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My family moved this summer, further out into the county.
Emily grew up in a similar setting in Oregon and I enjoy having some additional peace and privacy.
One of my favorite parts about our new place, though, is that it has a wood-burning stove.
This gives me a chance to confirm something about myself that I already knew.
I am not particularly good at building a fire.
I’m getting better though.
And that’s because I’ve spent quite a bit of time being not particularly good at building a fire.
Perhaps if was my full-time job, I’d be able to do it masterfully.
One can hope.
As we sit here, near the end of the season after Pentecost, when God’s holy fire rested on the heads of the early church, and as we turn to the Scripture passages this morning, I think that fire can serve as a helpful aid in drawing out some of what God was doing in Israel, in the early church, in our midst, and into eternity.
Haggai is speaking to some people whose hope is perhaps worn down.
Some of them were there for the former glory days.
Not only did they live through the return from exile, they saw the original temple in its former glory.
And they saw it destroyed.
When the temple was rebuilt after the return from exile, they wept, and not with joy.
The new temple was sort of pathetic compared to the former temple.
It was there.
God had been faithful.
But the building itself wasn’t amazing.
The gold and silver had been stripped away.
The new situation was barely viable.
So they may have wondered, what is going to happen to your plan, O God, to use your people to bless the nations?
After taking two steps back at the exile, are we only to take one step forward?
Perhaps as we think of the church in America or even around the world, we might be tempted to join in this despair.
Some prominent evangelical leaders have walked away from the faith.
Christianity is less and less a part of mainstream culture.
It’s no longer socially advantageous to identify as a Christian in the world.
It’s not the common standard of decent people in America any more.
What was once a raging fire appears to be dying down.
But it’s just at this point that Haggai’s word came to the people of Judah and it comes to us as well.
Even naked and cold, living on the street, in the most dire of conditions, God breaks in and presses pause on our senses, on the cold of our skin, on our hunger, on the smell of dirt and mold, on the sound of the pouring rain, and he speaks to a people who are having trouble seeing past their circumstances.
He speaks directly to their heart and says, “Take courage, all you people of the land, take courage all you people of America, all you people of Washington state, all you people of Whatcom county, All you people of Bellingham, take courage.
Take courage, St. Brendan’s, and each member there.
He goes on “Work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts.
He doesn’t tell us to pretend to be courageous.
The courage he wants to see in his people isn’t baseless.
He’s not telling us to just do better.
The courage comes from the fact that God is speaking to each individual heart there, who is looking around and doesn’t know where to go from here and says “I am with you.”
“I am with you,” he says, “according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt.
My spirit abides among you; do not fear.”
The same God who led you out of your own private captivity and let you see him for the first time, is still with you.
Even in your circumstances, even in our church’s circumstances or the church in America’s circumstances, or beyond, God gives us this message through Haggai, that he is with you, his Spirit is with us, even when our personal, corporate, national, global circumstances seem bleak.
He breaks through all of that to tell us, “I am with you.”
God is with us.
It’s a hint of Advent here at the end of this season after Pentecost.
The courage that comes from the Lord being with his people means they can have confidence to enter in and participate in the work God is doing in his world.
The church calendar is coming to a close.
Like the expanding of the universe that starts with God’s work in the incarnation and culminates at the end of time.
The expansion of God’s kingdom, of Christendom, of the personal holiness in our hearts, might look like it’s winding down.
We’ve returned from exile and we’re left a secure, but perhaps a less-than grand state, looking around for something to happen.
But an ember from this fire at the end of Pentecost is floating toward the tinder of Advent.
Something new is on the way.
Here at a plateued place in the race where no triumph seems possible, God’s words through Haggai, give his people hope in a new triumph, a new creation, a new heavens and a new earth.
Haggai points us to a remaking of the current order.
A laying to rest of the uninspiring circumstances the people of God find themselves in.
God tells the people of Judah and he tells us that this is not the end.
God will rebuild his temple.
He will breathe new life into our hearts.
He will remake all of creation from earth to heaven.
He will pour out spiritual blessings as rich as silver and gold.
This new heaven and new earth is our new hope.
One priest puts it this way, “We come from the future.”
I imagine him dorkily holding up the Vulcan live long and prosper sign.
We come from the future.
In other words, God is building that future reality of the new heavens and the new earth in our hearts.
While we will one day see it with our eyes, fully realized, God is creating the new heavens and the new earth in your heart right now.
That country, without physical existence in 2019, is where we have our citizenship.
That temple that we can’t yet see is in our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
I can’t say if Haggai’s words will also apply to the size of the church in America, or the number of people who attend St. Brendan’s, or a new building.
They very well might.
I’m certainly not one to rule that out.
But those things are not the ultimate goal.
While a bigger and better temple was later made by King Herod, Herod wasn’t really a part of Israel.
The people who worshipped in that temple were basically in exile in their own land, under Roman rule.
A physical, earthly temple did not end up solving Israel’s problems or restoring their hope.
And apart from God’s Spirit, a new building of our own, great as it would be, can’t make our hearts whole.
It could never fill our hearts with lasting hope.
We find the greatest fulfillment of Haggai’s prophetic words not in Herod’s Temple, but in the person of Jesus.
The Son of God referred to his own body as the temple that he would destroy and rebuild in 3 days.
That temple of his body was indeed broken for us.
And as we partake in communion, and as we find our hope in the peace with a righteous God that Jesus attained for us in his death, the splendor of the temple that Haggai describes adorns our hearts.
When we rest in Jesus, the new heavens and the new earth break into our hearts.
Until God provides a new temple in the new Jerusalem, Paul tells us that we, our bodies, are the temple of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus Christ is building his church.
And it begins in our hearts and stretches out into eternity.
As we wait to see that future place with our own eyes, let’s pray for the fire of Pentecost, where we see the outworking of God’s plan of salvation, to burn on and on.
Let us pray for God to expand his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
He begins it anew in our hearts.
The ember of Pentecost lands there.
Don’t suffocate it.
Don’t douse it with ambition and despair, and it will keep you warm when it gets cold, until the night is over and the new day begins and we take up residence with Jesus and all his saints in the new heavens and the new earth.
Like the season after Pentecost, which comes to an end with a completely new movement of God in Advent, our striving will come to an end when Christ returns at the end of time.
In the time that we’re given until then, we are God’s temple.
We carry the fire of the Holy Spirit of God.
And however else he chooses to bless us and expand his kingdom now, it is only a taste of the new reality that waits for us.
Let us give thanks to God for the riches we have in Christ, yesterday, today, and forever.
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