Sermon,  Sermons

Spiritual Abode

sermon video. Click for part 2

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York island
From the Redwood Forest, to the gulf stream waters
This land was made for you and me.
Master Sergeant Ruth Birkelbach

Why do you think it is important to those people to be in the military?

God fills the land of the whole world – God’s spirit present in all the land.

For the Children’s Sermon, click here.

Haggai, even shorter than Habakkuk, little is known about the prophet. In the 2nd year of King Darius – when the majority of Israel’s histories were oriented by their own Kings – the people are in exile. So Haggai dates the prophetic word of God to Darius who came into power in 522 BCE. In his 2nd year, the 6th month on the 1st day of the month God speaks to Haggai. The specific dating suggests Haggai was a scribe, educated.

The people of Judah are in exile 65-ish years, and they are asked to move out of, leave their now comfortable (albeit subpar) homes and rebuild the temple. They’ve been stripped of everything that symbolized their identity – the place of God’s presence (the temple); the fruit of their labors (cattle, crops, gifts from other countries – jewels, lumber, precious metals); and the place of God’s promise (the land).

But they’ve lived in the land of the Babylonians for a generation or two, so it is all many of them have ever known. Still, they do know they are the marginalized, the oppressed. They are less-than-human to Darius and his constituents. And because it is in the very DNA of the people to long for God, to be in right relationship with God, God’s words to them are enormously important.

Rebuilding the temple, though, seems to be just the starting point for God’s message. As one commentator puts it:

“The words from God speak about God more than about the temple. The glory of any building said to represent God and house the people of God is really more about God than about buildings. ‘My Spirit abides,’ God says through Haggai; that’s the glory you need to focus on, not the building and not who’s here and who’s not here.

“True, we want the place to be a place that speaks of God; and we need to take care of what we’ve been handed down. But God says, ‘I’ve got all the gold in the world; I’ve got all the silver; it’s already mine.’ You can’t honor God by giving something that God already owns! Stuff happens out there in the world; God is moving; pay attention to that. Seek the glory of God in the Spirit that abides.”

UMC Discipleship Ministries, twenty second Sunday after Pentecost

I am continually drawn to this word: glory. It appears around 200 times in the Hebrew scripture. It is used to describe something about God, but does so in a variety of ways, and I just really want to understand what God means by it (My little enneagram 5 compatriot understands this very well!) – because it seems to be crucial for our relationship with God.

Glory, kavod, is mostly translated “glory,” or “honor.” It is also translated “wealth” or to indicate costly adornment. And sometimes it indicates a measurement – the full measure.

Ex 29:43 – and I will meet with the Israelites, will be there, and the land will be sanctified by my glory. – pay attention to all the components of this verse…

Ex 40, Lev 9 – The tent of meeting, God’s glory means that God is meeting with Moses

Lev 9:23 – “Moses and Aaron entered the tent of meeting, and then came out and blessed the people; and the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people.” They spent time meeting with God, in a space utterly saturated by God’s very presence. And when they came out of it, they blessed. They were agents of God’s blessing just by spending time in, being in, God’s presence. And the blessing was that they ushered in, were agents of God’s presence to the people.

Is 6:3 – “holy, holy holy… The whole earth is full (v filled) of God’s glory – which seems to indicated a measured amount – the full amount, the correct or precise measurement of God’s presence, God’s provision. “God alone is enough (sufficient).” In baking, too much, too little, spoils the recipe.

So God is telling the exiled people of Judah that it doesn’t matter if they have the resources or not because God owns it all – and God is enough. And being with God is the point.

In our Bible study (every 1st and 3rd Wednesday of the month), we’re talking about the parables of Jesus, and this past Wednesday, we explored the parable of the Pearl of Great Price (Matt 13:45-46). The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, 46 who, when he found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

There is a sense that the merchant is darting around, looking for something, but not really knowing what it is until he finds it. Amy-Jill Levine reflects:

“We are continually seeking, whether the object is fine pearls, a new job, another degree, or spiritual fulfillment. But each time we find our goal, it turns out to be ephemeral. There is always a new necklace, a new career, a new form of study, a nagging sense that we have not done wat we need to do. We flit from desire to desire, never permanently fulfilled, always somewhat discontent…. Will we know what we truly want when we see it?”

Amy-Jill Levine, Short Stories by Jesus, 161.

“Once we know that material goods will only collect rust or dust, and once we know that the only thing that counts is treasure in heaven, surely we must find a new way to live.”

Levine, 164.

A new way to live. One that might mean moving out of what is comfortable, even if subpar.

