Haggai 1:2-9, 14 & 2:1, 4-9
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
November 6, 2022
Moral confusion…political degeneration…social chaos…increasing violence…impoverishing inflation…selfish disregard of the welfare of others…and off-handed indifference to God!
Do these terms apply to America today? They do – and to a tiny subjected state of the Persian Empire made up of Jerusalem and a bit of Judah in 521 B.C.
Sixty-seven years before Haggai prophesied, Babylon had destroyed Jerusalem and its glorious temple, and exiled the Jews hundreds of miles to the east. After the Persian Empire replaced the Babylonian, the new superpower supported the Jews’ return to their homeland.
Eighteen years before Haggai prophesied, a small band of brave Jews had camped amidst the fire-blackened ruins of Jerusalem and made an enthusiastic start on rebuilding the house of God there. But foreign opposition and internal apathy brought the work to a standstill; and for years nothing was done – until Haggai began to exhort the people to set their priorities right and to serve God (and their relationship with Him) first and foremost.
Rebuilding God’s house, the temple, was at that moment the best way they could do that. Restoring it would catalyze the reviving of their life with God.
But with prices soaring and basic life necessities in short supply, many of the repatriated Israelites were focusing entirely on doing what they thought they had to in order to survive. As a result, they were neglecting God and allowing their faith community to flounder.
As Haggai had heard from God, the Lord wanted to bring His beloved people to their senses; and, to do that, He let their self-directed and misdirected hard work in lesser concerns come to nothing. They sowed much but harvested little; they ate but never felt satisfied; they earned wages but, storing them in bags with holes, lost them right away. God’s allowing them to know all that frustration was the tough love God exercised to teach them the truth that even the most strenuous efforts in other concerns, if not coupled with equally strenuous efforts in Godly concerns, leaves people empty and discontented.
When God through Haggai commanded them to prioritize building His house over their own, it wasn’t because the One who is everywhere needed a place. But His people needed a place where they could consistently, if not always, encounter God; and, as a result, renew their love of Him and make the maintenance of a friendship with Him the chief aim of their life.
The hard circumstances of Haggai’s day made it impossible to restore the temple to its prior magnificence any time soon; but the volunteers rebuilding it could, by making it the best they then could, make it all it needed to be so as to bring people into close contact with the living God and give God thereby the chance to lift up their spirits and inspire them to enact justice, compassion and witness. Their obedience would move things nearer to the great day ahead when, as Haggai put it, “the latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former” as God would bring in all the nations and by them fill it with His glory and shalom.
No one knew the time that great day would arrive; it might be soon or long off. And, however near or distant it might be, there were, either way, many blind turns down the road to it. All anyone could then see of even the immediate future was all the challenges before them – most especially, the growing disinterest in God and disregard of God’s values.
Though the rebuilders of God’s house would be blind as to where, at least in the short run, its rebuilding would bring them, they could still build faithfully and expectantly. All they needed was the courage their faith imparts to keep on keeping on with hope. If they could believe in God’s steadfast love, they could persevere in their work, undaunted by the uncertainties and risks.
So three times in one verse here, Haggai urged folks to “take courage” since God had promised His presence to those who follow His will, telling such folks, “I am with you” and “my Spirit abides among you.” God’s presence makes it so that, if they do their modest part, God will do His mighty and marvelous part and work miracles in their individual lives and in the life of the broader community.
We live in much the same world as Haggai, and face much the same challenges. While we haven’t undergone the exile the ancient Israelites had, we were exiled from each other’s company by months upon months of lockdowns; and while the house of God we call our spiritual home was not left in ruins as Haggai’s was, we find it, on our return, left emptier of people than before. And as Haggai discovered in his day, we discover in our day that the culture around us more and more disdains our faith.
But we have the same promise from God which Haggai had. So, if we obey God about rebuilding His house and count on His being with us in the effort, we will grow courageous in our hope that wonders for us and others will come. For if we give our best to the Lord, He will give His best to us; and His best is so enormous it will cause our humble labors to bring about huge blessings for all.
So let us dedicate, to the rebuilding of this house of God, our time as limited as we think it is, our talent as modest as we think it is, and our treasure as meager as we think it is. For what matters is being “all in” and doing our best.
So please pray this week about what of your time, talent and treasure you can pledge to the rebuilding of this house of God in 2023. Next Sunday, in worship, we can offer up to God our faith promises for the building of the house He is dreaming of bringing into being.