Haggai: Misplaced Priorities
A Summer Family Reunion: Lessons From Our Faith Ancestors, Haggai 1:1-8
Sunday, July 29, 2018
Vinyl records are making a comeback today. The unique sound that they produce, the artwork of old album covers and the idea of having a record player in your home are in vogue once more. Of course, when many of us were growing up, vinyl records were just a part of every day life. I have fond memories of the RCA Victor floor model that had a prominent place in our home, of Ms. Caine, my elementary school teacher who allowed us to play 45s during morning break on our classroom player and of the read and hear series for kids that allowed you to listen to stories on your record player while you followed along with the book.
Like many of you, I also remember the challenges that came with records and record players. Needles got bent, records became scratched and the inevitable moment came when right in the middle of your favorite song a phrase or word began to repeat itself over and over and over again. Those challenges with our favorite albums gave us a common phrase that we still use today “like a broken record”. “That preacher is like a broken record!” we still say, which means they have gotten caught in a pattern of saying the same thing over and over and over again.
This summer in worship, you may feel like some of the scripture passages and some of the summer’s sermons fit that pattern of a broken record particularly as it relates to the subject of priorities. Have you noticed how many of the passages that we have studied and characters we have focused on have the issue of misplaced priorities or loosing sight of priorities as a key element of their story? Likewise, you may have already deduced today that Haggai is also a story where wrong priorities are the issue. And yet, while Haggai’s experiences have a familiar ring to them, they do add a different dimension and take us in a new direction from the other places we have been so far which makes this Old Testament moment very worthy of our time.
The story of Haggai is set in the days of Judah’s return to Israel from captivity in Babylon. You may remember that a few weeks ago when we looked at the life of King Josiah, we talked about how after Saul, David and Solomon, Israel fractured into two separate countries much like America during the Civil War. They were Israel or the Northern Kingdom and Judah or the Southern Kingdom. The two never went to war as did the North and the South but they functioned independent of one another. Eventually, however, both Kingdoms fell to foreign empires. Assyria conquered Israel and Babylon ultimately took over the Southern Section.
In the Old Testament, the fall of both the Northern and the Southern Kingdoms are also seen as acts of God’s judgement on His people for their failure to live as he wanted. And, the time in exile was an occasion for soul searching, repentance and a renewal of individual lives and the life of the collective Israelite people in their attempts to live for God. In the end, only the people of Judah or the Southern Section return to Israel. To this day, we really don’t know what happened to the people who were taken to Assyria from the North.
Haggai, is the story of a prophetic leader who arises roughly 20 years after Judah’s return from Babylon. By and large, Haggai’s story is one of disappointment. One would think that after all that the people had been through in captivity with all this time for repentance and getting their lives back on track that they would have returned to Israel better than they had ever been before with their priorities in the right place, ready to put God first in their lives. But Haggai points out that this is not exactly what has happened. Haggai clearly expresses God’s frustration.
He does so through the clear example in front of them that the Israelites have failed to rebuild the Jerusalem Temple, God’s house. During their 20 years back home, they have rebuilt their own homes, put their lives back together, taken care of themselves, but God’s house is still in shambles. It is a sign that they have learned little from their time in exile. In these days back home, God has given them a second chance and Haggai wants the people to appreciate that they are squandering it.
This is the new word on misplaced priorities that I want us to grasp and appreciate. For most of us, part of our story is also the story of a second chance. It may be the second chance that comes through the forgiveness of a spouse or friend after a bad decision. It may be the second chance that comes from an employer after a misstep at the office. It may be a second chance on life after a brush with death through a heart attack, stroke, cancer or some other health crisis. Or it may be a second chance that comes through some other traumatic experience that we some how lived through but that we thought we would never ever survive.
Somehow, the God of grace has seen us through and here we are on the other side. Like the Israelites in the valley of exile, we said in our valley that we were going to emerge on the other side a different person, better, more patient, appreciative of every day and with new priorities. Yet, now, after some time has gone by, now that the moment in the valley has faded, can we really look at our life and say that we have changed? Or like the Israelites, must we say that we have emerged on the other side and truth be told, we are much like we were before with unchanged priorities?
I have two older brothers. They are both a good bit older than me. They were both very good athletes in High School and I admired and wanted to be like them. I wanted to be able to throw a baseball like they could, kick a football like them or shoot a basket as they did. I remember countless occasions in our yard where I would say these words, “give me one more shot”, “give me one more kick”, “give me one more throw”. I wanted to try again and most of the time, they let me.
The good news of Haggai is the similar. Through Haggai, God was saying to Israel, “you are messing up your second chance. You have not learned from the first second chance. But, I am reminding you one more time what the issues are and I am willing to let you try again. Now, will you finally listen?” Amen