What happens when a church has to close its doors?
Here’s a figure you likely haven’t heard before — and which you may find surprising: Religious institutions and industries in America contribute about $1.2 trillion a year to the U.S. economy and society. In terms of wealth, that’s more than the value of Apple, Amazon and Google combined.
That figure includes church-run hospitals, church-related colleges, and other institutions birthed by churches and other religious groups. But it also includes local parishes of all sizes across our country, even some that are in the process of closing their doors.
This information is according to a study published in the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion. The study is from a few years ago, but it’s some of the most recent research into the combined financial input of religion into the economy. And we’re not just looking at old news — the facts of religion’s financial contribution to the U.S. economy came to our attention by way of an April 2022 article in The Washington Post.
The article mentioned churches in downtown Washington, D.C., that had closed and had their property purchased by developers for other uses. It also introduced us to the Rev. Amy Butler, who is currently interim senior minister at National City Christian Church in our nation’s capital. Butler realized that when churches close, they often have cash left in their coffers, and she had the idea that such monies could be repurposed to do good in other places in society. She eventually launched a nonprofit called Invested Faith to receive the leftover assets from any religious body that was willing to give them and disburse the funds to projects built on faith and working for social justice.
Naturally, Invested Faith is willing to receive contributions from functioning churches as well, and one of the group’s first efforts passed money given by successful churches to a faith-based organization that connects teenagers with free mental health resources and employs refugees to make and sell bread.
With Invested Faith now in its third year, Butler is working to convince struggling churches to support it with the money they have left.
“From a spiritual and community standpoint, placing assets with Invested Faith would optimally be a shared decision made to celebrate the past witness of a congregation,” Butler says, and to ensure “the work of faith that congregation has held so dear for so long continues” even after “the life of the institution comes to an end.” She sees that as being in line with the resurrection power that is central to Christian belief.
It remains to be seen if Invested Faith will have long-term success in convincing closing churches to spend their remaining assets on new ministries, but the idea seems to be right.
In Haggai’s Time
With that idea in mind, let’s review today’s reading from Haggai. It’s from the time after the Jews had returned to their homeland following the exile in Babylon. The Babylonian army had previously overrun Jerusalem and destroyed the temple, the one King Solomon had built. The returning people had finally constructed a replacement temple under the urging of prophets Haggai and Zechariah, but it was a modest structure when compared to the first one. One of the problems Haggai addresses in this passage is how those who remembered the former temple, with all its majestic appointments, could envision what God could do for them now with only the basic work on the new temple done. This led Haggai to say to the people “Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing?” Yet that was just his setup for his next words, which included God’s promise that the eventual “splendor of this house shall be greater than the former [splendor] and in this place [the Lord] will give prosperity.”
The returnees were obviously at a different point in the life cycle of their house of worship compared to 21st century congregations forced to close their churches. People involved in church building campaigns are typically seeking every dollar they can get to fund their project, and those post-exilic Jews were no different. Those who remembered the opulence of Solomon’s temple wanted to see the glory of this one made to match. And in their minds, the new temple was to be an ongoing edifice serving as a place of worship of the Lord. Indeed, this temple — completed about 516 B.C. — stood nearly 600 years, with a significant upgrade and expansion under Herod the Great. It wasn’t until A.D. 70 that the Romans destroyed it while putting down a Jewish rebellion. Anything of value in the temple at its end presumably went to beef up the emperor’s coffers, not to support social justice projects.
Builders of new churches aren’t likely to think about what to do with any remaining resources at the end of a congregation’s existence, but perhaps they should think about the legacy of what they’ve built. It could all be framed in resurrection language: If/when our church closes, it can rise again with food for the hungry, financial coaching sessions for single mothers and space for affordable housing. Or some new ministry we haven’t even imagined yet.
