“Better than we can Imagine”

Haggai 1:15-2:9     South Presbyterian Church – November 10, 2013

Do you ever stop and wonder why we say some of the things we say? 

I  mean … where did we get started with some of these phrases:

“You’re more than welcome.” – How can someone be MORE than welcome? You’re either welcome or you’re not.

“I’m more than happy to do that for you.” … And it’s always said with a pleasant though not ecstatic voice. More than happy … just how happy IS that?

Or someone is “deader than dead”  or “dumber than dumb.”  Repeating the words to just accent or UNDERLINE the meaning.

Or Buzz Lightyear’s famous line:  “To infinity and beyond.” Really? BEYOND infinity. Hmmm.

But each of those statements conveys a meaning, doesn’t it? They might not be literally true but we get the meaning. 

Even if you don’t know a lot ABOUT whatever someone is talking about … the words convey a meaning.

One of my friends sent me some musical put-downs this morning and one that I LOVE refers to a piece of music I’ve never heard. The great Aaron Copland once said, “Listening to the fifth symphony of Ralph Vaughan Williams is like staring at a cow for 45 minutes.” Having heard that comment, I don’t think I ever WANT to hear Vaughan Williams’ 5th symphony. We get the meaning … the image … through the words. Words are POWERFUL.


They’re funny things, though.

BECAUSE of this ability that they have to create images inside of us – even when we’re not aware of them – they sometimes create images that take on a life of their own.

A rumor gets spread … feelings get hurt … lots of things happen … especially when it involves REMEMBERING something and telling that story over and over again.

We do it with our families … some of us will do it again around a Thanksgiving table in a couple of weeks … the stories become almost mythic. And I know for a fact that we are creating an IDEALIZED image of  these holidays for a whole generation of children and young people. Where or WHEN was there ever REALLY a perfect family? I mean … really … or a perfect Thanksgiving dinner or a perfect Christmas. But we keep that image out there and it puts pressure on people to RECREATE that every year.


Well today, we find this addressed, in a way, by God.

Except in THIS case a lot of the words, and stories and memories were TRUE and retelling the past had TRAPPED the people of Israel into a false sense of defeat and discouragement. They’d become PARALYZED by their idealized past and the pressure was on to RECREATE something that was gone.

Haggai was, as we said, one of the minor prophets (meaning his writings were short and he didn’t have the influence of an Isaiah or a Jeremiah). He lived in Jerusalem AFTER the exile to Babylon and at the time, the Jews were engaging in rebuilding the Temple for the second time.  Solomon had built it the FIRST time and then when the nation was overrun and everybody carted off into exile, it had been destroyed.

Well everybody’s back home now and it’s time to rebuild the Temple. Only problem? People kept seeing in their mind’s eye what it had looked like BEFORE and how PERFECT it had been.

Was it REALLY perfect? Probably not. Nothing is. But we all know how that works. We REMEMBER something in an idealized state. Mother’s apple pie … nobody can make it that good any more;  Uncle Joe’s chowdah … you can’t BUY clams that tasty today.

So today’s reading begins by telling us that “This is how God got Zerubbabel  (Zer-UU-ba-bel), Joshua, and all the people moving—got them working on the Temple.”

And then comes the motivational speech:

“Tell Governor Zerubbabel and High Priest Joshua and all the people: ‘Is there anyone here who saw the Temple the way it used to be, all glorious? And what do you see now? Not much, right?   I think it’s human nature … things in hindsight are always better and more PERFECT (how can anything be MORE perfect than perfect??? Another one of our little phrases …). Everything was better than it is now.

4-5 “‘So get to work, Zerubbabel!’ “‘Get to work, Joshua —high priest!’ “‘Get to work, all you people!’—God is speaking. “‘Yes, get to work! For I am with you.’

God’s HERE … God’s NOW … God wasn’t just in the past when things were wonderful and perfect. God’s saying, “I wasn’t just here in the PAST … I’m here right NOW!”

Put into action the word I covenanted with you when you left Egypt. I’m living and breathing among you right now. Don’t be timid. Don’t hold back.’

