Main Street Community Church


This talk was given by Paul Wintle on .

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Do you know that this year commemorates, I think, 25 years of our worship area being here? I think it’s 25 years. I wasn’t here. The whole story of how it came to be, how the original chapel was moved and winched by hand to its present position always makes me smile. How a vision to use the land behind me here for older people’s homes and housing came into being by utilising another person’s extraordinary plan to move a building just a few feet from its original position. In 1995, that’s what happened.

Being very much aware of the fact that there are still a good number of folk who will clearly remember the church meetings, discussions, and I dare say, arguments about how the future of Main Street Chapel might be as a result of such a mammoth move, I might need to tread carefully. Suffice to say: funds, vision, and much faith all came together to fulfil part of God’s plan for this little place. Chapel Fields Nursing Home is now run by the Methodist Homes Association, and only last week, I was there leading a service for a number of the lovely residents who call it home.

Lizzie, the chaplain, also popped into our Friday friendship group the week before and has managed to get a chaplaincy assistant as a result. All part of the plan. Just opposite, and at the back of our car park, we have Ashley Courts, home to some of our regulars and home to many of our folk who pass our doors each day. Together, the kingdom of God was brought a step closer because of the madness of moving and building a place of worship so that others might benefit from such a move.

I am convinced that the whole strategy, planning, financing, praying, and actually building this worship area took every single person within the congregation back then. It took a unified approach. Even if people were feeling perhaps a bit uncertain about the project, the grace of the leaders and the relationship between members of the congregation, perhaps which still firm hold to this day, helped to develop who we have become: a place of worship for anyone who wants to join. Perhaps just as importantly, a space for our community to meet and to be and to grow and to become.

Whilst I was not part of this congregation 25 years ago, I am blessed that together we have inherited such deep friendships and faithful people here in this place. I’m convinced that there is more and better and deeper to come because God’s kingdom is not only about building, and it’s not only about where this building is.

We’ve been whipping our way through some of the Old Testament prophets over the last few weeks, learning some of the things that God wanted his people to do, to act justly, to be his representatives, to speak judgment, to ensure that people repented and turned away or turned back. All this happened in the context of history, and it was a bit of a chequered one, to say the least.

I think Andrew Basden did a marvellous job recently telling us that the prophetic books were collections of what God has done and that the order in which we now have them were in three categories before Israel was scattered, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah. During the exile when God’s people were taken away to be part of the Babylonian Empire for 70 years, so we have Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah and Jeremiah. Then after the exile, after they’d come back, and so we have Haggai, we have Zechariah, and we have Malachi.

A couple of weeks ago, Martin described the chaos through which Zephaniah was writing and the judgment with which God was to judge the whole earth, not only his people. Within Zephaniah, however, Martin reminded us that there was hope of restoration for the remnants and for the nations towards the end of Zephaniah. By the time of Haggai, Zephaniah’s prophecies have come true, and about 100 years after them, Jerusalem had then been destroyed and its people taken to exile by the Babylonians.

Today, we reach this third clump of prophecies following the return of God’s people from exile in Babylon, modern-day Iraq, after 70 years from their homeland. This is the beginning of their restoration that Zephaniah mentions, bringing back the remnants of God’s people to redeem their nation. I’m going to read a whole book from the Bible. It’s only 38 verses, stick with me.

In the second year of King Darius, on the first day of the sixth month, the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest:

Haggai 1 (NIVUK)

You can tell why I’ve not asked anybody else to read.

This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘These people say, “The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house.”’

Then the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai. ‘Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your panelled houses while this house remains a ruin?’

Now, this is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much but harvested little. You eat, but [you] never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but [you] are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.’

This is what the Lord Almighty says, ‘Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honoured,’ says the Lord. ‘You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?’ Declares the Lord Almighty. ‘Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house. Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the olive oil and everything else the ground produces, on people and livestock, and on all the labour of your hands.’

Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest and the whole remnant of the people obeyed the voice of the Lord their God and the message of the prophet Haggai, because the Lord their God had sent him. And the people feared the Lord.

Then Haggai, the Lord’s messenger, gave this message of the Lord to the people, ‘I am with you,’ declares the Lord. So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of the whole remnant of the people. They came and began work on the house of the Lord Almighty, their God, on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month.

In the second year of King Darius, on the twenty-first day of the seventh month, the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: ‘Speak to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, to Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people. Ask them, “Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? But now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ declares the Lord. “Be strong, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,” declares the Lord, “and work. For I am with you,” declares the Lord Almighty. “This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my spirit remains among you. Do not fear.”

‘This is what the Lord Almighty says, “In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,” says the Lord Almighty. “The silver is mine, the gold is mine,” declares the Lord Almighty.”

Haggai 1, 2 (NIVUK)

We’re almost there.

The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house”, says the Lord Almighty. “And in this place I will grant peace.” declares the Lord Almighty.

