This weeks Sermon


“Two Steps Forward, One Step Back”                                             

Chan Willis – F.P.C.-L.C./Welsh

Haggai 2:3-9; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17                                     

Nov. 10, 2019 – Dedication Sunday

 

Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory?

How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing?” (Haggai 2:3)

            These were the opening verses in our O.T. Reading from the prophet Haggai.  The author is relaying the words of God to God’s chosen people, the Israelites, who are living in exile in Babylonian captivity.  They are spoken to a people who are discouraged by their situation, not being able to worship their God in the glory of their former Temple in Jerusalem.  They long to recapture those ‘good old days’ when their beautiful sanctuary was filled with adoring worshippers, singing and exclaiming their love for God and one another. 

            It doesn’t take much of a leap in imagination to relate those ancient questions of Haggai to our present day situation, though, now does it?  Could not God also be speaking to many of you in this room today?  Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing?”  I would hazard to say that the answer to that that third question for many of you would be ‘NO, the way that our ‘house’ of worship looks now is NOT ‘nothing’… that I would sure like to see this place as it was in its ‘former glory.’  It can be very easy to be like that earlier ‘remnant’ of God-followers,’ who looked back in lament of all that they had lost; that in spite of all that God had promised, it was hard not to dwell on the way things ‘used to be.’  That for all the ways that they had tried to be faithful in taking ‘one step forward,’ at times it felt that they were only taking ‘two steps back.’  Much like WE can feel as well…

            In the next few minutes, I’d like us to consider how the further words of the prophet Haggai… as well as that N.T. ‘prophet’ Paul… can help us gain a renewed perspective on this journey of faith we are on as the body of believers called ‘church.’  To give thought to how God has worked in the lives of struggling ancient ‘church members’ to encourage them in their trials… as He does for us today.  That while it is important to stop and look back at the past…for both its historic faith and myriad faults… that must not detract us from moving forward into the futureThat as we move through the wilderness of our present day, by God’s grace we are to be making “Two steps forward”, while at times needing to take “One step back.”

            What should most drive us to ‘step forward’ in our journey of faith is God’s assurances as expressed in verses 4 and 5 of this ‘minor prophet’ Haggai.  Not once, not twice, but THREE times (something special about that number 3…) God declares “take courage…”   And what to do with this ‘courage’, O ‘cowardly lions?’  God says to“Work, for I am with you.”  He goes to say that “My spirit abides (lives) among you; DO NOT FEAR.” (Haggai 2:4-5)

            ‘Do not fear.’ ‘I am with you.’  Sound familiar?  Perhaps like some words of another ‘NOT-so-minor’ prophet named Isaiah:  Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.(Isaiah 41:10)  God isn’t just speaking to his Chosen Ones thousands of years ago… but his Chosen Ones TODAY!  He is telling us, just as He did the Jews, to be courageous, not fearful.  Not to give in to the ‘paralysis of analysis’ but to move ‘forward in faith.’  Not to merely ‘wait’ on the Lord but to ‘work’ for the Lord.  For you do not labor alone!  God promises that “My Spirit lives among you.” The Spirit who will “strengthen and help you.”

When you and I work for God, we are not merely ‘one person,’ but ‘four persons’… a ‘fearsome foursome,’ if you will, of you, the Father, the Spirit, the Son.  You know, the Son of God whose last words on earth were “I am with you always… to the very end...”  ‘Step by step’… ‘inch by inch’… our Lord Jesus is with us.  To the very end.  Therefore, ‘take courage’.  ‘Do not fear.’

            But in our journey forward, we do need to take time to stop, and look back, and be grateful for God’s providence…  the manner in which God provides resources of time, talents, and treasures.  And certainly not to forget the ‘HUMAN resources’ God puts in our lives.  As much as we are called in this season of ‘giving’… the giving of thanks and of our selves… to give thought to how we are using our tangible wealth to God’s glory… let us first and foremost be GLAD for one another!  In Paul’s words, we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits.” (2 Thessalonians 2:13)  That very first part of the ‘harvest’ given to God in gratitude for His blessing… 

