12/10/2017 = Mark 1:1-8 = “… One More Powerful …”

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Mark Wheeler

Mark 1:1-8

“… One More Powerful …”

12/10/2017, Second Sunday of Advent

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

God of peace, be with us in our Advent journey, to the stable and beyond;
be with us in our meeting, and in our travelling together;
be with us in our worship, and our praying together;
be with us in our Advent journey, to the manger and beyond;
our God of peace, be with us. Amen.

 

On this Second Sunday of Advent, the traditional theme is Peace. The Hebrew word for this Peace is “Shalom”, which we find in words like JeruSalem (which, as always, is in deep need of peace).

 

Last week we read from the Gospel According to John, which has no Birthday-of-Jesus story; the closest John’s Gospel has is when he says that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. And this week we read from the Gospel According to Mark, which doesn’t even come that close! No star; no manger; no shepherds; no angels; no magi; nolittle Lord Jesus, no crying He makes”.

 

Today’s Advent reading offers such peace, perfect peace, peace that passes understanding. And today’s Advent reading offers us an opportunity to experience that peace through “One More Powerful” than all the chaos and fear we experience every day.

 

Hear the Word of God from one of Jesus’ first followers, as we read Mark 1:1-8 …. —-

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God,as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way”—
“a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord,     make straight paths for him.’”

And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”     (NIV)

 

The Gospel According to Mark is both the shortest of the four Gospels and the oldest. Scholars think that probably Matthew and Luke used Mark as a general Gospel-writing guide and as a primary source document, and then John came along and wrote his Gospel in an entirely different manner. But Mark does something different from all of the other the other Gospel-writers.

Ancient writings, generally, started in one of two ways: either they declare the purpose of the book (look at Luke as a prime example – “an accurate account of the work and teaching of Jesus Christ”), or they jump straight into the main subject of the book (Matthew’s “The genealogy of Jesus Christ”). Mark does both! (“The beginning of the Gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”)

Verse 1 is almost a Title of the Gospel. Let’s invest some time there, and then we’ll take that opening verse through the rest of this opening paragraph.

 

Just like John, and Genesis for that matter, Mark starts off withthe beginning”. Is he reminding us of God’s active role in history? God created the heavens and the earth, and now in the age when the Gospel is made manifest, the Son of God becomes human. The Greek word used here, arch, suggests that not only is this the start of the story, it’s also the origin, the cause of the whole thing. This is the “beginning” of the fulfillment of God’s everlasting Word!

 

The beginning of the Gospel.” The NIV says, “The beginning of the Good News.” That’s what “Gospel” means. Eu-aggelion. But this is not good news like, “It’s a snow day, no school tomorrow!Not like, “Good news, we get out of worship early enough to beat the Baptists to the restaurant!This is Good News beside which there is no comparison. Let’s come back to this “GospelGood News” in just a minute.

 

The beginning of the Gospel about Jesus.” This is not a new religion, with a whole new set of truths to be taught or a set of doctrines to be believed. This Good News is a bout a person! His name is Jesus. He was born, we learn elsewhere, in Bethlehem in the days of Quirinius and Herod the Great.

 

The beginning of the Good News about Jesus Christ.” The Messiah. The Old Testament promised-Savior.

 

The beginning of the Gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Not just any person. Not just another prophet. Not even “the” prophet! No! This is Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God! The ultimate Savior! Matthew and Luke both give genealogies detailing Jesus’ lineage, and they both tell us that Mary His mother was a virgin, and that God Himself is the Father. And John tells us that this One who iswith God and who is God … dwelt among us, and to all who believe Him and receive Him, He gives the right to be called children of God!

 

Now let’s go back to that word “euaggelion”, “Gospel”, “Good News”.

Mark continues, “As it is written in the prophet Isaiah ….” The phrase, “it is written” carries with it the weight of full authority. “It is written” designates the authority of a king or magistrate. “It is written in the Prophet Isaiah” designates the authority of God, for Isaiah is thought of as the Prophet among prophets. The fact is that what Mark quotes only partially comes from Isaiah. It also comes from Moses and Malachi! But putting it under the words of Isaiah signifies that it is God’s authoritative Word of truth (and, frankly, all four Gospels quote from Isaiah 40:3 here, including Mark).

