a sermon on 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17 and Haggai 1:15b-2:9
preached on November 10, 2013, at the First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone
Something is coming. That’s the clear message of these days in our world. Just with the coming of a new year, we’ve got a new mayor coming into office in our city, a new way of getting healthcare for many people in our country, and the inevitable parade of all sorts of other new things around us. Depending on who you ask, the degree of this change may vary, but it is clear that a number of things will be different around us on January 1.
Our two texts this morning reinforce this message that something new is coming into our world. First came Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica, with its words of comfort as they wait for a new thing to come into the world. Like most of the early church, Paul’s listeners were expecting Jesus to return practically any day, and if anything they were getting restless that things were not moving as quickly as they had been promised. If they were already that frustrated after twenty or thirty years, I can only imagine how much more unsettled they would feel if they knew that we would still be waiting nearly two thousand years later!
The Thessalonians knew that something was coming, something that would surprise everyone, something that would put the powers of evil and darkness in their place, something that would change things once and for all, and they were more than ready for it. And so Paul comforted the Thessalonians in their waiting, insisting that the things ahead would build on the things of this time and show something new and greater in the world.
In our other reading from the prophet Haggai, it was clear that something was coming into his world, too. In his day, the people of Judah had returned from exile in Babylon, but there was much that was out of order. The comforts of home that they had known before exile were gone. The temple where they had gathered for worship lay in ruins. All the institutions and structures that had held life together needed to be rebuilt. So God called Haggai to speak a different word to the people, a word that did not ignore the difficulty of their situation but yet recognized that there was a possibility for something greater and new.
God called Haggai to proclaim a message of courage, perseverance, and new life—new life that would transform, even shake, “the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land,” so that all nations would stream to Jerusalem and all people come to know and recognize God at work. And God called Haggai to proclaim a new promise: “The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former… and in this place I will give prosperity.” This was a great message of hope and promise that something new and different and great was coming, something that would establish God’s authority over the nations, that would cement God’s promise to Judah for all time, that would make things even better than they had ever been before.
These messages that something is coming resonate deeply for us today. Beyond the changes we know will come in the new year, we sit with the Thessalonians and the Judeans wondering what new thing God has in store for us. We wonder what God will do in our lives as the things that have become common will quite likely change. We wonder how God will respond to all the troubled moments of our world. And we wonder what God has in store for our congregation as we approach this new year, the first year in quite some time where we will not have a full-time pastor among us.
Over the eight years I have served as your pastor, I have heard many questions that sound like those raised here by Paul: When will the time come for something new to take hold? How much longer do we have to wait? What are we supposed to do in the meantime? And I’ve heard many here wonder much as Haggai did: “Is there anyone still among you who saw this house in its former glory? How does it appear to you now? To you does it not seem as if it were not there?” (Haggai 2:3, Revised English Bible) These are the kinds of questions that we tend to ask along the way, questions that have no easy answers, questions that leave us pining for a different way of life, questions that make us want a different order of things, questions that keep our eyes focused on the past or present and turned away from possibilities and promise of the future.
But on this stewardship Sunday, on this day when we bring our commitments to the life and mission of this congregation for the coming year, now might just be time to focus on something new, on the kind of shakeup that stands at the core of Paul and Haggai’s words, on the kind of transformation and new life that we know are coming and wish would come sooner. This is the time to think about what we really long for in this place. Are we looking for a return to the way things were? Are we looking for new life that can only look like what we’ve seen before? Are we looking simply to rebuild the temple exactly as it was? Or are we looking for a real shakeup, for a new and different way to take hold, for God to shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land, for the new thing ahead to be greater than what has come before?
The commitment we make today to the life of this place in the coming year must reflect what we really desire. We can keep doing what we’ve always done before, placing our commitments at the same level they’ve always been, letting our traditions become a memorial to the life we once knew but that will soon pass away. Or we can take these words from Paul and Haggai seriously, taking courage for the new things ahead, standing firm and holding fast to our tradition while embracing new ways for a new time, working to make God’s promise real in this time and this place that is different from what we have known before.
Ultimately, this is the stewardship commitment that is before us today—not so much how much we plan to give next year, as important as that is for our life together and even for the sense of commitment that it brings in our journeys of faith. No, what really matters is rather the commitment that we make today to join in God’s work of making all things new, work that has its roots in our life together here and that demands our money and our time our commitment, and our lives in every imaginable way, both within and beyond these walls. It’s not about rebuilding the temple, maintaining the church building, keeping a pastor around, or even just making it through until the something that is coming is realized—it’s about being faithful in these changing times, taking courage amidst all that pulls us away from this calling, and working to live these things out in faith, hope, and love.
And so today as we bring these marks of our commitment to this congregation and most especially to the hope we know in Jesus Christ, may God give us the strength to be faithful, may God help us to take courage, and may God give us a glimpse of the new glory beyond anything we have ever seen before but that is surely to come in Jesus Christ our Lord. Lord, come quickly! Alleluia! Amen.