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Latter Glory - Sermon, 11/10/19
November 10, 2019, 12:00 AM

Today is one of the days I am glad that I no longer have to read the lesson from the Old Testament. More so than in the Gospels, there are many, many, many weird names to have to pronounce. The Gospel readings, which are generally the job of the deacon or priest to proclaim, rarely have difficult-to-pronounce proper names. Darius? Easy enough. Haggai? Sure. But then we get to Zerubbabel, Shealtiel, and Jehozadak. Definitely not so easy to get your mouth around.

 

Normally, I would just suggest that we look past the seemingly extraneous details in the reading from Haggai, details like dates and names. In today’s reading from Haggai, however, it is important to pay attention to the little details, like dates and names. These little details help to give us, the modern audience, a sense of the context. The story we hear today takes place in a very particular time and place in the history of the Jewish people.

 

They are beginning to return to Jerusalem after yet another period of exile. When the Jewish people get back to their homeland, they are overwhelmed by the terrible state of things. Everything has been destroyed, including the beautiful temple. Remember that the temple in Jerusalem was the center of Jewish life at the time. It was a place for worship, a place where the very presence of God resided, so to lose the center of their community was extremely traumatizing.

 

Fortunately, the people around the prophet Haggai are beginning to rebuild the temple. Unfortunately, it is not off to a particularly good start. The new construction is not living up to the temple’s former glory. It is, as Haggai reports, “nothing.” The people who remember the glory of the former temple are, to say the least, not impressed. This must be a depressing experience for the Jewish people.

 

Yet, Haggai says, yet. “Yet now take courage.” “Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel . . . take courage, O Joshua . . . take courage, all you people of the land.” According to the words of God, spoken through the prophet Haggai, all the people of Jerusalem are meant to feel, hear, and experience the divine gift of courage. Rebuilding is possible because the people are rebuilding with the blessing and help of the God who rescued the people from slavery in Egypt. Rebuilding is possible because the people have the support of God.

 

While the new temple may not look exactly like the old one, Haggai promises that the new temple will surpass the previous temple’s glory. “The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former,” as Haggai records God’s word. The latter house, the new temple, will be different but will still be a home for God’s presence on earth. The God who liberated the people from slavery in Egypt will continue to live in the new house – even though it looks and feels different from the old house.

 

Does this sound familiar to anyone here this morning? The idea that the house of God is changing? The concept that the life God has in store for us in the future is different than the life we have lived in the past? Like the people in Haggai’s time, there are folks in the church returning from exile, and the church, just like the temple in Jerusalem, the church is in the process of being rebuilt. The new church doesn’t look like, sound like, or feel like the old church we knew before. The new church might feel like “nothing,” like the people felt at the time of Haggai.

 

I’m pretty sure there are some people in this community who believe passionately that the glory of this church has passed, that the church’s best days are behind it. There are probably people who remember fondly the days when Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church was a center of the community, days when the church was filled with people, with activity, with energy. Those days in the past are occasionally seen as the pinnacle, the height, the best days of the church. The new way Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church looks and lives now are not always seen as an improvement.

 

So we know what the people at Haggai’s time felt like. We look back at the past glory of the church just as the people of Jerusalem look back at the past glory of the temple. But let us take comfort in the words of the prophet: yet. “Yet take courage.”

 

The prophet promises that the “latter splendor . . . shall be greater than the former” and we can claim the same truth as our own. Haggai could only promise that the “latter splendor” of the new temple would be greater than the last because it was actually God who promised – the God who lived up to the divine promise of liberation from Egypt.

 

We, too, can claim the same truth because we believe in the same God. We believe in the God who liberated slaves from Egypt. We believe in the God of faithfulness. We believe in the God of love. We believe in the God who sent Jesus. And because of this belief, the “latter splendor” of the church “shall be greater than the former.”

 

Here’s the catch – and there’s always a catch. Yes, our beloved church can come to new glory but, no, there is no formula that will automatically restore Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church to its former glory. After all, our God is not a God of magic but a God of relationships. We “still (need) to do (our) part in restoring the temple” (Steed Davidson).

 

According to theologian Steed Davidson, “the work of the people serves as an expression of God’s work among them.” In the process of working to restore the glory of Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church, we will be giving glory to God. In the process of rebuilding Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church, we are living out God’s presence among us.

 

There is a strong temptation to look at a current state of affairs and feel defeated. Instead, let us look to the past with appreciation and into the future with hope. Let us look forward to the day when, as promised by the prophet Haggai, God “will fill this house with splendor.”

 

 
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