Bethany Lutheran Church, Bigfork, MT


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Sermon – 2-17-2019

Sixth Sunday after Epiphany – Haggai


Pastor Christopher Miller


Our next-to-last prophet in our survey of some of the minor prophets is Haggai. Haggai stands in a different time than the other prophets we've examined. Haggai is not a prophet of the coming exile, but the happening return. Jerusalem fell, just as the prophets declared, around 587 BC. Judah was taken into exile in Babylon for around 50 or so years. When the Persian Empire conquered Babylon, their king Cyrus declared that all those who had been exiled from Judah could return home. Obviously, this was fantastic news. In fact, it had even been prophesied to them during the exile. The process to return home was slow, but the people were overjoyed when they returned.

And yet, they needed a prophet. Why? They've gone back to the land that was promised to them. They're going to remember that they have been exiled for over 50 years for not listening to God, and they're going to listen and do what they're supposed to, right? If you have ever told a child to do something, or not do something, you know what the situation is. Those who have returned from exile have taken nearly 20 years to do so, at the time of Haggai. When you get back from exile, you're probably not moving back into the house you left behind. Things have probably fallen apart, and not been taken care of the way that you would have. So, you start to rebuild.

But Judah does more than rebuild their homes. They are doing heavy remodeling. They've been there long enough that once the basic home is done, they're calling the contractor for more reno. They're putting new fixtures in the bathroom. They're adding granite countertops in the kitchen. They're putting solar panels on the roof. They're putting in a pool. They are doing everything they can for their own homes. Chapter 1 verse 4 describes them as "paneled" houses, meaning they've gotten the best of everything there. There's one small thing that they have forgotten to take care of: the temple. And they are actually suffering some of the same issues that they did before the exile because of it. Chapter 1, verse 10: "Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops." That sounds familiar, doesn't it? It's one of those signs that God gave his people before the exile. Amos had a sign like this. Therefore, we'd better pay attention.

Now, this prophesy is specifically pointed toward the temple, but it could just as easily go for us as well. The matter that God is focused on is not necessarily a building, but it is priorities. Now that the people have returned, they need to have their priorities in the right places, in other words, the places that God wants them to be. He wants their priorities to be devotion to God, and care of neighbor. That's what rebuilding the temple is all about. It is obviously about devotion to God, but it is also about care of neighbor, because the temple is a public place where many people gather, where it's not just worship that takes place. It is, in some ways, a social center. Rebuilding the temple not only gives honor to God, but also a place for your neighbor that might not might not have as fancy a house as yours.

Now, let me tell you what I am *not* saying. I am not saying that the lesson we should learn is that we need to less of our money in our houses and more in our churches. That's taking Haggai's message literally, but not spiritually. Haggai's prophesy is very specific: rebuild the temple. Our churches function in similar ways to the temple, but they are also very different. In fact, for many, their congregation is just an extension of their house. We sink a lot of money into places of worship. And I am not against making the worship space accessible, comfortable, and a place that people can clearly hear the Word of God. Where the trouble comes is when the building becomes the focus, and not the Word. People who are suffering and dying do not care what wood your communion rail is made out of. Dare I say it, I don't think God cares either. He is just as honored by a service held under a tent or a tree as he is by one under a nice roof. So, what priorities does God want us to focus on instead of the building? The same ones as in Haggai's time: devotion to God and care of neighbor. God says to Judah, and he says at the same time to us, "Be strong, all you people of the land, and work." It reminds me of the quotation that I have had on my office door since I came to Bethany, from Will Rogers: "Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there."

At the same time as we are making sure our priorities are in the right place, and active, we also need to remember their context. For Judah, the context is returning from exile, an absolute work of God. For us, it is the forgiveness of our sins, an absolute work of Jesus Christ.  It is those works that precede and produce any works that we would do in this world. And when those works have come to us, it also doesn't mean that God has stopped working. He continues to work, and to prepare. Because he is bringing everything to himself, and that means everything. Haggai even has a hint of it in chapter 2: "Tell Zerubbabel governor of Judah that I am going to shake the heavens and the earth. I will overturn royal thrones and shatter the power of the foreign kingdoms. I will overthrow chariots and their drivers; horses and their riders will fall, each by the sword of his brother." He is saying this in the wake of doing just that, in order to bring his people home. So you know he's going to do it again. He does it for you in Jesus, he does it for this world, and he will bring everything to his feet in the end. And thanks be to God for that. AMEN.


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Audio Sermon - 2-17-2019 - Sixth Sunday after Epiphany - Haggai

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Audio Sermon - 2-10-2019 - SORRY, but audio is not available

PDF Sermon - 2-10-2019 - Fifth Sunday after Epiphany - Habakkuk

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Audio Sermon - 2-3-2019 - Fourth Sunday after Epiphany - Jonah

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