1 In the second year of King Darius, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the LORD came by the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest: 2 Thus says the LORD of hosts:These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the LORD's house. 3 Then the word of the LORD came by the prophet Haggai, saying: 4 Is it a time for you yourselves to live in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? 5 Now therefore thus says the LORD of hosts:Consider how you have fared. 6 You have sown much, and harvested little; you eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and you that earn wages earn wages to put them into a bag with holes.
7 Thus says the LORD of hosts:Consider how you have fared. 8 Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored, says the LORD. 9 You have looked for much, and, lo, it came to little; and when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? says the LORD of hosts. Because my house lies in ruins, while all of you hurry off to your own houses.
It is said that St. Francis of Assisi had a vision of Jesus as he prayed in the ruins of a church, San Damiano, outside Assisi. In the vision Jesus said, "Francis, go and repair my house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins."
Francis thought Jesus meant him to rebuild the church of San Damiano, so he rebuilt it. However, as his life of poverty developed, he came to understand that Jesus had no asked him to restore ruined buildings but to rebuild the Body of Christ, the Church writ large. Francis was asked to rebuild and renew Christianity.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit."
Do you notice he doesn't say the dead wood is pruned. He says that the branches that bear fruit are pruned so they will bear more fruit. The dead branches are simply removed.
Today all Christian communities, of whatever denomination, are being asked by Jesus to rebuild - not our crumbling buildings which no one can afford, but Christianity itself. What are the dead branches in our Christian life? Where we have born fruit, how are we being pruned in order to bear more fruit?
In our Episcopalian churches we are being challenged by dwindling worshipers, dwindling revenues, increasing costs to keep open our huge, honking buildings built to the glory of God. More important, however, much more important, we are being challenged with how, or even if, we have preached the Gospel, the Good News of Christ to date, and how we can preach that ancient Gospel today.
What would be Good News for a person in their late teens, early twenties, who have bought the message from our U.S. American culture that individualism is supreme, that whatever seems right to an individual is moral and that the only immorality is to judge another's moral relativity? Who has bought into the religion called consumerism, which teaches them that the only sin is being in debt.? Who has bought into a definition of abundant life that does not seek transcendence nor the public good, but to buy whatever you want so long as you can afford it? Who are driven to heavy drinking and unbounded sexual activity and at the same time purport to have no regrets? Who have, until the Occupy Wall Street movement, been politically uninterested?
The poor we always have with us because we do nothing to change the circumstances of our culture and our society to make poverty impossible. The sick, ditto. The oppressed, I regret to say, in increasing categories. But what of those who today believe they have no need of the Gospel of Jesus, that God love unconditionally, that God became one of us that we might be joined, reconciled, to God because we can't do it for ourselves, that the beloved Child of God, Jesus, died and descended into hell to bring up those who have been condemned?
And would good news for the rich be the same as good news for the poor, the lost, the sick, the oppressed, and the current generation of emerging adults who have drunk the Kool Aid of individualism and consumerism?
And what about those of us who are already baptized into Christ's body, those of us who call ourselves Christians, what is our Good News? Our Good News is the same as it was for St. Francis: Go and repair my house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins.
That which we see as disaster - the pruning of our finances and people, the burden of our buildings, the cutting out of dead wood - is our Good News, done so we might go out and rebuild the true house of God: Not Christianity itself, but the restoration and reconciliation of all humankind to one another, to creation, and to God>
How will we do that? WILL we do that? Or shall we continue to wring our hands over what once was? By all means, sit in ashes and weep, and then, get up, rise, and walk.
Haggai 2:1, 4-5
In the second year of King Darius, in the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of God came by the prophet Haggai, saying: Yet now take courage...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.
Do not fear. Get up and walk. Get up and get to work.