Live Pure Lives
Sunday school lesson for the week of June 15, 2014
By Beth Barnwell
Lesson Scripture: Haggai 2:10-19
Key Verse: Is the seed yet in the granary – or the vine, the fig tree, or the pomegranate – or has the olive tree not borne fruit? From this day forward, I will bless you. (Haggai 2:19)
Purpose: To understand that God expects us to live faithfully and wants to bless our efforts.
Remember that when Haggai spoke, his words were directed to a small population striving to survive on a very tiny piece of real estate. Jerusalem had been demolished by Babylon, who was then crushed itself, leaving the Jews free to return home. In the sixth century B.C., Haggai was concerned about the people of his day and the community engaging in behavior that was self-destructive. The people wanted the benefits of a relationship with God, but their behavior was at cross-purposes with that goal. They continued to be inwardly focused on “me and mine,” which was totally contradictory to Haggai’s outwardly focus on God and our faithful obedience to Him. In this lesson, Haggai delivers his third speech to the people. I’m sure you’re familiar with the phrase, “third time’s a charm.” According to the Urban Dictionary, this phrase is “used as a means for encouragement, expressing hope that things will work out on the third try.” This lesson deals with the “third try” and the charm and blessing that God desires to bestow upon His people.
In Verses 12-13, Haggai poses two questions to the priests. His first question asks whether or not holiness can be transferred from one thing to another. In other words, if something holy (meat in this instance) touches something that is not considered holy (the other food), does the unholy object become holy. The answer was no. The second question asks if someone who is considered unclean touches something considered holy, does that object become unclean. The answer from the priests was yes. In other words, in sixth century B.C., the transference of “holiness” is not possible, but the transference of defilement is.
Of note, when the Temple and the altar were destroyed, they were rendered in a state of defilement, a state of uncleanness. Haggai’s point in asking the two questions was that, though they did not consider themselves so, the people of Judah were unclean, as were their sacrifices, because the temple and alter were unclean. They knew the temple had been contaminated by unclean things. Yet they ignored the repair and what God expected of them. Because the area was used without proper purification, they rendered themselves impure. As they began to rebuild the temple, they thought this was pleasing to God because they were doing a good thing. They were wishing for better times and aspiring toward that goal. Haggai pointed out that they were not taking the positive steps that would achieve their desired outcome because they lacked the necessary discipline and focus to reach the true goal of living a faithful life. The reality is that their works alone did not please God. He was not interested in their actions. He was interested in the reason for their actions. He wanted their minds, bodies, and souls to be lived out through faith in Him.
As Christians today, we can easily fall into this same thought process thinking that our religious works are pleasing to God. However, we know our actions alone will not get us into heaven. Does our association with the things of God’s church automatically make us pure and righteous Christians? No. There is nothing automatic about the path toward holiness of life and heart. A relationship with God is not earned, but it is given freely. All God asks of us is to live faithfully and give of ourselves entirely. He wants nothing more than to bless us with His goodness and love. What does that mean? What are some of the positive steps that we can take to reach our goal of living faithfully?
In verses 15,18,19, the phrase “from this day forward” is said three times. This day is marked as a very important day because the community listened to what Haggai was saying and realized the need to change. God responded favorably to this first step in the right direction. When the people looked beyond their selfish concerns, God jumped at the chance to reestablish a relationship with the chosen people.
What day or days in your life stand out as important or landmark days? Why? How was God present?
Today’s lesson also has to do with the connection between holiness and our relationship with God. According to Webster, the definition of holiness is: the quality or state of being holy. The definition of holy is: exalted or worthy of complete devotion as one perfect in goodness and righteousness.
Anne Lamott, bestselling author and Christian lay-woman says it this way: “Holiness has most often been revealed to me in the exquisite pun of the first syllable, in holes – in not enough help; in brokenness; a mess. High holy places, with ethereal sounds and stained glass, can massage my illusion of holiness, but in holes and lostness I can pick up the light of small ordinary progress, newly made moments flecked like pepper into the slog and the disruptions.” Lamott finds holiness not in perfection but in brokenness, in the very condition of being needy. Wasn’t it their need for help, and their inability to help themselves, that prompted the Judahites to listen to what God was saying through the prophet Haggai? What do you think about that? Isn’t it often our recognition of our need for help that prompts us to pay attention to what God may be saying in a particular situation?
The key verse in this lesson ends with God’s promise to bless us from this day forward. He doesn’t say the blessings will be immediate. They will come slowly, but surely. Good things will come but require patience, eyes of faith, and perseverance.
I recently had the chance to spend time with a friend that I’ve known for most of my life. She was diagnosed with Code Red Morbid depression. That’s about as bad as it gets. She said she was broken and had a hole in her life that needed to be filled. She is now in the care of wonderful physicians, but it was the care of the Great Physician that has ultimately put her on the road to recovery. She recognized her need for Him and welcomed Him into her entire life. To use Anne Lamott’s words, she is beginning to “pick up the light of small ordinary progress and can experience newly made moments flecked like pepper into the slog and the disruptions.” The hole in her life is slowly, but surely filling. She continues to be patient and her eyes are focused on being faithful.
God is good! All the time!!!
Is there a hole or a brokenness in your life that is just waiting to be filled? What steps need to be taken to begin the “filling” process?
Beth Barnwell is a staff member of the North Georgia Conference, serving as administrative assistant to the director of Congregational Development. She is a long-time Sunday school teacher. Contact Beth at email@example.com.