Jacqueline Rose-Tucker, North Georgia Annual Conference
Our theme in this issue points us to the urgency of “Claiming Who We Are in Christ.” As others have cried out over the centuries, we are living in critical times. The world has been hit by natural disaster after disaster. People are dying in Puerto Rico from drinking contaminated water because, three weeks after the hurricane Maria, they are still without electricity, food, and drinking water. How are we as clergy in general, clergywomen in particular, to respond to the conflict and threats from North Korea, increase in poverty and suffering worldwide, shootings, violence, mistrust of authority, and lack of moral leadership at every level of those who are charged with our care and safety? Perhaps it is a matter of identity. So I ask the question: What’s in a name?
It might be helpful to look at the time of Haggai the prophet to help us make a positive impact in our communities. The prophet Haggai’s name is derived from a word that means “a festival.” Other scripture tells us more about him. Haggai is mentioned twice in Ezra (5:1; 6:14), where he is called “the prophet” and is connected with Zechariah, helping to motivate the people to rebuild the temple. Just to be clear, we start with the first words of Haggai,
In the second year of King Darius, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest. (Hag. 1:1)
The economic conditions were so horrible that the task of rebuilding was dropped and not taken up again for a number of years. Around 522 BC, when Darius (king of Persia) ascended the throne, war broke out in many sections of the empire. After two years of strenuous fighting, peace again reigned. It was at this time that Haggai encouraged the people—under the dual leadership of the governor, Zerubbabel, and the high priest, Joshua—to begin rebuilding. Haggai spoke at a time when the identity of the postexilic community was in jeopardy. The people were a part of a vast empire and could have followed the path of others who had lost their distinctiveness and drifted into the forgotten pages of history. However, God had something better for the Israelites. The way out of the crushing poverty that sapped their communal life was not the neglect of their religious duties but the performance of them.
The people, who had placed economic security and well-being ahead of their obligations to Yahweh, had to reassess and change their values. Haggai speaks during the Feast of Tabernacles, which recalled the wilderness wanderings of Israel when God continuously provided for the people. The feast also celebrated the gourd and vineyard harvest, in remembrance of the fruits of the land for which the conquest, under Joshua’s leadership, was carried out. Haggai aptly addresses the complaints of the people with three rhetorical questions: “Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing?” (2:3).
Some people were grumbling that the community was not economically able to finish the temple in the same decadent style as Solomon, who had used fine woods and gold to decorate it. In verse 4, Haggai three times encourages the leaders and people to be strong. This dialogue is similar to that found in the Lord’s command to Joshua on the eve of the conquest (Josh. 1:6-9). Haggai intentionally reminds the people of lessons from the Feast of Tabernacles.
Israel would have perished in the wilderness or failed in the invasion if God has not been with her. What guaranteed success was not the people’s ability but God’s presence! Similarly he was now present with them to complete their task. They possessed adequate resources, for God was among them. The temple would be rebuilt if only they did not lose the inner drive to complete the task. The question was not one of resources but one of faith.
Haggai concludes his message with an appeal to the future by reminding the people of the previous acts of God: “Once again . . . [the Lord of hosts] will shake the heavens and the earth” (2: 6).
The metaphor of an earthquake is extended to describe another political upheaval similar to when Darius took the throne. In a future shaking of the nations, God will cause the wealth of the nations to flow into the temple so that it might be decorated in a manner more splendid than Solomon’s. The “desire of all nations” means the precious things, or silver and gold, of the nations.
The Kerygma of the this prophetic book falls in the presence of the Lord Almighty, or Yahweh Seba’ot, which is Haggai’s favorite name for God (so much so, he uses it five times in 2:6-9).
In the Epistle to the Hebrews, we find these words:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb. 12:1-2)
The book of Hebrews is one of the least used texts in the church today; however, it is the most highly stylized Greek text in the New Testament, which formulates for the church at Rome an inspirational exhortation to a passionate faith. The original hearers were probably Hellenistic Jews, meaning they were influenced by the Greek culture of their day and very knowledgeable of the Hebrew text. This book quotes more Old Testament passages than does any other New Testament text. Although we are not sure of the writer, he or she is writing to a church that has grown lax in worship attendance and apathetic to the Christian message. They have forgotten the true experience of worship and what it is: To come into the presence of God with awe and gratitude. They sound a lot like the church today.
Is what the writer of Hebrews and the apostle Paul said some two thousand years ago relevant to us today? Indeed! First, we have to decide within ourselves that God truly knows more than we do and trust God completely with our lives. When we accept Christ as Messiah, we become part of what Paul speaks as a justified community that lives its life on the basis of its shared belief in Jesus as Lord. Until the fellowship of faith matches and embodies the religiousness of faith, we must claim the name of Christian! How do we accomplish this? In the words of Stanley Hauerwas:
The cross is not a sign of the church’s quiet, suffering submission to the powers-that-be, but rather the church’s revolutionary participation in the victory of Christ over those powers. The cross is not a symbol for general human suffering and oppression. Rather, the cross is a sign of what happens when one takes God’s account of reality more seriously than Caesar’s. The cross stands as God’s (and our) eternal no to the powers of death, as well as God’s eternal yes to humanity, God’s remarkable determination not to leave us to our own devices. 
What’s in a name? In claiming the name Christian, we must first be authentic in our belief that The Lord Almighty, Yahweh Seba’ot, is with us. From the book, Not Safe for Church, come these poignant words:
We want all of the benefits, but none of the responsibility of being a part of the body of Christ. Christ demands signs of authenticity in our sanctuaries and on our subways; in our Sunday school classrooms and in our church council boardrooms; at home and at work; with the people we love and with the people we hate. To be one called Christian and one called a member of a community of faith demands tangible evidence of the presence of God in the whole of our lives. It’s not enough to say you believe the Gospel of Christ; you must live it.
This is what people of the current age demand and need in the sea of fake news, fake churches, and fake leaders. People are watching us, not only because of the prophet Haggai’s message but because we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses!
What’s in a name? When we claim the name we move from fear to faith—not basing our giving or our living on economics, but understanding that God will cause blessings to flow to us, and we will have more than we need! The earth is shaking, the world is quaking, terrorists abound, political ground is moving: we live by Faith, not Fear, The Lord Almighty is with us—Yahweh Seba’ot. In this we are encouraged.
What’s in a name? When we claim the name, we must be obedient—worship the Lord our God and continue to build God’s body of faith. The Lord Almighty is with us—Yahweh Seba’ot. Become obedient to God; not our will, but thy will be done. The foundation of all Christian obedience is that those in Christ, indwelt by the Spirit, are to offer ourselves to God. In true sacrificial worship the whole self is presented to God.
Finally: What’s in a name! We must claim the name. As we read in Acts 17:28, in Christ, “‘We live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’” We trust that Christ will bring the harvest. I implore you to listen to the words of Paul and accept the promises of God!
But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth. For this purpose he called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers and sisters stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter. Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.” (2 Thess. 2:13-17)
The Lord Almighty Is with Us! Yahweh Seba’ot!
 Eugene Carpenter, Haggai, Asbury Bible Commentary, Wayne McCown, ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992); https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/asbury-bible-commentary/Future-Glory-Temple, accessed November 2017.
 Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon, Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2014), 47.
 F. Douglas Powe Jr. and Jasmine Rose Smothers, Not Safe for Church: Ten Commandments for Reaching New Generations (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015), 21, 22.