Concordia Chapel Devotion
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Haggai 2:1-9 Sermon
April 19, 2016

Hymn (from the Lutheran Service Book):
738 "Lord Of All Hopefulness" 


            TEXT:  On the twenty-first day of the seventh month, the Lord spoke his word through the prophet Haggai. He said, “Now, speak to Zerubbabel (who is the son of Shealtiel and is governor of Judah), the chief priest Joshua (who is the son of Jehozadak), and the faithful few who returned from Babylon Ask them, ‘Is there anyone amongst the faithful few who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Doesn’t it seem like nothing to you?’

                 “But now, Zerubbabel, be strong,” declares the Lord. “Chief Priest Joshua (son of Jehozadak), be strong. Everyone in the land, be strong,” declares the Lord. “Work, because I am with you,” declares the Lord of Armies.  “This is the promise I made to you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains with you. Don’t be afraid.

                 “This is what the Lord of Armies says: Once again, in a little while, I am going to shake the sky and the earth, the sea and the dry land.  I will shake all the nations, and the one whom all the nations desire will come. Then I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of Armies.  The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the Lord of Armies.  This new house will be more glorious than the former, declares the Lord of Armies. And in this place I will give them peace, declares the Lord of Armies.”

            This morning, I have a personal observation to share with you.  This observation took place the first time I was invited to preach here in Weller Chapel.  Of course being in a new place for the first time, I had a look around ahead of time.  I always like to check the "lay of the land" so-to-speak when I'm invited to preach in a place in which I have never been.  It kind of gives me an idea of what to expect.

            One of the first things that caught my eye is in that small balcony off to my left.  I saw what appears to be a lovely pipe organ; small by some standards, but still sufficient for this space.

            Before I continue, let me give you a bit of initial groundwork.  As a very young boy, I'd say I was all of 6 or 7 years old at the time, I remember helping my dad build a pipe organ in our church in Emerson, Nebraska.  I'd sit on the bench for what seemed like an eternity holding each key down while he tuned it.  Then when I was a bit older, I helped with the installation of a Reuter pipe organ, which replaced it.  And finally, when it came time to build the organ at St. Andrew's in Lincoln, I was in charge of wiring the whole thing.  And I couldn't have been any happier the time Paul Manz came to Lincoln, and I heard him play a recital on that organ.

            So to continue with my story, you can imagine my surprise the first time I heard a hymn introduced here in chapel.  I was expecting to hear the dulcet tones coming from the pipe organ; but instead, I heard the Rodgers electronic appliance in the back balcony.  And even though I haven't heard the pipe organ here in the chapel (and I understand it's being refurbished), take my word for it.  There is just no comparison.

            Now please understand I'm not being critical of any of the very talented organists I've heard.  And I have to hand it to them; they do the best job they can with what they have to work with. 

            But let's face it; if you think I'm being overly critical of the Rodgers electronic here, just think of how many recitals you've heard here in the chapel played on the Rodgers, as opposed to the Casavant pipe organ in the recital hall.  Maybe it has happened, but not that I know.  I rest my case.

            In our text for this morning, we find the Word of the Lord coming by way of the prophet Haggai.  Prior to this time, the Babylonians had conquered Israel.  They proceeded to carry the people off to Babylon over a period of years, which most notably included the prophet Daniel.  When the Babylonian armies had finished removing all the people, they proceeded to literally flatten the city of Jerusalem, which included the temple built by King Solomon.  History has recorded that the temple was by far the most beautiful structure to have ever existed.  And when they were through, the temple was reduced to a pile of loose stones and wreckage, nothing even remotely resembling the temple that once existed.

            So now, some 50-odd years later,Babylonhas fallen, and many of the exiles had returned to their home land and the city of Jerusalem.  It was time for rebuilding and trying to piece together their former lives.

            In verse 3, the Lord speaks:  "Ask them, ‘Is there anyone amongst the faithful few who saw this house in its former glory?  How does it look to you now?  Doesn’t it seem like nothing to you?’"

