Erasmus, the famous Renaissance scholar, was watching with the pope as wagonloads of wealth were brought through the gates of the Vatican. Turning to Erasmus, the pope observed. "No longer can the church say with Peter, 'Silver or gold have I none.'" (The pope was referring to the text of Acts 3:6, when the apostle Peter says to a paralyzed man who was begging: "Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”) Erasmus replied to the Pope, "True. And neither can the church say now to the lame man, 'Take up your bed and walk.'" Erasmus pointed out that the church had exchanged one wealth – the gift of healing the poor – for the gift of wealth and prestige.
The world contains many kinds of silver and gold. Silver and gold represent the best of the best. Only the wealthiest, the powerful, the most influential could use it in architecture, in clothing, in currency exchange. King David engaged in building fundraising for the first temple: exhorts his people that he himself was pledging three thousand talents of gold (one talent of gold would be worth over a million dollars today); and seven thousand talents of silver. The leaders of the people responded to David’s appeal: giving five thousand talents of gold, an additional ten thousand darics of gold, ten thousand talents of silver, but huge amounts of bronze, and iron and precious stones. (1Chron 29). It was a glorious day as all these donations poured in. Tens of thousands of men were needed to perform the many tasks required for the gigantic undertaking. It took King Solomon, David’s son, seven years to finish the work of the temple. It was a work of splendor. Even the floor was covered with gold, not to mention much of the furnishings (1 Kings 6:22-35). However, the glory of the gold was negligible compared to the glory of the Lord in a cloud that filled the temple. So great was that glory that the priests could not work (1 Kings 8:10,11).
It was not to last. Babylon destroyed and conquered Israel. They looted anything of value. Gone went the gold. Gone went the silver. Gone went the bronze and the precious stones. Gone was the linens, the fine woodwork. Anything of value was gone. The rest destroyed. Thousands of people were murdered. People lost everything. Anyone of rank sent into exile.
Our reading today from the book of the Prophet Haggai – one of the shortest books in the Bible – who picks up after all the destruction. The remnant of people were finally permitted to return, but to a town, a temple in rubble. They tried to rebuild but lost the motivation and drive to do so. How could they ever recover? How could they presume to restore the temple to its former beauty? So, no progress had been made for 16 years. Sixteen years the people were paralyzed. Sixty-eight years after being destroyed – and the temple, the heart of the people, their jewel, still lay in ruins. Through Haggai God speaks to the people. God says take courage, God says, not once but three times. Take courage I am with you, God said. I am the same God who promised to go with you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you, God said. Do no fear. God will shake the heavens and earth – all the nations – the silver and gold are mine, God says, and the best days are yet to come. This place will be filled with a greater splendor – it will be filled with prosperity.
The people were being reminded of the kind of God they had. God isn’t wasting time lamenting that incredible work of art. God isn’t boo-hooing over the lost gold floors, the richly embroidered linens. God is pointing forward. All the silver and gold are mine, God says. It will come – because I am going to build it, as I am going to rebuild you, my people. Eventually the people rebounded and the temple was rebuilt.
King Herod, in Jesus’ day, made the temple bigger, more splendid than ever. It took 10,000 men ten years just to build the retaining walls around the Temple Mount. The Holy of Holies was covered in gold; the walls and columns of the other buildings were of white marble; the floors were of marble, its blue tinge giving the impression of a moving sea of water; the curtains were tapestries of blue, white, scarlet and purple thread. Work on the temple went on for 82 years – one of the most amazing building projects of the first century. Sadly, seven years after completion it was destroyed and ransacked by Roman forces. However, a Temple still exists – a temple that cannot be destroyed.
Through Jesus, the cornerstone, we are living stones precious in the sight of God -- and are built up as a spiritual house (1 Pet. 2:4-8). We are living stones, that come together to be a living, breathing temple – in whom the full splendor of God dwells -- where our daily acts of worship, service and love go to build an edifice, greater than any earthly temple, any taj majhal or St. Peter’s basilica. Proverbs reminds us that our wisdom and knowledge are likened to silver and gold (Prov. 3:13-14). Our deeds of goodness and caring are the silver and gold God uses to mold an edifice greater than anything imaginable on earth. Likewise we are children of the resurrection, children of the Lord of the Living, who gives us a body in life and death that is worth more than silver and gold, a spiritual masterpiece.
God is building God’s temple – not in Jerusalem, or Washington DC. Or Stonehenge, or Moscow, or Seoul, but in every living heart. Yours and mine. Right here in this church. Do not fear God reminds us – for I am with you – I abide with you. If our hearts have been crushed, it isn’t over. If our lives have been conquered by sin or evil, we are picked up to begin again. The troubles we face can be overcome by the power of the spirit. God says to us: Be strong and courageous – our hearts, our minds, our lives are made of something precious and irreplaceable. Living silver. Living Gold. Together we build a spiritual edifice that can never be overcome.
You are the treasure, the gold and silver, that God will use to forge new lives, new journeys of faith, a resurrection of new life. To be full of splendor. It is a critical reminder: the treasure God steers us to seek is building the spiritual temple of Jesus, found in helping the lame to walk, feeding the poor. Remember what we are a part of, a living, breathing temple, full of splendor, Splendor in every can we give, every dollar we donate, in every service we offer, every kind work we speak, every frightened hand we hold, every act of sharing to build someone up, every courageous step we take, every fear we conquer, yes that is splendor -- and God’s spirit abides with us. A resurrection of the living. And that is worth more than all the silver and gold in the world. Amen.