Sermon for Sunday, November 10, 2013

Haggai 2:1-9 ~ “The Best Is Yet To Come!… If only…”

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher

Twitter: @FranklinCircle ~ Blog:

To watch a video of today’s sermon, go online to:

NOTE: I have added the “I See A Church…” illustrations from the service to the bottom of this post, along with the links to read the entire story.  I encourage you to look up the entire story.  They are very interesting!  ~AVH



When Craig and I arrived in Cleveland in 2000 things were still looking very dour.  I recall many of our friends would either ask, “Now, exactly where is it you are moving?” or they would just laugh.  We stood by fiercely defending this new home city of ours, even when statistic after statistic and political scandal after political scandal chided us to think otherwise.  The number one city in terms of poverty, teen pregnancies, and negative self image… City officials in public catfights with county officials, culminating in the contemptible fall from heaven of a County Commissioner and his ensuing trial and incarceration…  All this on top of decades of political and cultural humor focused on rivers ablaze, citywide bankruptcies, mistakes on large bodies of water, and sports teams that became synonymous with losing streaks.  (Okay… some things never seem to change.)

Slide138And yet, whether it was through an indomitable spirit, hard work, government reorganization, inspired imagination, dumb luck, or a combination of some or all of the above, this city has begun to turn around.  We are now at a point where few can publicly doubt that something is different here in Cleveland.  Whether or not we agree it is a renaissance for all or just for some, whether or not it is sustainable for years to come or just a flash in the pan, or whether or not it is the right kind of change or something more morally questionable, there is major agreement that something has happened that makes Cleveland of 2013 a very different place than Cleveland of 1993.

Slide139Likewise, Franklin Circle Christian Church is a very different place than it was in recent decades.  Again, we can debate many aspects of it, but from finances to programs to use of the building to that mystical thing called “spirit,” things are different here in 2013 than they were when I was called to be your pastor in the spring of 2001.  Now are we enjoying the fruits of our former glory, when these buildings were built and the pews were packed?  No, of course not.  Few urban mainline churches are.  But something is palpably different, and by most standards better.  It is into this positive, hopeful environment the New Visioning Team was formed and called to do its strategic planning work, at which it most certainly is busy.

So today, through the gift of the regularly scheduled lectionary readings, we take a moment to hear a fairly direct word from God in the words of the prophet Haggai, to help us think about this moment.

Slide140We know very little about the person who was the prophet Haggai.  What we do know is that the short book that bears his name in the Bible, written about 520 B.C.E., is that it was both a call to restore the temple in Jerusalem destroyed in the Babylonian exile in 586 B.C.E. and a celebration of the temple’s restoration, which seems to be happening as the two chapters of the book unfold.  The chapter prior to the one read today is encouragement for the dispirited, apathetic, and indifferent community to begin work on the dilapidated temple.  It becomes clear in this book that once the exile was over and the leaders returned home, the first order of business they took upon themselves was to fix up the infrastructure of their nation and their own personal properties.  Twenty years later, much of this had happened.  One thing remained, the rebuilding of the temple, and this lagged behind noticeably.  The bedraggled temple had become symbolic that the restoration was not complete and dragged on the spirits of the people.


It dragged on them because it was a honking big venture!  Once they realize the enormity of the project, Haggai felt the need to offer a major shot of inspiration, a kind of “pep talk,” to help them understand the importance of what they are doing.  But more than being simply a “cheerleader,” Haggai offered a theological perspective that helped the community understand the meaning of its major symbol. (1)

Professor Steed Davidson reflects:

The details of the community given in Haggai suggest either an asset the community already possesses or needs to possess.  Shared leadership, collaboration between civic and religious leadership, inclusion in religious decisions, and overcoming of internal differences are aspects vital to the integration and self-identity of the community. (2)

Slide142Those concepts come directly out of the New Visioning Team’s work!  We asked what are the assets (spiritual gifts) the community possesses?  Collaboration between civic and religious leadership becomes clearer in our conversations with community stakeholders.  Overcoming internal differences to help shape the self-identity of the community is what our congregational questionnaire will hopefully help to accomplish as we discern in a tangible way what people honestly think and feel about the future of this church.

