It’s been a long time since I read Haggai … but it didn’t take long once I got started. It’s only 38 verses long.
This time the context was important. The prophet Haggai records four dreams given to him over the course of four months in the year 520 BCE. At that point the Israelites had been back from their exile in Babylon for about 18 years. Folks had returned to their villages, rebuilt their homes and resumed their lives. But the temple in Jerusalem was still a pile of rubble. According to the tradition it was Haggai who got things moving to rebuild the temple in just four years. He must have been one of the memorable motivational speakers of his day.
Image designed by the Gandhi Brigade
So, what difference does that make for us, here in Washington, DC 2,500 years later? Haggai got me thinking about the link between working together and restoring hope.
Here’s a bit of the background for our lesson for this week, from Haggai 1:2-7. Haggai hears an angel say:
This is what the LORD Almighty says: "These people say, ‘The time has not yet come for the LORD’s house to be built.’ "
Then the word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai: "Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house (that is, the temple) remains a ruin?" Now this is what the LORD Almighty says: "Give careful thought to your ways. 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."
This is what the LORD Almighty says: "Give careful thought to your ways.
I’d guess that some of those Israelites were being selfish. Others were probably lethargic, out of steam after all their efforts to rebuild their lives since coming back from Babylon. Whatever the reason, they didn’t see that there was a bigger challenge to their society than the well-being of their own families. They didn’t understand that working together on this project would bring them together in a new way. In short, the breadth of their vision was limited by their focus.
Haggai discerned that even though it would be a lot of work, rebuilding the temple would rebuild the faith of his people. That’s what we heard in the lesson for this week:
The word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai: "Speak to Zerubbabel the governor of Judah, to Joshua the high priest, and to the remnant of the people. Ask them, ‘Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? But now be strong … and work. For I am with you,’ declares the LORD Almighty. ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’
Even though they had their hands full working on their own needs, Haggai and God believe that working together would restore their hope.
And, Haggai had the language and the spirit needed to mobilize and motivate them. You can hear it in the cadence of his prophetic word, but even deeper, this short report of four dreams delivered through the prophet Haggai in 520 BCE led directly to completion of the new temple in Jerusalem in four years! A prophetic word can get things moving, if people will listen.
That’s not a bad focus for this week in the middle of our Jubilee season focused on “Restoring Hope.”
- The breadth of my vision is limited by my focus.
- Working together restores my hope.
- A prophetic word can get things moving, if I listen.
As I’ve thought about this story from my own perspective here at Seekers Church I can see some examples from my own life.
The breadth of my vision is limited by my focus.
Yesterday I was out running errands and heard General Wes Clark interviewed on NPR. Someone asked him about the terrible situation in Darfur. With all the reporting coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan Darfur doesn’t make the news very often, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a terrible situation. I confess that whenever I think about it I mourn the tragedy of Darfur, but I don’t have any clear idea of what to do there. It’s a good example of how my vision is limited by my focus.
Working together restores my hope.
This is Veteran’s Day. Our commitment to work to end all war, both public and private might complicate your readiness to celebrate this holiday. I respect that, but as a veteran myself I’m aware of lots of examples of the power of working together that I experienced in my two decades of active military service. An early one is the clear memory I have of how my platoon of 30 guys in Ranger School carried one of our fellows for the last third of a 17-mile forced march. His pack was more than he could handle. His feet were mush in his boots. So the rest of us took turns carrying his gear and holding him up, taking a load off his feet so we could all finish together. We learned a lot about hope and trust as we worked together that day.
