Open your Bible to the end of the Old Testament, where we will meet Haggai following the Babylonian exile. The Israelites have been exiled out of Jerusalem, but are now allowed back to Jerusalem, and are figuring out what to do next. Some have returned home to Jerusalem, some never left, but rather assimilated to a certain degree with the locals. Some continued practicing their religious festivals and stories, as best they could away from the Temple, where they believe that God was most present here on earth, while others struggled with a seemingly absent God. The first temple, Solomon's Temple has been destroyed and these prophets - Ezra and Haggai - won't lay off, "Build the Temple! Get back to it!"
Charles H. Bayer, formerly the pastor at First Christian in St. Joseph, MO, wrote a book called "The Babylonian Captivity of the Mainline Church," in which he describes some of the struggles that the Israelites faced following the Babylonian exile and how they are remarkably similar to the struggles the Mainline Protestant Church is facing today. He talks about the "secular assault" (Babylonian) in which we see some of the ways that we are facing pressure from "outside ways," that encourage us to abandon our faith in God. Similarly he talks about the "fundamentalist assault," in ways that we are being told the church simply can't be the church if it doesn't look exactly the way it did prior to any kind of "exile," (or exactly the way it did in the 1950s). As the Israelites come back to Jerusalem and are being told to build the Temple again, yet they are also facing the life that is so different from before the exile, it is difficult to find hope in a future that seems so uncertain. Funny enough, Charles Bayer wrote this book in 1996!
Haggai has some inspiring words for us from nearly 2500 years ago, in the same way that Charles Bayer has some inspiring words for us from just 20 years ago. No matter if we are attempting to build a temple that matches the previous and its splendor, or if we are attempting to build a church in an ever-changing world and society - these inspiring words encourage us to focus on God. In short it does not matter what we are building, we are building with a foundation in God and materials that include faith, hope and grace.
Even though its only 38 verses and 2 chapters long, there's a lot more to this story. Won't you come and help us envision what this new version of church looks like? Won't you come help us build some hope? Join us on Sunday, June 14 - 8:30am and 10:30am! ALL are welcome - and all means ALL!