WOW.  Imagine being told by God, “I’m living and breathing among you right now.”

Oh … wait … that IS what we’re told.

That’s what Jesus said.

That’s who Jesus was … IS … “God with us” … Emmanuel.

God IS living and breathing among us right now.

And Haggai goes on to quote God, saying,  ‘Before you know it, I will shake up sky and earth, ocean and fields. And I’ll shake down all the godless nations. In other words … God’s gonna shake things up. Things are NOT going to be what we have known them to be. They are not going to LOOK familiar, SOUND familiar, TASTE and SMELL familiar … they’re going to be DIFFERENT and CONFUSING and we are not supposed to be timid or hold back. Why not? Because God is here with us and God is in charge.

“Don’t worry,” God says. We’ll have everything we need to do the job. Other people will “… bring bushels of wealth and I will fill this Temple with splendor.’ ‘I OWN the silver,  I own the GOLD.’ “‘This Temple is going to end up far better than it started out. [It had] a glorious beginning but an even more glorious finish: a place in which I will hand out wholeness and holiness.’ “


FIRST off:  Let’s remember that God’s in charge of all the wealth so the Israelites are going to have everything they need to do what they have to do to rebuild their ministry and remake the Temple. WHY? Because God OWNS all the silver and gold.

And THEN … secondly, the Temple is going to end up BETTER than it was. You know all those memories you have of how great we were?  We’re gonna be BETTER than that.

Remember how awesome we were? Everybody knew us and looked to us to be the Temple on the Hill???? We’re going to end up BETTER than we were.

And WHY or HOW will we be better than we were?  Because God will hand out  WHOLENESS and HOLINESS.

What a great combination, isn’t that?

Wholeness … completion … peace … Shalom!

And holiness … In Biblical terms, “holiness” is the state of being holy or sacred. Holiness is BEING clean and  pure.

So people are going to come to them for WHOLENESS and HOLINESS … not so sure those are DIFFERENT things really. I think they’re more like aspects of the same thing … a Oneness with God … living in the KINGDOM of God.

This is EXACTLY the same stuff that Jesus was talking about.


Mid-way through every Thursday night’s Casual Service, we talk with each other about how the topic of the night is related to the teachings of Jesus. Well in THIS case … Jesus IS the Temple. Remember? John 2:19?  Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” And he was talking about HIMSELF!

It is through Jesus and our FAITH in him … our apprenticing ourselves to him that we EXPERIENCE this Wholeness and Holiness.

But I want to go back to Haggai … This Temple is going to end up far better than it started out.

We need to hold on to that reminder right now here at South when our future is veiled from us. Maybe it’s veiled from us right now because God is working it out FOR us … behind the VEIL, God is working out the MIRACLES! And what we have to do is keep praying and keep believing.

I didn’t CHOOSE this passage for today. It’s from the Common Lectionary. But there sure is a message for us, don’t you think? This Temple is going to end up far better than it started out.  South CHURCH is going to end of up far better than it started out.

Our individual LIVES are going to end up far better than we started out!

HOW? By remembering that GOD is WITH us … LIVING and BREATHING among us … right now and we must NOT hold back. We must not hold back in our FAITH … we must not hold back in our BELIEVING … we must not hold back in our GIVING.

We must NOT believe that our best days are behind us. And we CERTAINLY must not let ourselves get so caught up in the stories from before … in the memories and the nostalgia … that it diverts our attention from what’s going on right now and the miracles that God is doing right here … right before our EYES and just behind the veil, a little out of sight for the time being.

Haggai wouldn’t support us giving up on trying to see the future … and neither would God.           

4-5 “‘So get to work, Zerubbabel!’ “‘Get to work, Joshua —high priest!’  for what is coming will be BEYOND . Your . Wildest . Dreams. It will be BETTER than you can IMAGINE!

“‘Get to work, all you people!’— Yes, get to work! God says, For I am with you.’   

Thus saith the Lord.

And the PEOPLE say …   Amen.





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