The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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Evensong      30th January 2022
Haggai, Prophet and Priest
Jan Rushton

Readings:  Haggai 2.1-9;  John 2.18-22
Haggai, prophet and priest, speaks into circumstances 
of langour and despair.
Speaks to a people returned to their homeland 
from which they had been wrenched, taken into exile, 
fifty years earlier by the Babylonians.
Released from captivity by Cyrus, king of Persia,
twenty years on, their shining city of God 
has not yet risen from its ruined state.  
And crucially, this includes the House of God. 
As we know only too well, you haven’t won the war 
until you have won the peace - 
and peace is not won without restoration and renewal.
Urgently Haggai speaks to his despondent people.
He reminds them of the Temple’s former glory: 
Remember!  Just remember!  Take courage!  Do not be afraid!
Get to work!  Hurry!   There is urgency in his voice: 
God has promised! Your glory will return!
The Temple will be splendid - greater even than before!
And in this place I will give you prosperity!
For us here tonight, knowing as we do, the history to come, 
these words may ring a little hollow.
A second Temple is indeed built - but it was never 
the wonder of the age that Solomon’s Temple had been.
That would come later.
Four hundred years on and a new King of Israel, Herod the Great - 
‘Great’ in recognition of his extensive and astonishing building projects!
Herod, his family Idumean converts to Judaism, 
constructed the largest Temple in the then known world, 
astonishing in beauty; and spacious, surrounded by huge courts 
to accommodate the thousands of visitors, Jew and Gentile, 
who would come, awestruck, 
both to worship and to behold this great wonder!
Yet, less than a hundred years after its completion, this Temple too, 
no matter its mammoth foundations, it too, would be razed to the ground.
In contrast with the Synoptic gospels, 
John has Jesus cleanse the Temple at the outset of his ministry.
The ‘Jews’ then question of Jesus’ authority and demand a sign. 
Jesus responds: ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ 
And the gospel continues to tell us that Jesus was referring here,
to the temple of his own body; his crucifixion and ressurrection that is.
He is also re-focusing expectations of the long-awaited Messiah.
Jerusalem is the City of God, her Temple the house of God, 
navel of the earth, from where all life emanates.
Today we celebrate the Feast of Candlemas, day when we remember 
Jesus taken to the Temple, both to be circumcised, 
and in Luke’s somewhat jumbled chronology, 
we also have the story of his Presentation, all somehow rolled into one!
Circumcision is on the eighth day, Presentation of a boy, on the fortieth!
Never mind, the significant point is this,
that we remember Jesus is Jewish, 
his family practising orthodox adherents of the Jewish faith.
Appropriate we remember the now annual 
Holocaust Memorial Day, the 27th of January - last Thursday.
Day of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Berkenau concentration camp.
The city of Jerusalem and its mighty Temple 
fell to the Romans in the year 70 CE.
And with the ending of the city, came the end of the Jerusalem Church 
whose congregation had worshipped daily in the Temple. 
This left Paul’s Gentile Church, strongly influenced by Greek thought, 
left the Gentile church free to forge the shape of the Christianity 
which has come down to us today.
A Christianity with a strong supersessionist thread running through it.
That is, a thread suggesting the Church has superseded, 
taken over from the Jews, the Church become the new Jerusalem, 
and God’s new chosen people.
Our focus today on the Jewish rituals surrounding the birth of a child, 
carefully enacted for Jesus in the Temple, 
root us back into the reality that Jesus is a Jew. 
And as he says in the Sermon on the Mount, 
not one jot or tittle of the Law is superseded!
Jesus does interpret the Law and expand its implications. 
Jesus habitually went to Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish festivals.
And he taught in the Temple precincts 
precisely because the Temple meant as much to him as it did to every Jew.
His disciples, though Galilleans, remained in Jerusalem after his death precisely because here, in the city of God, in the Temple, 
they expected his return, and were waiting for this cataclysmic event, 
the end of the world as we know it, to happen at any moment.
As many still do - rather foolishly, I would venture!
In Jesus we have a transformation.  But it is not a ‘superceding’.  
Jewish Law and outlook still have much to teach us.
The Jewish Haggadah, the liturgy which surrounds the Passover Meal, 
not only celebrates freedom for God’s people from Egypt, 
it enjoins upon God’s people, 
the responsibility to seek freedom and justice and prosperity 
for all peoples.   Life in all its fullness here and now!
In Jesus we receive that promise of transformation, 
personal transformation of the inner man - and woman!
That inner freedom which enables us to move in all our circumstances, hopeful and difficult, joy and pain, 
enables us to move with grace and love.
In the first few weeks of January we hear in the media, 
the astonishing stories of Holocaust survivors, 
those who not only survive physically, 
those who have grown deep and great souls.
The numbers of survivors is now fast dwindling, 
but we still yet discover, some new story each year.
Such as that of 98 year old Lily Ebert, 
long a visitor in schools to tell her account of surviving horror, 
Lily who at the end of last year 
was persuaded by her great grandson to put her story on Tik Tok - 
with all its potential to reach millions of young people!
Enabling them to experience the irrepressible life-force that Lily is, 
hear her call for compassion and inclusion - no matter our circumstances!
Be inspired by her determination to live to the full 
every moment of the life she has been given!
Although I think we are no longer stuck there, 
for many centuries the Church preached various forms of ‘Quietism’. 
A life-denying Christian piety, advising resignation to, patient endurance, through whatever our circumstances might be - 
for the promise of reward in an afterlife.
Judaism will have none of it!  And rightly so!  Neither did Jesus!
This life, what we have right now and here, 
this is the life God has given us - and God wills us to live it to the full!
Eternal life is now - and Jesus offers us courage to live full lives today!
All kinds of different courage - courage to listen, 
listen to how we are really feeling, to listen to that inner voice; 
courage to look and see into the heart of things with compassion; 
courage to discern our talents and pursue our dreams; 
courage to recognise when change is needed, 
when we could do things differently; 
courage to be still, still enough to capture 
those ethereal moments of joy that always surround us!
For the Temple of God is within. 
This evening those promises of the prophet Haggai, speak to us, our lives:
“The latter splendour of this house shall be greater than the former, 
in this place I will give you prosperity”, says the Lord of hosts.  Amen. 

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