This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
SCOTTISH FAMILIES HOMELESS THIS CHRISTMAS
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised (NRSVA)
The Command to Rebuild the Temple
1 In the second year of King Darius, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest: 2 Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house. 3 Then the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai, saying: 4 Is it a time for you yourselves to live in your panelled houses, while this house lies in ruins? 5 Now therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider how you have fared. 6 You 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.
7 Thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider how you have fared. 8 Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honoured, says the Lord. 9 You have looked for much, and, lo, it came to little; and when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? says the Lord of hosts. Because my house lies in ruins, while all of you hurry off to your own houses. 10 Therefore the heavens above you have withheld the dew, and the earth has withheld its produce. 11 And I have called for a drought on the land and the hills, on the grain, the new wine, the oil, on what the soil produces, on human beings and animals, and on all their labours.
12 Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, and Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the Lord their God, and the words of the prophet Haggai, as the Lord their God had sent him; and the people feared the Lord. 13 Then Haggai, the messenger of the Lord, spoke to the people with the Lord’s message, saying, I am with you, says the Lord. 14 And the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God, 15 on the twenty-fourth day of the month, in the sixth month.
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised (NRSVA)
The Message to Thyatira
18 ‘And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These are the words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze:
19 ‘I know your works—your love, faith, service, and patient endurance. I know that your last works are greater than the first. 20 But I have this against you: you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet and is teaching and beguiling my servants[a] to practise fornication and to eat food sacrificed to idols. 21 I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her fornication. 22 Beware, I am throwing her on a bed, and those who commit adultery with her I am throwing into great distress, unless they repent of her doings; 23 and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am the one who searches minds and hearts, and I will give to each of you as your works deserve. 24 But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call “the deep things of Satan”, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden; 25 only hold fast to what you have until I come. 26 To everyone who conquers and continues to do my works to the end,
I will give authority over the nations;
27 to rule[b] them with an iron rod,
as when clay pots are shattered—
28 even as I also received authority from my Father. To the one who conquers I will also give the morning star. 29 Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
We could say that both passages are concerned with the house (hold) of God, the first in the rebuilding of the shattered temple in Jerusalem after the return from exile; the second in the handling of false teachings in the Christian community of Thyatira. The prophet Haggai rails at the people for constructing splendid dwellings for themselves, but no dwelling for God. Doubtless the prophet held no superstitious view that the eternal one might live in a temple; but inasmuch as the temple is a sign of God’s life amongst his people, the fact that it lies derelict while private homes are built, is a sign of faithlessness in the eyes of the prophet, who explains the drought and poor harvest as indications of God’s displeasure.
I have no time for the notion that church buildings are sacred spaces, but I do hold to a theology of the house(hold) of God, which recognises the individual soul, the church community, societies, and the earth itself as spaces where God may dwell. In all cases God can only dwell where the householders are prepared to share space rather than being interested only in themselves. Opening any of these spaces to God to God would be a faithful response to Haggai’s challenge. The current Christmas crisis of homelessness in Scotland, which has record numbers of owner occupiers, is a context in which the prophet’s words are relevant. Those like Zerubbabel and Joshua who are inspired to fashion houses for God’s honour are valuable still. I strongly recommend to UK readers the work of SHELTER, the charity that fights homelessness. Advent is a good time to give them some money.
The passage from The Revelation is one of the “letters to seven churches of Asia” included in the book. In this case the prophet offers praise to the community but also delivers an angry denunciation of “Jezebel” (presumably the prophet’s derisory name for her.) In spite of the sexual imagery which derives from the prophetic habit of denouncing religious unfaithfulness as “adultery” or “whoring after false Gods”, the woman appears to be a teacher of some kind of special “knowledge” that includes the “deep things of Satan”. Because Christian faith is so little a religion, believers with religious longings are often tempted by exotic teachings that offer more religious excitement. The prophet urges the believers in Thyatira to hold to the modest simplicity of trust in Jesus. When he comes there will be excitement enough, for the faithful, vulnerable people will share his rule. What on earth can I make of that teaching? Do I expect Jesus to manifest himself in glory sometime soon? Well, no. Do I expect to rule the nations with an iron rod? Not really. But the book of The Revelation asks me to hang on in the ignorant hopefulness of faith, trusting that what happens in my life is not irrelevant to the outcome of God’s war with evil.