In Our Time
The reason we’re talking about churches closing is because it’s an increasing phenomenon right now. According to information gathered by Lifeway Research about Protestant churches, about 3,000 new churches were launched in 2019, the most recent year for which figures are available. At the same time, however, we closed about 4,500 churches, most of which were facing dwindling congregations. And those figures were from before the pandemic hit. We don’t yet have complete numbers for how the pandemic affected churches, but current estimators are saying “many” churches are closing. It’s not all doom and gloom, of course, for the Christian faith is not dead. But church closings are a reality, and some of those churches have resources left that can help fund new ministries.
Congregations can be quite intentional about this as they plan what their closing will look like. While passing their remaining funds to organizations like Invested Faith is one option, some closing congregations may want to donate their reserves directly toward a ministry they have long funded, like a camp, a halfway house, a food ministry or the like. Still others may want to use proceeds from the sale of their building to seed a new church.
In the Future
There’s also a challenge for those of us in congregations not facing closure. One idea could be an extended discussion starting with the question: “If our church were to close at some time in the future, in what way will we express our belief that after death (even of a congregation) there is resurrection?” Then we could talk about issues of legacy and even write those plans into a legal document that would be triggered in the event of the church closing. That’s good stewardship.
In some ways, the model for this is the instruction we might write into our will, declaring that when we die, a certain amount of money from our estate should be contributed to a particular charity. We are less likely to think of doing this for a congregation, but we can and often should.
We can imagine that some church members might object to a gift from their closing church that enables a new ministry elsewhere not directly related to their congregation. But giving that way is in the spirit of what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: “But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:3-4).
One of the themes that belongs with the word “resurrection” is that there is a future and followers of Jesus can contribute to it. Legacy gifts affirm that.
We should also remember that a church closure is not necessarily a failure. Some churches facing closure are simply victims of changing demographics. Perhaps an industry that kept their town alive has shut down or moved away. Like individuals, churches have a life cycle, starting with planting and ending with closure. Thanks to legacies, we can still be the spark that ignites a new ministry or provides a new home for an existing one.
All of that is theologically consistent with our faith, which assures us that death is followed by new life. Churches being able to end well is a gift of God, too.
—Stan Purdum and Carl Wilton contributed to this material.
Grim, Brian J. and Grim, Melissa E. “The Socio-economic Contribution of Religion to American Society: An Empirical Analysis,” Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion, Volume 12, 2016, Article 3, www.religjournal.com. Retrieved May 9, 2022.
Iati, Marisa, “How money from dying churches could breathe new life into communities.” The Washington Post, April 15, 2022, www.washingtonpost.com. Retrieved May 9, 2022.
Invested Faith. www.investedfaith.org/. Retrieved May 9, 2022.
“Invested Faith,” Pastor Amy Butler, www.pastoramy.com. Retrieved May 20, 2022.
“More struggling churches close their doors as we enter a post-pandemic reality.” Fox26 News, March 2, 2022, https://kmph.com. Retrieved May 25, 2022.
“New study values faith in America at over one trillion dollars.” Religious Freedom and Business Foundation, September 14, 2016, https://religiousfreedomandbusiness.org. Retrieved May 9, 2022.
“Protestant Church Closures Outpace Openings in U.S.” Lifeway Research, May 25, 2021, https://research.lifeway.com. Retrieved May 25, 2022.
Click here to download a ZIP file of the November-December 2022 issue as Word Docs.
Psalm 145:1-5, 17-21
What Is One Possible Approach to the Text?
God Is Great! The sermon can begin with a quick overview of the psalmist’s grand and verbose assertion of the greatness of God. Then, make a quick left turn to comment on the late, neo-atheist Christopher Hitchens’ book, God Is Not Great (2007), in which a contrary assertion is suggested. Hitchens certainly will not cause any theist to quake, sensing the foundation of their faith shattering. He might, however, cause us to ask, “In what way do we think God is great?” The psalmist rattles of an entire list of attributes. Why not choose three or four of your favorites and discuss them? Explain how these qualities make God so great.
What Does the Text Say?
