Having now spent more of my life on church payrolls than not, I have heard many stories. In every congregation they talk about the “Glory Days.” Depending on the congregation that decade changes, for some it was the sixties and others the eighties, still others fondly remember the seventies or even before, but each congregation had a time in their history that the hustle and bustle drove the congregation. In those times there were great things the congregations did, and there were difficulties, but in every congregation I have worked in or consulted with, they all longed for the time that was. They longed for the feeling, the comfort, the people of the past; they longed for restoration.
The funny thing about memories is that while they are always true, they do not always tell the whole story, since often in the best of times, there is also a great deal of brokenness. This Sunday we are exploring a passage from Haggai, one of the twelve minor prophets in the Hebrew Testament. This book is a collection of speeches given in the Fall of 520 BCE. Specifically, this passage dates to October 17, 520 BCE. For nearly 60 years the people had been working on the temple and it still showed little to no sign of ever being completed, let alone, be a place to gather to celebrate God.
As you could imagine, this was a difficult for the people. They had remembered it and had all of the fond memories, but with the length of time and the frustration of not seeing much of a change the people were restless. So Haggai gave a series of sermons, recorded in this book, to lift up and encourage his people. What makes this speech poignant is that this is given on the day of Sukkot or the Feast of Booths where the Ark of the Covenant would be brought in and a grand celebration would ensue.
The problem was that with the lack of progress the people, depressed by the situation, just were ready to give in. They wanted what they had and realized that it never was going to be. Which in some cases was true. In the rallying speech Haggai gives he lays the foundation for the fact that indeed the temple would be rebuilt, but with the rebuilt temple, would come something much more. “The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former (Haggai 2:9a)”
With all that is going on, the message of Haggai is that while you may not see things going the way you want, God is at work, and when it is all done, the glory you once knew will not come close to the glory that you will have. Granted, towards the end, the prophetic scripture now is relating to the reality that was revealed to us in Christ, who for Christians, is our new temple.
The hard part of reconciling our relationship with God is the fact that we want to be restored, and we want to be restored NOW!!! But like the temple, it just does not work that way. Moreover it is not something that is going to happen on its own. Like the temple, if the people did not move the stones it would not be built. This is true of our reconciliation; it is not something that is just going to happen, we have to take an active role, having the patience to allow the transformation to happen.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen