Thought for Evensong – The Twenty Third Sunday after Trinity, 15th November 2020

Psalm 123, Haggai 2: 1 – 9 and 1 Timothy 4: 1 – 16

To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens! As the eyes of the servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of the maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, until he has mercy on us. Psalm 123: 1 and 2

For thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendour, says the Lord of hosts’. Haggai 2: 6 and 7

Train yourself in godliness, for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. 1 Timothy 4: 7b and 8

In this pre-Advent period as we come to the end of another Church Year, we are once again reminded of events still to come. Our reading from Haggai takes us first via 520BC, to the reign of King Darius, when a remnant had returned from Babylonian captivity. Optimism had filled their hearts when they returned to Jerusalem, and a project to rebuild the Temple was started with enthusiasm. Sixteen years later when Haggai was prophesying, a combination of apathy and foreign opposition had led to work grinding to a halt. Haggai’s message was to stir the people into reviving the building project, and also to point to the future coming of the Messiah. This included predictions of the establishment of God’s earthly kingdom, but including the judgement of God on ungodly world powers. Yet those nations that would turn to God would be blessed. 

It is interesting that this prophesy, like the message of some other Old Testament prophets, blends details of the first and second comings of Christ. This is the theme that runs through Advent, as we watch and wait for the Second Coming, but also recreate the anticipation of the first coming of Jesus – the Incarnation. For our generation living through unparalleled times, with a sense of apprehension about the future of the planet (whether because of the pandemic, global warming, wars and rumours of wars, or the sheer uncertainty and unpredictability that has overtaken the lives of so many people), Haggai’s reminder of the coming shaking of the heavens and the earth, speaks of a coming necessary reordering of the world. God will challenge the sin and pride ingrained in the present world system, bring ultimate deliverance, but also a great harvest of souls from the nations of the earth, each bringing their contribution of value to God’s kingdom. The parallel picture of adornment with gold and silver of the modest Temple building being rebuilt in Jerusalem, is amplified in the picture of the universal recognition of Jesus and the glory accumulated through the peoples of the earth flocking to him. This final glory would be immeasurably greater than the first, and mark the completion of the great project to redeem the world.

The verses from Psalm 123 quoted at the heading of this sermon, remind us of the element of trust and confidence we should have in God to fulfil His promises for the future. We are to lift our eyes to the throne of heaven and watch expectantly. The element of uncertainty the psalmist raises in verse 2 (untilhe has mercy on us), has been dispelled for us, because we know Jesus has demonstrated fully the mercy anticipated in the psalm. Our expectant gaze into heaven is awaiting the shaking of the nations that Haggai speaks about, and the Second Coming of Jesus.

Paul’s letters to Timothy are full of pastoral concern for Timothy and his fellow Christians, as they navigated the perils of first century pagan society. Our position in the twenty first century is not dissimilar, as we are surrounded by temptation and the decline in the value of truth and sound morals. Paul opens the fourth chapter of 1 Timothy by saying that some believers would fall prey to false teaching with demonic origins. There is a constant danger that contemporary Christians will lose heart because of the hopelessness we see around us, and lose that heavenly vision of the bright eternal future awaiting those who remain faithful. It is so important that we take Paul’s words in verses 7b and 8 to heart, that we train ourselves in godliness. Using the spiritual armour Paul describes in Ephesians 6, we need to equip ourselves with the protection of this godliness to realise God’s promises for this life and the life to come. 

Kevin Boak

Lay Reader

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