Proper 27C Musings: God of the Bathroom Floor
Theme: God of the Bathroom Floor (or God who is present with us in crises situations)
Scripture: Haggai 1:15b-2:9, Inclusive Bible translation
The Historical Background
The Greek root of crisis means to sift, as in shake out the excesses and leave only what is important.
In today’s story, the Israelites find themselves in crisis. They had been forced by their captors, the Babylonians, to live in a foreign land for upwards of 68 years. Psalm 137 describes this time by saying, “By the waters of Babylon we sat and wept, remembering Zion. On the willows there we hung up our harps. For there our captors taunted us to sing our songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy: ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’ But how could we singing a song of God in a foreign land?”
This psalm paints for us the heartbreak that the Israelites experienced in Babylon, as the stranger, as displaced refugees of war. In exile, they dreamed of returning, telling stories of the glorious Temple that had been destroyed just before they left. Psalm 137 reminds us of this destruction, saying, “Remember, God, what the children of Edom did the day Jerusalem fell, when they said, ‘Tear it down! Tear it down to its foundations!’” In exile, they dreamed of rebuilding, they dreamed of new beginnings, they dreamed of once again having a home.
In 539 BCE, the Israelites returned with high hopes. Yet, when they had finally arrived back in Judah, they found their homes, fields, and Temple in ruins. First thing, the people started rebuilding with their homes, fixing them up super nice until they became so enamored with their own to-do lists that they completely forgot about everything else, the Temple included.
“These people say it is not yet time to rebuild the Temple,” God declares through the prophet Haggai. God asks, “Is this the time for you to live in your paneled houses, when this House lies in ruin? (Haggai 1:2, 3, 4)
Yes, what the people were declaring publicly is that they were not yet ready to rebuild the Temple of God, but what they actually meant is that they were not yet ready to place God at the center of their lives. Then a drought hit and crops failed (Haggai 1:10, 11). The people began to despair, wondering, if they could not even get their homes and fields in order, what else could they hope to accomplish?
Disappointment set in. Resentment set it. Fear set in.
Yes, these were a people in crisis.
Haggai came to them and said, “What are you doing? You have forgotten that which is most important, that which will carry you through: your faith, your God, your Temple.” (Paraphrase of Haggai 1:5-13)
Like a fuzzy dream, the Israelites remembered the times they had dreamed of peace, of glory, of a Temple restored. With fragile new hope, they began to rebuild the Temple again, stone by stone (Paraphrase of Haggai 1:14-15). Yet the thing is that, as they built it, it did not look how they had imagined it would look.[i] They remember the stories that talked about how big the Temple used to be, and how many people used to fill it and how intricate their details were. This Temple was smaller, unfunded and, if they were to be totally honest a bit cockeyed.[ii]
Would this really be a place where God would want to dwell?
They weren’t so sure.
Were they really ready to build this Temple?
Maybe not. Being ready requires something of us. It requires us to have our act together. To show our best selves. To be prepared to live up to the expectations of our friends, our families, our ancestors. In contrasts, the Israelites didn’t have enough money, people or expertise for the project. Who were they to build a Temple on the very spot that Solomon in all his splendor had built his? “Doesn’t it seem like nothing in comparison?” They said to themselves. (Haggai 2:3b)
Crisis had hit and the Israelites began to think that perhaps all it had really revealed was their inadequacies, their failures and their utter unpreparedness. So, they slowed their building.
Haggai the Prophet
Just as the Israelites became convinced they were not ready, Haggai the prophet comes to them and speaks the words of God: Take courage! I am with you as I promised I would be when you came out of Egypt and my Spirit remains among you. Don’t be afraid. A little while from now and I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. I will shake all the nations and the treasures of all the nations will flow in and fill this Temple with glory. The new glory will surpass the old and in this place I will give peace. (paraphrase of Haggai 1:15b-2:9)
When God says that God will shake the heavens and the earth, God is inviting the people to see the bigger picture, the truth that how things are now are not how things will be forever.
Do not be afraid.
My friend reminds me that, in the Bible, “Do not be afraid” is code for: things are about to change. In this case, God is saying, the Temple as you know it will not be replicated but it will be transformed.
