In the movie "Leap of Faith" there was a con-man preacher that ran a traveling revival show. In the movie, the semi-truck breaks down in mid-America but despite the break down the show went on. There is a sequence where the trucks move into place and the tent is raised, the people arrive and the high-tech communication from the bus dictates Nightingale's every move; when Nightingale unveils the crucifix that cries, curing people on cue from the command center.
In the Book of Haggai, the people that resided in Jerusalem, like that semi-truck in "Leap of Faith," witnessed the rubble and demise of its Temple. The problem was amplified in Judah and Jerusalem having a very bleak forecast economically. As a result, the existing and returning residents seemed to be more concerned with building their own homes than worrying about the possibility of rebuilding the temple (Haggai 1:4,9). The prophet Haggai's ministry was a mere bump in the road from a longevity standpoint, lasting less than four months during the second year of the reign of the Persian King Darius (Haggai 1:1,15; 2:1,10). Despite Haggai's short time on the scene, however, his prophetic authority had a more lasting impact. Under Darius, some of the Jewish exiles who had been taken away from Jerusalem by the Babylonians nearly 70 years before were now returning home. Darius' royal predecessor Cyrus had previously ordered that the returning exiles not only be supplied with funds to rebuild their temple, but also that the sacred images and temple furniture that had been looted by the Babylonians be returned as well (Ezra 1:2-4; 6:2-5).
While Haggai himself would admit that the building itself wasn't yet much to look at, he would also say that the real point was not how it looked but what God was going to do in and through the new sacred space. Regardless of whether God's people were in temporary dwellings or a temple made of stone, these sacred spaces were vital reminders that God was with them.
For Haggai, the bottom line for a place of worship was not about how it was constructed or how it looked, but who was there. Whether it's a tent, a temple or a truck, the key architectural criterion for sacred space is that it is a place where God's "spirit abides among you" (v. 5).
It's interesting that God would be so adamant with the returning exiles about rebuilding the temple, especially since the central image the original temple was built to house was no longer there.
That meant that in a very real sense this rebuilt temple could never really be like the old one but would instead be something very new and different. In fact, said God, it would be much better (v. 9). The lesson for me is that God's temple is not confined to grandiose structures but in knowing that all of our human activity is to be dedicated to God even if we are in the slums of the Dominican Republic, at the Wal-Mart or in our routine motions of life.
We spend an awful lot of time trying to figure out how to get more people to come to church -- to a defined, shiny and often expensive piece of real estate. We pay a lot for our sacred spaces and feel the pressure to fill the seats. The reality, however, is that no amount of great architecture, high-tech media, parking spaces, carpeting and padded seats will make a place sacred unless God's Spirit dwells within the community that meets there.
Maybe "success" in a church is a lot less about how many people are in the pews on Sunday morning and a lot more about how many people in the community find sacred space within the church's everyday life. This is shown continuously with people identifying themselves as making a clear distinction of religion and spirituality. How many people, for example, come into your church on a weekly basis looking for solace, for a place to pray, perhaps to get some assistance with food or clothing? Maybe you use your church space to help jobless people get connected with work. Maybe you run a preschool for low-income families or host some community organizations that need a place to meet God told Haggai that God would "shake all the nations" so that their "treasure" would come and furnish the new temple the people were to continue building (v. 6-8). Maybe the "treasure" the house that God wants to give our churches will be manifested in all of us where we can encounter God and community in the sanctuary, in the hallway, in the classroom, in the pantry and wherever else God dwells with us.
Follow Reverend William E. Flippin, Jr. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pastorbilljr