Have you ever read a sign or a note that had misplaced a comma or a semi-colon? “Motorcycles Take Caution”. Well, do they really? That road sign needs a comma in order for it to be the command it is meant to be: “Motorcycles, (comma) Take Caution!” The more famous one says, “Let’s eat Gramma.” Right? It needs a comma!

Isaiah writes: “A voice of one calling, (comma) ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord…’

Mark writes: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, (notice how the comma moved) ‘Prepare the way of the Lord….’

Is the voice calling in the wilderness? Or is the voice telling us to go to the wilderness?

And who is this voice? Is it the Elijah that Malachi tells us about? And notice what the voice says (I have, personally, always gotten this wrong until this year). It does not say, “Prepare a way for the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior.” It says, “Prepare the way for the Lord! For YHWH! For God!

Remember that this is about the “Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God!” Just like John so poetically says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God!” So Mark prosaically says, “The beginning of the Gospel of (the person) Jesus (who is the) Christ, (who is) the Son of God.” He now claims that He is, indeed, God Himself! The content of the Good News, the Gospel, is Jesus! And Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us!

 

Three times Mark uses the image of “the Way. John the Baptist comes as the forerunner who proclaims the Gospel-Good News that Jesus, the Son of God, Emmanuel, is the Way of Salvation; He is the Way of Eternal peace, Shalom with God, Shalom with neighbors, Shalom with self.

 

And he says that he is declaring the Presence of … One More powerful … than I! This one will baptize, not with water, but with the Holy Spirit! – that is a right, and an ability, that belongs exclusively to God!

 

All of this is to state that this Christ-event, Christmas, the incarnation, the coming of the Messiah, the Son of God, Emmanuel, is not a random arbitrary last-resort occurrence! It has been in the works since the dawn of Salvation history, since Moses and the Exodus, since Abraham and the covenant, since Adam and Eve and the Creation of all that is. This is the consummation of a purpose-driven history of revelation from God Almighty.

Therefore, God has been preparing for this new beginning in Jesus Christ from the time of Moses and the Prophets!

 

The Advent application for us is simply to become aware of the “Wildernesswe are in.

In this desert-place, can we hear the voice of one calling?

Is it time for our new beginning, in Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, Emmanuel?

If you need that kind of Peace today, it is yours for the taking, regardless of the wildness of your desert storm. God with us, revealed in us, Emmanuel, Emmanuel. Amen.

 

Resources:

Edwards, James R.; The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to Mark; Eerdmans; Grand Rapids, MI; 2002; Pp. 23-33.

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12/03/2017 = John 1:6-9, 19-28 = “What Is Our Reflection?”

CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, to hear this Advent Message number One.

Mark Wheeler

John 1:6-9, 19-28

“What Is Our Reflection?”

12/03/2017, First Sunday of Advent

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

God of hope and promise, be with us throughout this Advent season and d raw us ever closer as we journey together toward the stable and the birth of your Son, our Savior. Amen.

 

On this First Sunday of Advent, the traditional theme is Hope. And this year, it seems, we are in need of more hope than in recent years.

Hope for peace in the Middle East.

Hope for safety for female co-workers.

Hope for health and resources and peace of mind.

Hope for political bipartisanship.

Hope for fewer Tweets, and hope for better interpersonal relationships.

 

But we can approach our seasons of despair with faith and hope in God’s presence and power, or with empty hopelessness and darkness.

 

It’s like the story of the two children who were each taken to their respective storage rooms. One room was full of brand new toys, and the other was filled with hay and horse manure.

The first child looked at the first room and cried because all of those wonderful toys would probably soon be broken. The other child was in the other room shoveling like crazy, “I know there has to be a horse in here somewhere!” she said.

 

Today’s Advent reading offers such hope, perfect hope, hope that shines light in darkness. And today’s Advent reading offers us an opportunity to bring that hope to a world that desperately needs it.

 

Hear the Word of God from one of Jesus’ first followers, as we read John 1:6-9, 19-28…. —-

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world….

19 Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. 20 He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.”

21 They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”

He said, “I am not.”

“Are you the Prophet?”

He answered, “No.”