Paul tell us in Romans:

“We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. 8If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

10 Why do you pass judgement on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgement seat of God. 11For it is written,
‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
   and every tongue shall give praise to God.’
12So then, each of us will be accountable to God.”

Romans 14:7-12

We are interconnected. We are accountable to God – together. Which means, we are accountable to each other, too.

What is the pearl of great price for you, becoming too attached to or striving after, that you need to let go of to follow Christ? And to know God’s presence – meet with God, glory in God.

And then, how will you be Christ to another, God’s blessing of presence to another, love someone else, if you do not know what their pearl of great price is?

And when we are listening into what the pearl of great price is for another rather than flitting around trying to find something other than God’s own goodness and provision, we can better know what God is asking us to do. Leaving the comfort of our space – even if it’s not fulfilling, and is familiar, a known.

But, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer – who was tried and hanged for speaking out, acting against Hitler’s project – found:

“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”           

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Sojourners, 11/7/19)

and perhaps the injustice isn’t against just a person …

A new way to live. One reason increasingly evident for finding a new way to live: Extreme weather last spring/summer, Reuters reported, in Illinois “millions of acres [of fields left] unseeded in the $51 billion U.S. corn market and … crops that were planted late [were] at a greater risk for damage from severe weather during the growing season. Together, the problems heap more pain on a farm sector that has suffered from years of low crop prices and a U.S.-China trade war that is slowing agricultural exports.”

“Nationwide, farmers are expected to harvest the smallest corn crop in four years, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The agency [recently] reduced its planting estimate by 3.2% from May and its yield estimate by 5.7%.”

We have all felt this reality here in Durand.

Josh Richardson is interning with the Rockford and Dekalb Districts of the UMC this year as part of his field education at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. Supt. Grandon-Mayer recommended our church and Malta UMC for this project. 

He’s interested in learning how our rural churches in northern Illinois function on a theological and pragmatic level, aiming to help facilitate our community’s adaptation to climate change and climate migration.

Josh will be in and out of our church the next several months to listen and discern and evaluate our community for purposes of this research, and with the intention to develop something useful for our churches, in general. He’ll be chatting with some of you…

The whole earth is full of God’s glory. Holy, holy, holy is the Lord. This holy God fills the land with plenty of what we need – exactly enough. But we are accountable to one another for its care. Men and women put their lives on the line, and have given their lives for the protection of this land. Your land. My land. But it is rebelling against us because of the disregard we’ve given it.

Perhaps, as we remember and honor the veterans who have and who are even now in service to the protection of our freedoms in this land, maybe as we consider our prayers of thanks and prayers of petition to God for the protection of those currently serving in all branches of our military, might we consider what our responsibility is to the land – this land that was made for you and me.

Because if we are committed to spend time in the tent of meeting – in the space saturated by God’s glory, presence – and then go out to be agents of, vessels of God’s glory – a blessing to all the people in the land of Durand and beyond – our perspective changes. We begin to see the reality, God’s glory, the reality of God’s presence even here, and our eyes see more clearly that material things “only collect rust or dust, and once we know that the only thing that counts is treasure in heaven, surely we [will] find a new way to live!”

For “My spirit abides among you; do not fear…. in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; 7and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come [the treasure that does not collect dust and rust], and I will fill this house with splendor, says the Lord of hosts. 8The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lord of hosts. 9The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the Lord of hosts.” (Haggai 2)

When we pray, let us pray:

  • That those who are currently in military service and see hard, even horrific things – asked to endure extreme operations – pray they know that God is enough to sustain them;
  • For those who have served and wonder about the effect their service had – that in their faithfulness, it was enough to be agents of God’s presence, for God to be known in the land;
  • For a young person who is not satisfied with the status quo and the injustices done throughout the world, and considering military service, to be a part of making things right in this world – pray this young person knows that this is what he is made for, that she is enough because the One who can shake the heavens and the sea and the dry land, owns it all and is more than enough to strengthen him, equip her, to serve.

And as we pray, we affirm this reality that our God will answer and meet our prayers because we continue to meet together.

Because this God says to us as to Israel, “take courage, all you, the people of the land… I am with you… I promised. My spirit Abides. Among. You. Do not fear.”

Do not fear that the money will run out, that all the people will grow old and die. Take courage! All the silver and the gold belong to God! And it is more than enough. Just open your eyes and look. And I wonder if this new way to live, a renewed focus, might pave a way to sustain the space we maintain right here.

God’s very Spirit makes a home in you and in me and in us. In this land. We are God’s spiritual abode.

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Many Thanks in Advance!