As Haggai offered encouragement, he singled out the leaders and the people using the same word in every instance.  Unlike the often repeated “do not fear” of Isaiah (e.g., Isaiah 7:4; 35:4; 40:9 and Haggai 2:5), Haggai says “take courage” (verse 4), echoing Haggai 1:13. Scholar Tim Meadowcroft sees it as “be strong and effective.”(3)  Haggai’s words do more than offer a “build it and they will come” encouragement as seen in the movie Field of Dreams.  Even more than this, Haggai is not offering the forced correlation popularized by the “prosperity gospel” between dedication to God and the guarantee of success.  Instead, Haggai calls the people to acknowledge the centrality of the temple given their past and their future.

Slide143Most compelling for me in all of today’s text is the last line of the scripture selection: “The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts, and in this place I will give prosperity.” (2:9)  It begs the now familiar modern phrase, The best is yet to come!  Haggai is saying to the people of God that God has more and better – MUCH better – things in store for them.  But… certain conditions must be met.  And that is the second most captivating verse, and it comes immediately before the last, “The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lord of hosts.” (2:8)

Slide144Here’s the deal, both then to the people of God recovering from the Babylonian Exile in 520 B.C.E. and Franklin Circle Christian Church in Cleveland, Ohio recovering from decades of urban decay, population shifts, dwindling numbers, deferred building maintenance, and surrounding political/economic/cultural shenanigans: God intends renewal for us greater – though likely very different – far greater than our previous glory but we must always acknowledge the success is not ours but God’s alone.  This means giving up our bragging rights.  This means giving up our pastor praise and worship.  This means giving up thinking that a particular transformational guru, technique or idea or one specific change will be our salvation.  It means that with hard work, careful communication, dedicated & sacrificial giving, imagination, patience, and, most importantly, seeking and acknowledging Slide145God’s presence in our midst, the God who calls us to “take courage,” is the one who is ultimately author of our future glory, master builder of this temple’s restoration, chief artist in this renewed dream.  And this goes for whatever renewal project in which we may be involved, whether it be in our own hearts, our neighborhoods, our church, or our world.

Timothy F. Simpson, Editor Emeritus of the internet blog Political Theology, concludes it so very well:

“Like Haggai, we are having to help our people manage their expectations.  And what he told his people 2500 years ago still bears repeating for us.  It was never about our physical plant.  It was never about our per capita giving.  It was never about the number of people on the rolls.  It was never about the size of the denomination.  It was never about the influence of our religion on the culture or whether the White House took the calls of our leaders.  It was always about the presence of God in our midst, and the sooner that church leaders realize this ourselves, the sooner we can begin to help others live it, too.  For our strivings are producing little but anxiety, both in ourselves and in our people: the harder we work, the less things seem to improve.  The truth is that none of the conventional methods and means in which we have so long invested can help us.  If we are to be prosperous, it will be because of the presence [of God.]  If we are to be safe and secure, it will be because of the presence.  If we are to have a future, it will be because of the presence.” (4)


(1) Haggai 1:15b-2:9, Steed Davidson, Preaching This Week,, 2013.  Found online at:  Steed Davidson is Associate Professor of Old Testament at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkley, CA

(2) Ibid

(3)  Tim Meadowcroft, Haggai (Readings: A New Biblical Commentary; Sheffield Phoenix, 2006), 157.

(4)  “The Politics of Managing Expectations,” Timothy F. Simpson, Political Theology Today, 2013.  Found online at:


I See A Church… #1

The Death of a Church and the Rise of Something New

by Sheri Ellwood

From Sojourners online at


I have spent much time blogging out of frustration with the church, gnashing my teeth over the church’s shortcomings. Some have called this negativity. Some have asked me to be more specific about what I want the church to do. I could not do this before. First, I needed to pinpoint my frustrations and disassemble my previous understanding of church. Out of the rubble of my own disillusionment a vision of something new is beginning to emerge. It is time to share this vision however blurry it may be.


This something new looks like congregations so committed to following Jesus by loving all of God’s children that they will pour over their current budget and activities to see what can be altered to make room for greater service to the poor and the outcast. Such churches might come to the conclusion it is unconscionable to pay for the upkeep of a building for the sake of its use a few times a week.


This is a tension-filled topic. As Bergthal [Mennonite Church] made public their intent to disassemble and ultimately tear down their building, many could not understand. For some, there is such a deep attachment to our church building, we would rather it be turned into a house or a barn or just anything as long as it can be saved. I have read the upcoming generation is not as sentimental when it comes to material things. I think this is a good and necessary movement but is sure to bring some tension. Finally, we must realize the church is not about buildings, but about people.