            Each day that we are given breath part of those ‘breaths’ should be to be thankful for our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Both the ones in the Church Triumphant (that ‘great cloud of witnesses’ gathered beyond the gates of Heaven), as well as the Church Militant (the ‘army’ gathered in these pews, and beyond those doors).  And speaking of an ‘army,’ we should also be grateful for all those who have served us in the military… Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard… as we will do officially tomorrow for Veterans Day.  (Which is like so many other holidays like Mothers’ Day, Fathers’ Day, Valentines Day, Easter, etc.… we should sure express our gratitude to those we love more than ONE day a year!)  Let us be thankful for the both the legacy of faith and of freedom that we are to live out and pass along to the next generation.  How are we honoring those who have shown their unconditional love for us in their unselfish service?  How are we living out the challenge issued by Paul to “Stand firm and hold fast to the traditions” taught to us by those who have gone before us?

It is that deep and abiding trust in the Triune God possessed by our forefathers and ‘foremothers’ that we MUST be passing on to a generation STARVING for the truth.  We must be mindful of how we are fulfilling Paul’s words to the early church:  “He (God) called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you might obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Thessalonians 2:14) As you and I take a ‘step back’ from the ‘busy-ness’ of our everyday lives, we need to assess just how we HAVE, and ARE, helping those who are lost and broken to “obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ”… the sweet Savior who calls His children “through OUR proclamation of the good news”…

As you and I give thought to just what kind of shape today’s church is in… as we, if you will, ‘address the state of our comm-union’… we must NOT dwell in the past.  As God voiced His concern through Haggai about the Jews in exile, we must not fall into the mindset of the church being ‘nothing like it used to be.’  That in truth, such ‘identity crisis’ is not necessarily a BAD thing.  Remember some other words of an equally-concerned and perceptive prophet Isaiah:  See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”(Isaiah 43:19)

We must hold on to the promise of God that He is indeed making a NEW thing, springing up as He ‘makes a way’ through the wilderness.  And that, as God said through Haggai, “The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former… and in this place I will give prosperity.” (Haggai 2:9)

Does this ‘greater splendor’ mean that God will provide us a ‘house’ of worship with bigger and fancier stained glass, with plusher carpets and reclining chairs?  That we can look forward to a ‘place’ where our ‘prosperity’ will mean bank accounts that will never run dry?

Probably not… What I believe God is talking about when he speaks of the splendor of a ‘house’ is NOT a physical building, but a spiritual one.  You know, like that Scripture that refers to a “house not built by human hands, but eternal, in the heavens.” (2 Corinthians 5:1)  I believe that the ‘place’ to which God promises to give ‘prosperity’ is, most importantly, in our hearts.  As the ancient Israelites at times felt to be abandoned by God as strangers in a strange land, concerned more about the place of worship rather than the heart of worship, we too can sometimes feel like God has deserted us.  That we can think of ‘church’ too much as a place to comerather than an identity to be.  A gathering place where we come to ‘meet God’… rather than a classroom that prepares us to ‘meet God’ out there… joining him in the work that He has already begun.  We would do well to remember some ‘defining’ words about the ‘house’ of God written by Paul to the church at Ephesus… and the church in Lake Charles/Welsh:

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone21 In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are

built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.” (Eph. 2:19-22)

Built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ, the ‘chief cornerstone’… held together with the ‘mortar’ of the saints of faith who have come before us… you and I are being “built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.”  In Christ we are ‘joined together,’ growing into a ‘holy temple’ that IS God’s Church… the body of Christ in the world.  Or, to put it into the words of an old children’s song: “I am the church… You are the church… WE are the church together!”

And so, as we press on in our journey through the wilderness, let us ‘take courage’working without fear because God is with us.  May we continue to cultivate an ‘attitude of gratitude’ for both those faithful saints who have gone before us, and those who go with us now.  Let us remember that God’s promise to ‘fill this house with splendor’ is more about our hearts… that in truth, ‘I am the church… you are the church… we are the church TOGETHER!’  In the words of that famous spiritual, “All along this pilgrim journey, Lord I want Jesus to walk with me.”  As you and I walk with Jesus, may God give us…the church together… the strength of mind, body, and spirit to take “two steps forward,” and sometimes, “one step back”…

 

CHARGE/BENEDICTION

EMBODY the wisdom of the past…

EMBRACE the opportunities of the present…

IMPACT the faith of the future…

“Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us

and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope,

comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.”            

(2 Thessalonians 2:16-17)