This is a sermon that I preached at the 161st anniversary service at First Baptist Church, Owen Sound.
Anniversaries are special events for churches, something that not every tradition understands. An anniversary is a time for us to celebrate the past and to prepare for the future. When my wife and I have an anniversary, we go out for dinner and recap the past year. What worked and what didn’t? Then we look to the future. What are our goals for the coming year? What do we want to see happen? This is good for a marriage and it is just as appropriate for a church. My goal is to challenge you to reflect on what God is doing in your congregation and as much as you will celebrate what has already happened, I hope you will also seek what God will do in the future and how he is already preparing you for that. I will do that through an Old Testament passage, while not an anniversary, it does depict a crucial moment in the Jewish people.
The moment we are looking at is the laying of the foundation of the second temple. The Jews had suffered long years of defeat. They had broken walls, a broken city and a broken temple. The temple was not just a building or a place of worship. This was not a church. The temple was the place where God dwelt with his people. This was a time of turmoil. Life, society and even religion was changing. For the first time in many centuries, there was no Davidic king. The Jews lived on the good graces of the Persian king. The Hebrew culture was being mixed with Babylonian and Persian cultures. Judaism was beginning to emerge as they learned to worship without the temple.
We are in a comparable time. Culture is changing rapidly. Morals and expectations are very different from a generation ago. Technology is advancing with no end in sight. Communication is almost limitless. Internet and smart phones have brought our world together into a global village. Our world is far more materialistc. We are very multicultural. This is good but it provides some challenges. Religion in Canada has changed. Church attendance has dropped. Even the C & E Christians are not coming out as often any more. The people we talk to no longer have a Christian vocabulary or foundation.
The rebuilding of the temple was a major turning point. After the Babylonians so arrogantly destroyed it, it was now being rebuilt by a relatively small group of Jews. For the first time in almost a century, biblical worship was to start again. As we would expect, the laying of the foundation provoked a loud response. No one was lukewarm, everyone was passionate. The younger generation had never seen a temple. None of them had ever been able to participate in worship according to Torah. They were seeing God work right before their eyes. The older generation was also loud, but in a different way. They were loud in their weeping. They did not see the new temple as a second chance for God’s people. They saw it as a mockery of what they once had. As children they saw the temple and this was not their temple. Their eyes were in the past rather than toward the future.
Each anniversary a church has is like a mini-temple foundation laying. We dedicate ourselves to another year of service. It is a time to be loud. But what kind of noise will you make? Will your noise be the noise of mourning or the longing for the good old days? The culture is not the same. Church attendance is down. People in our communities are not interested. Young people are staying away. It is a time of weeping and gnashing of teeth. But there is another group of people, unlike the Jews, not defined by age. These people have eyes for what God is doing. They see the opportunities. They see the baptismal tank as half full rather than half empty. Yes people do not know about Jesus but it is better than people so used to him that they are bored. God is bringing people from cultures that previous generations had to spend thousands to reach. Those annoying teens with their nose in their phone may end up reading a Christian blog or website.
Because you have reached ths anniversary, God still has work for you. Your job is to acknowledge the changing landscape, avoid discouragement and reach out to those in your community.