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Building and rebuilding (March 20, 2022)

Uniform Lesson for March 20, 2022
Scripture passage and lesson focus: Ezra 6:13-22

Sometimes we get to see the completion of a project. That’s what we’re offered in this Sunday’s lesson. After years of prophesying by Haggai and Zechariah; after the administrations of several Persian rulers; following opposition by neighboring governors, searches for royal records and the resistance of many who made the journey and many who stayed behind — the Temple in Jerusalem is restored, rebuilt, redeemed. This is a day of celebration, and a day to reflect — on our own projects and perspectives. What does it mean to complete a project? Or are restoration and rebuilding and redeeming more a journey than a destination?

Project completed

Many a leader has gotten into trouble by declaring an effort complete before it’s finished, or secure in a way that no earthly project can be. Nevertheless, there are moments in Scripture when God’s people celebrate the completion of efforts to which they’ve been called. There’s the building of the tabernacle in the wilderness by Moses and the people (Exodus 40). There’s the building of the first Temple under Solomon’s jurisdiction (1 Kings 6). There’s the collection of the offering for the Church in Jerusalem with the help and the provocation of Paul (1 Corinthians 16).
There are times when God’s people have the satisfaction of seeing good work accomplished as roofs are closed in, parking lots paved and mortgages retired. This week we should celebrate a holy project made good.

However, in Scripture, there’s always another angle on such celebrations. The traveling tabernacle of the wilderness would one day be replaced with a permanent Temple in Jerusalem. That Temple would one day be destroyed by the Babylonians, requiring its restoration under the Persians. The Temple built by Ezra and God’s people, with the help and support of the Persians, would later be destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. So complete was this destruction that, as none other than Jesus prophesied, “not one stone will be left here upon another” (Mark 13:2). As we have interim pastors, so we have interim buildings and projects. Neither our earthly bodies
(2 Corinthians 5:1) or our earthly buildings (Hebrews 11:10) will last forever. The former are made of dust; the latter do not have God as their architect or builder.

Building and rebuilding (reformed and reforming)

Even so, it’s not enough to say that human bodies and buildings and budgets can’t last forever. It’s not even enough to point to future bodies and buildings and cities that are eternal (though this does give us hope!). No, God calls for new projects in order that God’s presence and activity might be recognized and responded to in new settings and in new situations. The tabernacle served its purpose in the wilderness. The Temple served its purpose in Jerusalem — for both Jews and Christians. The projects and programs God calls us to complete must continue to change and adapt so that God’s plans for liberation and redemption meet the needs of God’s people and the nations at any given time. The good news that Jesus goes before us to prepare a place for us
(John 14:2) gives us the courage to make places for God’s worship and God’s service today. As elected officials often get in trouble by declaring a project complete before it’s finished, or secure in a way no earthly project can be, so ministers and elders and congregations fight the tearing down and rebuilding of buildings and programs that have served their purposes. “That’s the place we’ve always worshiped” is no more faithful than the statement “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” We’re a people on the move because we worship a God who’s constantly on the move — thanks be
to God.

The nations

We cannot leave this lesson without one further comment on the role of the nations. It’s very curious that, in these chapters that celebrate the support of the “nations” regarding the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, the “nations” are also linked with “pollutions” with respect to the worship of God’s people this Temple makes possible (v. 21). Perhaps these “nations” are differentiated in Ezra — with Persia being on the “good” side, and Samaria and others being on the “bad.” But it should give us some pause that, in a study of liberation and redemption, one of the primary responses recommended is separation. How can God’s people celebrate the gifts that stream into Jerusalem for the rebuilding of their Temple without also inviting the givers of these gifts to stream in as well? Maybe that’s a lesson for another day, and another meal and another text (“Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God,” Luke 13:29).

For discussion:

When and how will God’s overall project be “complete”?

 

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