Summary: The Lord of the Angel Armies Says: “I Am with You!” 1) Take his work seriously; 2) Take his word seriously
“This has been no laughing matter — people have lost their homes and livelihoods. I have a pit in my stomach that hasn’t gone away since yesterday at noon. I’m a single mom who has a worry now as to where I’m going to live and how I am going to clean up” (Tammy B. – High River, Alberta resident).
That was a typical reaction to the flooding that occurred in our province last June. Are you familiar with such feelings of insecurity? The Israelites who lived 2,500 years ago were. They had returned from their Babylonian exile to a devastated Jerusalem. There was so much to do to make Jerusalem a livable and secure city again. But Israel was far from the powerful nation it had once been under King David. What could it accomplish on its own? That doubt fostered an every-man-for-himself attitude. People busied themselves in their fields and building their own homes while God’s ruined temple remained neglected. They would get around to repairing that once their own lives were sorted out, the people thought.
We can understand that sentiment can’t we? If St. Albert had been devastated by the June floods, would we have insisted that we rebuild the church while trying to carve out time and money to fix our own homes? That’s what God expected of his Old Testament people and they had made a good start, but then became absorbed with their own problems…and selfishness. Work on the temple stopped for the next 16 years while the people focused on rebuilding their own homes, making them quite luxurious with panelled interiors.
This didn’t make God happy of course so he sent a couple of prophets, one of whom was Haggai, to encourage the rebuilding of his temple. Through Haggai the Lord assured his people that he, the Lord of the angel armies was with them. There was no need for them to feel insecure about their future. God wanted his people to take his work and his word seriously. That’s also God’s encouragement for this small congregation. Let’s find out how these words apply to us.
When God says that his work is to be taken seriously he means that it’s to be a priority. It hadn’t been that for the people of Haggai’s day and they suffered as a result. God said to his people: “Give careful thought to your ways. 6 You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it…You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?” declares the LORD Almighty. “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house. 10 Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. 11 I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the oil and whatever the ground produces, on men and cattle, and on the labor of your hands” (Haggai 1:5b-7, 9-11).
It seems logical to conclude that the harder you work, the more blessings you’ll receive. That formula, however, is not a guarantee for success. The verses I just read remind us that unless God blesses the work of our hands, it won’t amount to much, no matter how much time and effort we put in to it. In fact one reason we may always seem short of time and cash is because we have been cheating the Lord and not taking his work seriously. And there is no excuse for that, explains our text, for the Lord of the angel armies has said: “I am with you.” We can put the Lord’s work first and not worry about how we’ll make ends meet because God knows what we need and has promised to provide it.
For the Israelites of our text that meant they could start rebuilding the temple and trust that God would also bless their harvests. For us it means that we can stop saying, “Once I retire, then I’ll serve the Lord with my time,” or “Once I get a full time job, then I’ll start giving a regular offering.” You can start those acts of service and sacrifice today because the Lord of the angel armies is with you.
The timing of this sermon text is perfect because like the Israelites of Haggai’s day we’re about to embark on a building project. While God has blessed us with the necessary financing for our project, we’ll still go over budget if we don’t pitch in to do things like pack up items for storage and help demolish the altar and pulpit. The council will be sure to let you know what needs to be done. When they ask for your help, make time to participate! Rebuilding this church is after all the Lord’s work, so take it seriously.