Ronda Sloan is a lay preacher and elder in the Disciples of Christ Christian Church and received an Honorable Mention in the 2017 EcoPreacher Earth Day Sermon Contest. This is a sermon she preached at Bridgeport Christian Church, Frankfort, KY, on April 23, 2017. The prophet Haggai chastised the ancient Israelites for neglecting to rebuild the Temple. In this sermon, Ronda draws implications for our neglected “temple” of Earth today.
Rebuilding the Temple . . . of Earth
Copyright 2017, Ronda Sloan
Text: Haggai 1:2-11
Do any of you have a spot in your house where junk piles up? For me, it is my tote bag corner. When one gets full, rather than cleaning it out, I pull out another one. When the second one gets full — well, you get the picture. On a recent day off, I decided to clean out my tote bag corner — which had grown to five. I found lots of trash, enough ink pens for all of you, and $15, mostly in change. And the gloves I looked for all winter.
A friend of mine said she has a laundry basket full of mismatched socks that never seems to go anywhere. Maybe you have a neglected corner of your yard that needs to be weeded. Maybe you use the trunk of your car as a mini storage unit. Whatever your junk spot is, we eventually learn to ignore it and go on with our lives.
Today’s scripture is about one of those unfinished chores — only on a much larger scale and with greater consequences. We can feel the frustration of God looking down and seeing the people going about their business while the temple lay in ruins.
“Is it a time for you yourselves to live in your panelled houses, while this house lies in ruins?” Haggai 1:4
The Babylonians had destroyed Jerusalem and Solomon’s temple about 70 years earlier. When the Jews first returned to Jerusalem, they faced a daunting task. One Bible historian said the area was the equivalent of Atlanta after Sherman’s march.
Most of us have been involved in a building project or a renovation. The demolition is fun and the initial clearing out makes us feel good. But then comes the real work. It was much the same with the temple project — the people began the task of rebuilding with enthusiasm. They cleared debris and began working on the foundation. Several accounts say they even cleaned and reused stones from the earlier temple.
But for various reasons – some of them political, some of them due to conflicts with their Samaritan neighbors – work on the temple ceased for at least 15 years. Then during the second year of King Darius’ reign, the prophet Haggai spoke for God and said it was past time for the people to stop building their own houses and to get back to restoring the temple.
Neglecting the temple has consequences
Haggai reminded the Jews that while they were building their own houses, planting crops and earning a living, the temple remained in ruins. It was also noted that the people seemed to have been working hard but had little to show for it. Haggai reminded the people of the Lord’s words:
“Consider how you have fared. 6You have sown much, and harvested little; you eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and you that earn wages earn wages to put them into a bag with holes. . . . You have looked for much and lo, it came to little; and when you brought it home, I blew it away.”
Nevertheless, it appears that the people got used to life without the temple and were content to just go about their business. “Why fight city hall?” became an excuse for not doing the work.
We can imagine the excuses they might have used for not rebuilding the temple:
- The job is too big. We’ll never finish it.
- We didn’t destroy it. Why should we rebuild it?
- Someone else will do it if we don’t.
- We need to pray about it some more.
- The time isn’t right. I have other things to do.
- We mean well, but we are just too busy.
Haggai reminded the people that the temple was the heart and soul of the community. It was where God dwelled, so to allow the temple to remain in ruins was to neglect the worship of God.
The people had misplaced priorities.
Can we see a parallel between the paralysis around rebuilding the temple and our modern day attitude toward protecting the environment — rebuilding the temple of Earth? In many ways, we are like the people in Haggai’s time — we are content to live in our houses, collect our paychecks and live life with our families. We hear the stories about pollution, rising temperatures and the extinction of species, but we just keep walking.
Meanwhile, the Earth is much like the temple — a foundation choked out by “weeds” borne of our neglect.
And, those excuses I mentioned earlier? The same excuses can be used to express why we fail to take action to preserve the Earth.
- It’s not global warming — it’s just a natural cycle.
- Throwing that can in the trash instead of recycling it isn’t going to change the world.
- If an animal can’t adapt, it should go extinct.
- Climate change and concern about the environment is just another thing for liberals to whine about.
- The world will be around as long as I’m here — then it will be someone else’s problem.
- This earth will disappear anyway — why does it matter what we do to it?
It’s not easy being green.
You’ve probably heard the song, “It’s Not Easy Being Green.” And it’s true – it’s not easy take care of the mess we’ve made and rebuild the temple of Earth. It wasn’t easy to rebuild the temple for the Israelites. There will always be obstacles in our way. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it.
Near the end of Haggai, chapter 2, the people are reminded that God expected them to do as they were commanded and that there would be consequences when they didn’t.
