Note: Houghton Grace had a guest speaker for which we have no manuscript, so what is below is the manuscript from Pastor Chuck’s message at Grace’s sister church, Albert Paine UMC. Bulletins from both churches are included.
Responsive Opening Prayer
L: Lord, by your grace we are no longer exiles, wandering in sin.
P: Your kingdom of faith is now our home country.
L: We are longer strangers or outsiders. We belong here.
P: You, God, are building a home.
L: You are using us all — irrespective of how we got here — in what you are building. You used the apostles
and prophets for the foundation,
P: and now you are using us, fitting us in brick by brick, stone by stone,
L: with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together.
P: We see it taking shape day after day—
L: Your holy temple, built by you, God, and all of us built into it, a temple in which you live by your Spirit, and
in which you are quite at home. (Inspired by Eph 2:19-22 (MSG)) We are built into it because each of us
ALL: The Apostle’s Creed, Traditional
The theme today is how God uses our work in the present to build his new future for us.
Old Testament Haggai 2:3-9
Our focus will be on Haggai, so we will save that one for the sermon.
Psalter Psalm 98:1-6
The Psalmist writes so confidently about his future hope (which some interpret as the arrival of Jesus), that he calls us to praise as if it has already happened.
- Sing a new song to the Lord, for he has done wonderful deeds. His right hand has won a mighty victory; his holy arm has shown his saving power! The Lord has announced his victory and has revealed his righteousness to every nation! He has remembered his promise to love and be faithful to Israel. The ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God. Shout to the Lord, all the earth; break out in praise and sing for joy! Sing your praise to the Lord with the harp, with the harp and melodious song, with trumpets and the sound of the ram’s horn. Make a joyful symphony before the Lord, the King! (NLT)
Epistle Hebrews 12:26-28
The author of Hebrews references Haggai as he describes our ultimate hope. Just like the earth shook at the Lord’s voice (at Sinai prior to the giving of the commandments) God will shake earth and heaven, and everything not built on his solid and eternal foundation will not stand. But we rejoice because his grace has allowed us to be a part of his eternal life and how we should respond to his promises.
- The earth was rocked at the sound of his voice from the mountain, but now he has promised, “Once and for all I will not only shake the systems of the world, but also the unseen powers in the heavenly realm!” Now this phrase “once and for all” clearly indicates the final removal of things that are shaking, that is, the old order, so only what is unshakeable will remain. Since we are receiving our rights to an unshakeable kingdom we should be extremely thankful and offer God the purest worship that delights his heart as we lay down our lives in absolute surrender, filled with awe. (TPT)
Gospel Luke 14:28-33
The people in Haggai’s day were in the process of rebuilding the city and especially the Temple. Jesus tells us to go into our commitments with eyes wide open…
- Just imagine that you want to build a tower. Wouldn’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to be sure you have enough to finish what you start? If you lay the foundation but then can’t afford to finish the tower, everyone will mock you: “Look at that guy who started something that he couldn’t finish!” Or imagine a king gearing up to go to war. Wouldn’t he begin by sitting down with his advisors to determine whether his 10,000 troops could defeat the opponent’s 20,000 troops? If not, he’ll send a peace delegation quickly and negotiate a peace treaty. In the same way, if you want to be My disciple, it will cost you everything. Don’t underestimate that cost! (VOICE)
Message “The Good ‘Ol Days” Pastor Chuck
A family discovered that termites had chewed up the side of their house. It would be a major project to eliminate the pests, repair the damage, and restore their home. Termites weren’t the problem in tonight’s text. It was war that destroyed God’s house and city. 70 years later, the exiles return home to the ruins. They managed to rebuild homes, but after an initial failed attempt to rebuild the Temple, they tried again, 16 years later, for about a month. They were overwhelmed by the immensity of the project.
