Angi and Ovi are now gone. Joey and Miha are on furlough. Cornelia and Cami have just left to live in Spain and England respectively and Ileana will be gone to Canada to join her husband just as soon as her papers are completed. I think to most of our church, what’s left of the church might look a little like the stumps of trees left here in Valcea after the brutal hand of the mayor’s office’s pruning crews get done with their early spring pruning: a little maimed and pitiful. There’s not a lot for the undiscerning eye to rejoice in. But is that the reality?
Today I opened my Bible to read in Ezra and what I first noticed was the grace of God to stir Cyrus’ heart to release God’s people to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the house of God. I thought, “Wow!” That’s my God! Nothing can stop His great redeeming purposes!” And I continued reading. Then I got to chapter three. I saw that the people have rebuilt the altar, they can offer sacrifices again, and can celebrate the feasts again in their own land. Money has been donated and logs are on their way from Lebanon for the temple work. Now comforted by God’s presence and stirred up by His Spirit, the builders have actually completed the foundation. At this point there is great celebration, as there should be. All the people sing responsively, praising God and giving thanks, singing: “For He is good! For His mercy endures forever toward Israel!”And they are right to rejoice. Without His mercy they would still be back in Babylon, surrounded by idols. That is what they deserved.
But strangely, not everyone is rejoicing. In contrast to the joyful song extolling God’s mercy, their is another competing sound of people weeping like their hearts are going to break. Apparently, this second group of people, who were old enough to remember the former glory of the previous temple, examining the new more modest foundation, failed to see God’s present mercy (far more glorious than any building) and the obvious signs of His unfailing love all around them. All they could see was that it did not look much like the past.
Following the footnote, I turned over to the book of Haggai, chapter 2, which gives another look at the same event. But this time we also see God’s response to the group of weepers. He shows them He knows what they are thinking, saying, “‘Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory? And how do you see it now? In comparison with it, is this not in your eyes as nothing?’ But he goes on with these grace-giving words, that so ministered to my own heart. He says in vs. 4-5: ‘Yet now be strong Zerubbabel,’ says the LORD; ‘and be strong Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; and be strong all you people of the land,’ says the LORD, ‘and work; for I am with you,’ says the LORD of hosts. According to the word that I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt, so my Spirit remains among you; do not fear!'”
“Be strong. Work. Do not fear.” 2,500 years later those are my instructions too here in Valcea. But how? By faith in His present and future grace! For to me also His Word speaks these realities: “I am with you!” And, “According to the word that I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt so my Spirit remains among you.” In those words I find motivation, comfort, food and strength. With those words I can work on, and I can rejoice.