On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, [the king,] the word of the Lord came to the prophet Haggai, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Ask the priests what the law says: if someone carries consecrated meat in the fold of their garment, and that fold touches some bread or stew, some wine, olive oil or other food, does it become consecrated?”’

The priests answered, ‘No.’

Then Haggai said, ‘If a person defiled by contact with a dead body touches one of these things, does it become defiled?’

And the priests replied, ‘Yes, it becomes defiled.’

Then Haggai says, ‘“So it is with this people and this nation in my sight,” declares the Lord. “Whatever they do and whatever they offer there is defiled.

‘“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. When anyone came to a heap of twenty measures, there was only ten. When anyone went to a wine vat to draw 50 measures, there were only twenty. I struck all the work of your hands with blight, mildew and hail, yet you did not return to me,” declares the Lord. “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 temper was laid. Give careful thought: is there yet any seed in the barn? Until now, the vine and the fig-tree, the pomegranate and the olive [oil] tree have not borne fruit.

‘“From this day on, I will bless you.”’

The word of the Lord came to Haggai for a second time on the twenty-fourth day of the month, ‘Tell Zerubabbel governor of Judah that I am going to shake the heavens and the earth. I will overturn royal thrones and shatter the power for the foreign kingdoms. I will overthrow chariots and their drivers; horses and their riders will fall, each by the sword of his brother.

‘“On that day,” declares the Lord Almighty. “I will take you, my servant Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel,” declares the Lord, “and I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you,” declares the Lord Almighty.’

Haggai 2 {NIVUK}

That’s one book of the Bible read.

King Cyrus had let the people of God go home. Together with help from other surrounding nations, he would give good passage and safe passage, and he would promise to help rebuild Israel with gold and wood and silver and equipment. The early chapters of Nehemiah and the first six chapters of Ezra help us to really put this into context. Following King Cyrus allowing people home, King Artaxerxes stops any building work for a good 10 years because of difficulties with merchants.

Anyway, following this, King Darius comes on the scene. It is during his reign where we find this short prophecy and fulfilment of Haggai. Zerubbabel and Joshua are the movers and shakers in this project to rebuild the temple, which has taken a bit of a back seat, if you like, since the people arrived home from Babylon. They had built their own homes as well as an altar to God, but they hadn’t finished the job of having the whole temple rebuilt.

Only a remnant, just a few people who would be verging perhaps on their 90th birthdays might remember the splendour of what we know now would have been Solomon’s temple. Perhaps were spreading rumours that nobody could build such a fabulous temple as there was previously, so, why bother rebuilding at all? The word of the Lord comes to God’s people and ,differently to some prophets such as Jonah to go and do something, the people listen. The people get on with the work. The people are in the right place. The prophet is representing God. The leaders are following God’s words. The people are acting because they remember that God is in control.

The action to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem is full of promise and community. Even the remnant perhaps that complained that the temple won’t be as good as the previous one are stopped in their tracks. As God prophesies that the future glory of the temple will be greater than the past glory for the people of God. This is the renewing of his promise never to leave his people.

A covenant, a promise where relationship between God and his people is central to everything. That’s why Haggai repeats God’s promise “I am with you” because when the temple had been a place where God resided and so when it was destroyed in the sixth century BC, and the Jews were taken into exile by the Babylonians, history seemed to say to the Jews, “Your God has got nowhere to live now. Where is your God now? He’s nowhere so you belong to us, the Babylonians, now”.

The remnant who are now back in Jerusalem over 70 years later, even remember that they have built their own homes, but not rebuilt the house of God, but yet, they still have a promise that God is with them. When God speaks through Haggai three times to say, “Give careful thought to your ways” It’s not so much of a warning of how to live, rather, to interpret the Hebrew, to set your hearts on your ways. To set your heart on your ways.

That is to have a purpose. To set everything you have in living according with that purpose. Set your heart on your ways because a holy God wants a holy people. He wants to be with them. He wants to be in a relationship with them, in spite of their forgetfulness, of not having a temple, because actually the building is not important. In many ways, it never was.

When the prophecy of the new temple being more glorious than the old one comes, God knows that he’s talking about the Messiah, Jesus, the one that will talk about destroying the temple in three days and raising it up again, but before then, Zerubbabel mentioned in Haggai, is a forerunner to Jesus as one who is close to God, and ends up being in the line of Jesus’ forebears.

Perhaps the prophecy of Haggai is a little bit about people’s priorities and closeness of a nation’s relationship with God. Yes, perhaps we can take something away with us from that: we can set our hearts on God’s ways. We can obey. We can know that God is still with us. Yes, we can know too, that in spite of circumstances that surround us, God’s character can energise and bless us and keep us close to him because for the people of God who were rebuilding the temple, that’s what it was partly about. God’s visible presence through the temple.

Yet I wonder whether there is something that we are missing. Something else that we are missing from this passage, from this book, something that is mentioned three times in these 38 verses. That God will shake his people. Remodelling a building to the glory of God is one thing, but what then? Is the building itself the end result? What was the plan for the temple? Hindsight and history tell us that the second-century temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD when Jerusalem was stormed and decimated once again. Second Temple not a second-century temple, a second temple that they rebuilt there.

