The Story, Chapter 19:  “The Return Home”

June 4, 2017

The Story, Chapter 19:  “The Return Home”

Ezra 3:10-13, Joel 2:28-32


Children’s Sermon:  Pinwheels and Wind


Intro:  The world is a mess. Another attack on London in which innocent people were killed.  Last week, Christians were killed while traveling on a bus in Egypt.  In Indonesia Christians and the LGBT community are being targeted by the government. In the US, we’ve had a share of attacks and church attendance is diminishing and the voice of the church is becoming less of an influence in society.  


Things were different in the world 50 years ago.  From our viewpoint, things might have seemed better.  The church was central in the lives of families and communities. There was a common respect and reverence for things of God.  But not so today.  We think we want things to change, to go back to how they used to be and we grieve what was.  But I think that, especially on this day of Pentecost we have every reason to pray into what new way of being the church, God might be calling us to.


In chapter 19 of The Story we find that the exiles have been allowed to return home from Babylon to Jerusalem with the instructions that they are to rebuild the temple.  This is a moment they have been waiting for!  Not only are they receiving their freedom after 70 years in captivity but they are being invited/instructed to rebuild the central place of worship for their community of faith.  


Let’s read about this event in Ezra 3:10-13. READ


70 years in captivity and now they have come home.  The old timers remember Solomon’s Temple.  They remember going there to worship. And as they gather to worship now, they remember and perhaps grieve for what had once been.  They weep because they remember.  Maybe they are feeling that things will never be the same.  Maybe they are realizing what has been lost of their history and their lives.


But there were also those who had only heard stories about worshiping in the temple.  They had been born in captivity and didn’t have that memory of what had once been, so when they saw the foundation being laid and were gathered together in worship they rejoiced and praised God and cheered with excitement.  They weren’t looking back, they were looking forward. And what they anticipated thrilled them!


There was merit in both expressions of emotion.  Together they made a sound so loud that the enemies of God were in terror!  And this story of Israel raises a question for us:

“What are we feeling about the life of the church today?”  Are we stuck in our grief about what once was and trying to get back to the way things were or are we looking forward to building a future in the Kingdom of God?


I confess that my personality tends to want to do the former.  I was seminary trained for the old ways.  Church was this particular thing and for the most part society played by the rules, but now the rules have been broken and God’s church is being called to be different.


Church is no longer at the center of the community.  A 24 hour work day leaves people tired and seeking rest and leisure rather than spiritual truth, so folks choose to stay home on a Sunday morning. People are not hungry for what they perceive the church to be. And those are all facts to grieve over.  But as the people of Israel saw, it wasn’t the end.  Something new was taking shape in their midst and there were those among them who could see the hope that was being built.


On the day of Pentecost, the followers of Christ witnessed God doing a new thing in their midst.  The risen Christ had promised his disciples that if they would wait, he would send to them a gift which would empower them to preach the gospel throughout the world.  And the Spirit descended.  And Peter preached and people believed and the church was born and grew exponentially on that day of Pentecost.  And those who had been grieving Christ’s absence were able to get excited about what was happening next.


As part of his preaching, Peter quotes the prophet Joel, (2:28-32)


The people of God were gathered together in Jerusalem again.  And a new foundation was about to be laid.  The church was being rebuilt but not with stones and mortar, but with the Holy Spirit and the people of God, the worshippers.  The new “temple” was being built in the very lives of those who worship God.  


And here we are on this day of Pentecost.  Gathered to worship in this building of the Rome Presbyterian Church.  What are you expecting God to do?  Are you waiting for the Holy Spirit to show up?  Are you expecting to be rebuilt? Renewed? Reestablished?  Oh that the Spirit of God that we’ve been talking about all morning would indeed come flooding in and transform us!  That we would be filled with prophesy and dreams and visions.  That they church would be rebuilt into what God needs the church to be today. Will you pray with me for this to be so?


Come Holy Spirit!  Fill us with your vision and your power.  Let us live in the gifts you have freely given us for the purpose of drawing people to God’s love and mercy and truth.  Amen.