The elderly among them remembered Solomon's Temple from when they were children. You know how the memories of youth inflate with time. We’ve all heard the joke about the person, who when a child, walked 3 miles every day to school in a bitter cold blizzard – uphill – both ways. And it is usually said not as a lament of tough days, but as a boast of the best days. They saw the glory of the original temple as young children – child eyes that see everything as new and exciting and amazing and bigger than life! No doubt these memories were shared with the young who were doing the work. Not inflated were the records: The original temple was built with 183,000 laborers taking 7 years, using 663 thousand pounds of silver, 567 thousand pounds of gold, as well as the best wood, stone, materials and top of the line craftsmen.
The natural thing to do was to compare these fond memories against their present situation. Back then they had the resources King David had set aside, who had expanded the kingdom to its largest it had ever been or has been since. Oppressive taxation by King Solomon underwrote the projects.
But now in the present, they had the accumulated resources you’d expect from 3 generations of refugee living. They must have felt like they were replacing the landmark of their former glorious nation with a crude shanty. Ezra tells us that when the foundation for the new Temple was laid, some sang with joy, but the elderly saw and wept loudly – and not in joy. This was not becoming a symbol of homecoming, of a restored national / religious life, of a new worship center. In their minds, it could only become a symbol of what was lost, a reminder of the effects of a lost war and exile, a perpetual reminder of what was no more. Abraham, Moses, David and Solomon -- the founders and the powerhouse people of the nation were gone... Maybe it'd be better to just remember the way it used to be, and not even be a part of this mediocrity that was now looking more and more like a fiasco.
Comparisons led to discouragement which led to paralyzing fear, which led them to think that God did not love them anymore, that he would not be with them, and that he would not bless them. These fears were why the project kept grinding to a halt.
Max Lucado in his book, Fearless, writes: ... We fear being sued, finishing last, going broke; … the mole on the back, the new kid on the block, the sound of the clock as it ticks us closer to the grave. We sophisticate investment plans, create elaborate security systems, and legislate stronger military, yet we depend on mood-altering drugs more than any other generation in history. Moreover, "ordinary children today are more fearful than psychiatric patients were in the 1950s."
…For all the noise fear makes and the room it takes [up in our lives], fear does little good. Fear never wrote a symphony or poem, negotiated a peace treaty, or cured a disease... fear herds us into a prison and slams the door.
Like termites eating away at the foundation where no one could see, discouragement was eating away at their hearts and minds of Haggai’s listeners. Even more than a rebuilding of the city and temple, these people needed a restoration of their heart. God sends the prophet to these despairing workers. Follow along as I read:
- 1 ... this message from the LORD came to Haggai: 2 "Speak to… all the people. Ask them, 3 ‘How many of you people look at this Temple and try to compare it to the beautiful Temple that was destroyed? What do you think? Does this Temple seem like nothing when you compare it with the first Temple? 4 But now be strong, … all you people who live in the land, don’t be discouraged! Continue this work, because I am with you.” declares the LORD Almighty. 5 'This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And My Spirit is with you, so don’t be afraid!’ 6 "This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. 7 I will shake all nations, and the [treasure] of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory… 8 'The silver is mine and the gold is mine,' declares the LORD Almighty. 9 'The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house, and I will bring peace to this place, declares the LORD Almighty." (Blend of NIV, ERV [NRSV])
God confronts their selective, exaggerated, positively glamorized memories because those memories were not building them with confidence, but paralyzing them with shame and fear. Pastor Ray Pritchard outlines four steps Haggai offers to walk his listeners out of the prison of discouragement and fear.
First, learn to LET GO. They had to let go of their comparisons to Solomon’s temple. Until they did, they would never make any physical or spiritual progress. For us, it may mean letting go of some memory -- good or bad -- that keeps us from moving ahead. It may mean letting go of the worries and fears of challenging situations. Worry may give us a sense of control, but as Jesus said, [you may feel like it helps, but] worry doesn’t add one minute to our lives. Or, it may be an empty dream that we are chasing that leads us down the wrong path for our life. Whatever it is -- if it is holding us back from fully living our present and moving toward our future -- we need to let it go. Until we do, we will not move forward with God.
