Pentecost 22C - Haggai 1:15b-2-9

Haggai 1:15b–2:9 (NIV)

15 … In the second year of King Darius,

2 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.’

“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.”

          Who remembers the former glory of St Matthew?

          According to the account of St Matthew ‘s dedication written by Pr Noel Schultz, “It was a brilliant sunny day for the dedication and thanksgiving and 130 persons attended.” 130 people – wow, where are they now?

          Pr Noel, in his address on the day spoke about those members of the congregation who had built the church. He said, “They have donated their time and their energy. Thus the church is part of ourselves, for our sweat and labour have gone into it. Over 2,000 hours have been donated to do this. Some have made real sacrifices. But those who have worked the hardest and the longest do not look for praise, for I have this confidence that they worked the way they did because they considered it a way in which they could serve their God, their families and their community.”

          In conclusion, Pr Noel, asked, “What shall we say of the future? We know that just as God has blessed us in the past we can rely on His help for the future. With the passing of the years do not overlook how in times past we have been enabled to build this house of worship.”

          The late Jean King reported that when she and her family arrived in Hamilton in 1965, “The first St Matthew was well and truly established, but as the membership grew, the building was becoming more and more inadequate.” The Church building was expanded in 1976.

          New members of St Matthew had come from Australia and Czechoslovakia, some of Danish and some of German descent, several from Marton. Locals sent their children to Sunday School here in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s.

From what I can ascertain, regular attendance at St Matthew reached its peak with about 80 regular worshippers - with an active Women’s Fellowship and Youth Group. God’s church was growing.

I remember visiting here in my childhood, as my family visited the Czepanski family, who originally came from Marton. There was Sunday School in the shed out the back of the manse, and later I recall an active youth group.

Many of the young people attended LYNZ Christian Life Week and New Year Camps – at the Narrows, Whakamaru, Akatarua and Porirua.

          Who remembers the former glory of St Matthew?

          A similar question was asked in the 2nd year of King Darius’ reign by the prophet, Haggai, about the Temple built by King Solomon which fell into wrack and ruin during the Babylonian exile: ‘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?

          If we were to compare the past glory of St Matthew with what we have today we might well weep at what we see: some buildings in need of repair and paint, many empty pews and memories of folk no longer worshipping with us – some fallen by the way-side, some deceased, some moved on and some disillusioned for who knows what reason?

          The outlook for St Matthew, like that of the Temple for the Judeans who returned from exile in Babylon in 520 BC, does not appear to be bright. Some remembered the former glory of the Temple, just as some of us remember the former glory of St Matthew.

          The message from God, through the prophet Haggai, given to Zerubabel, the governor of Judah, and Joshua the High Priest, and to the people of the land (the dejected Judeans who had begun the reconstruction of the Temple after the exile) is now given to us at St Matthew, “… be strong …and work, for I am with you.”

          So, declares the Lord Almighty!

          As God promised to be faithful to those He covenanted with when He brought them out of slavery in Egypt, and when He brought them back from exile in Babylon, God covenanted Himself to us when we received His name in Holy Baptism. God is a God of covenants which He honours.

When God makes a binding commitment to journey through life with people to whom He has given His name – as when each of you were baptized in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit – He says: 20 … And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20b, NIV)

God encourages all of us to continue the work He began in building His Church with the assurance that He is with us into the future to the very end of the age.”

The glory of God’s Church, is not made of stone, gold and silver, bricks and mortar, timber and glass but of the hearts and minds of you, His baptized people. God’s glory is in His Son Jesus Christ and those who faithfully bear His name, who believe and who have received the Holy Spirit.

What God is building now is greater than the first Temple – this is the case because Jesus supplants the Temple –it is in relationship with Him, through the forgiveness of sins He won for you on the cross that He gives you an eternal share in this glory. This glory then is revealed to the world through you and your life as members of His Church.

God’s glory is revealed in His Church when His Word is preached and shared. The Lord assures us that it is in His Word that we find the greatest treasure: “forgiveness of sins and peace in Christ our Saviour.” You have the greatest treasure. Many doubt this truth and many have given up on it.

Martin Luther wrote of today’s text to encourage us:

“Many little children had been carried away into captivity, like Daniel, who lived almost until the return from the captivity. Here, too, this text indicates that there were still some survivors who had seen God’s earlier house which had been so magnificently and beautifully constructed. So it did seem impossible to them that the temple could be restored. We have had the same experience. In the beginning, the preaching of the Gospel seemed foolish to us, but this is the way God declares His power. You see, at the time when we expect nothing less, when we think that everything is going to pieces, that’s when the Lord is near” (AE 18:380).

          The Lord is present in His Word and the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion – this is where His glory is shared and we are assured of the forgiveness of sins and peace with Christ our Saviour.

          God said, Be strong, all you people of the land,’ … ‘and work. For I am with you,’ … ‘This is what I covenanted with you …. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’

          God has given us work to do in His Church and for His Church. “…we must,” says Luther,

“judge a work according to the will of Him who commands such a work. This is what faith does, faith which knows that both are the work of the same God. It judges a work as great or small according to God’s Word; and looking to this alone, it makes the will of God of great importance. After all, the Word by which the Jews were commanded to rebuild the Temple and that by which God from the beginning created every creature in heaven and earth were one and the same Word.”

          The work God has called each of us here at St Matthew to do is not rocket science. It is to faithfully live as His family, helping to build the Kingdom of those who are being saved to live for ever.

          St Paul reminds us of the work we have been called to:

13  … to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 14 He called you to this through our Gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

15 So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.

16 May our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who loved us and by His grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

          So, we are to listen to the Word of the Lord, seek His will and work with what He has given us so that Jesus is glorified in the Word and life we share.

Amen.