Do not be afraid.
Maybe things do not look how you remember or expected.
Yet God is at working transforming the ruins into something beautiful.
And perhaps you do not yet know what to do with the ruins that you bear witness to, but the thing about God is that God comes to us before we ready and invites to begin. God reminds us that we don’t have to have our homes, lives or neighborhoods in order before we can get to work. God shows up right in the midst of our messed up lives and says: Take courage. I am with you.
Do not be afraid.
Haggai reminds us that we do not need to get things right or for that matter do anything or build anything to get God to show up in our midst. God is already present among us, even in our most heartbreaking moment. We can build because our God is a God who comes and meets us before we are ready, before we get things cleaned up, before we restore the Temple to perfection.
Haggai is reminding the people of what is already true – God is here among us. The people don’t need to create a perfect building to lure God to their side. They can hope, they can build, because God is already there in their messiest moment. They can build, and we can build, because our God is a God who meets us right where we are.
God says to us: Take courage. I am with you. Do not be afraid. I will give you peace.
The God of the Bathroom Floor
Just like in the case of the Israelites, God comes and meets us in moment of crises, moments when we are heartbroken, afraid, disappointed, moments when it feels like everything we have ever known has been shaken to its very foundation.
Like the Israelites, we too find ourselves at times in unfamiliar places, where our expectations of others, our communities or ourselves are dashed, and we wonder, what do we do now? Perhaps we too look at our life and wonder why we can’t get it together.
In precisely those moments, God comes to us and says, “Take courage. I am with you. Do not be afraid. I will give you peace.”
That is because our God is a God of the bathroom floor.
I was reminded of this the other week when I was reading Glennon Doyle Melton’s memoir Love Warrior, a story on addiction, parenthood, marriage struggles, infidelity, sobriety and find one’s self. In this memoir, Doyle Melton tells the story of one day – while she was still addicted to binging and purging food, as well as drinking – finding herself on the bathroom floor with a positive pregnancy test.
What would she do?
Doyle Melton tells of sitting on that filthy bathroom floor, with her hands shaking and her dirty pants. She thinks of every reason she would not be a good mother. She says, of the moment, “So many things are true at once: I am empty, alone, addicted – and still invited.”
Invited to change her entire life.
What would she do?
As she wrestles with the invitation, Doyle Melton remembers this beautiful, soft painting of Mary and baby Jesus that she had seen at a church. In this painting, Mary looked upon with these tender eyes of warmth inviting her into relationship. In that painting, Mary had passed out forgiveness, worthiness and grace like it was a free for all. You didn’t have to do anything for it … it was just there … Free for all.
As Doyle Melton, reflects on that phrase “free for all” it occurs to her that grace is truly free for all… free even for her and in that moment, the freeness of that grace washes over her. It is already there. There is nothing she needed to do or achieve to receive it. In that moment, something inside her says yes to the idea that there is God and that God is trying to speak to her, trying to love her and trying to invite her back to life. Yes. She decides to believe in a God who would believe in a person like her.
In that moment, Doyle Melton takes as her Savior the God of the bathroom floor, the God of scandalously low expectations, the God who says to us, in our worst moments, “There you are. I’ve been waiting. Are you ready to make something beautiful with me?”
In that moment, Doyle Melton becomes a mother, a believer and a sober human being.
She says, “I will rise to meet this call.”
Like the Israelites, like Doyle Melton, God says to us: “Take courage. I am with you. Do not be afraid. I will give you peace.” Even in our most difficult moments.
For the God we serve is not just the God of the fancy temples but the God of the cockeyed temples, of the failed crops, and of the times we find ourselves in crisis on the bathroom floor.
For God takes what we have and transforms it, making something beautiful. As Haggai tells the Israelites, the glory of the new Temple will surpass the old.
Do not be afraid.
Take courage. Keep building. Keep going. Even if you are not yet ready.
For God is at work in you making a new creation.
Thanks be to God!
[i] From the lectionary commentary: http://hwallace.unitingchurch.org.au/WebOTcomments/OrdinaryC/PentecostCHaggai1.html
[ii] From the lectionary commentary: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3053
Categories: Lectionary Musings