22 Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

23 John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”

24 Now the Pharisees who had been sent 25 questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”

26 “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. 27 He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”

28 This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

 

John, the Gospel-writer, the Apostle, begins his version of the story of Jesus, not with a manger scene or a virgin or shepherds or magi; he starts with those almost-magical, certainly mystical, words, “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God and the Word was God.” And then he tells how this Word is responsible for all of creation, and that He (notice that John the Gospel-writer makes sure that we understand that this “Word” is personal) is the light of that light of the world; the John he writes of is not that Word which is God; instead he is a witness to testify concerning that lighted-Word!

 

John goes back to the story about this Word stepping into this world He had made, and living with the people He had called His own. The Christmas message here is that He came and “dwelt among us” (KJV), and all who receive Him and believe Him have the right to be called children of God!

 

But the Advent message continues again with more about John the Baptist. There must have been some confusion about John the Baptist’s role in salvation history, because John the Gospel-writer goes into some detail about John the Baptist’s self-identification.

20 He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.”

21 They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”

He said, “I am not.”

“Are you the Prophet?”

He answered, “No.”

22 Finally they said, “So then, who the heck are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

Scuttle-butt and rumors had apparently spread that this one who was baptizing a baptism of repentance in the Jordan River must be the Messiah, the Christ, the one anointed by God as the King of kings, who would rescue the Israelites from the Roman oppression. People thought that John the Baptist (which was not his name, by the way – people would have called him John the son of Zechariah), people thought that he was their Savior! “I am not the Messiah.”

So the investigation continued. From the Old Testament prophet Malachi who promised that God would send the even Older Testament prophet Elijah to come before “the day of the Lord”, they interrogated him, “Are you Elijah?“I am not.”

In frustration now, they keep digging: “Are you the prophet?” Scholars argue over which “the Prophet” they may have had in mind, but I think the reference is related to a Deuteronomy 18 prophecy, and that it refers to Moses, the one who saved them, rescued them, delivered them from bondage in Egypt. John’s answer: “No.” (I often wonder what his tone of voice was at this point: “Nope”? [like, non-chalant, just keep guessing], “NO!”? [like, “leave me alone!”], or something in between.)

But I don’t wonder about the tone of voice of the questioners. They were exasperated! “Who ARE you?! Give us an answer! What have you to say for yourself?!23 John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”

 

I believe these inquirers had hopes that were being dashed! They hoped John was the guy! But John kept pointing them to a Bigger Hope!

That’s our Advent message this morningpoint people to the Bigger Hope! Point our children and our husbands to Hope Bigger than the presents underneath the tree. Point each other to an even Bigger Hope than family getting together for Christmas dinner. Point friends and family to Bigger Hope than good health (which lasts, at best, for only a lifetime). Point political foes to a Bigger Hope than even peace between oppositions…. There’s something Bigger – and I’m not just talking about Pie-in-the-sky Eternity-Hope….

 

After all the exhausting questions asked of John, with no satisfying answers, they finally ask what he’s doing baptizing people in the Jordan! This baptism thing wasn’t like a brand new phenomenon, but it certainly was not Jewish religious business as usual. This was something significant, and they wanted to know who gave John the authority to do such a thing! A baptism of repentance for the sake of the Kingdom of God?! What is this about?!

Here’s where John’s answer shocked every one. 26 “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. 27 He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”

John’s authority comes from God. He is preparing the way for the Messiah to come. And, just to be clear, this did not happen on Christmas morn. This was 30 years later, as full adults. And the Advent message is that John was still Reflecting the Light of Christ for the world around him.

 

And that’s our Advent message, too. By pointing out the Bigger Hope of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we too can reflect the light of Christ for our family and friends, our neighbors and associates, our classmates and coworkers. Reflect the light of Christ and point people beyond their despair and darkness to the Hope of the Gospel, for today as well as into eternity. Amen.

 

Resources:

Beasley-Murray, George R.; Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 36: John; Word Books; Waco, TX; 1987; Pp. 11-24.

11/26/2017 = Christ the King Sunday = Haggai 2:20-23 = Haggai the Honorable: “Contest of Sovereignties”

You wanna HEAR Haggai’s words? Click HERE.