Psalm 145 expresses awe-inspiring praise to the Lord. Each successive verse of the Hebrew text begins with the next letter of the 22-consonant alphabet. The nun (“n”) verse is missing, but several translations (as NRSV, NIV) add back the missing words to the end of verse 13, from ancient versions (NRSV has “The Lord is faithful in all his words, and gracious in all his deeds”). Multiple themes run through the psalm. Words such as “praise,” “extol,” “bless” (you or your name), “laud,” “celebrate” and “sing aloud” appear in verses 1-4, 7, 10 and 21. Our praise for our majestic God will never come to an end; it is “forever and ever” in verses 1, 2 and 21 and “everlasting” and “throughout all generations” in verse 13 (see also v. 4, where one generation will tell another). We praise God for his kingship (vv. 1, 11-13), name (vv. 1, 2 and 21), greatness/might (vv. 3 and 6), majesty (v. 5), glory and splendor (vv. 5, 11 and 12). God receives praise for his powerful works, mighty acts and deeds (see vv. 4-6 and 10-13. Then verses 14-20 give examples of those powerful deeds and gracious acts of God. God is good to everyone/everything he has made, and all God’s creation responds with praise (vv. 9-10). Especially in verses 7-9, 13 and 17 (as in Exodus 34:6-7a), the Lord is described as gracious, merciful, slow to anger, as well as acting with steadfast/covenant love, compassion, kindness, faithfulness, goodness, righteousness and justice. In the wisdom-like verses 17-20, the Lord looks after godly people who love him and follow his ways, yet he will destroy the wicked. God’s people will meditate on God’s goodness and proclaim and sing about him to others (vv. 4-7).
2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
What Is One Possible Approach to the Text?
Neither Shaken, Nor Stirred. The title is derived from verses 1 and 2: “We beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed.” It is also a nod to Ian Fleming’s character, British Secret Service agent James Bond (007), who prefers his martinis shaken, not stirred. In this case, there are no cocktails to shake, but some Christians who are shaking. The apostle Paul begs the church to be neither shaken nor stirred. Christians in Thessalonica were concerned that judgment day was upon them and that time for repentance was past. They were in danger of losing hope. This sermon, then, need not be about eschatological timelines and scenarios. Instead, note Paul’s pastoral advice: To a people who were shaken and stirred, about to abandon hope, Paul offers hope and encouragement. He notes that God “chose” them (v. 13), God “called” them (v. 14), and God “loved” them (v. 16). If this is true, we most certainly will not be shaken nor stirred. We shall instead be encouraged and ready to continue to do God’s work in the world (v. 17).
What Does the Text Say?
This passage provides vivid evidence that debates about “the coming (παρουσια) of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 1) were extremely divisive in the early church. It is suggested here that someone had forged a letter in Paul’s name to enlist him as a supporter of the view that this “day of the Lord is already here” (v. 2). On its face, the claim seems almost farcical. If Christ’s return was to be like an emperor’s triumphal visit (a customary use of παρουσια) except on a cosmic scale, then how could anyone have missed it? The very fact of this debate, then, makes it clear that some must already have believed that Christ’s return would be a spiritual rather than a material event. In contrast to the position taken in 1 Thessalonians 5:2 that the “day of the Lord” will be as unexpected as “a thief in the night,” here the argument is made that the run-up to Christ’s return will be as unmistakable as the event itself. Jesus would return only after “the lawless one is revealed” by the manner in which he exalts himself to the extent of even enthroning himself in the Jerusalem temple (vv. 3-4). The lectionary (perhaps prudently) skips past the confusing and at points troubling (see especially vv. 11-12) discussion of what is restraining this “lawless one” and thus ultimately Christ’s return itself. All this speculation is in the end something of a diversion from what is genuinely important. God’s purposes are not in the end about judgment but about “salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth” (v. 13). God’s desire is that people “obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 14) rather than be destroyed in judgment at his return.
Luke 20: 27-38
What Is One Possible Approach to the Text?
