This sermon is based on 2 Chronicles 24: 1-16. It was given this past Wednesday in the school chapel. Some of the text may be different than what was actually preached, given that I’m writing it several days after the fact, rather than beforehand.
Some of you asked as you were coming into chapel today what happened to the window. The lovely stained glass panel that’s normally here is missing, and there’s this plain white plastic in its place. It lets in more light, but it’s unexpected and strange.
What happened, of course, is that the window cracked. The windows in this church were designed and constructed around 1900, and this one was old and damaged. So it was removed, carried away to a workshop in Vermont, and in a few weeks it will be brought back and reinstalled, with its glass ready to hold up for another hundred years.
The members of this church have been raising money for a number of years to help pay for this work. They understand that the building doesn’t belong to them, but to their children and to their grandchildren. They wanted to make sure the building and its beautiful windows would hold up as well, and not leave the expense of their repair until things were really falling apart. They wanted to make the repairs while the work was still small, and relatively inexpensive.
Joash is in the same boat. The new King of Israel orders money to be set aside for the repair of the Temple of the Lord. He orders that the tax commanded by Moses be collected for the Temple of God. Of course, no one is interested. The building looks fine. So the king has to insist. He has to require that the building be restored, and it takes some persistence on his part.
But eventually, he manages to persuade the chief priestand his senior advisors to put out a tax collection box on behalf of the temple. The leadership of Israel clearly believes no one will be interested in this project, and they are reluctant to appear foolish before the people for demanding payment of a tax no one wants.
To their astonishment, people fill the box. They fill it over and over again. Every day, the box is emptied, and an accounting is made, and the gold and the silver constantly overflow. Workmen are hired, the laborers are diligent, and the temple is repaired. There’s still money left over, so new furnishings are made for the Temple, and for the temple service, and everyone is mightily pleased. Even then, there’s still money left over, so that the work of the Temple can continue constantly, and great things are achieved.
Today, I make the same appeal to you that Joash made to the people of Israel. I’d like to ask you to rebuild the Temple of the Lord.
No, I don’t want you to contribute to the window repair. I’m not asking for money for the Church. I don’t even want you to go out and raise money for the reconstruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.
Other parts of the Bible tell us that the whole earth is God’s creation. Genesis tells us that the Earth was made in seven days. And the Psalms tell us that the Earth is the Lord’s, and all that is in it. Psalm 148, which we read today, says that the whole world and all that is in it, gives praise to the Lord.
Whether you believe that or not, or whether you read other scriptures — The Koran, the Baghavad-Gita, or the Works and Days of Hesiod, or still others — then you know that the Earth is God’s creation, a work of surpassing beauty and glory.
And we have damaged it.
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Global Climate Change believes with 90% certainty that human activities have caused temperatures to rise faster, and higher, than they have risen in the last 600,000 years. Al Gore’s movie, An Inconvenient Truth, summarizes this story better than I can tell here. Sandra Steingraber, in her recent book Living Downstream, connects rising cancer rates with the appearance of chemicals in our soil and water and air that are harmful to fish, plants and wildlife, and toxic even to us. Sailors report great floating mats of garbage in our seas, styrofoam cups and plastic rings and floating particle board. Oil slicks cloud and clog our rivers and lakes. Even here on our campus, old tin cans and worn rubber tires dot our woodlands.
One of the things about the Temple tax, though, is that everyone puts into it what works for them. For some of you, it’s going to be going to school to be environmental and chemical engineers — designers of systems to clean up polluted places. For others, it’s going to mean composting your biological waste and learning to recycle. For still others, it’s going to mean writing to your favorite soda companies, asking them to package their products in containers that don’t last a hundred thousand times longer than the time it takes to drink them.
It’s going to mean disposing of your broken computers and electronic toys in responsible ways, and it’s going to mean asking hard questions about your parents’ SUV’s gas milage. It’s going to mean asking questions about where your food comes from and what pesticides have been used on it, and whether it’s been genetically modified.
We’re all going to have to learn how to ask about the health and well-being of people on the other side of the planet — the people who assemble our shoes in toxic working conditions, who grow our food on pesticide-soaked fields, who breathe polluted air so that we can have stylish laptops.
The high priests and the king’s ministers are turning their heads away. It’s time for us to insist on the rebuilding of the Lord’s Temple, this island Earth. Like Joash, we have to require thatthe box is put out and the tax — on our time, money, effort and attention — is paid.
First, because it’s right. And second because it will be tremendously profitable. The greatness and the glory and the beauty which will come about, if we treat our planet as the Lord’s Temple should be treated, will be the most splendid and wonderful age which has ever yet been known under the sun. Because we will understand that God means for us to be HERE, in this world, which is even more thoroughly His than it is ours.
Another Psalm says, “a day in the Lord’s Temple is better than a thousand at home.” Therefore I urge you, begin the work of treating the whole world as your home, so that you may have a thousand days in the Lord’s House, for you, and for your children, and for your children’s children.