15 December 2019 Rebuilding Cathedrals Martin Baker
Ezra 1:1-4; 3:1-4, 10-13
1:1 In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in order that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, the Lord stirred up the spirit of King Cyrus of Persia so that he sent a herald throughout all his kingdom, and also in a written edict declared: 2 "Thus says King Cyrus of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem in Judah. 3 Any of those among you who are of his people—may their God be with them!—are now permitted to go up to Jerusalem in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem; 4 and let all survivors, in whatever place they reside, be assisted by the people of their place with silver and gold, with goods and with animals, besides freewill offerings for the house of God in Jerusalem."
3:1 When the seventh month came, and the Israelites were in the towns, the people gathered together in Jerusalem. 2 Then Jeshua son of Jozadak, with his fellow priests, and Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel with his kin set out to build the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings on it, as prescribed in the law of Moses the man of God. 3 They set up the altar on its foundation, because they were in dread of the neighboring peoples, and they offered burnt offerings upon it to the Lord, morning and evening. 4 And they kept the festival of booths, as prescribed, and offered the daily burnt offerings by number according to the ordinance, as required for each day.
10 When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments were stationed to praise the Lord with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, according to the directions of King David of Israel; 11 and they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord, "For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel." And all the people responded with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. 12 But many of the priests and Levites and heads of families, old people who had seen the first house on its foundations, wept with a loud voice when they saw this house, though many shouted aloud for joy, 13 so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people's weeping, for the people shouted so loudly that the sound was heard far away.
I want to begin by asking four questions:
Has anyone here seen an old building they have been very fond of, being pulled down?
Is there a building (apart from your home!) that is really important to you. (for me, perhaps, the Auckland Museum or the Civic Theatre)
Or a building you would really miss if it wasn’t there anymore?
Is there any building in New Zealand that, if it was destroyed, you would feel it was destroying some part of your identity? – or would be seen as a national loss?
For many people in Christchurch the Anglican Cathedral was a bit like this. Its destruction after the earthquakes there. Many in the Anglican Church said that they didn’t think they could justify the spending of tens of millions of dollars to have it rebuilt, but a group in the community, many of whom probably had never worshipped in the church, said that it was really important to see the church, rebuilt. And though the Anglican Church finally agreed to build a new cathedral it said that it would be a modern building. More suited to the needs of people and the mission of the church. But The Great Christchurch Building Trust took the church to the High Court saying it doesn’t want a new building built, it wants the old building restored.
It looses the case but finally through mediation an agreement is reached to rebuild the old cathedral.
So in years to come the Cathedral is rebuilt, what will people say? A rebuilt cathedral can’t be the same as the original one. It will be in some way a copy. Will it always remind people of what they had lost? Or will it seem like some sort of compromise. Or will even people of faith feel that it was a misuse of such a huge financial resource. Some people will see it as a victory. Some people will see it as the peak of the restoration for Christchurch. Some people will see it as a huge mistake. A lost opportunity.
We read scripture today. And we get a sense of how complex the rebuilding of a place of worship can be. 12 But many of the priests and Levites and heads of families, old people who had seen the first temple on its foundations, wept with a loud voice when they saw this Temple, though many shouted aloud for joy, 13 so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people's weeping, for the people shouted so loudly that the sound was heard far away.
We have been hearing over these last weeks the voices of Hosea, Jeremiah Isaiah. We look back and everyone recognises how complex things had been. The first temple being destroyed 50 years ago by pagan worshipping Babylonians. Then defeated by Cyrus, not a Jew but a person who worshiped Ahura Mazda. And Ezra tells us that the Lord stirred up the spirit of King Cyrus of Persia so that he sent a herald throughout all his kingdom, and also in a written edict declared: 2 "Thus says King Cyrus of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem in Judah.
There has always been the practise of church’ splitting over various points of doctrine and belief. That this new church will be purer. Better. I’ve spoken before of a road trip our family did some years ago in the southern Unites States. I lost count of how many different churches there were all with the word Baptist in their name. The true Baptist Church. The original Baptist church, the primitive Baptist church, the evangelical Baptist church. The Bible believing Baptist Church. If you go to Korea you will find the same is true of the Presbyterian Church. Each one a split from the previous one. Each one claiming some greater truth or more correct doctrine.
Sometimes these divisions are more or less harmless . But Ezra tells us that the rebuilding of the temple brought tears of joy and shouts of regret. I remember what it used to be like. I remember what we had lost. Or we have future . A new temple.
We recognise with sadness that sometimes the work to build a purer more righteous church comes with it the condemnation of another group of worshippers. And the violence and destruction that has followed.
In our scripture today we have a story of King Cyrus re-establishing the temple in Jerusalem when the Lord stirred up his spirit. It’s a story picked up in several places in our Bible. That the Lord can stir up the spirit of a person who is not like us, to do the Lord’s work or rebuilding of restoration. Isaiah even describes Cyrus as a messiah. Someone God has sent to save the people. Isaiah tells us that the Lord spoke “to his messiah, to Cyrus, whom the Lord took by his right hand to subdue nations before him”
All of scripture was written from the view of there being one God, but also written from a place of smallness. The Hebrew nation - always tiny surrounded by powerful nations with other Gods. The early Christians were surrounded by those who believed in other Gods. But again and again affirmed as Jesus affirmed that God could work and move in the lives of those who were different. Who had worshipped other Gods, who came from different places.
At Christmas in particular we seem to hold things in tension. I was in Briscoe’s last week and they have their standard Christmas music playing. There is Bing Crosby singing, I’m dreaming of a white Christmas and it was 27 degrees in car park. And then straight after Bing we have Bonney M singing ‘a long time ago in Bethlehem so the Holy Bible says. Mary’s Boy Child Jesus Christ was born on Christmas Day. All this swirling around.
Someone after church on Sunday spoke to me that they had a very religious friend who won’t celebrate Christmas because it is not in the Bible. And she’s right - there is no date in the Bible given for the Birth of Jesus. We know there were three gifts but it never says how many wise people brought them , there could have been a dozen for all we know. And the gifts were brought not by kings, but magi people who were much closer in their religious views to Cyrus than they were to the Jews of the day. And we can go on.
Like the very first Christians, like us, we ground our faith in the experience of the risen Saviour. It was so overwhelming the transformation that Jesus brought in their lives that there is little evidence of any specific interest in lining up all the historical details. But the celebration of Jesus birth, described as Immanuel, God with us, and the proclamation that he died and was raised, are the two bookends of our faith.
Arguments about lining up all the historical details around Jesus birth can be a bit like arguing about how Rembrandt held his paint brush. And missing the profound beauty of painting. The danger of losing sight of the most important event in our history over argument about detail.
Jesus is born into this world where we see the tragedy of White Island. And we witness the enormous courage of those who did all they could to save people. Put their own lives at risk for strangers. Born into a world of imperfect families that cause us some real worries but also where families are the most important thing to us. God there in the suffering and tragedy, God there in the courage and kindness.
For most of us, we exist never fully in one state or the other, the sounds of our joyful shouts can never be easily distinguished from the sounds of our weeping. But the bottom line is that in the midst of all this – the great proclamation is that Jesus is saviour. The Good shepherd, assuring us there is always reason to hope and that new life new creation come from even the most unlikely of place. The reality of a child born in an obscure poor little town who is messiah, Christ our lord. As unlikely as it is – we too can come and worship him and he can be part of our lives. AMEN
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