The Woman Who Had Seven Husbands. No, we’re not talking about Zsa Zsa Gabor: nine marriages, seven divorces and one marriage annulment. Or Elizabeth Taylor — eight marriages (two to one person). Or Martha Raye (seven), Lana Turner (eight), et al. Linda Essex once held the record with 23 monogamous marriages. The situation described in the text is similar to the dilemma posed by some professional athletes whose stellar accomplishments were performed for two or more teams. When inducted into the Hall of Fame, which hat or uniform will he wear? Take Major League Baseball, for example. The following athletes who played for several teams are in baseball’s shrine to excellence at Cooperstown, New York. The number following the name indicates the number of teams for whom they played in their HOF careers. Roberto Alomar, 7; Goose Gossage, 9; Rickey Henderson, 8; Gaylord Perry, 8; and Hoyt Wilhelm, 9. Now, what uniform are they wearing in the Hall of Fame? The question of the Sadducees is similar, and Jesus responds quickly and decisively. First, this age and the age to come are not comparable. Second, in the age to come there is no marriage, so it’s a moot point. Third, death does not exist in the age to come, and finally, the whole issue is sort of irrelevant because those in the next age will be like angels serving God. From here, the sermon can move beyond the text to the rest of Scripture to explain what the Bible tells us about heaven.
What Does the Text Say?
This passage narrates an exchange between Jesus and the Sadducees, who “say there is no resurrection,” the premise for the ensuing dialogue. This is the first and only time in Luke that the Sadducees attempt to engage Jesus. Beyond that, it is worth mentioning that the Sadducees’ extreme example may have been based on Sarah, one of the leading characters found in the Deuterocanonical book of Tobit: “The wicked demon Asmodeus had killed” Sarah’s first seven husbands before she had any children (Tobit 3:7-9). The account begins when the Sadducees came and proposed a hypothetical situation. Suppose a woman marries a man who dies before they have any children. Then, following the law of Moses, she marries his brother, who also dies without leaving an heir. This same scenario repeats itself seven times and finally the woman dies (vv. 28-31). Based on this storyline, the Sadducees asked Jesus, “In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For seven had married her” (v. 32). The Sadducees’ query presupposed Jesus’ faith in the resurrection, which placed him at odds with their understanding about the afterlife. Jesus immediately shifted the discussion away from any consideration of the future resurrection to the present age. He compared “Those who belong to this age” with “Those who are considered worthy of a place in that age” (vv. 34-35). Those who belong to the former group were concerned about this world and with marrying and having children; they were children of this age. The latter group, since they were not preoccupied with such things, “cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection” (v. 36). In other words, they had already been resurrected from the existing moribund world. To establish that the resurrection was not a future, but present reality, Jesus referred to Moses’ encounter with the Lord at the burning bush. It was there that Moses met the Lord, who was and is the God of the living patriarchs (vv. 37-38).
Leader: We ask God not to be with us today, but to help us be where God is today.
People: Let us profess with our mouths the true disciples’ prayer:
Leader: That our families, our church, ourselves would be a part of what God is blessing.
People: It is God’s revelation of divine activities that is our invitation to join in the blessing.
All: Let us keep watch to see where God is working.
Direct us, O Lord, in the decisions that we, the people of this Church, will make. Clear our minds, that we may discern what is your will for us in this time and place. Cleanse our hearts of unworthy sentiments. Free our wills from fear, that we may confidently follow where you lead, regardless of the difficulties. Guard us from error and provide what we need to fulfill what you desire. For the sake of Christ our Lord. Amen.
May the Holy Spirit open God’s Word for you in fresh and amazing ways.
May the same Spirit possess your conscience, convict you of sin, and fit your chastened soul for service to God and humankind.
May the Spirit of the living God use you as witnesses to God’s power and love through the church.
