Haggai the Honorable: “Building to a Blessing”
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Holy God, You spoke the world into being. And we have sinned against You in countless ways. Pour Your Spirit to the ends of the earth, that Your children may return from exile as citizens of Your true commonwealth, and our divisions may be healed by Your Word of love and righteousness through Christ our Lord. Amen.
I was going to start today’s message with a “construction joke”, but I’m still working on it….
Seriously though, the other day I was watching a documentary on how they fasten steelwork together. Riveting!
OK, so this contractor guy dies in a tragic accident on his 40th birthday. He ascends to heaven where he’s greeted by a brass band and St. Peter at the Pearly Gate. And St. Peter says, “Welcome! And Congratulations!”
The contractor is a little confused. “Congratulations for what?” he asks.
“Congratulations for what?!” says St. Peter. “We’re all celebrating the fact that you lived to the grand old age of 160!”
“But that’s not right,” the contractor says, “I only lived to be 40.”
“That’s impossible!” says St. Peter. “We added up your time sheets!”
Today we read the third of the four prophecies in the book of Haggai. These all take place between the months of August and December of 520bc.
I opened with those silly Construction jokes because this Old Testament prophet lived during a time when the Jewish people were starting to return to their motherland after being in Exile in Babylon and Persia for several generations, and they were being challenged to rebuild their lives, their homes, their beloved city walls, and their Holy Temple in Jerusalem!
In this section of chapter 2 Haggai gives today’s children’s message (you’ll see what I mean), and tells them to obey, not to earn God’s blessing, but to make them ready to receive God’s blessing!
Hear the Word of God. Haggai 2:10-19…. —-
10 On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Haggai: 11 “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Ask the priests what the law says: 12 If someone carries consecrated meat in the fold of their garment, and that fold touches some bread or stew, some wine, olive oil or other food, does it become consecrated?’”
The priests answered, “No.”
13 Then Haggai said, “If a person defiled by contact with a dead body touches one of these things, does it become defiled?”
“Yes,” the priests replied, “it becomes defiled.”
14 Then Haggai said, “‘So it is with this people and this nation in my sight,’ declares the Lord. ‘Whatever they do and whatever they offer there is defiled.
15 “‘Now give careful thought to this from this day on—consider how things were before one stone was laid on another in the Lord’s temple. 16 When anyone came to a heap of twenty measures, there were only ten. When anyone went to a wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were only twenty. 17 I struck all the work of your hands with blight, mildew and hail, yet you did not return to me,’ declares the Lord. 18 ‘From this day on, from this twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, give careful thought to the day when the foundation of the Lord’s temple was laid. Give careful thought: 19 Is there yet any seed left in the barn? Until now, the vine and the fig tree, the pomegranate and the olive tree have not borne fruit.
“‘From this day on I will bless you.’”
Haggai’s first prophetic word of the Lord is to “these people” who had mis-placed their priorities, and “the prophet” becomes the “angelic messenger of God’s Word” to the “remnant of the whole people” as they re–prioritized their lives back to a rightful place of knowing God as their heavenly Father who loves them.
The second prophetic word of the Lord to “these people” challenges us to gain a more godly, more divine perspective on our lives’ situations.
And this third prophetic word of the Lord is addressed, first, to the priests, and then to “these people”. Using the object lesson of clean and unclean, Haggai reminds us that John Calvin’s teaching about Total Depravity is absolutely correct! “Everything they touch is defiled!” How does one make an unclean thing “clean”? Not simply by adding a dash of cleanliness. Verse 17 tells us that everything the Israelites did was struck by God, “Yet,” declares the Lord, “you did not return to me!”
From proper priority-setting to proper perspective leads to purity of heart and spirit. Cleanliness happens not by trying harder to not-be-unclean (although acting responsibly should be our goal). Cleanliness happens when we submerge ourselves in God’s perfect presence! (Investing time with God in prayer, in God’s Word, with God’s people – not simply because we know it’s “good for us” – but because when we marinate in God’s presence we open ourselves up for God’s power.)
