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Glory Days–Haggai 1:15b-2:9

Thanks be to God for these glorious days.  What follows is the sermon from the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time.

“Glory Days”

Haggai 1:15b – 2:9

Rev. Dr. Teri McDowell Ott

November 7th, 2010

Bruce Springsteen, that All-American icon of rock music, tells a story in his hit song, “Glory Days.”  He tells a story of a friend of his who was a big baseball player back in high school.  His fastball was so fast the batter was bound to look like a fool.  He saw his old friend the other night at a roadside bar.  He was walking in while his friend was walking out.  They went back inside, sat down, and had a few drinks.  But all his friend kept talking about was, “Glory days.”

Then there’s this girl that lives just up the block.  Back in school she could turn all the boys’ heads.  Sometimes on Fridays he stops by to have a few drinks after she has put her kids to bed.  Two years have gone by now since she and her husband Bobby split up.  Now she just sits around talking about the old times.  She says when she feels like crying she just distracts herself thinking about those, “Glory Days.”

Then we get the chorus.

Glory Days / well they’ll pass you by

Glory Days / in the wink of a young girl’s eye

Glory Days / Glory Days

I’ve had that song in my head all week.  It’s a great song, but a really depressing message.  It’s depressing, because it’s about people who are so stuck in the “glory days” of the past that they can’t live in the present or look forward to the future.

This is the context for our scripture passage today.  The Israelites, who have been granted the right to return to their homes after being exiled for about 50 years, are depressed.  They are disappointed.  They thought that once they returned to Jerusalem that they could rebuild their Temple, rebuild their community, rebuild their way of life and make everything exactly as it was before.  They thought they could go back to those good ole glory days.  But reality has now sunk in and they realize that nothing will ever be exactly as it was and that they simply can’t go back in time.   The glory days are just a distant memory now…a memory they might recall or sing about over a few drinks…but far from the reality of life as it really is.

Gosh, don’t you feel for them?  I do.  I understand that desire to go back in time.  I understand wishing you could recreate a time in your life when things were really great.  I mean, don’t we all do this?  When the pressures and stresses of adult life weigh heavy, we might reminisce about our childhood days, longing to go back to a time in life when things were simpler, when our parents took care of everything, when growing up safe, and strong, and healthy was our only job.  Or maybe we reminisce about our high school or college days; fun times hanging out with friends, first boyfriends or girlfriends, being the hot shot on the basketball team.  Or maybe it’s that precious time when your kids were little to which you wish you could return; that amazing time when they were so cute and cuddly and you could still control what they ate and what they wore.  Or maybe you’d just like to go back to a time when all your loved ones were alive and well, a time of life when you weren’t reminded each and every day that you are getting older and that life is just too darn short.

We human beings have long memories, and it is only natural to reminisce and wish, at times, that we could go back, that we could go back to those good ole’ glory days.  But the people of Israel did more than simply wish they could go back.  They had gotten stuck.  They had become immobilized by the desire to have what they simply could not have.  They wanted to rebuild the Temple.  But they wanted to rebuild it in such a way that they could return it to its former glory.  And when they realized that they couldn’t recreate the past, they gave up, went home, and spent their days reminiscing rather than really living.

This is when the prophet Haggai comes on the scene.  Haggai’s got one job and one job only; to get the people unstuck.  God’s given him about three and a half months to get the people moving again and living again.  He’s like the interim pastor whose assignment it is to help the people let go of the past, get unstuck, and get moving again rebuilding the Temple and their future together.  It’s quite an assignment.  Let’s listen to how he tackles it.

Speaking to Zerubbabel, the governor, and to Joshua, the high priest, and to the remnant of people who have returned from their exile, Haggai begins his prophetic work by saying, “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?” Referring to the Temple that the people had abandoned, referring to the Temple that still lay in ruins because the people realized they couldn’t restore it to its former glory, Haggai basically says, “So how does this look to you now?  What do you make of this pile of rubble that is supposed to be God’s Temple?”  Haggai makes them take a good hard look at the present situation.  He focuses them on what is rather than on what was.  He makes them acknowledge the fact that they are stuck, that they are in grief, and that they need to do something about it.

One thing I have learned over the course of my years in ministry is that grief really needs to be honored.  We need to give our grief its due time and space and attention in order to work through it and move forward in spite of it.  If we don’t give our grief the time and attention it warrants, then it will arise later in a variety of complications such as physical stress or illness, emotional outbursts or depression, or in a Temple that lays in ruins because its people can’t let go of the past.

I remember discussing transitions a lot while in seminary.  I remember one time in particular, as I was concluding a year-long full-time internship, when my seminary had me meet with a special counselor to discuss how I was going to say goodbye to the people whom I had grown to love, to the space in which I worked and lived, to the whole experience in general.  This counselor advised me to be very intentional in my goodbyes.  To spend time recognizing who and what I was going to miss and to let myself feel the pain that inevitably comes when you have to leave someone or something behind.  It was great advice, because when we allow ourselves to feel the pain that accompanies grief, when we acknowledge it, and honor it, giving it the space and the attention it deserves, then (and only then) can we begin to heal and move on.

I have applied this advice a number of times in my ministry.  Ministry often leads you to some very painful goodbyes.  I will certainly be intentional in honoring my grief as I prepare to say my goodbyes to you.

So Haggai makes the people acknowledge their pain and their grief, he leads them to intentionally give their grief the time and attention it deserves.  But he doesn’t just leave them there.  He doesn’t just leave them in that place of intentional grieving.  No, like all great prophets, he then proceeds to move the people forward with inspiration and with an imaginative vision.

I have been preparing to teach the women’s circles a lesson on the book of Revelation tomorrow.  Their study is excellent this year as it teaches that the symbolic images and the extravagant visions recorded in our scriptures, the visions of the prophets and the visions of John in Revelation, are not to be understood literally.  Instead they are to engage our imaginations, to shake us out of all our stuck / closed places, to open us up, and to inspire us with courage and hope.  By tapping into our imaginations, then, these visions take us places we can’t go in a black and white world.  They take us and connect us to that which is deep, to that which is all-mysterious, to that which can only be creatively imagined.  These visions take us to God and they remind us that God is creatively and imaginatively at work on our behalf.

At the conclusion of our scripture today the prophet Haggai offers us one such vision.  Haggai paints a picture of God shaking the heavens and the earth… of God shaking all the nations, all the lands, all the seas…of God shaking all of creation and all of us creatures… of God shaking us out of our grief, and our despair, and our immobilized places….of God shaking the treasures loose… silver and gold, glory and splendor, love, and grace, beauty and hope.  God shakes and shakes and shakes until the treasures are unleashed, until the people are set free, until the glory of the Lord fills his holy Temple and his holy people.  And the prophet Haggai says, “Take courage!  Take courage!  Take courage!  And get to work rebuilding God’s Temple.  For the Lord of hosts is with you.  God’s Spirit abides among you.  Do not fear!  Treasures still abound.  Honor your grief, but move forward in faith, in the faith that shakes you loose and sets you free to embrace the glory days that lie ahead and to embrace the treasures of life that are yours today, tomorrow, and for all eternity.

Thanks be to God for prophets such as Haggai.  Thanks be to God for visions of hope that shake us loose, unleash God’s treasures, and set us free to move forward in faith.

Now to the God of all grace, be all honor and glory, thanksgiving and power, now and forevermore.  Amen.

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