Sermon 13 December 2015: “Ezra, digging holes & joy.”

Text: Ezra 1:1-4; 3:1-4, 10-13

In my hometown of Staples, Minnesota, population roughly 3,000, the Spot Cafe has been a mainstay.  Located on the main street of town, it was a favorite of retired folk and business people, for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a cup of coffee.  And because Highway 10 took you through downtown, travelers would also stop, needing a bit to eat.  The Spot Cafe caught your attention because of  the large neon lighted sign that read “Spot Cafe” and had a flashing “spot” of circles that would flash from biggest to smallest.

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Well, like all things – even in small towns – the Spot Cafe changed.  A new highway bypass was built and so the Spot Cafe relocated off of main street and next to the highway bypass.  The owners expanded to their new location, added a few new items on the menu, and had a new decor.  However, in order to keep the locals happy, the familiar “Spot Cafe” sign was retained. I’ve been back a few times and have eaten at the Spot, and while the food is really good – better than I remember it, and better than the locals say too – it seems to have lost a bit of its original charm.  In fact, a lot of the regulars who ate there no longer do, simply because it just doesn’t feel like the Spot Cafe anymore.  “I wish it could go back to where things were before….it just doesn’t feel the same as it did when they were downtown.”

In our text from Ezra today, God’s people are allowed to return home to Jerusalem after 70 years of Babylonian exile.  King Cyrus of Persia not only allows them to return home, but also give the people a special project: rebuilding the temple.  And so it begins…..get the capital campaign started, get the temple built, and all will be right again. The text tells us the people rejoiced.  Yet there were some – elders, priests, and anyone who had been around for awhile – began to weep.  They cried amid the celebration, remembering how the old temple stood, and was destroyed.  Old traditions that meant so much were lost.

I guess my question is: why lament?  The temple was getting to be newer, bigger, and grander.  They were celebrating the laying of the foundation for the new temple, right upon the old one.  Now, wouldn’t that make everyone, especially the old folk and priests, happy?  I mean, people were worshiping God again and they were to embark on a massive church expansion project on the old foundation.  Why lament amid so much rejoicing?  Like the elders and priests of the time, I wonder too if we don’t have a bit of lament when it comes to tradition, the long-held kind.  Even as things get nicer, newer, more capable and more convenient, we lament perhaps, the loss of those long-held traditions that seemed to hold a whole lot for us.  However, we know things change over time….so what then do we do?

I suppose we could dig a hole.

Growing up in my home church Balsamlund Lutheran, I dug a lot of holes.  The men’s club was always doing projects around the grounds…including digging holes for new posts, to check water lines, to install drainage piping, and sometimes, I believed, simply because the old men wanted something to do.  As I got into my teenage years and the men a bit grayer, I suddenly found myself digging a lot of those holes while old men took rests, leaning on their shovels and in my mind, making me do all the work!  But as I look back, I remember them telling me where to dig: they remembered where the water lines were, where to avoid digging because of power lines, they’d give advice on how to dig more efficiently, and they would of course, take their turn digging as well.  To be honest, I loved digging those holes….I loved how my muscles felt afterwards, tired from the labor, but also satisfied that I had done something worthwhile.  Yet even more than that, my satisfaction came from doing something together.  It came from not only working alongside these old men, but also learning stories, learning more about them, and they more about me.  I grew up with those old men, and I’d like to think we grew together……through the act of digging holes.

God’s people came together in a similar way…..the first act as they returned home from exile before anything else was to worship – to rebuild the altar of the Lord and the temple so the people could worship God.  Of course, the elders, and priests, and heads of household who remembered how things were destroyed by the Babylonians prior to being exiled, they lamented that tragic period of the past and what was lost. Yet that lament was overtaken by shouts of joy as the people – both young and old – began to worship the God again.

On this third Sunday of Advent, our question for today is: what in the past has brought both young and old a sense of joy at St. Andrew/Holy Communion?  It could be worship, or maybe you dug some holes together here…..but the joy in those experiences comes from the One who is our Joy – Jesus Christ.  Christ unites both young and old.  Jesus carries both our excitement and lament at the same time and for that, we can be joyful – the fulfillment that comes from the relationship we share with God in God’s only Son Jesus.  The fulfillment of our hope; our expectation; our waiting.  Our Advent.  Amen.

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