Building the House of God
For the benefit of the congregation, I’d like to share with you what Tony, Bob and I have been doing with this wonderful Confirmation class these past 8 months. We have been looking at how we can build our lives to be rain barrels for capturing the love and life of God. Using a construction motif, we slowly presented our Christian faith is steps that correspond building a house. Beginning with site selection, and moving into architectural prints, digging and laying a firm foundation, and moving into building the walls, applying siding and roofing, and then laying out the interior walls with final personal design touches, we demonstrated that the building of faith in our lives is a process – not something that just happens. Each meeting we would briefly talk about how each step in building a home relates similarly to our own personal and corporate spiritual journeys.
There was so much more that happened in these weeks together, but the point was to present Christian growth as a process, which is why I selected Romans five for us today as the text. As Anna read for us, Paul describes one part of our Christian walk, the part that relates to our troubles in life, this way:
We also have joy with our troubles, because we know that these troubles produce patience.4 And patience produces character, and character produces hope.5 And this hope will never disappoint us, because God has poured out love to fill our hearts. God gave us love through the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to us.
I love this observation of how one aspect of living leads into the next, and the next, if we follow God’s plan. And to be sure, God’s plan is never to make things easy for us. There is an erroneous and annoying belief among many Christians that following Jesus somehow exempts us from the challenges of living in this culture on this earth. Christians are not exempt from anything – we get sick, our marriages may become challenged or even fail, we may lose our jobs or become injured in an accident. We are not exempt in any way. But the promise to the believer in Jesus is that God is present with us in the midst of these struggles. And better yet, God is doing a work in us.
So our troubles, which come to all humans at one time or another, work in us patience. We learn to wait upon God and to find God’s face in every challenge. And when we do this, our patience brings us character. Our church bookkeeper, Toni Cirino, told us this week at staff that character is the person you are when you are completely alone. Brilliant – and challenging. I was once told that character is the person you are over time. So if you are always calm, and civil, and agreeable, and then one day something happens and you snap and do something wrong, or dangerous or unwise, we call that uncharacteristic and usually, that’s the end of it. Consequences still must be faced, but the true character, and the position that our misguided friend in question will likely return to, is what his or her character actually is. Character, in the biblical sense, is putting on the person of Jesus Christ.
Then these process in growth transition again into hope. Hope – that strange, spiritual aspect that speaks to us beyond what we see or even expect. Hope is to wish for something with expectation of its fulfillment. And Paul says that this hope does not disappoint because of God’s love that floods our hearts. We wish for world peace, for example, because we believe, as people of faith, that God will someday, and I believe with our help, give that peace to all. Peace is consistent with the biblical presentation of Jesus. So our hopes keep us alive when they are part of our actual character, because we find we have tapped into the nature of God.
And so we build our lives to reflect Jesus, just as we build a physical house to reflect our tastes and our vision for where we would like to live.
And that reminds me of the construction story of a company that had lots of ambition, but not much building sense.
So the boss of the company sends two of his workers in a pickup truck drive to a lumberyard for supplies. One of the men walks in the office and says, "We need some four-by-twos."
The clerk asks, "You mean two-by-fours, don't you?"
The guy says, "I'll go check," and goes back to the truck.
He returns and says, "Yeah, I meant two-by-four."
"All right. How long do you need them?"
The guy pauses for a minute and says, "I'd better go check."
After a while, the man returns to the office and says, "Boss says we’re going
to need them for a long time. We're building a house."
On another job with this company, some of the carpenters were working outside an old house a woman had just bought. As the team worked on the outside, the proud, new owner busied herself with indoor cleaning.
She had just finished washing the floor when one of the workmen asked to use the bathroom.
With dismay, the lady looked from his muddy boots to her newly scrubbed floors. "Just a minute," she said, thinking of a quick solution. "I'll put down some newspapers."
"That's all right, lady," said the carpenter. "I'm already housetrained."
Scripture speaks frequently of our lives as buildings, or God as being involved in construction.
In John 14, Jesus says, “1 “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. 2 In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.
Another translation says, “There is plenty of room for you in my Father's (and I would add Mother’s,) home. If that weren't so, would I have told you that I'm on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I'm on my way to get your room ready, I'll come back and get you so you can live where I live.”
This idea of Creator God preparing for us mansions has often transfixed Christians over the ages. God is going to give me a mansion in Heaven. Sounds nice. Perhaps a better word here for mansion is this idea of a room in God’s home. A gathering place for us – for all of us. And where Jesus is, there we will be also.
The psalmist tells us that “Unless the LORD builds the house, they labor in vain who build it” or put in another way, If the LORD doesn't build the house, the builders are working for nothing.
The point here, of course, is that God is taking great interest in how you build your lives. God is lovingly looking upon you continually, and taking joy in the decisions you make that are consistent with the live and nature of Jesus. Just as God supports you through the decisions that are less wise.
And to remind you of this process of building in your lives, your church family would like to present you a rather different Confirmation gift this year. We want each of you to have a hammer, just like this one, to commemorate your decision to be part of the family of God that worships here at Federated Church.
You are all works in progress; just as each of us here today are a work in progress. There is never a place of total achievement in this earthly realm. No one completes the building in this life. It is something that God has set before us, but God does not expect us to become perfect in the task.
Yesterday in this sanctuary, a young man was ordained into ministry. Like you, he went through our Federated Church programs. He went to GROUP and JOY and went on special mission trips and the like. He listened and he thought about God just as you have been doing. He had revelations, and he had doubts. Some things he agreed with, and other times he learned things that were different than how he believed. And then, God put a call on his life, as God does in all of our lives, and the young man heard that his particular call was to become a minister.
Daniel Cooperrider, now the Reverend Daniel Cooperrider, made the same decision that we have presented to you this year. He decided to partner with God to build a relationship. A living, growing, vibrant connection. Daniel associated with God, and from that association came a leading that, for him, led him to train for Christian ministry.
Given the honor of preaching at Daniel’s ordination yesterday, our pastor, Hamilton Throckmorton, delivered the perfect quote to put Daniel’s calling into the ministry. I was so moved by the quote that I asked Hamilton for it so I could share it with you.
Catherine of Siena was born in Siena, Italy in 1347. She decided at age 7 that she was to always be linked with Christ, which later led her to become scholar of the Roman Catholic Church and a theologian. Wisely, Catherine believed “Be who God meant you to be, and you will set the world on fire.”
My young friends, after our year together, I ask you to, “Be who God meant you to be, and you will set the world on fire.” No matter what you do in life, where you go, what joys you create and share, what tragedy you experience, and what temptations you face, if you allow God to have a place in your life, you will not only build your heritage in Christ, you will shake, rattle and roll the world around you.
Too often you hear people my age talking to those your age as the promise and potential of the future. We reserve for you some far off, unspecified day when you will finally be able to come into your own. We say proudly and easily that down the road we are confident that our future will be in good hands.
I say NO to that. No – yours is not to someday, in the future, down the road, finally grow up and make a difference in the world. No. No. That day is now. We cannot wait for tomorrow for you to make a difference. We need you to begin today. And so we present you with this hammer, and we pray that you will let the building begin now. In your lives. In your families. In your schools. In our church. In our community and in the world. Continue what you have begun this year, and build the House of God.
You are wonderful and remarkable and very, very cool. I love each of you very much and thank you for a great years.
Oh yeah. Not to brag. But, in Latin, the word Mark means … hammer. Just saying.