Summary: This sermon looks at the Israelites' "return to worship" after the exile. Makes a great sermon for returning to worship, and for adjusting to changes in this new world and setting.
A few weeks ago, I was able to go back to Illinois and to see my brother confirmed. Before the service, it was nice to walk around and to visit the church I used to call “home.” There’s something nice and nostagilc about being back in places like that. I often see it here at Christmas and Easter when people roam the hall looking at the old Confirmation pictures. As I was recalling memories that morning, one memory popped into my head as I looked out the hallway window. It was an event that happened about 18 years ago at this point, just right outside it. It was when the congregation broke ground to celebrate the new sanctuary that would be built. I was one of the people chosen to help do that, and I remember my grandmother getting me a grey Ralph Lauren Polo to wear for it. That bright sunny day was a moment of great celebration and excitement. A new chapter was before us as a congregation. In our Old Testament text, we see a very similar event and celebration: the people celebrating the laying of the foundation for the temple that would be rebuilt. As we look at this text this morning, and as we dive deeper into it, we see how relevant and applicable this text still is for our lives some 2,500 years later!
In 2010, I had the chance to go to Germany, and one of the places that I went to was Dresden. Dresden is an important cultural city in Germany, and one of the country’s largest. In World War II, it was controversially bombed and destroyed, and then occupied by the Soviets after the war. As we drove into the city, I was intrigued by what I saw. There were still ruins there some 65 years later! I saw the remains of bombed and burned buildings in the midst of overgrowth and unkept plant life. I couldn’t believe that they hadn’t cleared it out after all these years.
This is Jerusalem and Judah. Jerusalem and Judah had been captured and destroyed for a third and final time in 587 B. C. Solomon’s temple had been looted and destroyed. Anything of value in it had been carried off to Babylon. The city was burned, homes and palaces were leveled. The important city wall was torn down, and the gates charred and smashed. The people were exiled and sent over hundreds of miles away. This was 587 B. C.
In our text, which takes place 50 years later in April or May of 536, things aren’t much different. Jerusalem and Judah are still in shambles and ruin. The gates are still unhinged and collapsed. The wall is still down. Parts of the city are still impassible (and will be for the next 100 years until Nehemiah comes!). The country and city is still in ruins. They are still conquered. They are still mocked and scorned among the nations. They are in economic ruin, social disarray, and on the verge of spiritual collapse. Their world and home is forever changed. To use the phrase of the age, this is their new “normal.” Their lives are in ruins.
We know all about ruins, don’t we? Our lives aren’t that much different than the people of Judah. We know social ruins, don’t we? We have been isolated and lonely over the last few months, separated from the ones we love and the friends we hold dear. Hugs pose a health risk, and hand shakes are a cultural no. Things like the State fair, vacations, festivals, fireworks, concerts, and carnivals are canceled. We know social ruin.
Like them, we know economic ruin. Businesses are closed, profits are down, jobs are lost; some maybe forever! We know health ruins, too. Maybe your health has been crumbling during this pandemic. Perhaps symptoms have exacerbated, maybe you can’t see the doctor right now. Maybe your mental health is beginning to teeter and totter from the stress and uncertainty of it! And there can be spiritual ruins, too. Our faith can be shaken and weakened in the face of disappointment or unanswered prayers. It can feel fatigued, or hungry during this time of pandemic. We know all about ruins. So, what do we do? What did the people of Judah do?
King Cyrus gave a decree that allowed people to return back to the country and to rebuild the temple, and to rebuild their home. So, the people rebuilt, and rebuild they did. And first things first, to rebuild the temple, they needed to relay the foundation. The appointed Levites, Jeshua, Kadmiel, and others, supervised this important work. Once it was done, they had a celebration. The people of Judah rebuilt, and started with the foundation.
When our lives and worlds are in ruins, we, too, start with and build on the foundation. What do we build with? Simple. There are two stones. The first is God’s Word. God’s Word is the source of truth and knowledge in this world. It is powerful. God’s Word contains His promises, promises like God does all things for our good, promises like we are forgiven, loved, and cared for by God. God’s Word directs, empowers, enlightens, gives life, sustains faith, and nourishes it. Jesus describes this foundation by saying, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.” This foundation block will last.