You can download a Word document of this sermon here
Do you remember school exams? I do. I was useless at exams and I failed nearly all my O-levels. And the one most firmly embedded in my mind is the Woodwork O-Level I had to take. Now Jo will tell you that I am not very practical: DIY stands for ‘Damage It Yourself’ when it comes to me. So woodwork was my biggest nightmare and I turned up for the exam and we were given ten pieces of wood, all different shapes and sizes and we were given a picture of a model aeroplane and told that we had three hours to build the plane. Well, I froze. I couldn’t get the picture and the pieces of wood to relate. And time ticked by and after 3 hours I was left with a crumpled picture of a plane and a pile of wood that had been cut and shaved and nailed together that looked more like a piece of abstract art than a flying machine!
Perhaps you’ve had a similar experience in life when you’ve looked at the pieces and not known where to start. Not building something: I’m talking about facing a problem or situation. The more we think about the situation, the more overwhelmed we may feel.
When it comes to mission, we may feel like that as a church: we see the hundreds of people on our streets, in our roads, we see some elderly behind closed doors, we see young people in the parks, we watch middle-aged commuters rushing out of Enfield in the morning and coming back on the train, tired, at night. We see all that and we may feel inadequate: how are we going to reach our community with the Gospel of Christ?
And if we do feel like that, it’s not a bad place to be! Because many of the great missionary stories throughout history have started from feelings of inadequacy or vulnerability where individuals have met together and looked at the community and said, “Lord, help! We don’t know where to start!”
And, as we journey into the next phase of our Mission-Life together with the launch of our Mission Action Plan on 1 March, we do well to look at this Old Testament book of Haggai because there are similarities between our context and the one described here.
The prophecy is set in the year 520BC. The Israelites had been in exile for 70 years, held captive by the Babylonians. And now they had returned to their homeland and wanted to rebuild and to honour God and move on together into God’s future for them.
But as they returned, they realised that they needed a plan. They needed a sense of direction. They needed a vision to unite around so they could all pull together in the same direction.
These Israelites were fundamentally godly people. They weren’t lost in sin. God was not angry with them. But now was the moment for them to move into a new future defined by the will of God for them.
And so along comes Haggai. And he is a very interesting man. Haggai was a priest, an old man, and he remembered the way things used to be in the good old days, when the Temple in Jerusalem was filled to the brim with worshippers. And Haggai was upset to see the Temple in decay and ruin. And here he was, in the twilight of his years, and now God had given him the most important task of his life. Because even though Haggai was old, he had a consuming passion for God’s glory. He was determined and stubborn and he would not rest – he would not die in peace – until this Temple he had loved since his youth was made to look beautiful again and filled, every last pew of it, with worshippers.
And the work which Haggai had to do was to ask the worshipping community to review its priorities and get them to think through what is important in life and in the worship of God.
And when they had done that and reviewed their community life appropriately, Haggai disappeared.
He was only with them for 15 weeks – and then he disappeared. It’s almost as if the Nunc Dimittis was written for him, isn’t it? “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace according to thy word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou has prepared before the face of all people…”
The people of Israel reviewed their priorities and committed themselves to a course of action and the task for Haggai was done.
We too, here at St. Andrew’s, are at a similar moment where we have been called by God to review our priorities; to listen to each other, to listen to God, to listen to the community, and in the light of that, to draw up a Mission Action Plan, which we are launching in a few weeks time.
And there are just two points I want to make from this passage in Haggai which are pertinent to our situation.
1. The Challenge vs.1-11
The word ‘challenge’ has the ability to both excite and to scare people. And yet we know that a church which is open to growth is a church that will rise to challenges. And verse 1 gives us a sense that the people of Israel were ready to rise to the challenge.
There is something so definite and so precise about it: “In the second year, in the sixth month, on the first day…” They were able to pinpoint the time when they launched their Mission Action Plan in the same way that we will be able to pinpoint the day when we launched ours: 1 March 2015.
The people of Israel – just like us today recognised that this was their moment. Haggai has said to them, “Come on, now is the time…” and in obedience to God, and in obedience to what they had heard as a community, they marked the moment for the next phase of their life together.
And there was something intensely pragmatic about their Mission Action Plan, verse 8: “Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the Temple…” Of course they needed to develop in prayer and spirituality together. But that spiritual life was deeply intertwined with the practicalities of Mission and Ministry in the community.
And so it is with us, that our Mission Action Plan will have a good balance between the intensely pragmatic and the overtly spiritual: both is required.
And having laid down this challenge, Haggai expects a response, both from the people and from God. So what is this response? It’s threefold…
2. The Response vs.12-15:
First, the response is one of obedience, verse 12: “Then Zerubbabel, Joshua, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the Lord their God…”
When God calls, we must obey that call. It’s as simple as that. “The people obeyed the voice of the Lord their God…” The power for change, the power for growth, was not in their numerical strength or their financial strength. It was in their attitude of heart: an attitude of obedience.
What we need for our church to grow as we enter this new stage of our mission and ministry life together, is to have a heart for God, a heart for growth, a heart of sacrifice, and a heart of obedience. Attitude, not numbers, is what this church will be built on.
And then we also see how God responds in verse 13 when his people begin to obey: “I am with you, declares the Lord”. Such wonderful words of encouragement. Such wonderful words of comfort and hope for the future. “I am with you, declares the Lord”; giving us all the strength and the power and the direction we need.
And so finally in verse 14, we see the culmination of the people’s response of obedience and God’s response of comfort and blessing. We see these two things come together in action. These lovely, lovely words: “So the Lord stirred up the spirit of the whole remnant of the people. They came and began to work on the house of the Lord Almighty.”
What a beautiful image, isn’t it? This idea of God chivvying us along, nudging us forward, stirring up our spirits, encouraging us to re-build his Temple here in Enfield.
And so we end as we began, with a definite date, in verse 15: “The work began on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month…” This is one of those verses which is easy to pass over and yet perhaps the one verse which may be of most importance to us here today. This morning, as we look forward to launching our Mission Action Plan in a few weeks time, we are preparing for the day, the date, the moment, when we move together into God’s future.
The Mission Action Plan is not my vision for how the church should be. It’s not me imposing my views and opinions on you. Far from it. The Mission Action Plan is the result of the Listening Exercise. It is the voice of the community; the desires and dreams of the community expressed after prayer and dialogue. The Mission Action Plan represents the corporate desire of the community for how we want this church to be and, most importantly, for how we think God wants this church to be.
I have said before and I will say again, we won’t all agree with every aspect of the Mission Action Plan. But I trust we will all be excited about the majority of it. The PCC will present the Mission Action Plan to you as a document that we believe best represents the way forward for St. Andrew’s over the coming few years. My prayer is that God will bless our Mission Action Plan as the words on the page become ministry in the community and that God will bless each one of us in our response; that we may have the courage of our convictions and the strength to obey God’s commands so that his name will be glorified in us and through us. Amen.