Five years later, during the fall monsoon in Viet Nam in 1966 I was heading up a small team of military advisors with the task of helping the folks of Duc Pho live in the middle of the war. On the top of our priority list was the need to build temporary but monsoon-proof housing for 30,000 people – women, children and the few men who hadn’t been sent off to fight or killed already. We had a fair amount of experience, but none of us had ever built a house, let alone 5,000 houses. It turned out that our piece of the job was to call folks to work together, and to find enough corrugated aluminum roofing to cover those 1-room houses as fast as they were built. The villagers knew how to build houses, and how to put a pit under the bed so when an attack came at night they could get in the pit and have a chance of not getting hit. It was the Vietnamese faith community leaders – the Buddhist monk, the Catholic priest, the Evangelical Protestant minister – who knew how to get their people moving. And they did: monsoon-proof housing for 30,000 in 2 months. Working together restored my hope, even in the midst of the war.
Photos by Ray Millard, top and
I just finished compiling this year’s collection of pictures from the Faith @ Work pilgrimage to Guatemala. There are so many images of us working side-by-side with the men of Xenimajuyu to build the toilet and hand-washing station for their new school. We worked with PAVA again this year – on the school in Xenimajuyu and potable water projects in two other villages – Xocoxol and le Cumbre, Tecpan. Every time I look at those pictures my back remembers the ache of a week of carrying sand up hills so steep they had steps carved into the mud. But my heart remembers the look of delight and hope on that matron’s face as she watched the water tank take shape. I imagined that her huge smile came in part from thinking about NOT having to carry water up those same hillside steps every day for the rest of her life. Working together.
Two weeks ago I watched so many of us work together, mostly in the background, as the Dragoos celebrated Kyrie’s wedding and then so soon mourned Alan’s dying. That week of joy and sadness restored my hope that a family of faith really can gather to support its people when life seems way too much to bear alone. Working together does restore our hope.
A prophetic word can get things moving, if I listen.
Sometimes a prophetic word arrives from an unexpected quarter. Last Monday I was at the most recent session of the Spiritual Companionship course at the National Cathedral. Last week’s class was on different kinds of prayer. Each time the class meets we spend an hour in a small triad, working together on different techniques for spiritual companionship.
In each of the practice sessions, one student is the “companion” who practices, one is the “pilgrim” who shares something to practice with, and the third is an observer. There’s also an empty chair to remind us of the presence of Christ in our midst and at least one member of the faculty sitting in to help out if we need it.
Last Monday I was the pilgrim. I was not expecting to hear a prophetic voice. I started out sharing about my last meeting as a member of the board of directors of faith @ Work, and how I was praying that leaving the board after 22 years would help me claim some time for some new thing that seems to be emerging. But my companion shifted the focus to prayer, and I heard myself talking about how, although I’m aware of praying in the midst of everything else, that “… keep praying …” thing at the bottom of my e-mails, I’ve had a hard time setting aside a time to focus on prayer. My companion asked a couple of questions about when I had been able to focus on prayer, and I got to “swimming laps.” Then she asked me if I was swimming laps now. When the answer was “No” her response was a very prophetic “Well?” I want and need to get back into the pool. It would be an answer to prayer. But did I go swimming this past week? Nope. A prophetic word can get things moving, if I listen … but only if I listen.
And what about our story – Seekers Church, a fairly intentional little Christian community in the tradition of Church of the Saviour? Do we believe that working together can restore hope?
We haven’t been here on Carroll Street for 18 years yet, but I sense that there are some lessons in the words of the prophet Haggai that might give us something fresh to work with.
Extending our vision beyond our focus
Lots of us see things that others miss. I’ve been impressed by the watchful perspective of our newest mission community – Eyes 2 See: Ears 2 Hear. Sandra, Trish and Jeannine have been holding up the need for prayer in places that escape my focused attention. Their leadership in the School of Christian living class on the Beatitudes is opening our eyes in other ways as well.
We’ve also welcomed preachers with interests and commitments that are not familiar to many of us. Bill Milliken, who was scheduled to bring us the Word today and had to move to December 9th, has spent the last 30 years helping communities all across the country get a new perspective on children who leave school before they have the skills to succeed. He’s a master at extending our vision beyond our focus.
