Today the PAYG reading was the start of the very short book of the prophet Haggai:
In the second year of King Darius, on the first day of the sixth month, the word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jozadak,the high priest:
This is what the LORD Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the LORD’s house.’”
Then the word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai: “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?”
Now this is what the LORD Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways.You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.”
This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways.Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,” says the LORD.“You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?” declares the LORD Almighty. “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house.
Haggai 1: 1 - 9 NIV
Usually, and legitimately, these words are understood as relating to the literal, physical 'house of God', i.e. the Temple. The people Haggai addresses have been so busy feathering their own nests that they have allowed the Temple to fall into disrepair - the reference to panelled houses, beloved of the minor prophets, carries with it a sense of opulence. For middle class Christians, who expend most of their resources and buying and furnishing lovely homes, the simple reading may well hold true, especially if the premises in which they meet for worship are in a sorry state of repair, but I don't think that is the only legitimate way to read the text. The reality is that any UK citizen, no matter what their status or income, is in the top 10% of the world's most wealthy - we all effectively have panelled houses - so the simple reading refers to everyone AND there must be other ways of reading.
What if we allow the fact that Hebrew like English uses the word 'house' in two distinct ways - (i) as a dwelling place, a building (ii) as a family or line (e.g. the House of David). What if instead of thinking bricks and mortar, we think relationships? What if we then ask ourselves where our energy goes - if indeed we give any energy at all? Are we so busy garnering material comforts that we fail to build strong relationships? Are we so overwhelmed with work that we neglect those closest to us? Has technology become our master rather than our servant?
I find myself pausing to think in two directions.
Firstly, how much energy do I devote to 'building the house' of which I am, by biology, a part? By this I definitely do not mean reproduction - too late for me now anyway - but quality relationships that will survive the storms of life? I suspect my family is no better and no worse than average, with its own idiosyncrasies and squabbles, but my challenge is to think how I can better contribute to it for the good.
Secondly, how much energy do I devote to 'building the body of Christ' a 'temple of living stones'? What do I set out to achieve in my preaching? How deep are the relationships I have with my folk? Are my pastoral endeavours adequate or even rightly directed? How do I model the kind of inter-dependence that allows a strong 'house' to be built without it becoming exclusive or clique-ish? What is the right balance of spiritual and practical, administrative and devotional? I don't think there are any easy answers, but I do think the questions are important.
So, I guess I need to get away to the metaphorical forest to cut some metaphorical trees and drag them back to be used in panelling a metaphorical house. Anyone lend me a metaphorical axe?!