Unless the Lord Builds It

grandaddy
My grandfather, Eugene Gaston Banks, Sr., served in the US Coast Guard patrolling the North Atlantic during World War II.

Psalm 127 NRSV

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.

This is definitely true in marriage.

If a couple does not incorporate some of the basic tenets of the Christian faith into their marriage, their attempts to build a happy home will be in vain. Ephesians 5:20 reminds us that mutual submission in marriage should exist: “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

If there is not some mutual sacrifice, self-giving and cooperation in a marriage, then there’s a pretty good chance that the minister who officiated that wedding wasted his or her entire weekend. Randy could have gone to that TCU – Arkansas football game! Howard could have played in that golf tournament!  And we don’t even want to think about what the parents of the couple could have done with all of that money they spent on the wedding!

Furthermore, as a Christian who seeks to be guided and defined by the love of God fully revealed in Christ, here’s the verse from Ephesians that means to most to me: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).

If I do not love Lori with a self-giving, self-expending love that is revealed to us in the outstretched arms of Christ on the cross, then all the effort we put into our marriage is in vain. 

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.

 This also applies to the church.

Like marriage, I believe the church should be built on the foundation of God’s love that was revealed on the cross.

One day, a very wealthy church member approached the new pastor after he preached a sermon on the inclusive love of Christ. He asked: “Pastor, we’re not going to be the kind of church that welcomes and accepts those people, are we?

By “those” people, I am certain he was referring to anyone who does not look like, live like, love like or think like him.

The new pastor answered, “Of course we are going to be that kind of church. For we believe that the love we are to model to others was fully revealed in the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross reaching out to all people.

The wealthy man replied: “I suggest that you do everything in your power to prevent that from happening, or I am going to take my family and my money to another church!”

This story, which by the way is a true story, a very personal story, begs the question: “Can a church practice exclusivity and continue to be a church that the Lord is building?”

I believe the answer has to be “no.” For the inclusivity that is revealed in those outstretched arms of our Lord on the cross is foundational to who we are as the church.

A church that does not love and welcome all people in the name of the Christ who died for all is not a church at all, but is only the worst kind of club. And every member of that club is wasting their time. They worship in vain.

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord guards the city, the guard keeps watch in vain.

I believe this most certainly applies to our nation.

If the Lord is not building our nation, if our security and foundation is not in the Lord, then those who labor for this nation and those who guard this nation do so in vain.

Where this becomes the most serious, of course, is when we consider our veterans, especially our veterans who have not only guarded this nation, but gave their lives for this nation.

At one point during the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington DC, we ran along the scenic Potomac River and what’s called “the Blue Mile.” This is a mile stretch of the marathon where fallen service members are commemorated in photographs along the roadway decorated with American flags.

As I ran the Blue Mile, I tried my best to read each name and their ages when they made the ultimate sacrifice. I did not see an age over 39.

As Americans, we owe it to them to do all that we can do to ensure their lives were not given up in vain.

We also owe it to every veteran who survived but nevertheless sacrificed much in service to our country, to do all that we can to ensure that they did not serve in vain.

In the 1930’s Henry Emerson Fosdick, the pastor of Riverside Church of New York, once talked about the seriousness of the Lord building and shaping this world.He prophetically proclaimed:

For myself, I shall try to stand for Jesus Christ as the interpreter of… life. In this world with its cynicism, its disillusionment, often its disheartenment, how men and women are needed to stand for him with the intellectual, personal, and social implications of his gospel. And it is going to be serious business standing for him in this generation.

Fosdick then tells a story:

It is said that a man once came to [the great artist James Abbott] Whistler, and asked his help in hanging a new and beautiful picture. The man complained that he could not make the picture fit the room, and Whistler, looking over the matter, said, ‘Man, you’re beginning at the wrong end. You can’t make that painting fit the room. You will have to make the room fit the painting.’

Fosdick says:

So when we carry into this modern world the picture of [the] life that Jesus Christ brought, we cannot make it fit the room. Put it over against our private morals, our disintegrating family life, our economic system… it will not fit the room. We must change the room to fit the picture. [And] that is serious business.

It is important to mention that since Fosdick inferred that we the need to renovate of our nation to fit the portrait of Jesus, Christian “Reconstructionists” have sought to rebuild or reconstruct America to fit their personal interpretation of biblical morality. You need to know that I am not talking about doing that. I am not advocating transforming our democracy into some sort of theocracy. And I am certainly not advocating dismantling the First Amendment.

I am talking about building upon that foundation that was laid in 1776 with these powerful words found in our Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Although I do not believe our nation is or was ever intended to be a Christian nation, I believe these words found in our Declaration of Independence, like the words inscribed in the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor…your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” are rooted in and influenced by the love of God revealed in that selfless, inclusive portrait of Jesus hanging on the cross with outstretched arms.

And for me as a Christian, it is this foundation that I believe should be preserved and built upon. This is what it means for the Lord to build the house and guard the city to ensure that the veterans who guarded this nation, did not do so in vain. And more importantly, that those who gave their lives for this nation, did not die in vain.

So, more than anything, what I believe our nation needs today is some Jesus!

I believe that means we must work to ensure that every person, regardless of their race, ethnicity, tax bracket, ability, and religion, is valued equally. That means we must stand against racism, sexism, ableism, anti-Semitism, and Christian White Nationalism. We must speak out against Islamophobia, Xenophobia, trans and homophobia, or else those veterans who served this country did so in vain.

I believe we must work to ensure that every vote counts in our democracy. That means we must fight all tactics of voter suppression, voter intimidation and partisan gerrymandering, or else those veterans who served this country did so vain.

I believe we must work to preserve our fragile freedoms: the freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion as well as freedom from religion, or else those veterans who served this country did so in vain.

I believe we must defend the rights of every person to live, to work, to love and to have equal protection under the law. We must work for affordable healthcare, access to quality education and to fair living wages. We must do more that send our thoughts and prayers in response to the mass shooting epidemic in this nation, or else those veterans who served this country did so in vain.

I believe we must be relentless in the difficult work of peacemaking, of reconciliation, of loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. That means we must stand against tribalism and the politics of vulgarity, vitriol, and violence. We must agree that words do matter, and we must be willing speak up against words that stoke the fires of fear and fan the flames of hate, speak against any word that seeks to divide us rather than unify us. We must work with other nations to end perpetual war and the profiteering from war, or else those veterans who served this country did so in vain.

I believe we must care for our environment, to do what we can to reduce the number of wildfires on the West Coast and the number of hurricanes on the East Coast and the number of earthquakes in Oklahoma, or else those veterans who served this country did so in vain.

I believe we must continuously work for, march for, fight for, and vote for the liberty and justice of all, especially for the most vulnerable among us, or else those veterans who served this country did so in vain.

This building-of-a-more-perfect-union was stated most beautifully in a poem written during the First World War by Canadian physician, Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae. He was inspired to write it on May 3, 1915, after presiding over the funeral of friend and fellow soldier Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, who was killed in action.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place, and in the sky,

The larks, still bravely singing,

Fly, Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead; short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.  Take up our quarrel with the foe!

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high!

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

Let us pray together…     

Dear Lord, please keep our veterans in your care and grant them the peace that they sought to safeguard for others. As we continue honor our veterans, we also pray for peace everywhere. O God, teach your children of every race, creed and faith, in every land, the ways of peace, freedom and equality, so that those who have sacrificed so much for peace and freedom will not have sacrificed in vain. It is in the name of Christ Jesus, the prince of peace we pray, Amen.

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