Originally posted at HearTheVoice.com.
Since David and I have started our epic move West, we find ourselves without a “home.” Yes, we still own our house in Tennessee, but we spend so much time away from it that coming back feels like a vacation. When we are in Denver, we long for our idyllic home, friends, family, and church. When we’re in Tennessee, we miss the West’s laid-back culture and amazing restaurants. The grass is always greener wherever we aren’t. Such a longing for what has past is nothing new.
Consider the story of the first round of Jewish exiles returning to Jerusalem in the book of Ezra. About 60 years had passed since the destruction of Solomon’s Temple in 586 BC, so most people’s idealized views of Jerusalem had been created by their parents, who vividly remembered the Judah–Babylonia war that destroyed the city and sent most of the population into exile. Fueled by the idea that they were returning to Jerusalem to rebuild what their parents had lost, the Jewish exiles’ first order of business was rebuilding an altar and the building’s foundations on the ruins of Solomon’s temple and sacrificing an offering to God. Then, “together they sang praises and gave thanks to the Eternal.
Priests and Levites: We praise Him because He is good and because of His continual and loyal love for Israel.
All the people joined in, shouting praises to the Eternal because the foundation of His temple was complete. But in the midst of those praises, the priests, Levites, and tribal leaders who remembered the first temple wept loudly when they saw it because they knew this temple could never be as grand as Solomon’s. There were shouts of joy intermingled with cries of sorrow, and the entire ensemble grew so loud it could be heard a great distance away (Ezra 3:11–13, The Voice).
These people had fulfilled God’s command through Persian Emperor Cyrus to return to Jerusalem and begin rebuilding her (Ezra 1:2–4). Why would anyone “weep loudly when they saw [the new foundations]”? They were anticipating that the new temple wouldn’t be nearly as grand as the one from the “good ole days.” They didn’t trust that the people whom God had commissioned to rebuild His house would do it as well as their ancestors had.
How often do we see conflicts in the modern Church between the “old” and the “new”? As our church built a new facility several years ago, there were heated discussions about pews vs. chairs, hymnals vs. projections, and piano vs. drums. Those wanting to maintain the status quo insisted that the past could not be improved upon; those wanting to change insisted that old habits were holding back the church. So often these kinds of arguments split churches down the middle, tearing God’s family apart. Neither side is ever completely correct.
I am happy to report that our church compromised, and no one left (to my knowledge) over the changes that were made. We unknowingly followed the example set by the exiles, both those who remembered the glory of the past and those who saw nothing but a vision of the future. Notice that the older Jews didn’t stop with their “cries of sorrow” and abandon the project; they were part of the “entire ensemble” that gathered to dedicate the new temple foundations. They showed up. Then they remained involved, and surely their input created a better temple in the coming years than any of the newbies could have built on their own.
No one at that dedication could have known that hundreds of years later, the foundations they had set would be part of Herod’s renovated temple complex, which dwarfed Solomon’s. It may be argued that the new temple was far grander than Solomon’s. Similarly our new church facility is bigger and more useful than the last. Yes, I am nostalgic for the white steeple under which David and I married, but the new building gave us more room to serve more people. Our congregation is twice the size it was in the old building, God’s Kingdom has grown, and 80-year-old Miss Tootie loves the drums. Together the old and the new have built a better home than either could have accomplished alone, and there is no greener grass than that which God planted.
For more about Ezra, check the “Living in Exile” podcast.