Sunday, November 13th, 2016 – A Post-Election Sermon on Haggai 1:15b-2:9

You can listen to this sermon here.

 Haggai 1:15b-2:9
15 on the twenty-fourth day of the month, in the sixth month. 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 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, 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? 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, 5 according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear. 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; 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. 8 The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lord of hosts. 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.

 Well, we’re here now. On the other side of the election. And there are some things that I don’t know. And there are some things that I do know. And I would like to begin by sharing them with you this morning.

I don’t know how each of you is feeling as our U.S presidential election has finally come to a close. And to be honest, I kind of love that. I love that I get to serve a church where I don’t get to assume how everyone is feeling. We are not all like-minded people and I think there is strength in that, I think there is hope in that – that we can still come together to worship and to feast. And I think it is faithful. Even Jesus says to his people that he has sheep that do not belong to their fold. Jesus doesn’t just have one flock, but many. But in the end, there will be one flock.

So, I don’t know how your week has been. Maybe it’s been great and you’re good to go. Maybe its been unexpected but still fine. Or maybe its just been a trainwreck and full of fear. Maybe there’ve been hurtful things said about you or too you. Maybe you’ve said hurtful things that you regret.

But here is what I do know: You are loved. By God. By myself, and Pastor Pam and the St. John’s staff. And whoever you are, you are welcome here. Always.

What I also know is this: Hillary is not God. Trump is not God. Or whoever you voted for: not God. God is God and we are not. We cannot look to them to save us. And wow, do we need saving. Saved from what? Oursevles.

Because what I also know is that since the election women I care about have wept and wept with a fear and a hurt that I cannot even begin to understand.

I know that since the election family members and friends who voted for Trump have been called hateful and hurtful words that do not reflect who they are.

I know that within 24 hours, 8 transgender people suicided out of fear that their lives and their rights are no longer safe.

I know that Trump supporters have been physically attacked. I know that Muslim Americans and immigrants have been physically attacked. I know that racist remarks have been carved, spray painted, and hung in public spaces across the country.

And I think I know that we all can speak with one voice and say that God and we condemn all of these actions, yes?

Someone said to me this week that in the midst of such a moment as this, it can be so hard to remember to let God into the picture. In fact, I heard a pastor this week say that she woke up on Wednesday morning and her mind was not stayed on Jesus. And sometimes we don’t want to let God in right away. Either because it makes something too complicated sound too simple – well, don’t be afraid, you just gotta trust in God. Easy for me to say. And sometimes we don’t want to let God in right away because we know what God will say:

 Pray for your enemies.

 Forgive 7 times 70.

Or when Jesus says, “You have heard you shall not kill, but I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire; or even just

Those words can be easy to say but hard to hear. And even harder to follow.

It can be hard to let God in at a moment like this.

The prophet Haggai, I think, knows something of what this is like. Now, for many of us, we might be thinking, “Hagga-who?” The book of Haggai doesn’t get read or quoted much these days, let alone preached on. So, let me give you a brief background.

First off, we know very little about Haggai because the Bible and history give us very little to work with. What we do know is that Haggai is a prophet of Israel who comes after many, many years of exile. So the Hebrew people have been through loss after loss after loss, under the reign of multiple oppressors, multiple tyrants. They are living in a land of uncertainty and the future is unknown. And part of their loss has been the loss of the temple. Destroyed in the fighting.

But now they’ve been allowed to return home. And the rebuilding of the temple was started but it was not finished. Perhaps they couldn’t agree on the color of the carpet or something.

And now along comes Haggai who makes it his mission to get the temple rebuilt. Which makes Haggai both courageous (because who wants to take on a church building project?) and also unique. Because he is the only prophet who is obsessed with a building project. Other prophets will criticize the temple – calling it a den of thieves – because too often what happens in the temple becomes corrupt. In the temple people began to worship the wrong thing. They would worship the way they worshiped and their rituals, as if that was the only way it could be done. And the temple became a place where God was understood to live –meaning God is here and not out there. And so if you want to be close to God then you have to be in here, and from there it quickly becomes a place of exclusion and hierarchy – only letting those we think are worthy of being in the presence of God. And it became a place of exploitation and manipulation, where people had to buy their favor with God.[1]

And so, many prophets have condemned the temple, but Haggai wants its reconstruction to be complete. Which is dangerous work because, look at all the harm a temple can do. He runs the risk of repeating all those offenses. And we know what it’s like to fall into those exact same traps, right? How easy it is to worship our worship and our rituals. To exclude – or at least not want another person here, because they are not like us. We know what it’s like to believe that God is only watching us and our behavior in this place, and not at home or at work. I mean, why else do we watch our language in church, but not in the parking lot?

But Haggai doesn’t want to rebuild the temple so as to repeat all of those problems. He wants to rebuild the temple because he is living among people who are trying to repair their lives after multiple losses and it is so easy for them to get stuck there. To stay in that place as if there is no hope for the future, as if God is not with you. And so, Haggai wants to rebuild the temple as a sign of the promise that God is already with you. In the midst of their loss, uncertainty, and in the rebuilding of their lives.

Speaking the word of God to them, Haggai says, “Take courage, for I am with you. Work together according to the promise I made with you when I brought you out of Egypt. Do you remember when I brought you out of Egypt? That other time when your life was falling apart? And my promise then is my promise now – I abide with you. I abide with you. Do not fear.

 So Haggai doesn’t want to rebuild the temple so that God can be with them. He wants to rebuild the temple to remind the people that God is already with them. He’s inviting them to let God in. To know that God is already and always with them in the midst of this time of great uncertainty and struggle.

And when you know that God is with you, “It transforms our present and our future. It gives us power in the present to work and hope for the future to be faithful.”

I don’t know about you, but on Wednesday, I needed this place. This temple, this church as a symbol of the God who I was not ready to let in yet. Because it was here, through this loving community, through the hugs and the conversation, through the many strangers who showed up to break bread together. It was through the joy-filled kids and youth bouncing all over the place, and the Confirmation lesson on the 8th Commandment (which we should all look up). It was through the choirs singing, (and maybe even through Cora’s chocolate cake), that I experienced God being let in on Wednesday night here.

And I just want to say thank you.

Thank you for building this temple. Thank you for building up this church, this community. Thank you for showing up, as a symbol of the promise that God is already with us.

And I wasn’t the only one who needed a place like this. I heard from many, many people, both from our church and from around the country, who were so grateful that they had a church to go to on Wednesday evening after the election.

And you know, you don’t need a church to let God in – God is already with you. But I’m grateful I have one. Because too often I forget to let God’s voice in before the voices of others. And what God’s voice is saying today is, “Take courage. I am with you. Do not be afraid.” And the question is, how will we let that promise transform our present and our future together? Because we have work to do.

As one of our ELCA bishops said this week, we all can agree that we face grievous divisions and obvious anxiety in our country.

So, I don’t care who you voted for. I care that we keep returning to this place to remind each other to let God in. Because here’s the thing: first and foremost, Christ is our Commander in Chief. Christ is our president. And with Christ as our president, we are all called to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable (which is more often than not, us). We are called to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. We are called to welcome the stranger and stand up for justice.

I don’t care who you voted for. I care about how we together are going to continuing being agents of healing that I already know us to be.

We are here now. God is with us. So take courage. Do not be afraid. And let’s get to work.

[1] I’m indebted to Alan Storey for this insight.