Mt. McKinley in Alaska, originally known as Denali, "the Great One." .... "Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; for you are my refuge..." (Ps. 61:2-3)

       "Who do you say that I am?" Jesus asked.  Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."  And Jesus answered, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! ... You are Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church..."  Jesus then began to speak of the rough road ahead. And Peter took him aside and rebuked him... "Get behind me, Satan!" Jesus replied. "You are a stumbling block..."
                                                (Matthew 16:13-23)

May these words of this Peter be like a rock,
not a stumbling block!

"Living in the middle of what we build"

Message preached November 18, 2001
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA

based upon Isaiah 65:17-25

Order of Worship

I still recall something that was said several years ago at the memorial service for one of our beloved members, Carl Stephen. Perhaps some of you remember it also. As part of that worship one of the previous pastors of this congregation, Ralph Detrick, stood and shared something that had always impressed him about Carl.

You see, when Carl and Mary moved out to Harford Co., they bought a farm near Bel Air. With their three young boys they lived in the farmhouse, and on the land surrounding that house Carl built a development of affordable houses. Now, instead of moving away from all those houses, and living where people couldnít so easily stop by, day or night, with a problem or a complaint - as some contractors might - Carl and Mary chose to stay right there. This is what impressed Ralph so much. At the memorial service he said that Carl "lived in the middle of what he built."

And then Ralph went on to make a connection with what we do in "church." The image of Carl as a builder living in the middle of what he built shed some light on what Ralph did as a pastor, he said. A minister also lives in the middle of what he or she builds. I like that way of looking at it, though I might add that since the "ministers" of this congregation are more than the person who is set apart to provide special leadership (like Ralph or myself), this image can be for all of us. After all, as our bulletin says every week, "the people of Long Green Valley Church" are the "ministers." Jesus calls all of us to "live in the middle of what we build."

We may be tempted to see what we do as followers of Jesus as a "day" job, or a "night or weekend" business, or even a "hobby." Furthermore, we may think that "church" is something we do somewhere else, a place we go and build "stuff" - like "community," or "character," or "disciples." Thatís more of a masculine image, I know, this "building" or "constructing." But I think you can carry it over into your own language. We "develop," after all, in a variety of ways.

However, is this "building" we do as believers something we can walk away from at the end of our shift, going home to the safety of our little nest? Thatís sometimes how we do "church," isnít it? "Church," after all, is the building - right? When weíre here, weíre in business. But letís not allow work to follow us home. Home is where we are free to be ourselves... Oops! Did I just imply that weíre not allowed to "be ourselves" at "church?" Hmmm.

Living in the middle of what we build, thatís the kind of life Jesus called us all to live. I believe this way of living is especially relevant following what has happened in the last couple of months. If anything could make us want to hole up in the shelter of our little nest, shying away from the process of "building" whatever it is we are called to build, certainly a terrorist attack, or the threat of anthrax, or an economy in nosedive, or a war would be high on the list. Correct?

One plus from all this bad stuff that has happened is that it has given people pause to ponder what is really important. High on that list would be home and family, and rightly so. However, is home just a refuge from the storm, or is it also a place where you can live in the middle of what you build?

Living in the middle of what we build... Home and family is a "construction zone," you know. Itís hard work, a concept that seems difficult to instill in a young mind. Yes, "home" is where you are "free to be yourself" but, you know, youíve got to live there, in the middle of it all. Indeed, itís nice to think of your bedroom - for instance - as your "sanctuary," but "sanctuary" is not merely a place to which we escape. Sometimes, "sanctuary" is anything but an escape. "Sanctuary," from the perspective of the Bible, is very often where we face into our troubles rather than run away from them.

Speaking of "bedrooms" and "sanctuaries," let me venture briefly into this topic which often causes a great deal of consternation between parents and children. If a bedroom is a "sanctuary," then itís a place where you live in the middle of what you build or, more precisely, where you live in the middle of what God is building. We link "God" and "sanctuary," after all. On the one hand, a bedroom is a "construction zone." Thatís the youth point of view, by the way. The parentís perspective is that it doesnít have to look like a construction zone. After all, every builder knows that at the end of the day youíve got to put away your tools, otherwise youíll lose them... Notice, my parentsí statement was longer than my childrenís. So be it. Iím a parent.

