Welcome once again to worship this morning. In any other year this would be a busy and crowded Vacation Bible School Sunday, with lots of kids and decorations and music and guests. This year, VBS is an on-line experience, like so many other things in our lives, but let’s just for a moment use our imagination and remember what it was like. Remember the buzz, the new faces, the smiles, the stories, the dancing. Can you picture it? I hope so. They are memories that keep us going, grounding us in our past that gives us hope for tomorrow – even if it turns out that tomorrow is not exactly like yesterday.
For our opening prayer this morning, we turn again to the Prayer of St. Francis. This is a prayer of dedication and faith that draws us into true worship of God, calling us to be a faithful reflection of Him in the world:
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood and to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen
Song: Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace (Sarah McLachlan
Message: The Good Old Days
After more than a generation in exile, a crowd of 50,000 men, women and servants were allowed to make their way back to the Judean capital of Jerusalem. Cyrus was now the king of Persia, and God used him to send His people back home to begin the rebuilding of their towns and His Temple.
Read: Ezra 3:7-13
7 Then they gave money to the masons and carpenters, and gave food and drink and olive oil to the people of Sidon and Tyre, so that they would bring cedar logs by sea from Lebanon to Joppa, as authorized by Cyrus king of Persia.
8 In the second month of the second year after their arrival at the house of God in Jerusalem, Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Joshua son of Jozadak and the rest of the people (the priests and the Levites and all who had returned from the captivity to Jerusalem) began the work. They appointed Levites twenty years old and older to supervise the building of the house of the Lord. 9 Joshua and his sons and brothers and Kadmiel and his sons (descendants of Hodaviah[a]) and the sons of Henadad and their sons and brothers—all Levites—joined together in supervising those working on the house of God.
10 When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments and with trumpets, and the Levites (the sons of Asaph) with cymbals, took their places to praise the Lord, as prescribed by David king of Israel.
11 With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the Lord:
“He is good;
his love toward Israel endures forever.”
And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. 12 But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. 13 No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away.
This wasn’t a dedication of the finished Temple, but a celebration that after so long, the work to rebuild was finally beginning. In particular, they were celebrating the laying of the foundation on which the new Temple would sit.
There was much rejoicing among this large group of very happy people – at least most of them were rejoicing. Because there was also sadness present. Sadness that, to the one who wasn’t paying attention, could have easily gone undetected. There was sadness because this new Temple was not going to be like the old Temple. Too much had changed; those days of glory would never fully come back.
Just over three months ago we shook hands right here in this room. We gave hugs, sat together, sang together, ate together, chatted in the hallways. Today that almost seems like a lifetime ago!
Take a moment right now to pause and consider: What is it that you miss the most about coming together on Sunday morning?
* Does your answer surprise you?
* Are you confident it will come back some day? What if it doesn’t?
Looking Back Farther
It’s true that we have lost much over the last 3 months, but in reality, we have been experiencing losses in the church for at least a generation, and probably two of them.
Do you remember what it was like in the days this sanctuary was far more full every Sunday? Our stated capacity is 240 (although that is probably before we had some of the front pews removed). Can you recall a day when it was more difficult to get a seat? When you had to make sure you got here in good time to get YOUR seat?
Do you remember when there was a regular choir that sang every week? Many of you were likely part of those choirs. And with a full choir, the congregational singing would have been far louder, and in parts. Choirs were social communities where many of us learned to sing, and sing well. There may have been lots of good reasons to move toward more modern worship music, but there is no doubt that we have lost something precious along the way.
Do you remember the old church building that was replaced by this one in the mid 70’s? Perhaps you were married in it, baptized in it, or went every week to church and Sunday School in it. Our present sanctuary is more comfortable and fits our modern technology much better, but the memories of the old building are memories of a time of growth and excitement and hope.
Do you remember the faces that have gone through these doors over the years? Some have stayed for a long time, but many others have come for a season and then left. It is common for people to come to a church during a season of distress, only to drift away when the situation resolves one way or another. Our hope is always that they will stay and grow in their relationship with Jesus and with us, but that isn’t what always happens.