Let go of comparisons, circumstances, and fantasies. Then LOOK UP. Get a fresh view of who God is. I leaped over some in our reading, but in 9 verses, Haggai uses one particular name for God 6 times. Adonai-Tzva’ot (say-vah-oat), in English Lord of Hosts, Lord Almighty, Lord All Powerful… He reminds them that their personal God is greater than all the forces of heaven and earth. His purposes cannot be defeated.
The more we recognize how large is our God, the smaller will seem our task. The less we recognize the power of our God, the more insur-mountable our task will feel. Young David’s God was so big that Goliath was not intimidating, just an easy target! On the other hand – Haggai’s hearers forgot God’s power -- so the rebuilding seemed overwhelming.
A modern example comes from Max Lucado. He was at the cardiologist because his heart was racing irregularly. As he waited, he looked at all the diplomas. The more he looked, the better he felt. He was in good hands. The nurse came in, said the doctor would be in shortly, and gave him an information sheet that summarized his heart condition. He lowered his gaze from the diplomas read his conditions -- atrial fibrillation, arrhythmia, embolic stroke, blood clot… His peace disappeared. He changed strategies…In between the paragraphs of bad news, he looked at the wall for reminders of the good news.
God’s call to courage is not a call to naïveté or ignorance about the overwhelming challenges that life brings. But He does want us to counter-balance them with long looks at God's accomplishments in the midst of such circumstances, (the proper way of using memories – enabling rather than paralyzing).
He reminds them that when they were enslaved in Egypt, he led them to freedom. That memory would kick in national memories of wilderness wanderings, the promised land, battles and wars with marauders and raiders and foreign powers, but God had brought them through it all – even through the exile from which they had just returned. Over time, they began to look back at the deliverance events (like the one walking to school) -- horrific experiences at the time -- as brag-worthy, honorable and glorious good ‘ol days that led to the golden age under David and Solomon and the Temple.
God reminds them that times don't always feel as glorious as we make them out to be after the fact. More importantly, he also reminds them that the key to their glorious history was not the Temple. The Temple didn't bring them across the sea -- the Temple didn't bring them through the desert, the Temple didn't protect them in the promised land -- The Temple did not lead them into the golden age.
Nor did Abraham or Moses and Aaron, it wasn’t Joshua or Gideon or David and Solomon, or Elijah or Isaiah – it wasn’t any pioneer, priest, king or prophet. Not that sacred spaces and committed servants are not important or even critical, but if it wasn’t the building, and it wasn’t the people – then what? Then who?
It was, and still is, God and His Spirit that did it all -- and it is His Spirit that remains among them, and among us, in the obviously glorious times, and in the times that will only be seen as glorious afterwards, and even in times that may never be seen in that light.
The ONE thing they needed from the past was the ONE thing they forgot. The ONE thing they needed to focus on to keep going on was God's Spirit; who was still among them as they rebuilt and restored the nation against insurmountable odds. He abides with His people forever, and His resources never run out, and He is what ultimately counts.
Let go of selective comparisons, look up to your personal, powerful God, and then LOOK AHEAD. God is not limited by time, but we are. We can’t live life by remote control; we do not have a pause or rewind button. What's done is done. We may wish to relive days past, deal with a more familiar culture, grow up in a less complicated, less violent, less competitive world, less conflictual world --- but while we live on this earth there is only one way the clock goes – forward. (except for one hour once a year – for now)
The question is -- how will we live into our present as we move into our future -- kicking and screaming as we hang on to the past, or with an anticipation of what our all-powerful God is going to do next?
Haggai says three things lay ahead:
1. First, God is going to shake everything up like he did at Sinai, like he will in the end – Figurative or metaphorical, he will separate what is temporary from what is eternal like a mineral hunter shakes the sand through the sieve to find the gold. Focus on eternal values.
2. Second, the desire of all nations shall come. The original language is ambiguous – it could mean all the nations will bring their wealth to the holy city and Temple, or some see it as a prediction of Christ coming – who the whole earth desires and needs, (whether they recognize it or not). Sadly, most did not expect nor were they ready when Christ came to their circumstances the first time. We often don't expect him in the tough times either.