            There were those who remembered Solomon's grand temple very well.  When it came to temples, their point of reference was the picture of this former temple.  But now the construction of the building they were witnessing didn't even come close to that.  What they saw was nothing like what they were expecting.  It didn't match what they thought God's house should be.  For them, it would be something akin to one of us walking into the recital hall and seeing that the Casavant pipe organ had been replaced by a Hammond model B with a rotating Leslie speaker.  There was no comparison, and they were indeed disappointed.

            It's at this point where the Lord steps in and focuses their attention in a more appropriate way.  In verses 4 and 5 of our text this morning, Haggai records:   “...Everyone in the land, be strong, declares the Lord.  Work, because I am with you, declares the Lord of Armies. This is the promise I made to you when you came out of Egypt.   My Spirit remains with you.  Don’t be afraid." 

            For the Jews, the temple was "the place;" the place where God dwelt.  They were building God's house, and this didn't seem like that to them.  So God promises that he is with them, irrespective of their perception of the temple.

            But the promise runs even deeper than that.  If we look at verse 7, we see the real promise here.  God says:  "I will shake all the nations, and the one whom all the nations desire will come. Then I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of Armies."

            Does that ring a bell with you?  It hasn't been that many months ago when we sang the hymn with this line:  "Come, Desire of Nations, come, fix in us thy humble home; Oh, to all thyself impart, formed in each believing heart."  Charles Wesley wrote those words in the beginning of stanza 4 of "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing."  Jesus Christ himself is the "Desire of Nations" God is talking about.  God and sinners reconciled is the message of the Gospel.  Through faith in Jesus Christ, all people would have direct access to God, irrespective of the building, the adornment, or the location.

            As we look at verses 8 and 9 of our text for today, we read:  "The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the Lord of Armies.   This new house will be more glorious than the former, declares the Lord of Armies. And in this place I will give them peace, declares the Lord of Armies."

            This indeed fits well with what Dr. Luther writes in the explanation of the second article of the Apostles' Creed:  "I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord.  He has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death, that I may be his own and live under him in his kingdom and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as he is risen from the dead, and lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true."

            In our Lutheran liturgy, I have often spoken these words:  "Beloved in the Lord!  Let us draw near with a true heart, and confess our sins unto God our Father, beseeching him in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to grant us forgiveness." 

            Through Jesus Christ, we can indeed draw near to him, and we know that our sins are forgiven through the blood of Christ.  Gold and silver and anything we might find precious are nothing compared to what our Saviour gave to purchase us from sin, death, and the devil.  Our attention has to be focused upon what is truly important, and not focused upon external and meaningless things.

            My experience with pipe organs has made me somewhat of a purist, and I admit that.  Some of my most memorable worship experiences have involved pipe organs.  In fact, I have to tell you that I have never, ever experienced the singing of "Lift High the Cross" like I did at Pastor Bruick's installation at St. John some years ago.  It was very moving, and the tears were literally streaming down my face.

            But the years have taught me that I can't be a pipe organ snob either.  As a mediocre organist myself, I have played on some electronic appliances that are both good in their own right, and some that would make the angels plug their ears.  Regardless, it's like Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10:31:"...whatever you do, do everything to the glory of God."

            In our text for today, God is reminding us that the elegance of a building or the beauty of an organ cannot in any way be the focus of our worship.  Certainly these things are both appropriate and nice in their own right, but we can't allow them to distract us or dictate our relationship with our Saviour.         

            As the temple in Jerusalem was being reconstructed and some of the people were upset because it wasn't as beautiful as Solomon's temple, God says:  "This new house will be more glorious than the former."

            What makes God's church glorious is Jesus Christ, the "Desire of Nations," and that's where our focus must be.  Haggai writes in our text for today, "And in this place I will give them peace, declares the Lord..."    That's the peace, the "shalom" as it says in the Hebrew, that only comes from sins forgiven and a restored relationship through faith in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.
             This morning, I'm going to conclude by sharing a couple hymn verses with you:

When in our music God is glorified,
And adoration leaves no room for pride,
It is as though the whole creation cried:

Let every instrument be tuned for praise!
Let all rejoice who have a voice to raise!
And may God give us faith to sing always:

(WOV 802 or LSB 796, stanzas 1 & 5)