Do you remember past ministers who were part of the significant moments in your lives? Baptisms, marriages, births, deaths, divorces. For a time, they were like our family, and now are memories. All the time I have been your pastor, I have heard names like Jewel and Brown and Smith with regularity, even though they had served here many years ago.
We celebrate all that has happened in the name of Jesus within these 4 walls and beyond. For those of you who have been here many years – through the good times and the times of challenge – looking around today might bring you mixed emotions too. It might elicit both shouts of joy for all we have endured, while at the same time prompting tears for all that has been lost. That reaction will be complicated and deep because you have given this community of believers more than just your tithes and your sweat – you have given it your heart!
Bring before God the time you have called First Baptist Kingsville your spiritual home.
Remember how God has touched your heart and changed you through this community of believers, and give thanks.
Going back to the passage, remember that what they were celebrating was the laying of the foundation. The Temple itself would eventually be rebuilt a number of times until Herod would build the great Temple some 400 years later – the Temple of the time of Jesus.
In reality, the future of Israel was never going to be as grand as it’s past. They would experience 100 years of relative independence under the Hasmonean kings, but that was in between being dominated first by the Greeks and Macedonians, and then afterward by the Romans. In 70 A.D., the temple would be forever destroyed as the people were dispersed for almost 1,900 years – until the modern nation of Israel was established in 1948.
You might conclude that on that foundation dedication day, Israel’s future was bleak, but you would be wrong. It was in the midst of those years of captivity and foreign rule that God would finally send His promised Messiah – His Son Jesus – sent to not only save the Jewish people, but as a gift of love to the entire world!
If you had asked anyone in attendance that day of the dedication of the Temple’s foundation, not one of them would have predicted Jesus. Their hope would have been on someone who would return Israel to it’s powerful and admired nation status. And yet, in Jesus, God has done more than return Israel to its’ days of political and military glory. He has brought the Kingdom of Heaven to earth itself! God has given everyone the chance to be made new; to experience a whole new way of living that transforms your today and tomorrow!
If the people would only stick with God, His plan was to give them a very bright future, a future that would turn out to look nothing like their past.
As We Look Forward
Can we see what our future is ahead of us with any clarity? Can you say how this will all play out? Will everyone really return when it is safer? Will people turn to God and stop relying so much on their own abilities? Will we become more receptive to showing God’s love to people whose experiences of life are different from ours?
I don’t know the answer to those questions. Our future is one big cloud!
But we DO have a future! A wonderful, hope filled future! A future where God will show Himself in a way that will most likely surprise us all! IF we remain in Him.
There is a theological theme in the Bible that talks of God’s people as a remnant – comparing them to the last piece of cloth from a much larger original roll. No matter how far Israel would stray from God, no matter how insidious their sin; there was always a group of people who stayed faithful. Sometimes that remnant was very small, but that never mattered to God. Small was always enough.
We can choose to be a part of that remnant today. And so, no matter how disheartened you might be after the last 3 months, or even the last 50 years – God is still here. And God still has a future for His people!
Dear Heavenly Father,
We have longed to get back to normal for so long, yet over these last 2 weeks back in our building we realize this is anything but normal. And yet we know that You do some of your best work outside of normal, when you have our attention and we know without a doubt that we need you. May we have open ears to hear your call, and open hearts to respond faithfully.
We are thankful for the scriptures that remind us that while our experiences are unique to us, they are not new to You. Over the centuries, as difficulties are faced and anxiety levels raised, You have shown Your people Your love, often in surprising ways. As we meditate on these examples in Your Word, we learn to trust You.
We pray for those in our community and church family who are struggling with their health today. While we may not know anyone specifically with the virus, we know that there are many cases all around us. We pray in particular for those who are working here from other countries who have found themselves in the middle of so much attention. May they know our grace and love, as a reflection of Yours. There are also those struggling with different health problems in our midst, and for those, we seek Your healing and Your presence in their lives.
We thank You that we can know Your presence and hope in the midst of uncertainty and fear. May we find ourselves turning to You, even as we point others to the source of life.
We pray in the name of Jesus.
Song – Build Your Kingdom Here (Rend Collective)
The Lord bless you and keep you,
The Lord make His face to shine upon you.
The Lord turn His face toward you,
And give you peace,