The Days of Splendor: Hope in Difficult Times
Today’s sermon about Haggai 1:2-8; 2:6-9 reminds us to hang on with hope even in difficult times. God can bring about greater glory than anything we’ve seen in the past. The prophet describes the days of splendor that lay ahead of us. Sometimes we need a little shot in the arm like the prophet Haggai issued to his people.
The Jews had returned from 70 years of exile to find their Temple destroyed, and their city ruined. They set to rebuilding their homes and community, but they put their faith on the back burner. Sixteen years later, everyone sensed things weren’t going well. The Temple remained a dilapidated eyesore on top of the mountain where everyone could see it every day. The economy languished, and a spirit of malaise and gloom engulfed the people.
God sent Haggai to bolster their spirits, “Do not fear,” he admonishes. “The splendor of the new will surpass that which has gone before. God is faithful, so keep pressing ahead.” I can’t help but feel that this is God’s message for us right now. We’re all feeling the weight of these times. Maybe God’s word is trying to break through your gloom to say, “Do not fear. There are still great things ahead. The days of splendor are ahead, not behind.”
Getting Your Spiritual House in Order
Haggai’s message was that once people got their spiritual houses in order, they would see better days. He challenged the people by essentially saying, “You’ve been back in Jerusalem for 16 years now. You restored your homes, you decorate with fancy paneling, but you’ve put faith on the back burner. You’ve barely touched the Temple. What you’ve let happen to God’s house is a disgrace.”
For Haggai, the temple ruins was an outward and visible manifestation of the inward and spiritual state of the people. He saw the fancy houses and realized that the people had turned in on themselves. Their focus was on themselves. They worried only about their physical well-being and a small circle of people. It’s the kind of selfish orientation that led to the collapse of their city before.
Haggai said it’s time for a re-orientation from an inward focus to an outward direction. Stop with the obsession over your own homes and increase how you prioritize the things of God.
Splendor Comes from an Outward Rather than an Inward Focus
You have to give Haggai credit for his insight. Studies on happiness show that we don’t ever feel satisfied when we spend our time navel-gazing. A sense of joy, and well-being, and splendor, are directly tied to things like gratitude, connecting with others, making a positive contribution toward something outside of yourself. The more you put your entire focus on you, the further away you will be from actual happiness.
If you want the days of splendor, you need to make sure the shape of your life is not concave and turned in on itself. This is what faith teaches us, and why prioritizing it helps lead to a trust that declares there are great days ahead.
Taking Care of God’s House
Haggai rallied the people to address the ruins of the Temple. He wanted them to reprioritize worship and faith. The Temple was more than a worship center. Its symbolism was enormous. They designated the Temple courtyard as a house of prayer for all nations. It was a place of gathering, community, of visioning.
Haggai called on people to give to take care of God’s house because when you give to something so important, it spreads the goodness far and wide. And just as Haggai wasn’t shy about asking for contributions toward God’s house, our stewardship campaign isn’t squeamish about it either. The stewardship committee is challenging us in the same way Haggai challenged people not just to focus on their home improvement projects to pay attention to God’s house.
It’s not that if you give, you are going to get some great physical reward. You get the spiritual vibrancy of participating in something larger than yourself, knowing that you make a difference. Paying forward based on a sense of gratitude for what you’ve already received is the path toward feeling that splendor already at work inside of you.
Bay Shore Church Improvements
Our church in Long Beach serves as the base for so many things for our community. Pre-COVID we were using nearly every room of the building every day. We held our church programs as well as hosting as many organizations that do good for the community. These groups make a considerable impact that ripples out. When kids learn, everyone benefits. When people get counseling and engage in spiritual practices like prayer and yoga, everyone benefits.
During COVID, our Building and Grounds Commission has been hard at work in God’s house. They’ve accomplished dozens of restoration and refurbishing projects during the shutdown. They’ve worked on everything from restrooms to restoration of the 16 mahogany doors around the campus to new plantings by the front doors to refurbishing another set of stained glass windows. Our campus will be ready for us when we get back.
Our Youth Center refurbishment is nearing its completion. This project has been a major $184,000 project. It’s a bold step of faith in a time of pandemic to do something like this. Someone asked about the Return on Investment for this project. Think about the things we were doing before the lockdown. Having the youth center gave us room for everything we do on the main campus. It gives us space to do more in the future, and there will be a future. The ROI is mostly intangible. It’s about making a difference.
Return on Investment
- Were we keeping our Scout troop of 60 boys, churning out multiple Eagle Scouts, future leaders of our community, and the world? 8 Eagles in the last three years, eight expected in the next 3. We also host girl scout programs that produce similar benefits to kids and our community.
- What is the value of providing space for addiction groups that help people through rough patches instead of doing something harmful to themselves or others?
- What is the return of having yoga where parents can breathe and focus before going to work or facing the tasks of simultaneously trying to be a parent, teacher, and employee?
- How shall we calculate the return on the blood that gets donated that wouldn’t have gotten donated if not for our blood drives?
- What is the value of the assistance and goodwill generated by hosting Operation Easter Basket that distributes necessities, goodies, and hope to over 3,000 needy kids every year?
- Or the contribution we make to the community by making the gym as a voting location?
- What is the advertising value of bringing in 40 families from the community for several weeks per year to have their kids learn valuable public speaking skills by being part of the Children’s Theater of Long Beach?
Your gifts mean you are a part of all of that. Can’t you feel the splendor?
The Best Days are Ahead
Because of the trends in religious participation in our culture and even our church over the last couple of decades, there has been a lot of anxiety and hand-wringing. There’s a lot of grey hair, who’s going to carry it on, what will happen?
Maybe we need to trust in Haggai’s message. You haven’t seen anything yet. The days of splendor are out there.
I love how our church has been able to meet the challenge of the current situation. Far more people are participating in weekly worship right now than we attended services pre-COVID. On YouTube analytics, it said that 76% of our monthly viewers are from the United States. That means nearly a quarter are from outside the country. Who are you? We’d love to hear from you.
Because of You, People Find Hope and Peace
Before COVID, our impact was pretty much isolated to the 90803 zip code. Now it’s all over the world. We made changes to how we get our message out there, and since we made those changes, more than 20,000 people have visited our website. Many of them find sermons to help them get through tough times. Did you know that Pastor Susie’s sermon, “Peace in a Time of Fear,” has been viewed by more than 4,000 people? Just think about that. People are looking for peace and hope. And by making it more available, they are finding it.
And you are part of that. You helped us get the steaming project to continue all this long after COVID is in our rear-view mirror.
If we all prioritize the things of God in our lives, we will all find a greater degree of splendor and well-being as individuals, and we’ll see it as a congregation. The splendor comes when you know you are making an impact. There is no better feeling in the world. Amen.
This sermon was delivered for online worship by Rev. David Clark at Bay Shore Church, your UCC church in Long Beach, California.