Mark Wheeler

Haggai 2:20-23

Haggai the Honorable: “Contest of Sovereignties”

11/26/2017, Christ the King Sunday

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 Kingdom, and our divisions may be healed by Your Word of love and righteousness through Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

One week has the Seattle Seahawks playing the AZ Cardinals, and even with their main defensive player sidelined with a torn Achilles’ tendon, the Seahawks beat the Cardinals severely.

Another week, those same Seahawks play Atlanta Falcons, and lose by a missed field goal.

Admittedly, Cardinals are no Falcons, but we wonder if Seattle will ever be consistent enough to win the Super Bowl…..

The NFL is a Game of (Touchdown) Throws.

 

That, and our Sermon Title, is my play on words. To avoid any copyright infringements or apparent endorsements, I am avoiding the Game of Thrones phrase as we celebrate Christ the King Sunday, and as we experience His role in this Contest of Sovereignties!

 

Today we finish reading the four prophecies­ in the book of Haggai, all of which take place between the months of August and December of 520bc.

Haggai 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!

 

Hear the Word of God. Haggai 2:20-23…. —-

     20 The word of the Lord came to Haggai a second time on the twenty-fourth day of the month: 21 “Tell Zerubbabel governor of Judah that I am going to shake the heavens and the earth22 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.

23 “‘On that day,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘I will take you, my servant Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”     (NIV)

 

To bring us all up to speed, and to get us all on the same page, here’s a quick refresher on where we are:

Haggai’s first prophetic word of the Lord is to “these people” is about reprioritizing our lives back to a rightful place of knowing God as our heavenly Father who loves us.

The second prophetic word of the Lord to “these peoplechallenges us to gain a more godly, more divine perspective on our lives’ situations.

The 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!” he says. This is about purity of heart; it’s about preparing ourselves to receive God’s blessings by obedience to His Word.

And today’s concluding prophetic word of the Lord is addressed specifically to the political leader, the governor of Judah, about discovering God’s perfect presence and power and purpose.

From proper priority-setting and proper perspective and purity of heart and spirit leading to understanding God’s perfect presence and power and purpose, and our place in that.

 

Remember the context of today’s prophecy: it is spoken to Zerubbabel the governor of Judah. I wonder if Zerubbabel questioned his own role in Israel’s future as the Israelites were moving back into their “own country”. At this point in history Judah was a small, insignificant little territory, under control of the Persian Empire. Would Zerubbabel ever amount to anything more than just the governor of Judah? Did he wish he was more? He was in the family tree of, the bloodline of, King David! Did he expect, hope for, something bigger than a mere governor-ship of this small province?

And the word of the Lord comes through the messenger-prophet  Haggai to Zerubbabel, telling him, “There is a big difference between things as they currently are and as they one-day will be: things now are small, difficult, discouraging; the Temple is being restored, but so very slowly; the new building is no match to the old splendor; the harvests are small, not enough; drought and mildew plague the workers; and Zerubbabel, you are in the line of King David, but you are a mere governor of a tiny community. But it will not always be this way!

 

And here’s the thing. When we read this story, can we relate to anything Zerubbabel is experiencing? Is my life less than I hoped for, less than I worked for? Is it more difficult, discouraging, expensive, lonely, fear-filled than I feel like I deserve? Maybe there’s progress happening, but it is so slow that it feels like it will never get finished in my life-time? (Anybody here who has hoped for the North-South Freeway since the 1950s can relate….) What’s around the next corner? When will the other shoe drop?

But, Haggai says, “It will not always be this way!

 

Ready for the disappointing part of this Good News? Who remembers when Haggai lived? [520bc] Do you think Zerubbabel ever experienced being a king? Or an expansive economy? Or a finished Temple? [He did not.]

 

Two or three generations earlier the prophet Jeremiah spoke of Israel’s King Jehoiachin resigning his reign over to Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar. When we Google or Bible Gateway searchsignet ring”, we find Jeremiah’s words to Jehoiachin, and then we find Haggai’s words to Zerubbabel which directly reverse Jeremiah’s words in verse 23: “On that day, I will take you, Zerubbabel my servant, oracle of Yahweh, and I will set you as a signet ring, because I have chosen you.”

 

But these words were spoken in 520bc!

