What are you building?

Published 11:06 am Saturday, August 9, 2014

by Andrew Book

Most mornings,* I start my day with some time in prayer and reading scripture. I am currently using a scripture reading plan that is walking me through the entire Bible. This means in addition to reading favorite books like John and Acts, I sometimes draw obscure parts of the Old Testament for my morning readings. This morning’s readings began in the book of Haggai. I opened my Bible and found Haggai (it is one of the short books we call “minor prophets” at the end of the Old Testament), I was trying to remember what the book of Haggai was about. I couldn’t remember anything.

Sometimes it’s good to come to a book of the Bible with no expectations, because that allows you to read the words with a heart open to what God wants to speak. As it turns out, the book of Haggai is about rebuilding the temple where the people of God gathered together and worshipped in the Old Testament. In the 6th century BC, God allowed Jerusalem to be destroyed by the Babylonian army in hopes that would call the people back to God from the idols, immorality and injustice that had become a way of life. The Babylonian army burned the temple to the ground and took the priests and other leaders into exile. A generation later, the people were allowed to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple — and that is when the prophet Haggai shows up on the scene.

It turns out that the people who returned from exile to Jerusalem were not too interested in building anything that was not for their personal use. They built their homes — fancy homes. They prepared their fields, planted crops, even harvested crops, and yet the temple was still simply a pile of rubble. The temple had been the center of their communal life, but they did not see any personal gain from rebuilding it, so they didn’t. Haggai called the people to recognize that rebuilding their center of community and worship needed to be a priority — and the people heard him and responded.

As I was reflecting on the words of Haggai this morning, I realized that there are a lot of parallels between the people of his time and ours. We too are very interested in building up those things that are “mine,” but far too few of us are interested in those things that are “ours.” Whether it is a community center or a playground or a park, those community spaces that help us to develop relationships with one another too often lie in ruins because we would rather use our time and resources for those things that belong to “me.”

As community space disappears, it is no surprise that our communities suffer. We are much less likely to know our neighbors because instead of playing together at the community playground, we have all invested in our personal play structures. We watch our personal TV’s because there is no longer a community theater and swim in our backyard pools rather than joining our neighbors at a community pool. The list of things we once did as a community that we now do on our own is long. We have reached the point that most of our lives are lived as individuals rather than as people who are a part of a community. Many of us have lost the deep relationships that come with community.

My hope for our communities is that we would begin to value community enough that we would be willing to invest in those things that belong to “us.” I hope we will be intentional about being together with one another in our communities. Real relationships in community don’t happen by accident. Instead, they happen when we are the ones who are going to invest in our communities, invite our neighbors over for dinner, set up a time to play at the community playground or meet others at the park. Too often, we wait for someone else to take the initiative to be in a real relationship with us. We need to be the ones making community happen!

At Courtland United Methodist Church, we are renewing our emphasis on how to be the church community together as well as being a part of the broader community in Courtland. Community doesn’t just happen — even with someone you sit next to in a worship service. We are going to be working to strengthen relationships and grow community. I hope you will join us in that work, because our communities need us!

*I could say “every” morning, but honestly it is ”most” mornings — I love starting my day with time alone with God and scripture, but life isn’t neat enough that I make it happen “every” day.

ANDREW BOOK is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or pastor@courtlandumcva.org.