It doesn’t mean that God had left the building. Remodelling of God’s people took place in their hearts. There was no need for a temple in the same way anymore for God’s Spirit was available from the day of Pentecost to everybody. Following the resurrection of Jesus and before the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD, the Holy Spirit descended upon God’s people who were gathered in an upstairs room, began living in people.

No longer was God only for the prophetic. No longer was God only for the special ones because each one, as we sang earlier, for each one is special. Each one is loved by God. Each one has the seal of God written in them and upon them. Each one we are reminded is made in the image of the Creator God. No longer was a temple required for sacrifices. For the ultimate sacrifice in the death and the resurrection of Jesus had been made so that humanity could have a restored relationship with its creator once again. Once, for all, forever.

It isn’t that the rebuilding for the temple for Haggai’s contemporaries was unimportant, but the plan was always for God to have his home amongst and within his people. Not a building. Buildings cannot represent God in the way that people can. Buildings are not alive in the same way that people are. Whilst people might have some form of relationship with the architecture around them and whilst they might be moved by the wonder of some splendid building, something made by human hands, I think it was always the plan that God lived in a relationship with people. The building for Jesus’ followers, at least, some years later was only ever a small part of it. For the remnant, those returning after 70 years in exile, it could never be good as it used to be. Memories are often coloured, aren’t they, with history and hindsight, those good old halcyon days. What if God had other plans? All this happened 25 centuries ago. 25 years ago, this happened. This creation was built. This vision was created.

Did it stop there? No. God shook his people into action. He shook the congregation here to action in order to bring about what we have now, but now, so what? Are we sitting back on our laurels in our panelled houses having completed one job or is there something else? Are we there yet? If not, why are we sitting back? Are we sitting back? What else is God showing us?

What are we becoming in the light of this building and in the light of this, our congregation, our relationships, our discovering again and again how we are being changed and transformed to serving a great God? How is God shaking us today? Is it about how we use or how we treat this building? I think it’s got to be more than that because it’s always about, as we’ve been talking about, our relationships with one another and with God, how God sees us, how God sees beyond who we are.

These past 25 years is only part of the story, part of our spiritual journey. I’m sure that the remnant here who remember those exciting and perhaps scary days of starting such a massive project on the building wondered how it would end up. Did it end up like you’d planned or is there something that surprised you on the way? Maybe you’d like to share something with me about your passion that hasn’t yet come to fruition and it still needs to happen. Perhaps God is still shaking us.

I can tell you that I have been shaken a bit lately. It’s been hard to say goodbye to so many loved ones in such a short space of time. These losses, I think, have shaken us as a church community and maybe there are other ways that God is shaking us too. Helping us think differently or challenging us to be something more than we are now. I wonder, is that something that resonates with you about something in your life and something about our life together here?

I’d be interested to hear about this if this strikes a chord with you because I don’t have all the answers. I don’t have all the vision. I need my family here to walk with because only when we are shaken about do we sometimes realise that God is still with us, that we are reminded that he still walks with us, that we perhaps should give careful thought to our ways and be reminded why it was that God brought us here to share a common life.

A friend of mine is reflecting through Lent on Facebook. This week, she talked about how disruption is often seen as a bad thing when maybe we ought to look perhaps deeper into it. I’ll close with her thoughts. This is what she said.

I quite like rhythm. And I quite like patterns. I like things that have a flow and that make sense. I like life to feel like that. But I also know that when that goes on for too long I stagnate. I stop changing and growing and transforming. I basically stop. So every year, during Lent, I deliberately disrupt my rhythm so that it becomes a little broken and I intentionally cut across what has [become that] pattern so that there is an element of chaos and mess. And it is in that chaos and mess that something new is able to emerge. Over the years I’ve noticed that most people do not like disruption. We might say we do but when push comes to shove we really actually don’t. We like it when it happens to others – for sure. But to us, not so much. When that happens, it is seen as a fault that needs fixing. Can you see how this is all so tricky? But what if disruption is exactly what we need? [What happens if] … it is where a new path is set and a new way of being is discovered. So today may we embrace the disruption. May we be challenged, yes. But may we also not be afraid. After all, it is the beginnings of something new.

Jill Rowe, Facebook post, 9 March 2020

Shall we bow our heads?

Father God, we’ve been talking today about uncertain times and as we were reminded in Haggai, people perhaps were uncertain because they needed a job that needed to be finished. Father God, whereas we’re thankful for this building and the use that it has for the community, we know that there’s something more in these times when we’re not too sure what happens with the use of this building in the week. Father God, I pray that you perhaps help us to understand and to reflect how we need to be church, both within this building and outside. Would you help us, would you bless us, would you walk with us and continue to promise that you would continue to be with us? Amen.

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