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November 6, 2022

First United Methodist Church of Palo Alto

HAGGAI 2:1-5

Our Scripture lesson this morning is from Haggai. Have you ever read Haggai? Do you know where it is?

Haggai was a prophet in Jerusalem when the exiles returned from Babylon. Babylon  (Iraq today) conquered Judah 66 years previously and relocated many Israelites to Babylon. When King Darius of Persia (Iran today) conquered Babylon, he allowed the exiles to go home. When the first wave arrived, they saw the magnificent temple completely destroyed. In 586 BC they began to rebuild but soon became discouraged at the momentous task and gave up. 

Sixteen years later, Haggai appeared on the scene and began urging the governor of Judah and the chief high priest to organize a rebuilding campaign. One problem Haggai faced was discouragement.  The people said, ”What's the use? It will never be as good as it was before.” He asked in verse 3, “Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory?” The people in their 70’s could remember Solomon’s temple before it was destroyed. The first temple in Jerusalem, built by King Solomon, was made of stones and cedar and overlaid with gold. Some of the doors were made of olive wood and decorated with hand carved cherubim, palm trees, flowers and then overlaid in gold. All the stones of the temple were dressed and polished. There were brass pillars, silver furnishings and gold lamp-stands. It was one of the most beautiful buildings of the ancient world. And the people knew there was no way they had the resources to rebuild such a magnificent structure.

They were discouraged. Have you ever felt discouraged? Have we been discouraged about our church’s future? Many here today, like the returned Israelites, remember our sanctuary in its former glory when it was built in 1964, when it was filled with two worship services. Raise your hand if you were here in 1964. Are we, like the Israelites, discouraged about trying to reclaim former glory? 

Haggai begins verse 4 with “Yet now, be strong” which is a clear call to move from past reflection to present action. The people were looking backwards. God now called them to look forward. If you are discouraged by family relationships, marital concerns, financial distress, or health issues, yet now don’t look backward, look forward. 

For those who are discouraged by our church’s decline, yet now God calls us to look forward. We remember the past but don’t look backward for hope, look to the future.

Through Haggai God challenged the Israelites with three commands and we can apply these commands to us as well. First, verse 4: “Be strong”. Some translations read “Take courage.” Don’t despair! Don’t be discouraged! Don’t shrink away from the task that God has placed before you.

The second command, verse 4b: “Work”. Get busy. To the young, the Lord says, “Do not be  content with comfortable mediocrity.” To the older, the Lord says, “Do not get stuck in memories of the past.” To old and young alike the Lord says, “ I am right here! Get up! Get to work! Be strong!” 

What is our work as individuals and as a church? There is poverty around us, drugs and alcohol abuse, crime, violence, despair, broken homes and families, prejudice, bigotry and on and on. Jesus consistently stands with the excluded, the outsider, the sinner, and the poor. And there are people in your family, your neighborhood who need to know the love of Jesus. There is work to do!

There is work to do in our church. There are people here who need a smile from you, an encouraging word. There are lonely people who need you to be a friend. There are people not here who need a phone call from you, telling them that you miss them. Ask how they are doing and invite them back to church. We have work to do. We have a temple to rebuild! There is no time to feel discouraged!

The third command, verse 5: “fear not” “Don’t be afraid,” the Lord told Israel. The Lord didn’t tell the Israelites to rebuild all by themselves in their own strength. He said, “I am with you.” The God who brought glory in the old days is the God who is with us right now.

Are you discouraged? If so, be strong, work and fear not because God is with you.

I wonder if Jesus felt discouraged when he looked at his disciples around the table at their last dinner. How his heart must have ached when he looked at Judas! How discouraged Jesus must have felt! But, when he looked at John, Peter and the rest of the disciples, I hope Jesus felt encouraged. I hope he felt that he could trust them to carry on his work.

We gather at the Lord’s table today surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses. There is Luther, Wesley, Marvin Stuart, J. Allen Walker, Carol Mosher. There are your loved ones, all encouraging you. 

When Jesus looks at you, does he feel discouraged or encouraged, trusting that you will do his work?

© 2022 Douglas I. Norris