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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Gold Mine

"Gold Mine"

Haggai 1:15b-2:9

James McTyre

Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The sermons for November aren't really a series as much as they're an exploration of scripture through the lens of one word. Mine. Last week’s title was "Mine Field," and we talked about the “field of mine” that surrounds us. Next Sunday, it's "Yours and Mine." Today, the theme is “Gold Mine.”

If your financial advisor - whether that's a professional or your oldest child who handles your bills now - told you that you were sitting on a gold mine, what would you think? You'd think that you had some secret source of fantastic wealth. If I told you that you were sitting IN a gold mine, what would you think? Would you check under the pew cushions to see what treasure you might find? Sorry, but I'm not Oprah, so you're going to have to find car keys somewhere else. Haggai the prophet told Israel they needed a gold mine, they needed to sit IN a gold mine, and that God had a gold mine they needed to find.

We’re reading today from the Prophet Haggai. OK, quick, how many of you had ever heard of the prophet Haggai before this morning? How many of you could find his book in the Bible? It’s in the H-Z-H-Z pattern almost at the end of the Old Testament. The H-Z’s. Stands for “Heavy Z’s,” right? Just before the end of the Old Testament, there are four rarely-touched books whose names start with H, then Z, H, then Z. Habakkuk, Zephaniah; Haggai, Zechariah. God made the names rhyme so they’d be easier to remember. But then, there’s Malachi, the final end book of the Old Testament, who blows the H-Z-H-Z pattern. God could have picked a guy named Howard, but no. Prophesy isn’t easy.

Nobody knows much biographical information on Haggai. He delivered this collection of prophesies over a four-month period in 520BC. The Israelites had been living in exile under the Babylonian Empire, and then under the Persian Empire. The Persians decided they’d had enough of the Israelites and let them return to their native homeland. (This is made somewhat more historically interesting when you realize that the Persian Empire is mainly what we now call, Iran. The Iranians granted the Israelites freedom and allowed them to rebuild their homeland. How times change, in two-thousand, five hundred short years.)

The Israelites went back to their homeland, to the land God had promised them, to the land the Iranians had given them. The Israelites went back, and… started arguing. Life in the new-old country of Israel wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t easy. They had some wealth and independence, but it’s not as if they were all riding around with those little round stickers on the rear-ends of their camels that said, “Life is Good.” Life was… OK. It wasn’t slavery or exile, but it was farming in the Middle East, which has to be something like surfing in Iowa. When Stewardship Season came around, there wasn't a lot of extra change. There was a little extra, but not much. So, the people of Israel had to decide, are we going to keep the money to ourselves, or are we going to do something else? Something else like, rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem, the holiest temple in the holiest place on earth? This created years of discussion among the people for whom life was better.

This, in a nutshell, is the landscape of little-known Haggai's four months of prophesy. Haggai argued - successfully - that God should have a house, too. In fact, God should have a beautiful house. But here's the thing: Haggai didn't argue that God should have a beautiful house because God needs to be made to look more beautiful. God has the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, the mountains in springtime. There's not much a human being could construct that would be more beautiful, or even as beautiful as these. Haggai argued that God should have a beautiful, inspiring holy place, not because God needs to be more beautiful, holy and inspiring; Haggai said God should have such a house because the people need something beautiful, holy and inspiring. Haggai describes the people of Israel as hard-working, but also as kind of self-centered and dull. The people were doing their work, going out and coming in, locking the doors behind them, and crashing until the next morning. They needed a lift. They needed a center. They needed a center for their lives. They needed a center that would hold their souls, stimulate their minds, and inspire their hearts to dream great dreams. They needed a Temple.

God's word came to Haggai, and God said,

'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? 4 But now be strong.... Be strong, all you people of the land,' declares the LORD, 'and work. For I am with you,' declares the LORD Almighty. 5 '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. 7 I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,' says the LORD Almighty. 8 'The silver is mine and the gold is mine,' declares the LORD Almighty. 9 '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."

As Presbyterian Protestants, we know that a church is not a building. We say it that way, but we know it's not. We get in the car on Sunday morning and say, "I'm going to church today." But we know that's not exactly right. We know the church isn't the building, or the sanctuary, or the Fellowship Hall, or even the big, comfy sofas in the Senior High room. Because those are things, and the church isn't a thing. The church is a who. The church is the people inside the building. Some churches have no buildings. Some churches have veritable temples, and spend more on air conditioning than most families earn in a year. We know the church is not a building.

But we also know that the church's building is a symbol of the people who are the church. I think you can tell a lot about a congregation by looking at their building, especially the sanctuary, the holy area, the "temple." How does it look? Some sanctuaries look as though angels with ironing boards descend every Monday morning to press the paraments and rub away any hint of human fingerprint from the furniture. Some sanctuaries are dank and dusty, smelling of the combined aroma of a hundred years of dry-skinned worshipers. These days, a lot of sanctuaries look like convention centers, with projection screens and audio equipment that U2 would be proud of. Chances are, the worship space is the way it is because the people like it that way. It's a symbol of the church. What does our sanctuary say about us? Sorry to mention this, but the room is kind of square. Welcome to Presbyterian-land. But here's the good thing. It's square, but it's turned on its side. And what do you get when you turn a square on its side? A diamond. The difference between a square and a diamond is in how tilted it is, or how tilted the person looking is. We may look square, but we're really kind of tilted. And I mean that in the best possible way.

God promises through Haggai that God is going to take the square, boring, self-centered people of Israel, and restore their glory. But more. God's going to bring them glory - and peace - greater than ever before. It may take a long time. It might look as though God is slow and the people are slower. But, God says, the silver is mine, the gold is mine. Even you dull, square people who need to be stood on your ears, says God, you're mine, too.

The other week, I had one of those days where I felt as though I was just lost in the vast wasteland between here and there. I got up early and kept going from one place to the next, in order to check things off my list. I got things done. I was sort of proud of the accomplishments. The Saudi Arabians would have been proud of me for using so much gas to do it all. I consider it my little contribution to the good of the global economy. But by the end of the day, I had to look at my list to remember what I had done, and all the places I'd been. If my day had a center, it was my to-do list, which when it was all marked off, I wadded up and threw away. So much for that day's lasting impression on history. The day had a crumpled piece of paper. No silver, no gold, no diamonds. It was just a square, average day spent somewhere between here and there by a square, middle-aged guy, growing rounder all the time. I needed a sanctuary. I needed a temple. I needed a sacred space and a guy like Haggai to grab me by the collar and put his nose up at mine and say, "Look, you hypnotized hamster in a wheel. God didn't create you for this. God created you with glory. You are golden. You belong to God and God loves you. Don't let the symbol of your days be a pile of crumpled to-do lists in the floor of your car's backseat."

Diamonds are squares until they're tilted on their sides. Gold is just a rock until the light of the sun hits it. Sometimes we have to be shown what the valuable looks like before we realize how much value we're sitting on. Sometimes we have to be reminded what's valuable before we realize the stuff of value is already woven into the helix of our DNA. We all need a holy space, a temple, to remind us that God intends us to be holy temple kind of people. For a lot of us, we're sitting in that holy space, right now. If this sanctuary reminds you that you belong to God and God loves you, and not just you, but all of you, then this particular temple has done its job.

One of the things that separates Haggai from Jesus, though, is that while Haggai worked to build up the temple, Jesus got in trouble for saying he could tear it down in three days. And everyone thought, "What? Are you crazy?" Haggai thought in terms of literal diamonds, literal silver, and literal gold. Jesus, on the other hand, was more about transformation. Jesus was more about taking the square, boring people themselves, and tilting them, and then holding them up to the mirror of himself, so that they could see the diamonds hidden in their shape. After his resurrection, as his last parting gift to his disciples, Jesus gave them the Holy Spirit. He gave his followers the "Temple" Spirit. He made the gold portable - personal, but shared. Jesus gave us the Temple Spirit, so that wherever we are, we can see the shining light of God's value, bouncing off our skin, reflecting off our relationships, bringing meaning to our days.

We may or may not be sitting ON a gold mine. But we are sitting IN one. Or, rather, the gold mine is sitting in US. We, individually, but even more together, are shining testimony to Haggai's prophesy. It may take a long time to see. It might look as though God is slow and we're slower. But, God says, the silver is mine, the gold is mine. Even you dull, square people who need to be stood on your ears, says God, you're mine, too.