“Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Doesn’t it seem to you like nothing by comparison? Even so, be strong, Zerubbabel — this is the Lord’s declaration. Be strong, Joshua son of Jehozadak, high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land — this is the Lord’s declaration. Work! For I am with you — the declaration of the Lord of Armies.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Have you ever tried to pick up the pieces again after blowing it? That’s no small task. In the first place, you have to remember where things were. That can be its own challenge. Then, there’s the challenge around the fact you may not want things to be just like they were. Sometimes a complete and total restoration is simply impossible. In this situation, we begin to wonder if it’s even worth it to try. This is something the people of Israel struggled with when Haggai called them to rebuild the temple.
Solomon’s original temple was a world wonder. Its size and opulence are legendary. It was enormous, and on the inside, everything was covered in a layer of gold. And though it had been over 70 years, there were some in Israel who remembered seeing the original thing. They remembered its destruction. They remembered the season of captivity in its entirety. They remembered and this memory was painful by comparison. When the new temple’s foundation was finished a few years before this they openly wept at the difference between the original and this replacement.
Actually, think about that for a second. At least part of the reason the people had drifted away from rebuilding could have been some emotional resistance to the idea of trying to replace the old temple. They knew the new one wasn’t going to be as good as the old one and so they didn’t even want to try.
The Lord addresses these folks here through Haggai. Do you remember the old one? Doesn’t this one seem pathetic by comparison? Keep going anyway. Why? Because I am with you. Have courage and keep moving forward because I’m doing something with your obedience and I want you to be a part of it. He goes on to offer a glimpse at a future temple whose glory would cast a shadow on the splendor they remembered. It is a picture whose fulfillment we are still waiting even now to see because we understand in ways they did not thanks to Jesus.
That’s where Israel was. How about us? In many ways our whole world has been broken by this pandemic. Nothing is the way it was. I went to the grocery store last night and actually ran into more people I know than I’ve seen at one time in several weeks. On the one hand it was encouraging, but on the other it was weird. Being close to anybody feels weird. That’s not how it should be.
At some point, though, this is all going to come to some kind of an end. It’ll come to some kind of an end and we’re going to have to start figuring out how to rebuild our lives. Let me share a truth that you may have already considered, but which is worth considering again: That’s going to be harder than we think.
What’s more, it’s not going to be the same as it was. What it will be remains to be seen, but there are things we had before that we are not going to have again. This is going to cause us to go through a collective season of mourning. On the other side of this we will have to begin the process of figuring out what we want our new reality to look like. In other words, the hard part isn’t over yet. If anything, the hardest part in the long run is still ahead of us.
This is going to lead us to collectively ask a question: Is it worth it? Is it worth the work to rebuild our world? Now, on the one hand, something is going to be rebuilt. That’s natural. As we begin coming out of this, even if we don’t do anything on purpose, a new normal is going to gradually form. We can’t avoid that.
What we have the chance to do, on the other hand, is to be intentional in our rebuilding. We are in many ways starting with a blank slate. The opportunity we have on our hands is to rebuild in such a way that things are better than they were before. We have the chance to maintain some things from this season of quarantine that are good. We have the chance to refuse to allow back in things from before that weren’t so good. That will be harder for sure, but what if we did it?
How often do we really get the chance to start over fresh? How often do we get the chance to really build our culture the way we want it to be? Almost never. Think about all of the good that is going on right now. Think about the neighbors caring for neighbors. Strangers being generous with one another. Random, but intentional, acts of radical kindness. Patience with unexpected circumstances. Grace for those who are struggling. Justice for the disadvantaged. Gratitude for those who make our culture possible but in ways that often go entirely overlooked. We have the chance to maintain that.
Rank partisanship and ideological divides may still be coming out of Washington, but politics is downstream of culture. What if we were intentional in making sure the unity and graciousness that are flowing through our communities made it downstream in the months ahead of us? The opportunity is there. We just have to take it. The chance to bring glory to God in ways we haven’t had for some time is ripe for harvest. We only need to start the gathering. The world may be broken, but we serve the God who is in the business of taking the broken and making it beautiful.
Let me leave you with something a little different this morning. Singer/songwriter, Ellie Holcomb has a wonderful song called “Broken Beautiful.” It’s a powerful reminder of what our faithful God can do in the messes of life if we’ll let Him. Let this be a blessing to you today.