“God’s Sense of Time”
Luke 20:27-38 Haggai 1:14-2:9
Season after Pentecost November 7, 2010
Haggai was a prophet during the time following the exile into Babylon. The Jews were finally returning to their homeland, to Judah and it’s formerly powerful and beautiful city, Jerusalem. But everything lay in ruin. The buildings had been destroyed, from simple homes to the Temple itself, and the walls surrounding the city were useless tumbles of rock. It must have been pretty depressing for the people to come back, finally, to the place they had been longing for for so many years, only to find that there was nothing left of its former glory. There are quite a few current situations that are similar to that of the people Haggai was sent to console. In the United States, alone, we are dealing with an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, with hurricane damage that even after several years of work is still obvious and ongoing, with record unemployment rates and a faltering economy. The people of Haiti continue their struggle to rebuild after a disastrous earthquake. People in the Philippines are beginning to pick up the pieces after recent devastating floods. The effects of war wreak havoc on the lives of people in many places across the globe. The world we live in has too many broken places to even think about, and it can become overwhelming if we are paying attention.
In Haggai’s time, the people just wanted to give up. They thought that leaving Jerusalem and starting out fresh somewhere else would be easier and wiser than attempting to rebuild in a place that was so badly damaged. When we are facing difficult situations, we also look for ways to escape. We would rather not have to deal with the mess of brokenness. We would rather start over somewhere that is not so filled with painful memories, with so much rubble that has to be cleared out before anything new can happen. Many people who lived in New Orleans at the time of the hurricane chose not to return afterward. They relocated to new towns, new communities, and started building brand new lives for themselves. There was genuine concern that New Orleans would lose too many of her musicians to ever be known for jazz again. The fear was that the natural community of music-lovers and music-makers would desert New Orleans simply because it was too hard to try to start over again. Several organizations set out to ensure that musicians would return to New Orleans by making it financially feasible for them to rebuild their homes, and to create venues for music to happen despite the ruined theaters and music halls. They were determined that New Orleans would once again be not only the birthplace of jazz, but the continuing home of jazz as well.
God sent Haggai and some other prophets to remind the people of the value of their heritage and how that heritage was tied up with the land. If the Jews scattered, then they would be absorbed into the cultures of all of the other places they found themselves. It was important that Judah be reclaimed and that Jerusalem be rebuilt. And, just in case the people felt overwhelmed by the task, God promised to be with them in the process. God promised to help them recreate their homes and their homeland so that everything was even better than before. When I think about how this relates to our lives, there are plenty of times when each of us has seen and experienced God creating something amazing out of what looked like a disaster. God is able to take our problems, our difficulties, our broken places, and heal them and heal us in such a way that we are stronger than before once all is said and done. The key, as Haggai expounds, is that God has made a promise to them. And God’s promises are to be trusted.
How do we trust God’s promises in our lives? How do we act as if we expect healing, as if we know that renewal is coming, that it is just around the corner? It is hard to “act as if,” when we see ruin and disaster in so many places. It is hard to believe in promises when fear has the upper hand in so many arenas these days. We have all been let down at one time or another, by someone we thought we could trust, and so we may not find it easy to access that place inside ourselves that believes in promises in any shape or form, no matter who is making them. What it really comes down to, when our life experience threatens to close our hearts and our ears to God’s promises, is that we need to choose the kind of persons we want to be. Do we want to be people who live according to fear and give up on possibilities, or do we want to be the kind of people who expect more from life, who dare to hope, who dare to believe? Do we want to be the kind of people who open their hearts to accept a promise made to them, choosing to believe in spite of past disappointments?
It is interesting to reflect on the possibility that we can simply choose to expect good things to happen. If we live this way, then we live our lives with hope and faith. We live with anticipation of the good rather than fear of the bad. The interesting thing is, that even if the good we hope for doesn’t come, we still have placed ourselves in alignment with joy during the time we waited the outcome. If we live in anticipation of promises being fulfilled, then we might feel a bit foolish every now and then, but for the most part we will surround ourselves with good thoughts and positive possibilities. It seems to me that this cannot be a bad thing. I have some friends who are going through a tough time at their workplace right now. They are worried that the company is planning to do away with their office as a way of saving money. I can’t help but think that they would stand a better chance of holding onto their jobs if they envisioned an outcome that showed their office thriving and contributing positively to the company as a whole. When I suggest this, they agree with me that it would be good to do this, but then just as quickly say that they think it is too late for positive thinking, that the decision has probably already been made about doing away with their jobs. I have to ask, is it ever too late for positive thinking? Is it ever too late to envision something wonderful? God is capable of so much good - in our lives, in human society, on the earth - are we shrinking God’s options by not believing that the good can triumph in any situation, at any time? Granted, sometimes the good comes out of the rubble of what we wanted or what we thought we needed; but it is still there once the dust clears. All we need to do is recognize it for what it is, pick it up and dust it off a bit.
God, you are here, in the midst of our lives. You are in the midst of the messes we create as well as the challenges that confront us without our instigation. Your strength and love are capable of prevailing over every problem that comes our way. Help us to look for signs of your presence everywhere we go. Help us to seek out and to find the good even when everything seems to be falling apart around us. You bring the good to light, please bring it to light in us. Show us how to participate in creating your good possibilities wherever we are. Amen.