This prophecy is what scholars call, both, Messianic (they foretell about the coming Messiah) and Eschatological (they talk about End Times).

 

Haggai tells us that Yahweh is going to shake the nations; their power will be broken; their resources will be brought to restore the Kingdom of God. He says that the future glory of the Temple will be greater than the former glory. And Haggai says that God’s servant will become God’s representative on earth (salt of the earth, light of the world!)

We know that none of these things happened in Zerubbabel’s lifetime! Zerubbabel drops completely out of site with no explanation. The Temple was finished just a few years later (Ezra 6:15 tells us that the Temple was completed in 516bc), and then destroyed again in 70ad. And Israel has yet to be its own nation with a King and no outside power control (yes, in 1948 the UN declared Palestine to be the self-governed nation of Israel, and they have their own president and prime minister, but even today, 2,500 later, it is a nation that struggles to be recognized as sovereign).

 

Next Sunday is the beginning of the liturgical year, the church calendar, as we celebrate the 1st Sunday of Advent in preparation for the celebration of the incarnation of the Son of God. What did the Magi in Matthew’s Gospel follow the star to find? [The new-born King of the Jews!] What did Pilate ask Jesus at His trial 33 years later? [“Are you the King of the Jews?”] By the time the Book of Acts rolls around, why are the Roman Emperors feeding Christians to the lions? [Claiming that Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords, when, according to Roman rule, only the Emperor claimed those titles.]

You see how this is Messianic? Yeah, it was first spoken 520 years before Christ, and it was fulfilled by/through/in Jesus Christ, Yeshua Meshiach. With the coming of Christ, Haggai’s hopes for the Temple and for the King were fulfilled – and fulfilled far beyond what the people couple have ever expected.

 

And, while you and I live in that liminal time between Christ’s coming and culminating consummation, final fulfillment is yet to arrive.

 

How do you and I survive another news bulletin? How do we cope with another medical announcement? How do we handle another financial set-back, or loss of a loved one, or uncertain tomorrows, or very certain tomorrows?

We cling to the One who wore the Crown of Thorns who sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, who while we were yet sinners died for us, who is the hope of salvation.

Today is Christ the King Sunday, but every day Christ is King of all kings and Lord of all lords. There is no ultimate Contest of Sovereignties because at the name of Jesus Christ every knee will bow, every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

 

Haggai invites us all to believe this Good News! When we find ourselves in darkness, to reach for Jesus who is the Light of the world. And to, then, be that Light of the world for those around us to see Christ in us.

 

Resources:

Smith, Ralph L.; Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 32: Micah-Malachi; Word Books; Waco, TX; 1984; Pp. 146-165.

11/23/2017 = Blessing-filled Thanksgiving to All

Martin Luther’s 92nd and 93rd Theses, I believe, are exactly what we need this Thanksgiving:
92. Away, then, with all these prophets who say to the people of Christ, “Peace, peace,” and there is no peace.
93. Blessed be all those prophets who say to the people of Christ “Cross, cross,” and there is no cross!

From a letter Luther had written to a Prior of the Angustinian order, on June 22, 1516, he gives the explanation behind the 92nd and 93rd theses:

“You are seeking and craving for peace, but in the wrong order. For you are seeking it as the world giveth, not as Christ giveth. Know you not that God is ‘wonderful among His saints,’ for this reason, that He establishes His peace in the midst of no peace, that is, of all temptations and afflictions.’ It is said ‘Thou shalt dwell in the midst of thine enemies.’ The man who possesses peace is not the man whom no one disturbs —that is the peace of the world; he is the man whom all men and all things disturb, but who bears all patiently, and with joy. You are saying with Israel, ‘Peace, peace,’ and there is no peace. Learn to say rather with Christ: ‘The Cross, the Cross,’ and there is no Cross. For the Cross at once ceases to be the Cross as soon as you have joyfully exclaimed, in the language of the hymn,

‘Blessed Cross, above all other,
One and only noble tree.’ ”

11/19/2017 = Haggai 2:10-19 = Haggai the Honorable: “Building to a Blessing”

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Mark Wheeler

Haggai 2:10-19

Haggai the Honorable: “Building to a Blessing”

11/19/2017

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 reprioritized 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 peoplechallenges 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 peoplenot 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 rightGod 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 preachingbuild so that we deserve God’s blessingno, 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.

