MaryAnn McKibben Dana
Idylwood Presbyterian Church
November 10, 2013
Former and Future Glory
2:1 In the second year of King Darius, in the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the LORD came by the prophet Haggai, saying:
2:2 Speak now to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people, and say,
2:3 Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing?
2:4 Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the LORD; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the LORD; work, for I am with you, says the LORD of hosts,
2:5 according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear.
2:6 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;
2:7 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.
2:8 The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the LORD of hosts.
2:9 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.
There’s an effort underway to clean out some of the stuff that’s accumulated here at the church. An industrious member of the church has spearheaded this effort, and another couple in the church donated the cost for some volunteers from George Mason to come and move stuff out, as a fundraiser. As our ministry expands and more groups are asking to use our church building, we are trying to clean things out and make our space upstairs be as welcoming and clean and fresh as it can possibly be.
One of the challenges of this kind of cleaning job is that it’s not always clear what is still useful, or what has historical significance and should be kept. We are entering our 100th year as a congregation—our centennial celebration will be next October, mark your calendars! There’s a lot of stuff that accumulates in a church over a hundred years. Not all of it is worth keeping. The box of fabric scraps will absolutely make its way into a craft project. We may study Bill Moyers’ TV special on Genesis at some point and need a few of the study guides. But thirty year old Sunday School worksheets are not things we need to hang on to (well, maybe one copy for historical interest).
In fact, cleaning out items in a congregation is full of peril! Everyone has opinions, and for people who have been around a long time and remember when the thirty year old curriculum was used, it’s hard to imagine letting go of it. It’s as if Haggai is speaking to us from the pages of the Old Testament, saying, “Does anyone remember the temple in its former glory?” Some of us can say YES! And artifacts from that former glory are infused with a great deal of meaning.
But what exactly is going on around Haggai? It’s helpful to know a wee bit of historical context. We heard that Haggai is speaking during the year of King Darius, but what does that mean? Well, decades before, the people had been forced from their homeland and their temple was destroyed. They were in exile for many many years—a couple of generations. And now they are back and they are trying to rebuild the temple, but it’s taking more time. Progress is slow. The momentum is harder to build.
And Haggai comes in and tells them to do two things: “Take courage,” and “Get to work”: Get to work rebuilding this temple.
But then he says something important: God is shaking the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. God is shaking things up. Which means we’re not rebuilding the old temple. We’re building a new temple. And that temple is going to be different.
It’s not often that a pastor makes the national news unless it’s because of a scandal, but it happened this week. CNN reported on Nadia Bolz-Weber is a Lutheran pastor who has become an absolute rock star. She is one of the most talented pastors I’ve ever heard. Sometimes I go home on Sunday after preaching here and listen to her sermons and think “Yeah, poor folks would have been better served if I’d just played her sermon over the speaker system and called it a day.” People flock to her by the thousands, and she just published a book.
But here’s the thing about Nadia. She’s a former drug addict and alcoholic. She cusses. She has tattoos up and down her arms. (Though they are all religious in nature!)
She does not resemble the church in its former glory… except that she preaches about a God who shakes heaven and earth and fills the place with splendor. Because she has had a tough past, people with similar experiences can hear her because they know she understands. She is able to communicate the gospel to a new generation.
Nobody was more surprised than Nadia herself to discover that God was calling her to be a pastor… unless it was her parents. Nadia tells the story of how she first told them that she felt God’s call to be a pastor:
I was scared because I thought I didn't want them to beat me with the scripture stick. I didn't want them to shame me.
And then I felt horrible that my parents still could shame me and I was in my late 30s. And so I told them the whole story, and my dad gets up and he grabs his Bible, and I thought, oh, no. But he turned to the Book of Esther, and all he read — it was this point where she knew that she was supposed to do this thing and she was scared and didn't want to do it, and she was talking to her uncle.
And my father read this: "But you were born for such a day as this." And then he closed the Bible — and I still tear up thinking about this. And my parents embraced me and they gave me a blessing and they prayed over me. (Source)
If Haggai had asked Nadia’s parents whether they remember the church in its former glory, they would surely have said yes… Back when pastors were all clean cut men, with beautiful wives who hosted the women’s tea.
But in blessing their tattooed former drug addict daughter to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ they were saying, The temple looks different now.
The church looks different now. We look different now.
I’m told that there was a time when children at IPC were seen and not heard. They sat still in their pew and went dutifully to Sunday School and things were rather orderly and quiet. We live in a different world. Which means we’re not building the old temple. We’re building a new temple. And that temple looks different. Now they worship with us. They hold the communion bread. They sing in the choir and raise their hand during joys and concerns. They are the church right now, not at some future time. It’s just another way that God shakes up heaven and earth and fills this place with a splendor—a messy, noisy, joyful and rambunctious splendor, we could not have imagined.
This Sunday begins our annual focus on stewardship, in which we ask you to consider your commitment to Idylwood Presbyterian Church in the coming year. Those of you on our mailing list will receive a copy of the Panorama this month that includes a letter from me, sharing some of what the leadership of the church is planning for 2014. We’ve got some wonderful ministry planned, both here among our community and serving our neighbors around us. It’s an ambitious, but absolutely acheivable, vision, in which we build on many of our successes from this past year, but it’s going to take all of us, sharing our resources of time and energy, and yes, money to make it a reality.
(Some pastor friends and I were laughing about today’s scripture text as a springboard for financial stewardship. It feels a little obvious, I mean:
God says, I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine.
It’s almost like God is turning us upside down, holding us by the ankles and shaking all the loose change from our pockets! But really there’s so much more going on in this passage.)
In the coming year, we will be talking about our physical temple, the building and some renovations and expansions we want to make. Long range planning is working with an architect to get a set of drawings done so we can bid out the work, and a dream team is working to hone our vision as we move into our next century.
All of that is on its way. But we’re not talking about our building today, because Haggai nudges us beyond thinking about the physical space. After all, the church is not its building. WE are the church. We are called to be people of courage. Haggai doesn’t say, “Build,” Haggai says, “Work”:
Work, to be the people of God.
Work, to feed hungry people.
Work, to give comfort to the afflicted.
Work, to bring the good news of Jesus to a weary and discouraged people.
One of the things we want to do next year is expand our power pack ministry. Currently we put together about 30 each month, which go in a big bin at Food for Others, but we want to partner specifically with Lemon Road Elementary School and be their power pack provider. It will require us to double the number we make each month. It’s ambitious, but ultimately more meaningful to be able to point to a specific school in our own neighborhood and say, “We are feeding the children at that school.”
Many of you remember dear Liz Freeman, who died earlier this year. You may know that she was one of our sandwich makers, which was the precursor to the power packs. But here’s something you may not know. One of the last times I visited Liz before she passed away, I was talking to her daughter Jean about the power packs and how they helped children not be hungry over the weekend so they could come back to school on Monday ready to learn. And Jean looked up and said, “MaryAnn, when Mom goes, I want any memorial gifts to go to the power packs at IPC.” And she looked over at her mother and said, “That’s what she would want.”
And sure enough, we have memorial gifts designated for this purpose. But they won’t be enough to expand that ministry on their own. We must take up the challenge that Liz Freeman left for us; she who saw this place in its glory, and we, who can see that glory yet again.
Will we take up the challenge?
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©2013 MaryAnn McKibben Dana. These sermon manuscripts are provided here for personal use, and are not to be redistributed or otherwise reproduced without permission of the author.