Lucado again: We expect Him to come in the form of peaceful hymns, Easter Sundays, quiet retreats... in morning devotionals and meditations and church suppers… We don't expect him in a bear market, a pink slip, a lawsuit, a foreclosure... we don't expect him in the storms, and that is when some tend to shut him out -- but if we are open to it, that is when he does his finest work.
3. and third, the latter glory will be greater than the former glory. Heavenly glory will always outshine earthly. Silver, gold and cedar wood, the beauty of craft-full design -- as good and important as that is -- is not what ultimately brings a place it's glory, (albeit God does mention he has plenty of all of it). No, it is God's presence that brings a place its glory and its peace. And this is the future God is wanting us to look forward to, and work towards, and experience even now.
Let go, Look up, Look forward, and then GET MOVING. God says, "Be strong and do the work of God" Tackle whatever lay before you. A farmer said to his 2 sons: "Boys, when I go, my farm will be yours. I will leave you a little money, but the bulk of my wealth is hidden somewhere in the fields. I don’t know where it is, but I do know it is not more than 18 inches from the surface."
In time, the man died. The sons inherited the promised farm. They set to work digging up every inch of ground. They found no treasure. But since they’d gone to all the trouble of turning the soil, they thought they might as well sow a crop - which they did, reaping a good harvest.
The next year they searched again. Again, they were unsuccessful in finding the buried treasure. But they did reap another good harvest. Year after year, they searched and failed, but because of their thorough working of the soil, the got the best crops. It was only when they had grown older that they realized the real treasure that their father had given them. Let Go, Look Up, Look Ahead, and Get Moving...
We may see insurmountable mountains, when God just wants us to recognize his next step for us up the hill, and he is with us every step of the way... You may never know what will come of your faithful service for God. Some little thing may vastly impact your home, your church, your world. Christ may touch other’s lives, and us too, through his actions through us -- more than we ever realize when we open our hearts to him and focus on God’s presence with us.
Prayer Lord, we are not alone, we live in your world. You created and are still creating. You came, come, and will come again in Jesus to make peace and make us new by the Spirit. Remind us that memories aren’t to hold us back by unhealthy comparisons but to move us forward because what you have done you will do again -- in your time, and in your way. You call us to remove our focus from lesser things and remember what is truly important — by being God’s people by loving and serving others as we celebrate your gracious presence with us in Christ every step of the way. Amen.
And speaking of singing new songs (as the Psalmist wrote), I understand this response hymn is new for most of you. Let’s stand and give it a try….
Hymn I Am Resolved
Prayer Lord, for many of us -- our days are extremely busy with the duties of life -- we are rushing to keep up with the cares that weigh us down and the caring we do for others. We remember in Mark 6 where your followers were so busy with people coming and going that they didn’t even have time to eat. You told them to get away with you to refresh and renew their spirits. Lord, we have come to this sanctuary from the world, to quiet our pace, and especially in these moments, to breathe out the stress of our week and breathe in your calming Spirit, so that we can be ready to face another week, another day of to do lists and interruptions - and see them again as opportunities to move our lives forward and make our corner of the world, and beyond -- a little better than it was the day before. It is why we pray with praise for the joys we have experienced, and with petitions for the struggles and hurts of those on our hearts and minds. Some we have just named, some are on our list, and some remain only in our hearts, to personal to share. But you know them all, and we trust you will answer just what we need in your way and time. And we thank you for the veterans who have sacrificially given of themselves to make and keep our country free… We thank you for vast number of people in this church and across the world who are committed to doing their best for you, their neighbors, their communities, and the world; making it a productive place where your will and peace can reign -- as we learn better and better how to live as you taught us to pray LORD’s PRAYER.
Closing Blessing Now as we go, grow to reflect God’s glory as we live by and in the name of Jesus Christ and his grace until we reach that day when we will sing with all the saints in heaven and on earth. Amen.
Hymn # 378 Amazing Grace