 

Resources:

Smith, Ralph L.; Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 32: Micah-Malachi; Word Books; Waco, TX; 1984; Pp. 146-153.

 

11/12/2017 = Haggai 2:1-9 = Haggai the Honorable: “How the Future Holds”

(You wanna HEAR Haggai’s words? Click HERE.)

Mark Wheeler

Haggai 2:1-9

Haggai the Honorable: “How the Future Holds”

11/12/2017

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.

 

Last week I played one of those Facebook Games that determines things about your life – when/how you’ll die, what your genetic makeup is, what nationalities you are a part of, etc. This one told me about my retirement. Well, I’m 56 years old, so I’m not really thinking about retirement too much, but the thought does linger just over the horizon…. Are you prepared to hear what I learned from FB, and thus will totally depend on being true? I was told that I will retire at age 61, with $82 million, in 110% health, and live in a country villa with 8 dogs!

According to FB, that’s what my future holds, when it holds it, and where it brings me. It does not tell me why, or how that’s who I end up as.

 

Today we read from chapter 2 of the Old Testament prophet Haggai – a man who lived about 520 years before Jesus, 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.

In this chapter Haggai talks about the HOW and the WHO our future holds, and it hints at WHY this is true.

 

This book contains four prophecies, and they all take place between the months of August and December of 520bc.

With that as our jump-off place, let’s turn to Haggai 2, and hear the Word of God. Haggai 2:1-9…. —-

     1 On the twenty-first day of the seventh month, the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: “Speak to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, to Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people. Ask them, ‘Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? But now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ declares the Lord. ‘Be strong, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty. 

‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.

     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. I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the  Lord  Almighty. ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the  Lord  Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the  Lord Almighty.”  

 

These verses tell us that very few of those returning would have had any memory of what the Temple looked like before it had been destroyed, and the memories they did have were the memories from their childhoods – you know how everything gets bigger and grander in our memories; but most of the returning refugees  only have the stories told by their parents and grandparents and great-grandparents.

Who here has ever heard someone say something like, “Remember the good old days”? And who has heard those words come spewing forth from your own nostalgic and happy-memory-filled lips?

 

Does anyone here remember back when we didn’t read about another school shooting every few months? Who remembers sitting on your front porch and chatting with neighbors on a daily basis? Does anyone remember when we only had three TV channels to choose from, and that was too many?

Good old days! Right?

 

That’s what the seniors were thinking as the Jews were coming back to Jerusalem after their exile. Most of the returnees had never been “home” before. They were born and grew up in captivity, in Persia or Babylon. But the 85-year olds were born in Judea, and they remember going to the Temple for holidays when they were mere youngsters. And this Jerusalem that they were returning to was not their old familiar haunts. These were no longer the same streets they used to play kick-the-can on. And, while they were no longer living under the control of a foreign king, they were wondering if this was really worth it.

 

Can you relate to any of that?

 

Last week we read Haggai’s first prophetic word of the Lord to “these people” who had mis-placed their priorities, and “the prophet” become the “angelic messenger of God’s Word” to the “remnant of the whole people” as they reprioritized their lives back to a rightful place of knowing God as their heavenly Father who loves them.

In today’s reading, the second prophetic word of the Lord to “these people”, we are being challenged to gain a more godly, more divine perspective.

 

Yes, things are not like they used to be. Some of that is sad, and some of that is really pretty darn good (having refrigeration in our kitchens saves us a ton of trouble and sickness, and having mobile communication devices that allow us to check on every factoid and curiosity of life gives us access to a universe of information at our fingertips) – have you ever watched an old movie/TV show and thought the characters could easily move through their conflict if they just used their cell phones?! And then you remember that cell phones weren’t invented for another 20 or 50 or 100 years!

We all know that sometimes, it seems, life simply sucks! Health diagnoses that knock the wind out of our lungs. Wealth circumstances that knock us flat on our backs. Relationships that hurt. Failures that outnumber successes. Losses that outweigh victories.

Do any of you know what I’m talking about?

