• Steven Marsh

Participating in God’s Story – Jesus is Lord: a Reflection on Haggai 1:15b-2:9, Psalm 14

It is an innate human quality to reminisce on the past as a better time than the present. We all do it. Elementary school was better when we sang a patriotic song, said a prayer, and then recited the pledge of allegiance. Those were the good ole days.

This past August I preached for a congregation, which was the church at which I did my field education internship while attending Fuller Theological Seminary. The congregation is just a shell of what it used to be. It was great to reconnect with folk, and the past was fun to remember; then the sanctuary was always packed, high energy was palpable, and great enthusiasm for reaching others with the good news of Jesus Christ pervaded congregant conversations. But that wasn’t the case on my recent visit. Oh great numbers turned out because of the advertised reunion, but on any given Sunday now there is less than thirty in attendance, limited energy, and low passion for evangelism. The people are tired and discouraged. Is it helpful to pine for the past when facing a difficult present?

The contexts of Haggai 1, Psalm 145, 2 Thessalonians 2, and Luke 20 are similar. The past is more attractive than the present. The people of God yearn for their standing in culture to return as it was before the destruction of their kingdoms and the Temple; the reality of God’s kingship must not be dismissed, forgotten, or relegated to a position of fantasy; because things are bad does not warrant escapist thoughts and actions; and marriage, although a blessing, is not a necessary relationship for all people nor will marriage be something we are given to in heaven. Although we pine for the way things were, it is dangerous to think that a return to the past will alleviate the pains of the present.

And so we look at things that are going on in our world today. The present state of affairs in what we know as democracy is troubling. If I’ve heard it said once, I’ve heard it twenty times, oh if we could just return to the America of Ozzie and Harriet or Ronald Reagan. Or how many of us bemoan the current state of high paid professional athletes and yearn for the return of the athlete who simply plays the game for the joy of it. Those were the days, were they not? Or if the church could only have the Logos program again where the entire church family gathered on Wednesday nights and hundreds of people ate together, sang together, and learned together. Children, youth, and adults all gathered for fellowship, fun, and faith formation. And many pine for the packed sanctuaries and filled church parking lots, where everybody went to church on Sunday and nothing got in the way of that commitment.

Oh, we don’t need the past, we need a refocus on what matters most. And travel league sports will not secure our identity in Christ. Going to the beach or out to an early brunch will not take away the blues at least for any sustainable period of time. Sleeping in or committing to professional sports viewing or leisure activities on Sundays will not keep us rooted in God’s grace. Burying our heads in the sand will not keep us immune from the political shenanigans of our democracy. Michael Horton writes, “I often meet people who say that they were raised in church but no longer believe in Christ. In many of these cases, something happened-usually a personal tragedy-that disillusioned them. In other cases, the reasons are more global: ‘I thought he came to make the world a better place. But take a look. The world is a mess.’”[1] The church needs to get back to basics and educate, empower, and equip believers to seek out the disillusioned and downtrodden. The church has hope for hopeless times.

Let me share seven truths from our four lectionary texts to help us deal with the present without pining for the past as a solution:

First, God is with us in the present even if it isn’t apparent.

Second, not even the most difficult circumstances can keep God away.

Third, God will provide what we need for whatever must be accomplished.

Fourth, God goes before us, behind us, and beside us.

Fifth, God’s Spirit is with us.

Sixth, whatever we’re facing may be an uphill battle, but God is for us not against us.

And seventh, God was, is, and continues to be God.

Why does it feel like returning to the past would solve all the present’s problems? Only God can do what needs to be done in the concrete spaces of our time and existence.[2] Reason, science, the market, morality, and logic are all necessary for effective living. However, none of these can be Lord. They are all servants. Only Jesus is Lord.[3]

We must return to loving God the most not our life preferences. Yes, times are perplexing and the past looks attractive. But only participating in God’s story in the present conditions is the biblically faithful thing to do. And when we return to love God the most, we will love others in return and point them to the One who loves them more than they can imagine.

[1]Michael Horton, Core Christianity (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2016), 131.

[2]Adapted from Nelson Rivera in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 4 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 270.

[3]This juxtaposition of reason, science, the market, morality, and logic to Jesus was gleaned from Michael Horton, Core Christianity, 142.

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