The Shaking of the Nations

Thus says the Lord of hosts: Yet once a little while…  and I will shake all nations.  (Haggai 2:6-7)

Late in the 6th century, BC, the Persian king Cyrus allowed exiled Jews to return to Jerusalem to begin to rebuild the temple: the center of Jewish faith and religion that had been destroyed earlier that century.  Cyrus had defeated the Babylonians, who had driven the Jews out of their homeland.  And the prophet Haggai did much to enable the building project on the return to Jerusalem.  He proclaimed that “the latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former,” which is another way of saying that when it comes to the greatness of God, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Throughout the ages the nations had surely been shaken.  The rise of Persian rule came only at the conquest of a powerful Babylonian empire.  And the shaking of the nations would continue for centuries as Alexander the Great brought Greek hegemony to the region, eventually to be followed Roman rule in Jesus’ day.

But all that shaking of the nations was the doing of kings and princes, armies and soldiers.  We could debate what, if anything God had to do with it.

When his own chosen and beloved children were brought home, however, God promised, through his prophet, to shake all nations: not to establish a new world order, but to build and furnish his own temple, so that “the treasures of all nations shall come in;” to make sure that people knew that “the silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lord of hosts.”  It is a divine shakedown with a singular purpose: that God might be glorified.

The temple was, in fact, rebuilt under Cyrus’ rule, though perhaps not with quite the lavishness that Haggai predicted.  Nevertheless, it stood as the center of Jewish faith for 500 years.

In our own day, we are witnesses to the nations literally shaking all around us.  Many of you in the Troop can attest to this personally from your service in Bosnia and Iraq.  You know, better than I, what it means – on the ground – when the nations are shaken.

And once again, as you know well, this shaking of the nations comes at the hands of princes and kings, and presidents, of terrorists, militias, and armies.  Does it matter what the cause of the shaking of the nations is, when you are shoulder to shoulder with your brothers and you can only pray for it to stop?

Next month, you’ll begin your training for your deployment on the Sinai Peninsula.  Your job, as I understand it, is related directly to the shaking of the nations: to preserve and ensure the peace between Egypt and Israel: a watchful presence in a tremulous region prone to quakes that are begun on the ground not by seismic movement but by princes, kings, presidents, armies, militias and terrorists.  There are enough of all of them to go around, are there not?

But you will be there on the Sinai Peninsula to guard the peace in a shaky region.  Your mission is part and parcel of a project to prevent the shaking of the nations by princes, kings, presidents, armies, terrorists and militias.  Because only God has the right to shake all nations, and God only does so for the sake of his own glory: so that the latter splendor of his house should be greater than the former.

And though you may never place a stone on a stone, though you may never, in the course of your duty, carry a brick from here to there, though you may never wield a hammer or a saw, in your watchful mission you are given the opportunity to be builders, with God, of a lasting peace.  

The history of the ages has been a history of mankind’s ever increasing power, and the ages of man are marked by the material we use for our tools and our weapons, as we have gotten more and more adept at shaking the nations around us.

But the shaking of the nations is, in fact, the prerogative of God, which he undertakes for his own glory, because the silver is his and the gold is his, indeed so is the water, the iron ore, the dirt of the hillsides and the sheep that graze there.  He made the olive trees and the sandy beaches, the shade comes from palm trees that are his, and the dates get their sweetness from his sublime sweetness.  The salt and the spices are his.  Fire was first lit by his hand.  Cotton and aloe, cactus and fruit trees are all his.  Even the oil is his.

As you prepare to stand on the threshold of the Holy Land, which is shaky ground, may you do so with God’s blessing.  May you ever remember that all things come from the hand of the God who made you, who loves you, who guides and protects you.  And may your mission be one of the lasting stones that build up a temple of God’s peace in the world, to finally bring an end to all this shaking!

Preached by Fr. Sean Mullen
At Evensong for the Blessing of the First City Troop
28 October 2007
Saint Mark’s Church, Philadelphia

Posted on October 29, 2007 .