Dear Friends In Jesus Christ:
The reading from the Hebrew Bible for November 10 was striking at least to me. It seemed it spoke to the mood of the Church, The United Methodist Church and more local congregations than I care to number.
These words of Haggai a post exilic prophet speak volumes to our context. Take a read and a listen if you can. Go slow, pause, reflect, question and imagine.
...on the twenty-fourth day of the month, in the sixth month. In the second year of King Darius, in the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai, saying: Speak now to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people, and say, 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? Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts, according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear. For thus says the Lord of hosts: Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendor, says the Lord of hosts.The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lord of hosts. The 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 1:15b-2:9)
These are words of comfort, encouragement and hope to a dispirited people who are mourning a past that will never return, trying to find their way as they manage their disappointment and grasp for reasons to hope. Our days seem to be filled with challenge, chaos and anxiety. I assure you that even a cursory read of the bible and of history in general we are not the first and we have not been singled out for something that has never been experienced before.
Our real work is to embrace the reality of the change that has happened in institutions in general, in the church in particular and in society. We will really be on to something when we can see the intersections or convergence of multiple streams of change.
But, we do not embrace our reality as those who have no hope. It may seem that there are lots of reasons to abandon hope but that is a choice and not one I chose to make. The words of the prophet enjoin us to take heart precisely because God is in our midst and journeys with us. What is more God promises to act. Truth be told God is always present and acting, but sometimes our aching hearts and tear stained eyes seem not to be able to embrace the presence, promise much less the activity of God.
I have observed and experienced in these anxiety filled days people behaving badly. I did not, mind you, say bad people. Some speak when they have nothing useful to say. I suspect that they presume that the temporary fix they get from spouting off will fix something. Others attack those who wait with patience and calm to see the path forward and summon the courage and faith to walk on it. These attacks seem to betray any capacity to live in a season of Advent, watching and waiting until the newness we all long for becomes clear. I could go on.
To be sure we are God's co-workers. We are called to co-mission with God. But we should never get it twisted as to who the lead missioner is. So yes these are days for labor but absent placing our ultimate trust in the God we have seen in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our labor is in vain (see Psalm 127:1).
I cannot see as clearly now what I will see more clearly in a while. But I have learned sometimes from the anguish of experience (an anguish that my posture exacerbated) that the new often turned out to be far more than I could have imagined. The anguish was due to my clinging too tightly to something I was unable to imagine living without. The new is not better simply because it is new, novel and different. It is however both new and better because our God "is always making all things new."
Be encouraged in Christ Jesus.
✝︎ Gregory V. Palmer