 

Last Sunday, while we were still gathering for worship here there was a church in TX that was being torn apart by a madman. I can’t help but imagine the trauma for that congregation and that pastor and that community.

 

And in the midst of all of this, chapter 2, verse 4, says, “But now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ declares the Lord. ‘Be strong, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.

 

Whatever you find yourself in today, hear our loving Sovereign Savior tell you, “Be strong. I am with you. My Spirit remains with you. Do not be afraid!

Turn to your neighbor and remind each other, “Be strong.” … “God is with you.” … “Don’t be afraid.”

 

But Haggai’s prophetic Word of the Lord does not end with the simple assurance of Immanuel, God with us. He goes on and in verse 9 gives us a promise: “The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty.

 

Many of you have seen the bumper-sticker theology that says, “We may not know what the future holds, but we know Who holds the future.”

That’s what our Sermon Title tries to convey. Not what the future holds – for none of us can predict how this afternoon with unfold, let alone the next week. Not where our future may lead us. Not why this is what our future has in store (while there certainly is some form of consequence-based results, not all our life-conditions are control-able like that).

But HOW our future holds! Is directly connected to our relationship with WHO holds our future!

 

My next five years will have to experience a boatload of miracles for my FB Retirement predictions to be accurate. But if I learn to trust the Lord of Haggai I can rest assured that this present time will have greater glory than any former time, and that God will grant His perfect peace which surpasses our understanding.

 

Do you trust God this way? This particular prophecy of Haggai is filled with eschatology and messianic understanding – it’s promising a Savior and an End-Times filled with blessing.

Jesus comes at Christmas and becomes that messianic prophecy fulfilled. Do you know Him as Lord and Savior? Do you trust Him with all your concerns?

If you want to, this peace is offered to you, too. Let’s cling to His peace – today. Amen.

 

Resources:

Smith, Ralph L.; Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 32: Micah-Malachi; Word Books; Waco, TX; 1984; Pp. 146-153.

 

11/05/2017 = Haggai 1:1-15 = Haggai the Honorable: “Repent-Reform-Rebuild”

D’ya wanna LISTEN to this message? Click HERE!

Mark Wheeler

Haggai 1:1-15

Haggai the Honorable: “Repent – Reform – Rebuild”

11/05/2017

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.

 

Today we start a new, one-month sermon series on the Old Testament prophet Haggai – a man who lived about 520 years before Jesus, 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.

Very few of those returning would have any memory of what the Temple looked like before it had been destroyed, and the memories they did have were the memories from their childhoods – you know how everything gets bigger and grander in our memories.

In about a month we are putting on a play, a musical drama, along with folks from Fellowship Church and our Just for Fun choir, that takes place during the weeks leading up the Pearl Harbor. We no longer have the same kind of eye-witness accounts of that that we had just a few years ago. Some of you remember sitting around your radio at home and listening to FDR give his “day of infamy” speech.

Haggai’s prophetic voice is pronounced to a people who, at best, have childhood memories of the “old” Jerusalem and the old Temple, but most have only the stories told by their parents and grandparents and great-grandparents.

 

This book contains four prophecies, and they all take place between the months of August and December of 520bc. We know next to nothing about this prophet, other than that he’s mentioned twice in the history book of Ezra (which also takes place at this same period of world history).

With that, let’s turn to Haggai 1, and hear the Word of God. Haggai 1:1-15…. —-

In the second year of King Darius, on the first day of the sixth month, the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest:

This is what the Lord Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house.’”

Then the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?)

Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.”

This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways.Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,” says the Lord. “You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?” declares the Lord Almighty. “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house.10 Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. 11 I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the olive oil and everything else the ground produces, on people and livestock, and on all the labor of your hands.”

12 Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and the whole remnant of the people obeyed the voice of the Lord their God and the message of the prophet Haggai, because the Lord their God had sent him. And the people feared the Lord.

13 Then Haggai, the Lord’s messenger, gave this message of the Lord to the people: “I am with you,” declares the Lord. 14 So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of the whole remnant of the people. They came and began to work on the house of the Lord Almighty, their God, 15 on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month. …

 

If you look at the Sermon Notes page, you’ll see that there are some underlined words and phrases. As we begin this series about Haggai, I wondered who this man was, and while there is no bio about him, we don’t know anything about his family, we can deduce a few things about Haggai in these verses.

