Reading: Haggai 1:15b - 2:9
How many people, how many nations, how many cultures have stood in history and on the face of the Earth, where Haggai and the people of Israel stood in 520 BCE?
In a broken space. In the ruins of their culture and society. Their life destroyed. Landmarks gone. All they had been and all they had built up, broken down by the power of others against them.
Maybe it was the consequence of their own pride, arrogance and evil – a just punishment that they were suffering. Or maybe they were a victim of others’ pride and evil. Whatever the reason, though, they are in ruins and are broken.
Think of Germany after the First Great War. Japan after the second. The American South after the Civil War. The First Nations of Canada, and the United States, and Central and South America even today.
So what is God’s way and will and word in the face and in the wake of that kind of destruction and ruin?
According to our faith tradition – the story of Israel and of Jesus, God’s word, will and way is about rebuilding. And rebuilding not for the sake of re-armament, nor for revenge. Not even for defence. But rebuilding towards peace – towards a new beginning, a new and better way forward for all together.
In the story today, there are three movements we can see in that direction – three directions in which to look and live in rebuilding towards peace.
The first is to look at the ruin. Really look at it. Take the time to see brokenness of what is there, the scattered remains of what was. Take the time to lament the loss and the state it’s all in now.
Because it was worth something. That which was destroyed, counted – and still counts in the history of Earth and humanity. It is not just dead and gone, disappeared forever, because what was and what was destroyed, was part of the image of God on Earth, part of the wisdom and fullness of God breathed into and lived out in history and in humanity – and that never disappears or is gone.
No people, no culture, no nation ever really just dies and disappears, and those whose country, whose culture and whose life have been destroyed need to be able to lament and grieve the brokenness and the scattered pieces.
And the victors over them – the victors in the strife, the conquerors and dominators of the time, if they are wise, let them do it. They don’t demand that the weaker ones assimilate. They don’t demand that they let go of what and who they were. They don’t practice cultural genocide, or any kind of genocide.
In Israel’s story, for all the barbarity and evil of their conquerors – of the Assyrians, Babylonians and Persians in turn, their conquerors and dominators still allowed the people of Israel their identity. Even in defeat and exile, even as they took them captive and made them serve the empire, they allowed the people to maintain themselves as a distinct and separate community. They allowed them their own ways of gathering, of believing, and of practicing and even growing their faith tradition. In time, they even let them return to their land; they let them go home.
Which leads to the second thing – the second direction and movement of rebuilding towards peace, which is looking back and remembering the glory of what was and what they were. This is where the people are in the story today. They are sorting through the rubble, remembering what was good, remembering the glory that was theirs, and they are sifting and sorting it out from what was bad and unfaithful.
Because every story, every people, every culture is a mixture of both. And it’s the people themselves – not some outsider, but the people who are that culture, whether at the moment they are the winners or the losers, who need to sort out for themselves what was good and bad. It’s the people of every culture who need to tell their own story to themselves and to others, as honestly and faithfully as they can.
And that then opens the way for the third thing – the third movement of rebuilding towards peace, which is to look beyond one’s self and one’s own culture, to what all the world has to offer in finding and fashioning a new way of being together.
Haggai says an interesting thing in his preaching to the people. According to Haggai, God says of the rebuilding of the temple: “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…The silver is mine, and the gold is mine … The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former … and in this place I will give prosperity, says the Lord of hosts.”
There are at least two ways to interpret and live this out. One, which is how different people all through history, including us, have often taken it, is an imperialist reading that says in effect, “O good, now it’s our turn to be on top. For so long others were simply taking from us, and now it’s our turn to take from them. All the world is ours to use, and we will gather what we need for our benefit. Our temple now will be the one that is glorious with all the good things of the world.”
We know well that way of taking the promise, because that’s so often the way rebuilding goes in the world.
But there is another way of understanding it – a way more in keeping overall with our faith tradition and the story of God that we know. It’s that this promise of shaking the earth and bringing forth all kinds of good treasures and gifts, is a promise and a sign of a new kind of openness, a new kind of dialogue, a new kind of sharing among all peoples and nations and cultures – with each having some part to play, some gift to offer, some wisdom to share, some good thing to contribute towards a new day of well-being for all.
And isn’t that really the promise, and the kind of rebuilding that is God’s will and way for humanity and for the good of all Earth?
God’s will in the wake of brokenness – which always is, and God’s way in the face of destruction – which always happens, is rebuilding towards peace.
And the only question may be, are we up to it?
Or, because in Christ and by the power of Spirit we are, maybe the question is simply, what is my part? What is your part? What part are we invited to play with others in God’s work of rebuilding towards peace in our time?