Haggai was one of what is known as the “lesser prophets.” These are the prophets who wrote the twelve short books at the end of the Old Testament, starting with Hosea and ending with Malachi.
Haggai prophesied in the period when the exiles were returning to the promised land of their ancestors. It was to these returned exiles that God sent Haggai to Judah to deliver messages to the war-weary refugees. Haggai had himself been in exile in Babylon and was thus among those who were allowed to return to the promised land.
When Haggai made it to Jerusalem, he was very disappointed to discover that those who had stayed in the land during the period of exile, as well as those exiles who had arrived home ahead of him, had given little to no attention to the task of rebuilding the temple.
So the message of Haggai was to try and motivate the returned exiles to not forget that as they got their lives going again, they needed to be sure to adhere closely to God’s laws, and they needed to be faithful in their worship of the Lord.
Even though they were very busy rebuilding their land and their homes and their businesses, they should also be sure to take time to rebuild the temple so they could resume the practice of regularly worshiping God there.
What the people did was understandable. They came home to destruction. Everything they had known was gone. Rubble was everywhere, and the land had not been cultivated in more than 60 years. They were continuously plagued by drought and hostile neighbors. They were in SURVIVAL MODE.
So in the midst of this, Haggai’s message to the people from God was a simple one: Make God a priority in your lives, and goodness will follow.
Those in the communities we serve may not be in the same kind of survival mode that the Jewish people were in (or maybe they are!), but no matter what the situation is, we can all understand survival mode. Because we’ve all experienced it at one time or another.
Survival mode. When you are in it, you don’t have time to think about making the worship of God a priority in your life or taking time away from your already overcrowded schedule to help rebuild the temple.
When you’re in survival mode, you don’t have enough time or energy to get the basic necessities done. So you certainly don’t have EXTRA time to give to the service of the church.
And yet, that’s just exactly what God, through Haggai, asks of the people of Israel.
God says, in essence, “Don’t tell me you don’t have time. MAKE THE TIME. Because taking time to worship God, taking time to serve God and serve others, is NOT OPTIONAL.”
Pay close attention here to the prophet’s words:
Speak now to the leaders of Judah and to the remnant of the people and say, Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing? Yet now take courage. Take courage, all you people of the land. Work, for I am with you, according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you. Don’t be afraid.
Because once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendor. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine. The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former. And in this place I will give prosperity, says the Lord of hosts (2:3-9, NRSV, adapted).
Haggai is saying, “You want to know how to get through the times when you are in survival mode? I’ll tell you how. “Find the courage to give some of your time to this necessary thing, because it is just as necessary, maybe even MORE necessary, to your survival, than building your houses and planting your crops.”
Find the courage, find the time in your busy, busy lives, to stretch yourselves, to push yourselves beyond your comfort level and make time to worship your Lord.
And in return, says the Lord of Hosts, I will fill you and your house with a greater peace, greater splendor, greater prosperity, than you’ve ever known.
So what does that look like? Does that mean that if I take time to serve the Lord, the Lord will reward me by making me rich and famous? Certainly, I think that we can interpret this to mean that when we serve others, when we give ourselves to the needs of God’s world, and maybe especially when we don’t really have the time to spare, then we will be rewarded in a way that is greater than any earthly reward could ever compare.
Because the rewards of the heart, the peace and satisfaction of knowing that we didn’t just live our lives for ourselves and our own house, but that we gave back and we gave ourselves and lived our lives for others, is a greater reward than any amount of money and treasure could ever give us.
That’s what Jesus meant when he said in Matthew, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21, NRSV)
To those of in our congregations who would say, “I don’t have time right now to serve on a committee” or “I don’t have the money to make a pledge to the church” or “I don’t have a free night to attend a study group” or “I don’t want to spend an extra hour at church every Sunday going to Sunday school” or “I don’t have time to REBUILD THAT TEMPLE WHILE I’M TRYING TO REBUILD MY OWN LIFE because I’m in survival mode,” through the prophet Haggai, God is saying to them and to all of us, “Be courageous and MAKE THE TIME.”
- It is important to make time to worship the Lord God all the time, but especially during the difficult times.
- It is important that our members take not just minimal care, but really GOOD care of our temples.
- It is important to make room in our busy schedules to serve God and love our neighbors.
- It is important to recognize and give thanks for God’s abundant care of us.
Invite your congregation to look around at the beautiful temple that God has provided for them to worship in. It should be perfectly clear to everyone that God provides. And clearly God doesn’t just provide the bare necessities.
God provides abundantly! God shakes the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land, and God shakes all the nations, so that the treasure of the all nations comes and fills God’s house with splendor—the silver and the gold are the Lord’s, and prosperity and peace is given to all of God’s people.
It doesn’t matter so much what people do to serve God and worship the Lord as it does that they take the time to do these things, even when they are very busy. Maybe especially when they are very busy. That seems to be Haggai’s advice on how to persevere after the disaster.
So take courage, all you people of the land! Work, for God is with you, and in a little while God will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; and God will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and God will fill your house with splendor!
Can we move from an attitude of survival mode to an attitude of perseverance? Can we do this even after disaster in our personal lives, in our churches, in our communities, and in our world? Can we trust that God is with us? Can we make the time to offer our time and our talents and our best effort to assist our neighbors who are in need, be they across the street or across the globe?
Of course we can! All we have to do is look to the community of saints, the great cloud of witnesses who have walked before us through times of trial and hardship only to rise victorious. Consider the litany of examples from the twelfth chapter of Hebrews, which culminates with these powerful words:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. . . Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and through it many become defiled. (Hebrews 12:1-2, 12-15, NRSV).
Today we celebrate All Saints’ Day. The saints who have taught us, who have offered their witness and encouragement, who have shown us how to persevere through times of trial, are not just found in the record of our holy Scriptures. They are found in the witness of history. They our found in the witness of our own families and congregations. The great cloud of witnesses continues to grow, and we become part of it by our own witness to the power of faith to help us not just persevere, but rise victorious with Christ in the coming kingdom that has no end.
The good news is that our faith is built not on sinking sand, but on the solid rock of Jesus Christ. Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness! Our coping methods are formed on a sure foundation that gives us the strength not just to wait with patience and trust, but to persevere, through the storms and through the night, heading on always to the light, and holding on tight to our precious Savior’s hand every step of the way. We serve a God who promises to make all things new!
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