We’ve had some visions of our own, visions that may have slipped into the shadows in the face of all the turbulence of getting here and getting on with life. In February 2000, when our renovation was just a plan, we identified some possible uses of our space here beyond worship, the School of Christian Living and a place for our mission groups and ministry teams to meet. Some of the highlights included:
- Space for healers, yoga, dance, massage/healing arts centerIncubation start-up non-profit organizations
- Safe space for an after-school program
- Art space for adults and kids
- Cross-cultural exchange
- School of Christian Living for the wider community
- Liturgy resources center
As I look at that list I’m aware that the Holy Spirit has been at work among us. We’re moving ahead on some parts of that vision, and we’ve invited other communities who are called to other items on the list to share our space. But it may be time for us to listen carefully for fresh prophetic voices among us to extend our vision beyond our focus.
Working together does restore our hope.
For the past 25 years my mission groups have given me recurring evidence that working together does restore our hope. I feel that hope almost every time I meet with my mission groups. Whether its Celebration Circle writing a fresh liturgy for Advent, or Time & Space figuring out what we can do to improve the reliability of our wi-fi internet connection, working together builds a sense of hope that I can feel. I am not alone.
I’ve seen it in the way the Artist’s Group has pulled together to sponsor the Art Camp every summer since we’ve been here, and how their support for Roy in bringing the Bokamoso Youth Theatre here each January nurtures the hope of so many folks.
We’re doing a lot, and doing it well. But there are times when ‘m sure we’re being prepared for something bigger, something that opens more eyes, engages more hearts and restores hope in more places. I don’t have that vision today, but I pray that we will be able to hear it when the Creator speaks through one of us. And I’m convinced that working together does restore our hope.
A prophetic word can get things moving, if we listen.
In 1976, when we were thinking through what it meant for us to be a separate and distinct part of the Church of the Saviour, Robert Greenleaf was writing his first book on Servant Leadership. Early in that book, he writes about the connections between prophecy and servant leadership in a passage that spoke deeply to the founding members of Seekers Church. They decided we should take our name from that passage, because we are a people who are intentionally on the way, and committed to bringing forth prophetic leadership from contemporary sources. Here is the passage from John Greenleaf’s first pamphlet on Servant Leadership:
I now embrace the theory of prophecy which holds that prophetic voices of great clarity, and with a quality of insight equal to that of any age, are speaking cogently all of the time. Men and women of a stature equal to the greatest of the past are with us now, addressing the problems of the day, and pointing to a better way … The variable that marks some periods as barren and some as rich in prophetic vision is in the interest, the level of seeking, the responsiveness of the hearers. The variable is not in the presence or absence or the relative quality and force of the prophetic voices. Prophets grow in stature as people respond to their message. If their early attempts are ignored or spurned, their talent may wither away. It is seekers, then, who make prophets, and the initiative of any one of us in searching for and responding to the voice of contemporary prophets may mark the turning point in their growth and service.
Greenleaf, Servant Leadership, page 8
I’ve been here at Seekers Church long enough to see that our commitment to Christ and our journey together as a faith community are based on distributed leadership – lots of us sharing leadership in different ways. And that includes distributed prophetic voices.
My vision is that before long, with a little help from our friends, each of us will have a clearer sense of where we are about God’s work in the world, and how this family of faith is walking with us on the journey, and how we might work together restoring hope.
Haggai had a dream and told his community about it. His dream opened their eyes to needs that they had been blind to as they focused on rebuilding their own lives. As they listened to him, slowly they began to see and understand a common commitment. And as they worked together their hope for the future of God’s people was rekindled.
What does God have in store for us?
- The breadth of our vision is limited by our focus. But we can help open each other’s eyes. Are you seeing something new?
- Working together restores our hope and helps us spread hope in this time and place.
- A prophetic word can get things moving, if we listen. Who is the prophet who will call us to new action? And are we ready to step out in faith?
… keep praying …