Coins for the Building Fund

A sermon preached at Calvary Presbyterian Church

March 19, 2023

Ezra 2:64-70 and 3:11-13

Intro to Worship:

In scripture, you sometimes get to hear different perspectives of the same story. Today in worship, we’ll hear a story from the Book of Ezra about how the Hebrew people came home from exile in Babylon and rebuilt the Temple and rebuilt their lives back ‘home’ in a home they no longer remembered. 

Here is how the psalmist describes the same event. 

Psalm 126: 

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.

Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.”

3The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.

4Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses in the Negeb.

5May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.

6Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.

As we begin worship this day, let us remember times in our lives when joy grew out of events that started with weeping. 

Breathe in God’s love. Breathe out God’s love for the world. Let us worship in joy. 


The Hebrew people had been carted off to exile in Babylon initially in 586 BCE.  Their temple destroyed by Nebrachadnezzer. Their lives upended. But then Persia had become the dominant power in the Near East in 539 as Babylon’s power waned, and the Persian leader Cyrus allowed them to return home. Some of the Hebrew people stayed in Babylon, because they had been there long enough to build lives and find jobs. It had become home. 

Some went back to Judah. They came home and discovered they had some work to do. Homes needed to be rebuilt. Fields needed clearing. The temple was still in ruins.

It is exhausting to think about what would have faced them after the exile. Many of them going “home” to a home where they’d never lived. They’d only heard about it from their parents and grandparents as they told stories of the good old days around the fire at night.

It is possible that a few of the Israelites remembered the Temple from before exile— remembered the hymns they used to sing, remembered the way the classrooms were overflowing with kids, remembered when everyone who was anyone got all dressed up and went to the Temple each week—but the Temple had been destroyed 66 years previously in 586 BCE. So anyone who had seen the first Temple would have been old when Cyrus sent them home, and they would have been very small kids when the Temple was destroyed.

I don’t begrudge the people who didn’t return, the ones who stayed in Babylon and just made it work, accommodating to the Empire around them.

It makes me appreciate, though, those who did return. It would have been dangerous and exhausting. And how would you keep your anxiety at bay, wondering what you would find when you got there, and not knowing what was going to happen? 

The Hebrew people were also returning to something they no longer remembered. Life in Jerusalem was a very distant memory. Return from exile does not restore the past. It connects a thread from the past to what you are building in the future.

The text tells us that Cyrus didn’t just send them home to rebuild their own homes. But to rebuild God’s home, which was also lying in ruins.

And the people do it. They set aside their own home repair projects and contribute their time and talents to rebuild the Temple. It’s astonishing, really. Because surely all of those people needed money to rebuild their own homes, to restart their small businesses, to plant gardens. 

Their faithfulness to rebuild the Temple is remarkable, especially with the awareness that they had their own personal needs for all that gold and silver. 

As I talked about with the kids this morning, though, when you provide first for the important things in your life, the rest of it takes care of itself. 

Over the years, I’ve heard so many good and faithful people say that they won’t know what they can give to the church until they get to the end of the year. And some of them do give generously at the end of the year. But in my own life and giving, I’ve learned that when I start the year with a plan for generous giving, the money is always there for the rest of what I need too. 

For God is good,
God’s steadfast love endures forever.

The people stopped to praise God when the foundation was laid—not when the construction was completed— when the foundation was laid. They couldn’t see the final product, but there was rejoicing because they trusted God would see the project through. 

For God is good,
God’s steadfast love endures forever.

In Chapter 3, Ezra reports: “And all the people responded with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. 12But many of the priests and Levites and heads of families, old people who had seen the first house on its foundations, wept with a loud voice when they saw this house, though many shouted aloud for joy, 13so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted so loudly that the sound was heard far away.”

The people cried out:

For God is good,
God’s steadfast love endures forever towards Israel.

Some cheered, presumably in hope that things were looking up, and that the future with hope they’d been waiting for might actually arrive. Some cried, because they remembered what had been there before, remembered all that had been lost, remembered those who hadn’t made the journey home.

That’s the pain in going home again. As we celebrate what is new, we remember what is lost.

The aftermath of the windstorm

My grandparents bought a lake cabin in the late 1930s, when my dad was a little kid. The lake is what I think of when I think of “home”. A number of years ago, a horrible wind storm went through Spokane, and a tree fell right across the middle of the cabin. It was total loss.

I remember being grateful that nobody was in the cabin when the tree fell. And I know stuff is just stuff. And I know it was an old cabin, without modern amenities. I know what my parents rebuilt is nicer and more comfortable in every way. And yet. I still grieve the loss of that place, I grieve the loss of the backdrop to so many of my family’s memories. 

I remembered the loss of the cabin when I was reading this passage. There were sounds of weeping from my family as we remembered our lifetimes’ worth of memories in the cabin that is no more. And sounds of weeping because of the construction delays, and cost overrides.

There was also cheering because there is radiant heat in the floor and plumbing that is winterized, and considerably nicer bathrooms.

Ezra reports:
And the people could not distinguish between the sound of the joy and the sound of the weeping.

We have, this month, marked the third anniversary of when Covid shut everything down and changed things so profoundly for us. And it feels a bit like we’re coming out of exile again. We’re back. Mostly. We’re rebuilding relationships. We are remembering how to be together and why it matters so much for us to be together. I think we’re also remembering some of the ways we don’t want to be anymore. We can be intentional about letting go of things that no longer give life so that we can be faithful to who God is calling us to be today. 

It feels like we have some re-building to do too. And I suspect that we would not be able to distinguish between the sound of joy and the sound of weeping if we were to think about the work before us. 

I hope, both in our corporate life at Calvary, but also in our personal lives, in our workplaces, in our community relationships, that we are creating space for people to mourn, to grieve, to celebrate, to find rest, to hold space for whatever it is people need. 

Our Temple, our building, doesn’t need to be rebuilt in the same way the Temple needed rebuilding after exile in Babylon. But we are in a time of rebuilding community and connection and relationship. 

What will we be building into the foundation of this place for a new generation? Which part of our past will be built into the foundation of the future God is dreaming for us.

Are we seeking to repair and build a world for God where all are welcome and safe and provided for? Or a world concerned only with private security and wealth? Are we building only our own lives or are we building a home for God too?

Frederick Buechner wrote:

“the home we long for and belong to is finally where Christ is. I believe that home is Christ’s kingdom, which exists both within us and among us as we wend our prodigal ways through the world in search of it.”

As we move through the season of Lent, drawing ever closer to Easter, may we have grace for each other as we remember it is a busy time, with lots of building projects.

May we have compassion for others as we remember that it can be a painful time, searching through rubble, seeking reminders of days gone by.

I pray that in the midst of it all, we seek to lay a good foundation, for a world where people find the security and shelter of home, and where we lay a solid foundation, so people will know of God’s love for generations to come, and so they will find their way home to Christ, so their hearts may rest in him.



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