The bigger issue is that "home" and "family" is also a "construction zone." It, likewise, is a "sanctuary," and here we live in the middle - not only of what we are building, but - of what God is building. Yes, we are free to "be ourselves" at home, but that freedom is in the context of living "together." There is the rub. We are living together in the middle of what is being built. We canít exit our relationships, though sometimes thatís what we mean by our desire to "be ourselves." If the way I am living today is getting in the way of our ability to live together in this construction zone, then thatís something weíve got to work on - and "sanctuary" is where God is at work, where we face into our troubles and not run away from them. This, by the way, is also true of that "home" and "family," that "sanctuary" we call "church."

Our calling as followers of Jesus is not to a life of escape, though that is sometimes how we see it. Granted, in the "sanctuary" of Godís loving care we find the "rest" we need, the renewing of our spirits, Godís inner and outer peace. However, "rest," "renewal," and "peace" are Godís construction tools. You see, God himself is living in the middle of what he is building. Isnít that what we just heard the prophet Isaiah say?

In the days when those words were first spoken, people were getting discouraged. Bad things were happening. Folks were seeking to run away from their troubles. One of the places they ran was to Godís sanctuary, the Temple - not a bad place to turn. The problem was, they didnít see this sanctuary as a construction zone - Godís construction zone. They were more concerned with worship as an escape. Oh, they may not have called it that. In fact, they put a great deal of energy into worship, trying to get it right. However, it still was just "running away." They werenít paying attention to the "sanctuary" that they were all supposed to be. You see, Godís construction zone was all of Israel, and not just the Temple. They werenít living as God desired them to live, with justice and righteousness, right where they were. That was their calling, though, to live in the middle of what God was building - to see what was happening, and to take up a hammer and join in.

Now, we can read these words of Isaiah and relegate them to a discussion of the "end times," some future moment when God will bring in a bulldozer and level everything and start all over - creating "new heavens and a new earth" (65:17). Granted, that may be a part of the bigger picture of the Bible. But was that truly the painting that Isaiah brushed upon the canvas of these pages? I believe these are words for living now, especially in light of all that has happened recently, things that may cause us to want to escape.

God is at work in this world. Furthermore, God is living in the middle of what he is building. Do you believe that? Do you believe that God is at work in New York City, that God is living there?... Do you believe that God is at work in Washington D.C., that God is living there?... Do you believe that God is at work in Afghanistan, that God is living there?... Do you believe that God is at work and living right here, right now - in the middle of what he is building?

"I am building something new," says the Lord. "Be glad and rejoice in what I am creating. I, myself, will rejoice and delight in my people. In fact, I am in the process of creating them (you?) as a joy, as a delight." (65:18-19) Thatís what God said through Isaiah. This is a construction zone. God is not, however, some distant contractor who no longer lives in the neighborhood, who has provided the blueprint but has sub-ed out the job. Isnít that how we see things at times. Where is God, we wonder, when bad stuff happens - looking toward the heavens. However, the truth is - God is still in the neighborhood. Always has been. "I am building something new," says the Lord. Do you believe that?

Where the sound of weeping is heard, or the cry of distress, God is there, and another voice rings out, "No more!" (65:19b) Where an infant lives but a few days, or old folks die before their time, God is there, and a voice rings out, "No more!" (65:20a) Thatís what God said through Isaiah. Do you believe it?

Not only that, but God calls his people to build, to plant, to be rooted, to labor, to give birth, and to live in the middle of it all. God doesnít want absentee landlords, part-time believers, folks who dabble at religion or who punch a clock on their faith, escaping to the sanctuary of home and hearth when the day is done. For the truth is, God is at work there, too. God lives in the middle of what he is building, you know. "Sanctuary" - after all - is where you face, with God, into your troubles and get to work. "Sanctuary" is wherever we open our hearts and discover that God is right there smack dab in the middle of it all.

I love this one verse from Isaiah 65, where God says, "before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear" (verse 24). Do you catch what that means? Youíd think with all this construction work going on - you know how noisy it can get - that God would have a hard time hearing. Thatís how we approach prayer sometimes, isnít it, wondering if God can hear. Letís be honest now. We ask, seek, knock, and think that God must be saying, "What?" ... Well, did you hear Isaiah? "While youíre speaking," God says, "Iím listening. Not only that, but my answer is coming even before you call on me." Thatís why we say that prayer is not just talking, itís listening - for God is answering even before we speak.

You see, God is living in the middle of what he is building. Do you believe that?

©2001 Peter L. Haynes

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