem was of course, a reference to the Temple, which had not yet been restored.[ii]

I was glad to have Sarah by my side. She is strong and full of hope and will make a good wife. Yet I still wonder why we should continue building a Temple for a God who let my grandparents be taken away and has allowed Grandpa Joseph to be 6 feet under ground…

My name is Aaron. I am 18 years old. Five years ago, all I knew was ruin, destruction and loss. But not anymore: after five years of back breaking work the Temple has been restored.

Sarah no longer lives across the street, she is now my wife. Just as our parents had hoped for we were wed in the Temple, the first one in either family since the exile 72 years ago.

God and I are doing much better. I think I’ve begun to understand some things. I still wonder how God could allow my family to go through the exile or let Grandpa Joseph die before the Temple was done.

Life has become better since we followed Haggai’s prophetic call to take courage and work.

For one thing, everyone’s happier. People seem more unified and the economy seems better.

I didn’t realize it before, but the Temple really is much more then just the House of God, but it’s the home for God’s people.

It’s become the center of our community, where we go to study and pray; gather to worship and celebrate, to mark the turning points in our lives, regardless if they involve tears of joy or of sorrow.

The Temple is where we do these things not only in the eyes of the community, but in the eyes of our God who does indeed love and care for us.

Do you know what the proudest day of my life was? Eight days after my son was born, we brought him into the Temple to be circumcised. The temple priest asked what we were to call him, and I said “His name will be Joseph, after my grandfather.”

Joseph was circumcised, a declaration of his heritage and the mark of his acceptance into the covenant community of God.[iii] My grandmother and parents wept with joy.

And then I really understood it: the Temple is more then just about now. It is about yesterday and all the people that came before and all the good things God has done like leading the people out of Eygpt and giving them the law and the prophets.

It is also about today; all the things God is doing seen and unseen and all the people’s lives God is touching and blessing, like Sarah and I and baby Joseph.

But it is also about the future, all the things God has yet to do and will do, like the coming of the promised Messiah, the beating of swords into plowshares, the lion laying down with the lamb, and the resurrection of the dead.

Maybe Joseph will get to be a part of that. Or maybe his son, or his son’s son.

When Haggai spoke his message of hope amidst the harsh reality of our destroyed land,[iv] convincing us to take courage and work, I was but a child. I spoke like a child, I acted like a child. But now I have put way childish things and I have become a man.

With the work of the Temple completed, I’ve learned a few things. First, God is indeed the Great I AM. Always with us, always loving us, no matter how hard and difficult life may seem.

Second, God can be revealed in ways that are concretely present and deeply personal. One way is through the House of God, which allows us to acknowledge God’s presence with us. The symbols we use can remind us to seek out and to look towards God.[v]

The third point is this: we give thanks for what God has done in the past and present, and to remember that God is moving all of us towards the future.

Yes, God has worked in the past, but we are to move forward, making new discoveries, realizing that every day holds the chance for wonder-working power and limitless possibilities of transformation.[vi]

In conclusion, five years ago Haggai convinced us to take courage and work and rebuild the Temple. In essence he was calling us to give testimony to the reign of God in the present and the future.[vii]

Now that I have become a husband and a father, I give thanks for Haggai’s fearless word of courage and work. He knew that without the Temple, without proper worship, we’d be doomed to fail.[viii]

The Temple reminds us that despite issues of poor health, economic worries and fears of vulnerability, God’s peace is present; and God’s peace brings with it prosperity of health and community to the people.[ix]

And the Temple, more then just being the House of God, becomes a concrete reminder that as chaotic as life can be, we can make it one day at a time, with the love of God.
Amen and amen
[i] Wm Brown, Haggai, 128 (see Lam. 1:8-9, 4:14-15, Ezek 8)
[ii] All of the above funeral information comes from Jacob Neusner’s Judaism- An Introduction, 2002, pp. 92-95.
[iii] R. Alan Culpepper, New Interpreter’s Bible vol IX- Luke, pg. 69.
[iv] Rhodes, New Interpreter’s Bible vol VII- Haggai, pg. 708
[v] As claimed by Achtemeier in the Interpretation series of Haggai, pp. 96-97
[vi] Achtemeier, p. 102.
[vii] Rhodes, 712.
[viii] Brown, 128.
[ix] Rhodes, 725.

No comments: