Monday, January 28, 2013

Out Of The Ruins...Renewal: The Book Of Haggai For The Church Today (Part 1 Haggai 1:1-15)... Renewed Priorities in the Face of Economic Realities.

Over the next three weeks we are going to be looking at the book of Haggai. I’ve called the series “Out Of The Ruins Renewal: The Book of Haggai For the Church today”. Haggai speaks to the people of God at one of the low points of their history. Jerusalem and the temple had been destroyed, the people had been  away in captivity in Babylon for seventy years, the political scene was changing with the rise of the Persian empire,  and now a rag tag remnant had come back home and were eking out an existence amidst the ruins of what used to be. They are a struggling people with a struggling leadership. Haggai’s message is one of renewal and of hope, it’s a call to put their faith into action. In four short messages over a six month period, that’s all we know of Haggai and his ministry, Haggai inspires that remnant to take on the amazing task of rebuilding the temple, symbolic of renewing themselves as God’s peoples: Renewing their witness to the greatness and the goodness of God.
As we begin this New Year, which is a pivotal one in the life of the church here,  I believe Haggai has a lot to say to us. God wants to speak to us and challenge us and bring renewal within us by his Spirit.  God wants to renew us. In fact renewal is going to be the overarching theme for the year. Renew your people O God, Renew us. Haggai I believe opens that up by calling God’s people then, and you’ll notice that Haggai speaks to a very concrete time and place each of his prophecies is very time specific, and now, because it is the timeless word of God,  to renewed priorities, in the face of hard economic realities, renewed courage and vision when it all seems too much, and at the core of it all renewed relationship with God. My prayer is in the midst of that we might encounter God in a new way, the you and I may be renewed.

People had come back to Jerusalem from exile and they had started to rebuild their lives amongst the ruins. They had restarted agriculture and kick started the economy and trade, started rebuilding the infrastructure and a living for themselves. That was their focus. Some of them had obviously started to do quite well and had got to a certain level of prosperity  as they had start to build more than just basic shelter, rather houses of panelled wood. The focus was to get ahead financially. Peter Craige says that the focus was on themselves individually, this meant that they had no thought of rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem, that they had not put the worship of God as a central priority in their lives.
Now throughout the psalms that come from the time of the exile there is a longing to go back to Jerusalem to worship God, what kept them going and together was that they were God’s people. But as they had come back they found that they had new priorities, they found themselves coping with a harsh economic reality which more than their faith shaped their priorities.

I don’t know about you but the way Haggai describes the result of that policy that priority sounds rather familiar. Their focus was on materialistic things but the reality of these things was not living up to their promise. They had food but were never full, drink but it never quenched their thirst, they never had enough cloths, and despite earning wages it was like putting them in a purse with a hole in it. I don’t know about you but is sounds like the economic reality we live in today. You expected much says Haggai, but see, it turned out to be little.

We live in a society with that same priority. That sees fulfilment in terms of standard of living and personal financial security. Some people just get by, others do quite well and many struggle. We live in an age where we are promised so much but in reality it delivers so little. Technology was supposed to make life simpler but do you see people working less.

Christian thinker Ronald Sine’s says that the way we live in suburbia is not moral neutral. He says we value individuality, consumerism, privacy, conformity and exclusion. That few Christians recognise that their communities have values that run contra to their biblical faith. He goes on to say that while he knows many Christians who faithfully maintain a vibrant faith, moral integrity and church attendance in the suburbs, but that their values and priorities differ little from the society around them. That many churches while doing quite well in this environment, end up being little more than chaplains for the dominant culture. They have lost their identity as God’s people and their mission and prophetic edge.

God uses Haggai then to call the people to a new priority, to a new policy. On the first day of the sixth month he brings a word to the leaders of God’s people, both civil, in the form of Zerubbabel, a member of the Judean royal family and governor of the district and religious in the form of Joshua the high priest. It would have been in public setting, scholars believe that the first day of the month would have been a public gathering of some kind.  He says that God hears what the people are saying…”it’s not time to rebuild the house of God”. He calls the people to think carefully about the way they are living, and points out that the reason that they are not finding prosperity and fulfilment in their priorities and plan is that they have forgotten that at their very centre, their identity is as God’s covenant people. How can God bless them when they are not putting that first in their lives? In fact Haggai in verses 9-11 says what they are experiencing with drought and famine are the consequences of forgetting their covenant relationship with God.”

Haggai calls them to a new priority in their lives. Rebuild the temple. Their focus was wrong, they thought that God would bless them and out of that they could then focus on being God’s people. But God’s priorities are the other way round. This is the right foundation for our lives.  As we saw in our New testament reading from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus affirms that priority, why worry about what you will eat, what you will wear, rather put first the Kingdom of God and his Righteousness and all these things, all the stuff that can take all our time and energy, will be added unto you. 
Now just before you all get worried, I’m not suggesting that we start a new building project, The temple was symbolic for the people of Israel of God’s presence with them and God’s central place in their midst.  With the coming of Christ, God no longer dwells in buildings, but in the midst of his people, we are the Church. The priority is building up God’s Kingdom, building up the lives and faith of God’s people and sharing the gospel with those around us. As Jesus says it’s putting first the Kingdom of God.  Neither am I wanting to question whether God has a central place in your lives the challenge from Haggai for all of us is.

We often think of the Church as a building but as it says in 1 Peter you and I are living stones built into the dwelling place of God. Photo mosaics is a process, computer programme that makes an image up from smaller images. I took the Photo of our church that appears on our website and put it through a free Photo mosaic programme using photos from the website of people who come to church to help us to visualise and to understand that we are the church.  It's not as clear as the other image because we are being called to the mission of growing our church as we share our faith both communally and individuality with the people round us.

One of the things I love about the book of Haggai is that it is one of the prophets which we are able to see people’s reactions to their message. It says that Zerubabbel and Joshua and all the people, obeyed the word of the Lord. They heard Haggai’s word and believed that it was from God and so they feared the Lord. God was speaking to them again. So they started to rebuild the temple.  How do we respond to the word of the Lord through Haggai today? How does our commitment to Jesus manifest itself as a priority in our lives?  How does that work itself out? In serving in church and the community? In the relationships we invest time in? In how we use your resources? In time spent? In sharing our faith with other people?
In verse thirteen another word of the Lord comes from Haggai, after the leadership and people have made their decision to change priorities. The word he brings is so comforting and familiar to us. “I am with You”, says the LORD. It is once the people have decided to obey God, that God gives them the assurance of his presence. It is what gives them the strength to change priorities and put that resolve into action. It is what enables them to focus on what God calls them to do and to trust him to take care of all the rest. They are the words which Jesus left with his disciples when he gave us the great commission, recorded in Matthews Gospel. “Go into all the world and make disciples of every nation baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. And Lo I am with you even to the end of the age.”

We tend to hold onto the “I am with you” promise like it was a sunny summer day and we forget that is what makes the commission possible, that we are called to be disciple makers and Christ’s presence through the Holy Spirit is what enables us and empowers us to do that.

The record of Haggai’s oracle finishes by saying that Spirit of Zerubbabel was stirred up, that the spirit of Joshua was stirred up and that the spirit of the people was stirred up for this new thing and they came and began the task of rebuilding the house of God. You’ll notice it didn’t happen right away they spent twenty four days of that month thinking it through wrestling with it and planning and getting ready. One of the ways that the people were stirred up was in a spirit of volunteerism, the temple had been built by forced labour in Solomon’s day and now it was the people themselves who were going to do the work. It stirred up vision and courage within the leadership.

Can I say one of the things that amazed me last year is the way God has stirred peoples spirits  in this Church to take up different ministries, like Kathryn with the cook nights, and other things like mainly music and sporty for kids;

My hope is that God would continue to renew our priorities my hope is that the Spirit may stir us up again as we focus on Christ.  

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