Spirit of the Living God
Draw Us in the Spirit’s Tether
Praise to the Lord, the Almighty
Worship and Praise*
House of the Lord (Wickham)
Sing Wherever I Go (We the Kingdom)
Build Your Kingdom Here (Rend Collective)
*For licensing and permission to reprint or display these songs on screen, go to ccli.com. The worship and praise songs suggested by Homiletics can be found in most cases on Google by using the title as the search term.
on Haggai 1:15b-2:9
The Hebrew root of the prophet Haggai’s name is hgg, which means “to make a pilgrimage.” The goal of every pilgrimage in ancient Judea was Jerusalem’s temple, destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 B.C. It’s almost certainly no coincidence, therefore, that the theme of the book of Haggai, reflected in today’s reading, is the reconstruction of that temple from its ruins and the resumption of Yahwistic worship within its walls.
Although virtually nothing is known about the prophet Haggai as a person, the period in which he worked is dated precisely by the book that bears his name: between mid-August and mid-December in the year 520 B.C. The Jewish people had been released from their captivity in Babylon in 538 B.C. and had begun to trickle back to their Judean homeland. Economic, political, social, agricultural and liturgical recovery was slow and unsteady (1:5-6). The prophet understood this lack of success to be divine displeasure at the misplaced priorities of the returnees, who had seen to their own welfare while deferring work on rebuilding the temple (1:9). Recognizing their error with the help of the prophet’s preaching, the people set about the temple’s reconstruction under the leadership of Zerubbabel, the governor, and Joshua, the high priest (1:12). Three weeks after Haggai’s initial sermon, work began on the Second Temple (1:15a), and that’s the work the prophet sought to encourage in today’s passage.
Zerubbabel, whose name means something such as “Babylonian Seed,” was the political leader of a second group of exiles who returned to Judea shortly before 520 B.C. Joshua, the first person in the OT to be designated “high priest,” oversaw the religious life of the struggling community. Zerubbabel was the grandson of Jehoiachin, the Judean king who enjoyed royal favor in exile (2 Kings 25:27-30), and Joshua was the son of an exiled priest (1 Chronicles 6:15). Together they administered “all the remnant of the people” (1:12, 14), a term found in this form only in Haggai, but a concept found extensively throughout the prophetic writings. In time, as internecine conflict in the postexilic period thwarted attempts to restore the glory of the united kingdom of David and Solomon, the idea of the “righteous remnant” as a subset of faithful Yahwists in the midst of heretical leaders and followers would come increasingly to the theological fore. At the stage of Haggai’s work, the term simply designated the small number of people who returned from exile.
This second address of the prophet to Zerubbabel took place in “the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month” in the second regnal year of Darius I, i.e., October 520 B.C. Anyone who could respond affirmatively to the opening question of Haggai’s address (2:3) would have been at least 73 years old, and not many could have survived to that age under the conditions of destruction, deportation, exile and return.
The prophet acknowledges, in good rhetorical style, that the temple’s present condition is “as nothing” compared to its former glorious state (v. 3). It would indeed take another five years for the Second Temple to be completed, by which time Haggai has vanished from the biblical narrative. The prophet likely didn’t live to see the temple’s completion, only perhaps the reconsecration of a partially completed foundation (2:18-19).
But the prophet’s job is to encourage those who lead and those who labor in the temple’s reconstruction, which he does by assuring them of the divine presence (v. 4). God’s promise to be with the people in their earlier struggle for liberation from bondage in Egypt (see, e.g., Exodus 3:12; 33:14, 16) forms the basis for Haggai’s assurance in the present situation. The exodus from Egypt (rather than, for example, the call of Abraham) functions here, as it does throughout the OT, as the template of divine favor, power and relationship.
The description of the deity as “the Lord of hosts” (v. 4) is the most common compound designation of Israel’s deity. It hearkens back to the earliest strata of Israelite thinking about its God, who was understood to be the leader of both terrestrial and celestial armies (Israel’s warriors as well as the military wing of the “host of heaven”). The term is also royal, insofar as the king was the leader of a royal retinue (the nonmilitary wing of the “host of heaven”) as well as the army. The term appears most frequently in prophetic literature, especially Isaiah, Jeremiah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, but not at all in the Pentateuch. As its variant use in 1 and 2 Samuel indicates, the designation dates from the earliest layers of biblical literature. Its frequent use in Haggai (1:2, 5, 7, 9, 14; 2:4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 23) is a deliberate anchoring of the prophet’s contemporary message in Israel’s most traditional theological language.
The reference to the “spirit” of God in verse 5 denotes divine presence and power. The spirit (or “breath,” or “wind” — all being the same word in Hebrew, ruach) was both a thing’s animating force as well as its essential identity, and the spirit in both of these senses was always understood to be a gift from God. In the current context, the implication is that God’s spirit will be the source of empowerment that will allow the work of rebuilding the temple to be undertaken and completed, much in the sense of God’s spirit allowing certain people in other contexts to perform special service (e.g., Judges 3:10). And although the term should be neither spiritualized nor atomized — classical Hebrew literature was decidedly unitary and concrete in its conceptualizations — its empowering function here is directed against a particular psychological and emotional threat: fear (v. 5). In the absence of external hostile forces, it’s the debilitating power of the returnees’ own fear that needs divine overcoming.
The address concludes (vv. 6-9) with an oracle promising material prosperity such that “[t]he latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former” (v. 9). The silver and gold that shall be shaken from the nations by the deity (v. 6) “is mine, says the Lord of hosts” (v. 8). What sort of natural or military catastrophe the prophet envisions is uncertain, as is the nature of the deity’s ownership of the silver and gold. The prophet may be stating simply that everything in the world belongs to the Lord (as Psalm 50:10 indicates), or he may be referring to the silver and gold stripped from the original temple that was peculiar to the Lord. Whatever its source, the silver and gold worthy of adorning the deity’s dwelling was clearly beyond the reach of the struggling returnees, which is why the deity himself promises to be their provider.
Churches are closing faster than they are opening. But the Christian faith is not dead, and dwindling congregations can leave a legacy that enables new ministries and renews our belief in resurrection.
“Do you have a will?” is among the first questions a financial planner will ask of a new client. Everybody ought to have a will — although not everyone gets around to it, to the consternation of their surviving family.
There are two words in the document’s title: “will” and “testament.” They mean the same thing, legally speaking. The document expresses the deceased’s will as to how property and financial assets are to be distributed. But it’s also a sort of testament, or testimony, to what’s most important to them.
It’s a custom to include in the first sentences of a will something about the deceased’s beliefs. Here’s a contemporary example: “To my survivors: rejoice with me as I declare my completed faith in Jesus Christ my Savior. I commit myself to God’s care, secure in God’s love for me and trusting in the salvation purchased for me through Jesus Christ’s saving death. I leave those who survive me the comfort of knowing that I have died in this faith, depending by grace on God’s promise of eternal life.”
Adding such language to a will is not of course a legal requirement, but it does flesh out the meaning of the word “testament” in a very personal way. “Testament” comes from the Latin testari, to testify. That’s why our Christian Scriptures are called the New Testament: they express the deepest convictions of those who wrote those biblical books.
How we use our money and property — both in this life and after our death — bears testimony to our most heartfelt beliefs.
If that’s true for us as individuals, it’s even more true for congregations that are closing, as decisions are made about how church assets are distributed.
What does your church do with the communion elements of bread and wine after the worship service ends?
Some churches have strict instructions about this. Episcopal and Roman Catholic churches, for example, generally require that leftover communion wafers be reserved for future use, and that leftover wine be consumed. But what of the water used to wash chalices, patens and other communion vessels? Some Roman Catholic and Episcopal church buildings contain a special drain called a sacrarium, into which sacred wash water may be poured after use. The drain connects to a pipe that goes not into the sewers, but directly into the ground.
Other churches have very different traditions. Leftover communion bread, in some congregations, is given to the church’s children to eat during coffee hour. Or it’s spread on the grass outside to nourish the birds. Or maybe it goes to the soup kitchen to become salad croutons.
How we dispose of leftovers — from the communion table or even from our own dinner tables at home — says something about what we believe.
