As I read the lessons appointed for this week, I simply could not escape the vision of Haggai. Perhaps its something as simple as the fact that of all these passages, that’s the only one I haven’t preached on before, but I don’t think so. Something caught fire in me as I read and re-read Haggai’s vision for the restoration of the Temple.
Not many of us know a lot about Haggai or his historical setting, and this makes all the difference as we listen for the Father’s Voice and His promise to us in this passage, so I’ll try to give a thumbnail sketch here.
Haggai is thought to be one of the first of the Israelites to return from captivity in Babylon. There were three major “returns” following the fall of the Babylonian empire to Cyrus of Persia. The first of these groups, numbering around 50,000 persons, came back to a situation of desperate poverty and grinding need. Many Jews had declined to return at all, having been born in Babylon and having established themselves financially in this new situation. The 50,000 who returned did so out of love for the Covenant and the hope that God would bless the nations through their faithfulness. There were no illusions about a happy return to a prosperous home.
Immediately upon their return work began on the restoration of the Temple. The Altar of Sacrifice was rebuilt, and the foundations laid, but then work stopped. The land had not been tended in 50 years or more. Food was scarce, and survival became the theme. Once the basics had been secured, the people became distracted with the acquisition of “extras.” Work on the Temple never resumed.
And God spoke to Haggai, and through him to the people. “Build the Temple!”
“Build the Temple! Build the Temple, because I intend to bring to it the riches of the Nations! Build the Temple, because your distractions profane even the things that you do offer at the Altar of Sacrifice! Build the Temple because I will bless you with provision so that you’ll have what you need to care for yourselves while you care for your worship.”
The people had become greatly discouraged by the lack they had encountered on their return, but the Lord’s promise through Haggai to be with them if they would cease to scramble after their own needs and turn to Him, to place His worship first and foremost, lifted them quickly to a new vision, and work quickly resumed on the Temple.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The Temple in which many of us would worship lies in ruins. There is an Altar of Sacrifice at which we hope to meet our most basic obligations, but this is not worship. God does not desire that we come to Him to appease Him, to avoid disappointing or angering Him. He desires Communion with us, not the exchange of wafers. He wants to be the center of our lives, not because He needs us, but because we need Him, and He knows it.
“Come back to Me!” He cries to the church that scrambles to meet its own needs, to secure its own future, and abandons worship for the sake of all the things that promise false guarantees. His heart burns with desire for you and me, for the relationship that cannot be supported by an hour or less of hymnody and ritual. God promises through Haggai that by placing Him first in their lives and in their thinking and doing, they will discover the inheritance He has promised them, His Abundance close to hand. His Provision begins with our worship. In worship we will discern His will for us, and in that will we will discover the means by which to accomplish it.
Do any of us really believe that His will for us is anything less than gracious and generous? Do we really believe that He would ask us to trust Him and to walk with Him without also providing food for the journey? Do any of us really believe that we can see farther into our futures than He can, and to prepare for them better than He can? Do we believe that we can better feed the poor than He can? That we can discern the best way to do anything in His service without surrendering our wills and imaginations and minds to Him first?
The Lord is crying out to us again to rebuild His Temple. His heart is on fire for us, and He weeps as he watches us walk back and forth to our Altars of Obligation without ever entering into worship and intimacy with Him. Our inheritance is close at hand, and yet we are as those with eyes who do not see, because we insist on seeking our own welfare by means of our limited vision.
The worship that He desires for us is an experience of God’s very being. Worship often begins with the contemplation or celebration of God’s acts of mercy, (the “praise” of “praise and worship”) but worship in Spirit and in Truth moves beyond this to moments of beholding. Creator and creature gaze with rapture into the eyes of one another. The love transferred in this moment does more than soothe or heal. It transforms through the ablation of all that is false in us as it infuses the Father’s heart for us and for those whom we have previously loved with our own broken loves.
This is the Communion the Father desires for us. This is the means by which He means to transfer to us the Riches that are our inheritance.
I close with a couple of the verses of promise from Haggai’s vision:
For thus says the LORD of hosts: 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, says the LORD of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the LORD of hosts. The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the LORD of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the LORD of hosts.(Haggai 2:6-8)