15 “‘Now give careful thought to this from this day on—consider how things were before one stone was laid on another in the Lord’s temple. 16 When anyone came to a heap of twenty measures, there were only ten. When anyone went to a wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were only twenty. 17 I struck all the work of your hands with blight, mildew and hail, yet you did not return to me,’ declares the Lord. 18 ‘From this day on, from this twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, give careful thought to the day when the foundation of the Lord’s temple was laid. Give careful thought: 19 Is there yet any seed left in the barn? Until now, the vine and the fig tree, the pomegranate and the olive tree have not borne fruit.
Similarly, there are consequences for our refusal to protect the temple of Earth. Crops are suffering from blight and yields are diminishing, species are vanishing, fish populations are dwindling, and catastrophic weather events are draining billions from our human economy.
But as soon as the Israelites decide to take up the task of rebuilding, this is God’s promise in 2:19:
“From this day on I will bless you.”
We have been given a planet to take care of and, much like the temple, we have let the “weeds” grow up around the foundation. It is time to take up the task of caring for this planet. And when we do, God will bless us.
One of the most popular Earth Day quotes is from an American environmental campaigner who said, “We are living on this planet as if we have another one to go to.” Or, as the Earth Day t-shirt says, “There is no Planet B.”
Yesterday, scientists from around the world joined those celebrating Earth Day to champion support and funding for science, science-based policy and diversity. Concerns included climate change and energy policy.
Meanwhile, the record for the hottest year ever keeps getting broken. Arctic sea ice is hitting record lows. The Great Coral Reef is almost dead. Sea level rises are causing coastal flooding.
Even something as simple as a plastic bottle becomes the enemy when you realize that 300 million tons are produced each year and only 10 percent will be properly recycled.
Rebuilding the temple and saving the Earth — both are daunting.
So, what can we do to save God’s temple of the Earth?
First, make it a priority. The lesson of Haggai is that the people got so busy doing other things that they forgot their main mission. We know that God’s Creation is good, but by ignoring our obligation to protect the environment, we are damaging something that is valuable to God. Protecting the Earth can be seen as a way we worship God. It is a divine work — a way we show our Christian values to the world.
Second, don’t get discouraged. Individually, we can’t stop climate change. However, we can each do little things.
- Give up your water bottle habit.
- Watch your water usage.
- Plant a garden.
- Buy products from responsible companies.
- Eat less meat.
- Before you buy more “stuff,” ask yourself if you really need it.
- Use your gift certificates from the Green Team to buy local produce from the farmers’ market. Not only is this a healthy choice for your family, it helps local farm families make a living.
The great Wendell Berry wrote an essay in the 1960s titled “Think Little.” In it, he said:
If you are concerned about the proliferation of trash, then by all means start an organization in your community to do something about it. But before – and while you organize, pick up some cans and bottles yourself. That way, at least, you will assure yourself and others that you mean what you say. If you are concerned about air pollution, help push for government controls, but drive your car less, use less fuel in your home… write to the government, but turn off the lights you’re not using, don’t be a sucker for electrical gadgets, don’t waste water.
In other words, if you are fearful of the destruction of the environment, then learn to quit being an environmental parasite. We all are, in one way or another, and the remedies are not always obvious, though they certainly will always be difficult. They require a new kind of life-harder, more laborious, poorer in luxuries and gadgets, but also, I am certain, richer in meaning and more abundant in real pleasure. To have a healthy environment we will all have to give up things we like; we may even have to give up things we have come to think of as necessities. But to be fearful of the disease and yet unwilling to pay for the cure is not just to be hypocritical; it is to be doomed.
In other words — it’s not easy being green.
However, like the people who were called to rebuild the temple, we are called to help rebuild the Earth.
There are weeds in the foundation — it’s time to get busy.
To see the first-place winner of the 2017 EcoPreacher Earth Day contest, click on: Seeing is Believing.
To see the second-place winner of the 2017 EcoPreacher Earth Day contest, click on: Jonah, the Ninevites, and Climate Change.
Looking for more ideas for “green” sermons, or examples of EcoPreacher sermons? Check out these links:
Leah D. Schade is the author of the book Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology, and the Pulpit (Chalice Press, 2015).
Sources cited or consulted for this sermon:
Enduring Word commentary
Earth Day Network
Haggai: A Minor Prophet with a Major Role, Graeme Stockdale, Amazon Digital Services LLC, 2016.
Spotlight on the Minor Prophets, James Paris, Deanburn Publications, 2012.
Haggai: Prophet of the Greater Temple, Dr. Stephen E. Jones, Amazon Digital Services LLC, 2017.
Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi: Prophecy in the Age of Uncertainty, Hayyim Angel, Maggie Books, 2016.
Exalting Jesus in Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, Micah Fries, Stephen Rummage, Robby Gallaty, Holman Reference, 2015.
Think Little, Wendell Berry (printed in 1969); from A Continuous Harmony: Essays Cultural and Agricultural, 1972.