What this will look like will vary from context to context. In some places I see this meaning a congregation will gather each week wherever the need for service is to be found.  Gathering at a food pantry one week to stock shelves, at Habitat for Humanity House another week to do construction, borrowing space from a school another week to assemble school kits, and so on. In other locales it might mean keeping the building but putting it to better and more complete use: providing office space for non-profit organizations free of charge (free of strings too but that is a topic for another day), sharing the space among several congregations, and other creative uses.




I See A Church… #2

To Stave Off Decline, Churches Attract New Members With Beer

By John Burnett

Found online at:


In downtown Portland, Ore., at the stately old First Christian Church, one Saturday night a month they open the parish hall for an event called Beer & Hymns.


The sign for Beer & Hymns at First Christian Church in downtown Portland, Ore.  There must be 100 people here tonight, most of them young, the kind you rarely see in church on Sunday morning. They’re swigging homemade stout from plastic cups — with a two-beer limit. They’re singing traditional hymns from a projection screen like Be Thou My Vision. And they’re having way too much fun.


Like the crowd at Church-in-a-pub, a lot of folks at Beer & Hymns appear to be refugees from traditional churches.


Between hymns, people can stand up and say anything they want.


The Christian Church Disciples of Christ — a small mainline Protestant denomination — has experienced a steep drop in membership in recent decades. Beer & Hymns is one attempt to attract new people, in this hip, beer-loving city, while keeping a safe distance away from stained-glass windows.


No one is suggesting that Beer & Hymns or Church-in-a-Pub — or any of the dozens of other beer-in-church events that are popping up around the nation — are permanent. They’re transitional experiments.


Amy Piatt is senior pastor at First Christian Church Portland. She’s a sixth-generation Disciple of Christ and the originator of Beer & Hymns. She says in this postmodern age, what it means to attend church is changing.


“It’s probably, in the very near future, not going to be at 10 am on Sunday morning wearing your best shoes and tie or dress,” she says. “It’s going to be something different. I mean, what that is, we are still finding out, we’re still learning together. But it’s still holy, God is still there, and that’s what’s most important.”


To doubters, the Beer & God crowd has this pop quiz. What was the first miracle Jesus performed? Turning water into wine.




I See A Church #3

Bolz-Weber’s liberal, foulmouthed articulation of Christianity speaks to fed-up believers

By Michelle Boorstein in The Washington Post

Found online at:


Nadia Bolz-Weber bounds into the University United Methodist Church sanctuary like a superhero from Planet Alternative Christian. Her 6-foot-1 frame is plastered with tattoos, her arms are sculpted by competitive weightlifting and, to show it all off, this pastor is wearing a tight tank top and jeans.


In her body and her theology, Bolz-Weber represents a new, muscular form of liberal Christianity, one that merges the passion and life-changing fervor of evangelicalism with the commitment to inclusiveness and social justice of mainline Protestantism. She’s a tatted-up, foul-mouthed champion to people sick of being belittled as not Christian enough for the right or too Jesus-y for the left.


Her message: Forget what you’ve been told about the golden rule — God doesn’t love you more if you do good things, or if you believe certain things. God, she argues, offers you grace regardless of who you are or what you do.


Christianity, Bolz-Weber preaches, has nothing to do with rules; it is the process of things constantly dying and then being made new. Those things, she says, might be the alcoholic who emerges into sobriety, some false narrative we have about ourselves, religious institutions that no longer inspire.


“I think God is wanting to be known. And my experience of God wanting to be known is much more in the person who is annoying me at the moment rather than in the sunset,” she says. God is present in these challenging interactions, she says.


At the core of Bolz-Weber’s five-year-old Denver church, the House for All Sinners and Saints, are people who felt hurt by religion — as she did.


Seating is arranged around an unelevated circle, lay people can pick up a card and help run the service, and sermons by Bolz-Weber are usually 12 minutes tops. Singing is all a capella and every service has a creative, congregant-run, interactive program.


“Sometimes I ask myself, why aren’t we at 1,000 people? This church is unbelievable,” said Aram Harotunian, a former evangelical megachurch pastor who goes to House. “For 21 years, I felt I had to keep people in line, and it felt like bondage to me. House has a lot of people burned by religion, and this still holds for me. It’s the only church I can stomach.”