Andrew Carnegie — the steel baron who spent the first half of his life accumulating fabulous wealth and the second half giving most of it away — famously said, “The man who dies thus rich dies disgraced” (“Wealth,” North American Review, June 1889, 664).
Carnegie’s words have taken on new meaning for philanthropists like Wall Street investment whiz Warren Buffett and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, who have encouraged other very wealthy people to share their leftovers with the needy — as reported in this 2019 article:
“Ten years ago — in May 2009 — billionaire philanthropists Bill Gates and Warren Buffett held a private dinner meeting with fellow billionaires in New York City. Oprah reportedly attended, as did David Rockefeller and Michael Bloomberg.
A year later, they revealed what the meeting had been about: Gates and Buffett had been consulting their fellow ultra-rich on philanthropy, and how to get them to do more of it.
In 2010, the two of them launched a campaign that they hoped would change philanthropy: the Giving Pledge. The idea was to persuade their fellow billionaires to pledge at least 50 percent of their wealth to charity. …
But somehow, it all feels a little disappointing. Despite their commitment to give at least half of their fortunes away, Gates and Buffett are both richer than when they started.”
—Kelsey Piper, “The Giving Pledge, the campaign to change billionaire philanthropy, explained,” Vox.com, July 10, 2019.
Retrieved June 9, 2022.
We have a word for unexpected good fortune: windfall.
It’s an agricultural image, from the world of fruit-growing. In orchards, the fruit matures on the trees until it’s ready for picking. Then, armies of farm workers descend on the fruit groves with ladders and bushel baskets. Some pieces of fruit they harvest immediately. Others they leave on the tree to ripen a while longer.
But what if a windstorm blows through the orchard a few days before harvest-time? Thousands of apples or peaches or pears will end up on the ground, strewn at the foot of the trees.
This is a windfall, and it’s both a crisis and an opportunity. The sudden abundance may be harvested with minimal effort. But there’s so much of it that it has to be gathered up quickly, before it rots on the ground. Often, after a windfall, the fruit is considered fair game for anyone to pick up, because it’s far more than the farmworkers can handle.
Haggai describes a windfall scenario like this, with an image not of fruit trees but of the wealth of nations: “Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendor, says the Lord of hosts” (2:6-7). The “house,” of course, is the Jerusalem temple.
What would it take for God to shake us, so we overcome selfish fears and become generous givers?
What do you think of when you hear the word, “leftovers”? Chances are, you don’t respond to that word with a great deal of enthusiasm. Leftovers are old news, yesterday’s feast, that mysterious food-storage container in the back of the fridge displaying all the colors of the rainbow.
Not at all appetizing.
There are leftovers in the New Testament: in John 6, just after Jesus miraculously feeds the multitudes. “When they were satisfied, [Jesus] told his disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.’ So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets” (6:12-13).
The reaction of the onlookers is anything but revulsion: “When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, ‘This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.’”
Jesus, it seems, is the sort of cook who can make even leftovers appealing!
Show the children your high-school yearbook or a photo album from your childhood. Point out some pictures of yourself and talk about some of the things you did as a young person. Ask them if they think life was better in those days than it is today. Say that some people talk about “the good old days.” Explain that there were some great things about the past, but there were problems, too. List a few. Then tell them that God is always looking to the future and working to make tomorrow even better than today. Explain that the people of Israel were feeling sad about losing their temple, and God said, “take courage … I will fill this house with splendor” (Haggai 2:4, 7). Point out that God was with his people, living among them, and he was working to make the future splendor of the temple even better than the past. Ask the children if God is with us today, working to do something good in the church and in the world. Name some of the things you see God doing and ask them to identify a few as well. Point out that we are never stuck in the past when God is with us, but we are always moving into an even better future.
Start today. Cancel anytime.
Act now and, for just $6.99 a month or $69.95 a year, you’ll receive a full year of this valuable, sermon preparation resource.
Our convenient, continuous-subscription program ensures you'll never miss out on the inspiration you need, when you need it.
You’re never obligated to continue. Naturally, you may cancel at any time for any reason, no questions asked.