As we said earlier, the Israelites had begun to return from their deportation back to their motherland when the king of Persia released them from their exile. This was a time when prophets were few and far-between. Look at how Haggai is described. What phrases are used? [Haggai the prophet – which could mean that there were several Haggais; Haggai the butcher, Haggai the baker, Haggai the candlestick-maker, and Haggai the prophet. Or it could mean that Haggai was THE prophet, like the ONLY prophet.]

What did “prophet” mean? [God’s spokesperson – often the one who delivered the hard news (read “bad” news). It’s not always that, but that is often the connotation.

What was Haggai’s message? [“Here we are trying to build/rebuild the Temple, but instead of the resources coming in to get this job done all you Israelites are spending money on your own houses/mansions!”] How do you think that message would have been heard? [It was hard/bad news!]

 

But now jump down to verse 13. How is Haggai described in this verse? [Not as “the prophet”, but as “messenger/angel of Yahweh”!]

Why? Why the change? Look at the message from God in verse 13: “I am with you,” declares the Lord. This is GOOD News! It was Good News to the Israelites in 520bc, it was Good News 520 years later when the Angel Gabriel told Joseph of Nazareth that this Son of God would be Immanuel – “God with us”! It is Good News in 2017 when we find ourselves struggling with cancer, with violence, with doubt, with hardships, with death. God, through Haggai, promises His people, “I am with you.” He has never taken that promise away! In fact, He made it even more real, more dependable, through His Son, Jesus the Christ, and by the gift of His Holy Spirit.

 

There are other underlines on your Sermon Notes page, too. These underlines highlight the descriptions of the people to whom Haggai spoke. It starts off with “these people” – notmy people”, notmy chosen people”, but “these people”. But by the end of chapter 1these peopleturn intothe whole remnant of the people” – the people who remain God’s people.

And that shift, really, is more Good News! God’s faithfulness to His people remains!

 

The other book that contains the name of this honorable prophet Haggai is the history book of Ezra. Ezra and Nehemiah and Haggai all lived at the same time as when the Israelites were returning to Israel, to Jerusalem, from their captivity in Babylon and Medes and Persia.

And when they returned they returned to a country, a capitol city, and a Holy Temple that had been destroyed. It all needed to be rebuilt. And this chapter calls God’s people to work together to do that rebuilding.

It starts with repentance. Repentance from all the ways we have ignored God, forgotten God, blamed God! Repentance from our own self-centered interests and comforts when others are still suffering, when God’s Temple and God’s presence are left for last.

 

And repentance must always lead to reformation. Whenever we encounter the true God, we are changed. If we think we’ve had a “religious experience” and walk away unchanged, it was not a God-experience! We are created/formed in the image of God; and repentance from our sin allows/invites us to be re-created/re-formed back into the image of God.

 

And reformation always leads to rebuilding. In Haggai’s day it was a literal rebuilding of the Temple of God. In Haggai’s day it literally meant to stop worrying about our own paneled walls and start working on the walls of the Temple. That Temple may still receive another call for rebuilding, someday.

But for you and me, we are called to repent today. We are called to reformation, and to always be reformed according to the Word of God, every day. And we are called to continually rebuild the Church – to share our faith, to love our neighbors and our enemies, to feed the hungry, to give up our own luxuries and comforts for the sake of the Gospel! We are called to enable children in Kiminini, Kenya, to eat tonight, to go to school tomorrow, to receive health aid, to hear the Good News of God’s perfect love through Jesus Christ.

 

Haggai the prophet calls us to not settle for being “these people” who ignore God’s voice; but the messenger of God wants us to remain faithful so we can hear the Good News that God is, in fact, with usalways! And when we hear that Good News, we rebuild the Church by living that Good News love in ways that others around us are also built up in God’s Kingdom purpose.

 

As we accept the invitation to approach the Lord’s Table this morning, open yourselves enough to be filled with God’s assurance of His perfect love for you and then live your faith in such a way that God’s Kingdom building continues. Amen.

 

 

Resources:

Smith, Ralph L.; Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 32: Micah-Malachi; Word Books; Waco, TX; 1984; Pp. 146-153.