SERMON; HAGGAI – FIRST THINGS FIRST….

 

You can kind of understand how it happened!

In the euphoria of coming home…

getting back home after decades of oppression and exile…

now that you have returned to the promised land…

You have to do first things first….

Get a roof over your head…

Food and shelter

Sort out the domestic arrangements..

..

Yes, of course, a bit of a shame about the Temple lying in ruins

A bit awkward…like a very large sore thumb

Embarrassing….

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But, be reasonable

·        Once we’re settled in

·        Once the house is finished

·        Once the new carpets are down

·        Once the garden is landscaped

·        Once we’ve put on the extension

·        Once the decking is done…

·        When we’ve more time

·        More money

·        More energy

Then…

Maybe then…we can think about re-building the Temple..

Then we can turn our attention to the Temple

First things first!

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Haggai the prophet is having none of it!

Of course, the people are excited about being home

After decades in Babylon

Babylon…where it began to look as if their religion,

and with it their identity,

would die…

Of course, they are thrilled to be back in Jerusalem

Starting a new life…regenerating the old life…

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All of that is true.

All of that is perfectly understandable…

But, says Haggai the prophet…

You’re missing the point.

And the point is - what does God want from you

What are his priorities?

How come you are all so busy with your own domestic affairs

That you have no time, resources or passion left

For the things of God??

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Take a look at yourselves, he argues

It’s all about your agenda, and not at all about his

Seek first the kingdom of God!!

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Ouch!

It’s all so embarrassing

Because it’s all so true.

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Priorities and how to decide them!!

How do we do our religion?

Fit it in with our life, our timetable, our programme

Squeeze it into our life …

Or, is it our life?

Does God have first dibs on our time, our talents our money –

Or the fag end…the left-overs –

when we have done that we want to do?

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Let it be noted…many within our church are committed to the hilt…

have well sorted out in their minds, their hearts,

how they live - and the honour and service they bring to God.

Wonderful and sacrificial amounts of commitment are shown week and in week out…..

So, this is not about anyone who is already serving God

with a generous love and a deep commitment

being burdened with extra pressures…

that would not be right, and it would not be fair…

And I, for one, have too much respect for the levels of Christian service demonstrated by a surprising and humbling number of people…

ever to want to ratchet up guilt -or add pressures…

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But it is always good to ask, as Haggai asks the people…

are we settling for a sensible, controlled, expression of faith and commitment

or are we seeking first the kingdom of God….

wherever that inconvenient commitment will take us…

whatever focusing of our enthusiasms it will ask of us…

Are we setting the bar at

reasonable, limited, commitment, 

and holding back from the jar of perfume religion

of the woman who pours her costly family heirloom on the feet on Jesus

in love and devotion that is visionary and deep…

The kind of service that does not count the cost…does not heed the wounds…?

 

We might wonder what all the fuss is about anyway…

the Temple in Jerusalem is just a building

and, as we know, God doesn’t live in a building…

no matter how impressive ornate or amazing it is…

God is not contained in buildings - but is here, there, and everywhere…

and especially… in the hearts of his people…

So, why stress about the state of the Temple in Jerusalem…??

It’s just a symbol…!!

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But the trouble with symbols is that they speak…

.they make a statement…

And, if you have set up that iconic building

to tell a story, represent a significant truth –be something sacred…

then there are consequences….

People look at the symbol, and reflect on its meaning…

And, if it isv broken down, in a state of disrepair,

if it is clearly neglected…

and no one seems to care that it is broken down and neglected…

then, the story it begins to tell is a very different one…

a very negative one…

Instead of faith being at the centre

it is seen as being on the periphery

Instead of it supposing to matter very much

It now looks- in its embarrassing state of ruination,

as if faith, and worship, and God, don’t matter very much at all…

 

For the Jews, the Temple - glorious and sacred - originally said so many things…made such a crucial statement about who they believed themselves to be, what they believed their identity was all about…The presence of the awe-inspiring Temple in their capital city said loud and clear and confident:

·        God is with us

·        God is here

·        This place is holy

·        This place draws us together

·        This place draws the eyes of the world.

·        Tells our story

And through its constant acts of worship, and the continuous smoke from its sacrifices and the sacred songs that are sung day after day…

It reminds us of the core need we have of God and of his forgiveness…

Therefore, when the Temple is not operational…

functioning as a focus of devotion…

then the heart is ripped out of Judaism…

So re-building the Temple is not, for Haggai…and should not be for the people…an afterthought

.but a priority…a declaration of intent –

and a reminder of who they are…their history and their hopes…

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If you’re going to have a symbol…you need to take care of it…

Remember the embarrassment when bits started falling off the Scottish Parliament building…

a piece of architecture that was supposed to symbolise

a confident nation - capable of looking after matters of state…

To have chunks of the building falling on people’s heads

was not a good signal….a good image…

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Of course, God doesn’t live in church buildings,

be they Salisbury Cathedral or Spott Kirk…

but when we construct buildings - and dedicate them to the glory of God –

and raise them on the skyline of our towns and cities,

then we want to make sure that they remain symbols

of dedication and honour

and never are allowed to end up telling a different story

one of forgetfulness and indifference.

It’s not just about heritage – it’s about perception

and how the world views our commitment….

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Of course, things change.

Communities move…

churches can become marooned in the middle of motorways,

the population they served long since decamped to other parts of the city. Glasgow is pock-marked by these redundant churches

stranded like beached whales in the middle of flyovers and underpasses…

it’s not a good look…

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And there are – because of ancient quarrels,

schisms and squabbles that no one can quite remember any more….

there are too many church buildings!

We bear the consequences of that

still around …to remind us of those bad old days….

and the question bears down on the resources of the church…

what to do with those church building?

Many of them built out of posturing and sheer bloody mindedness

at a time when the church seemed happy to tear itself to pieces…

No one feels comfortable when a church is turned into a night-club, a carpet warehouse or sweetie factory…

on one level there is a serious loss of face…

the negative public perception is re-inforced.

The past divisions come back to bite us…

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However, where there is a living, worshipping, witnessing community of faith who do have a place to gather,

who do have a base from which to move out in witness and service…

then we want to make sure that we honour that commitment

and ensure that the place we call a house of prayer

and a focal point of worship is a priority for us…

That it looks cared for

Is well-maintained

Tells the story it is meant to tell…

that here is a people to whom God matters

Here is a place where week out, week in

God’s name is held in the highest honour,

his good news is announced

and wounded souls find healing, and hope.

AMEN.

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