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Archive for June 8th, 2015

Sermon Text:

Unless the Lord builds the house,
    those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
    the watchman stays awake in vain.

Psalm 127: 1

We receive periodically the “Liberty Journal”  from Liberty University in Lynchburg (for those not familiar a university founded by the Reverend Jerry Falwell, founder also of the “Moral Majority”:  Liberty is undergoing tremendous growth).  They have architectural plans to build the tallest building in Lynchburg:  “Independence Tower” in which to house their divinity school which  is a school to educate church workers, including pastors.  In the article about Independence Tower, “Standing Tall”, is a statement of Liberty University’s “…commitment to the uniquely American values of individual liberty, limited government, and Judeo-Christian principles.”  I agree that individual liberty and limited government are uniquely American values but not Judeo-Christian principles.  Moses and St. Paul were not Americans.  The Bible does not espouse “uniquely American values”, for this means our great nation lives by the 10 Commandments, and especially the first Table of the Law which all about the love of God and right worship, except the United States does not do so. It is not suppose to by governmental action and that is the uniquely American value. We the people do not want the government to build the Church nor interfere in the free exercise of the Church as it is the law of the land in the 1st Amendment.   I guess such a statement from Liberty, regarding our nation goes with the building of Independence Tower, as in America’s founding but a divinity school is not about independence, but dependence on Him who builds us up from the ground floor, the Cross.  

Adam and Eve bought into the serpent’s lie to “be like God”, which they already were, knowing good and evil, to build Independence Tower and eventually their ancestors would build the first independence tower in the plains of Shinar:  the people of Shinar built Babel to “make a name for ourselves”.  Now I do not want to equate Liberty University with Babel, but even our most sincere efforts for God and country are tainted by our own innate tendency toward idolatry. We must be careful on who does the building of the Church and the nation. Churches and nations still do want to make a name for themselves to secure the good. It is confusing to merge the two towers:  national and churchly.  When the churches do so, the idolatry is self-evident, but as the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians about life here and the life of the world to come, “”building from heaven,” “building from God, not made with hands.” 

“The verse” in the Liturgy is what we sing before the reading of the Gospel which is “Alleluia”, but there are verses appointed for each Sunday, usually a Scripture passage, which can be sung by the congregation or a choir.  The appointed verse for today is Psalm 127: 1a. Psalm 127 is one of the 14 Psalms of Ascent.  Families and extended families sung these Psalms as they went up, ascended to Zion, city on a hill, Jerusalem for the great feast days such as Passover.  Solomon wrote Psalm 127.  Solomon built the first Temple in Jerusalem so he knew about building, yet he knew, unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it build it in vain.  There are three types of building in this short Psalm:  our homes, the House of the Lord and the city, society and culture.  Church, home and nation are three interconnecting orders of creation.  

In today’s Gospel lesson we are told that the multitude is gathered around Jesus in a circle.  What or who is at the center? The Lord is whether confessed or not but here was the multitude gathered around Him and if the Son is there, so is the Father and the Holy Spirit. This is joy as Jesus said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”  What was the multitude doing to do the will of God?  First, foremost and central: hearing Jesus, hearing the Word of God.  He was building them up by His grace and healing for His people. They were not independent but dependent hanging on His every Word proceeding from His mouth, and being freed, dependent yet  independent at the same time from the tyranny of the world, the flesh and the devil. 

What is at the center of the orders of creation, Church, home and nation?  The Lord is…whether acknowledged or not. What does it sound like when the Lord is acknowledged?  We hear it in today’s Gospel.  Jesus’ relatives thought He was crazy and accusations fly like that or Jesus is Satan. Satan does not build but destroys and Jesus was binding that strong man to plunder his stolen house. He calls out Satan from men’s hearts to call us out to Himself.  What does it look like when the Lord is not acknowledged?  Adam thinks he is in the driver’s seat and as we heard in today’s Gospel, it is a curse. Adam thinks he can build a world apart from God. It is our kind of salvation without the Lord.  Life self-contained, as in humanism, and “…it provides for man no resources outside himself.”  Adam thinks he can progress and evolve on his own resources but if the weather turns bad, the sky is falling because there is no trust in the Lord who made Adam  and nature in the first place.  

Who is at the center?  It gets down to the basic crisis of our day:  creed or chaos. We do not want the government to build the Church, by any means, but when government and nation are hostile to the Church, we see the results around us.  We look at the waste of the wrath of our time and see life lived without the Lord in the center, without hope and God in the world (Ephesians). among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind .  The English poet W. B Yeats described our time, and for him it was after the wreckage of the first World War.

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned.
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity 

It is darkness.  If I want to watch life without the Lord, see Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, House of Cards, Walking Dead. “For they eat the bread of wickedness and drink the cup of violence” (Proverbs 4: 17).   It is not that the center cannot hold, it is so many do not want to hold to the center, or even acknowledge the Lord. 

Insisting on doing evil and claiming Jesus does evil is the sin against the Holy Spirit.  “We are waging a war of religion.  Not a civil war between adherents of the same religions, but a life and death struggle between Christian and pagan.”  So wrote Dorothy L.Sayers in 1940 in England, in her essay, “Creed or Chaos?”  Chaos is all around us and has eaten into the very basis of creation, the order of the family.  The center is formed by the Creeds, the Center hearing His Word, praying His Word, teaching and preaching and eating and drinking and washed in His Word. We are baptized, secured by the Lord to eat His Body and drink the Cup of the New Testament in His Blood.  Allt hat’s not crazy, just read the news for crazy.  

The family going up to Jerusalem prayed,

Unless the Lord builds the house,
    those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
    the watchman stays awake in vain.

This is our prayer as well as we ascend the steps here to this upper room.[i]The Lord builds the family, city and Church.  At every step prayer, every step His grace and mercy.   And here’s the truth if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.  On our own, it is chaos. Beloved in the Lord, He has made His own so we labor at our work, in our households and in His House. The Lord builds. Dietrich Bonhoeffer preached it well in Berlin in 1933, in building the Church, and confessing Christ,  as the armies of darkness were again mustering their siren song of human salvation:

 We must confess-he builds. We must proclaim—he builds. We must pray to him-that he may build. We do not know his plan. ‘We cannot see whether he is building or pulling down. It may be that the times which by human standards are times of collapse are for him the great timesof construction. It may be that from a human point of view great times for the church are actually times of demolition. It is a great comfort which Christ gives to his church: you confess, preach, bear witness to me, and I alone will build where it pleases me. Do not meddle in what is my province. Do what is given to you to do well and you have done enough. But do it well. Pay no heed to views and opinions, don’t ask for judgments, don’t always be calculating what will happen, don’t always be on the lookout for another refuge! Let the church remain the church! But church, confess, confess, confess! Christ alone is your Lord, from his grace alone can you live as you are. Christ builds. 

And others will be built into His House.  We are not called to stand tall but to stand fast.  One of the hymn verses I go back to again and again is:

 Lord, keep us steadfast in your Word;
Curb those who by deceit or sword
Would wrest the kingdom from your Son
And bring to nought all he has done.

(Martin Luther)

He  was always and ever will be build by His Word, for His Word, in His Name as by His Name He called us out of darkness into His own most marvelous light and does so day by day, in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

[i] Concordia Lutheran Missions meets in the second floor of the two story rehabbed old Buena Vista fire station.

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