A Thundering Voice
Thus says the Lord Almighty: “Carefully consider your ways! Go up to the mountain and cut wood and build the house, and I will take pleasure in it and be glorified,” says the Lord. Thus says the Lord Almighty: “You looked for much, but little came, and when it was brought into the house I blew it away, because My house is desolate while each one of you hurries to his own house….” (Haggai 1:7-9 NKJV)
Ah, the voice of prophesy! As Christians, I believe that we sometimes lose sight of the power and need for prophesy because we believe that it only refers to the Old Testamental pointing to the future coming of the Lord. But that is a mistake. Prophesy is the thundering voice of the Lord Himself through the prophet, speaking about eternal spiritual truths that transcend Old and New Testaments both. Prophesy is not “fortune-telling,” but the discernment and proclamation of the Lord’s message and will. In that sense, both the Old and New Testament are “prophetic,” speaking to us today in ways that are eternal, vital and necessary.
Although autumn is around the corner, we are still in the desert heat and depth of summer, facing all the normal temptations that Americans face in every city and town: laziness, misplaced priorities and a general desire for summer diversions serious (vacation days, lengthy trips, etc.) and not so serious (finally time to clean the garage, and watch some of the shows I missed when busy with school, work, etc.). Our relationship with God and the Church, unfortunately, also falls victim to the temptations and decisions that we face and make at this time of the year.
Our parish is not particularly better or worse than any other parish anywhere. We all struggle with the same things in the summer (maybe for a little longer here since we are hotter longer!): lagging attendance, absent parishioners and a scary dip in contributions and support for the day-to-day obligations of the parish. People disappear for weeks at a time. Collections magically shrink by one-half. Our prayer life is not only not daily, it isn’t even regular in any sense of the word. It is not a coincidence that we pray for “travelers,” because we are in grave spiritual danger when we travel.
But the words of the Lord spoken through the Prophet Haggai quoted above have three very valuable cautions and lessons for us as we think about our relationship with the Lord and the temptation to make it a “flirtation” instead of a “commitment,” especially during these waning days of summer.
First, the prophet gives us the basic command of the Lord: “Go up to the mountain and cut wood and build the house, and I will take pleasure in it and be glorified.” Summer or not, we are given a basic commandment if we claim to be followers of the Lord. Build the house so God can take pleasure in it and be glorified. The house is the Church. Not just the building, not just the gathering place, but His Body given to us in the risen Christ. We are supposed to have a beautiful temple, beautifully appointed, and support it generously. But to really build the “house” takes effort, diligence and repentance. The laziness of summer is completely incompatible with truly building the house of Lord, both on Annie Oakley Drive and in the recesses of our hearts.
Then we are convicted by the declaration of the prophet: “You looked for much…” Isn’t that always the case? We are lazy, we never turn to God in prayer unless we are in need, we don’t love each other, we don’t forgive each other, we don’t worship him gloriously and regularly, and then we “look for much.” But the Lord says through the prophet that although we look for much, little will come. The “much” that we seek is a kind of “spiritual barometer” that shows where our hearts truly reside — here or in the Kingdom.
Finally, the Lord tells us that His house is desolate (i.e., abandoned, ignored, even abused) while each of us hurries to our “own house.” During the Divine Liturgy, at the moment when the priest is processing with the bread and wine offered that day from the Table of Oblation to the Holy Altar, we sing “now lay aside all earthly cares…” Those words are the prayer that we all stop “hurrying to our own houses” while ignoring the House of the Lord. When we don’t place our hearts, minds and souls on the altar of the Lord before we place them anywhere else, we have desecrated and insulted the House of the Lord as well as the Lord of the House.
The power of prophecy is the power to open eyes, inspire and illuminate those who have “eyes to see” and “ears to hear.” As we move further and further away from summer, it is time to put aside summer temptations, it is good to listen to the words of the prophet and do a spiritual assessment. Have I really gone to the mountain to cut wood and build the house of the Lord? Do I always look for much from the Lord while offering little? And have I spent far too much time and effort hurrying to my “own house” no matter where in the depths of my heart that house resides?
The Prophet has thundered. Have we heard?
November 29, 2023
November 29, 2023
November 29, 2023