What I hear in this passage is that blessings await God’s people. But God’s people cannot simply expect blessing with no responsibility.
Look at the closing lines of this prophecy: ‘From this day on, from this twenty-fourth day of the ninth month (scholars say that this day would be December 18, 520bc, on today’s calendar), give careful thought to the day when the foundation of the Lord’s temple was laid (we’ve been working to build the Temple back up for a couple months now, remember when the new foundation was laid). Give careful thought: 19 Is there yet any seed left in the barn? (Huh? – imagine with me what Jesus might have been thinking when He told the parable of the Sower and the seeds; The Sower scatters His seeds, some on the path, some among weeds, some in rocky ground, some in good soil; remember the parable about the rich farmer who built extra silos to store his seeds, and then he died? Or the parable about the Kingdom of God being like a mustard seed; I wonder if Jesus thought of Haggai when He told those stories – Is there any seed left in the barn?) Until now, the vine and the fig tree, the pomegranate and the olive tree have not borne fruit (how could they? Their seed is still in the barn! – If you want blessing, prepare for blessing, build to blessing, by sowing the seeds God has given us! Have you seen the 2006 movie Faith Like Potatoes? Based on a true story about a Scotsman who bought farmland in South Africa and planted potatoes when everyone said it would be impossible – a story about struggle, tragedy, difficulty, and obedient faith – he knew the only way his potato farm had a chance was if he planted potatoes!).
“‘From this day on I will bless you.’”
What blessings are we seeking today? What blessings are we hoping for? Praying for? Where are our seeds? Still in the barn? Or have we planted them even when we don’t know for sure how to grow them?
This kind of faithful obedience is what makes us ready for God to bless us.
In chapter 1 Haggai says to get our priorities right – God before self. And He says, “I am with you.”
In chapter 2:1-9 Haggai reminds us that He holds our future and He invites us to trust Him, saying again, “I am with you.”
In today’s prophetic reading Haggai urges our obedient stewardship with His provisions that we might know Him as the Almighty Heavenly Father who loves His children and He promises, “I will bless you.”
I serve on a Spokane civic board that plans and implements an annual Leadership Prayer Breakfast (it used to be the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast, but we have expanded it to all our civic leaders and servants). In 2008 the Reverend Dr. Robert Spitzer, president of Gonzaga University, was our keynote speaker. Dr. Spitzer was a brilliant, genius, man. Legally blind, so he comes to the podium with one piece of paper with three or four words written in big block letters, and then he talks for an hour in coherent but very highly educated platforms on theology and philosophy. When he was finished, the Chairperson of our Board, Rev. Rodney McAuley, came to the podium and said, “Friends, from Dr. Spitzer’s presentation, just ‘get all you can’, then ‘can all you get’, then ‘give the can away’.”
- “Get all you can” – from Haggai, from God’s Word, we may not “get” everything that’s here, but let’s “get what we can”.
- Then “can all you get” – preserve it, like canned tomatoes, before it starts to leak out of our brains/lives.
- But, then, like the seeds in the barn, obediently, lovingly, faithfully, “give the can away”.
This is not Prosperity Gospel preaching – build so that we deserve God’s blessing – no, this is not building for a blessing, but building to a blessing. Obediently build God’s House, sharing our faith, feeding the hungry, providing for Kenyan orphans, so that we’ll be ready to receive God’s blessings when they are offered!
In just a few minutes we’ll all be invited to join together downstairs for lunch and to talk about our church’s faithful planting of the seeds in our barn – there will also be time for prayer and seeking God’s presence in our midst.
Let’s build to God’s blessings together. And always give thanks in the process. Amen.
Smith, Ralph L.; Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 32: Micah-Malachi; Word Books; Waco, TX; 1984; Pp. 146-153.