Sunday Sermon 7th Nov - If the Lord does not build the house...
The chosen hymns for this week, For the beauty of the earth, and Guide me, O thou great Jehovah can be found below along with a transcription of the sermon for those who prefer to read.
If the Lord does not build the house...
Welcome to our time of reflection for Sunday 7th November.
If I wanted to cause chaos in a classroom all I would have to say is, ’Who are best boys or girls?’
All the boys would shout boys, all the girls would shout girls, and for the rest of the day they would be squabbling about it.
Do you want to know what the Bible says about it?
Well in the Psalm we are looking at today it is obvious, it says, ‘Happy is the man who has many sons.’
So now that we have sorted that out we can move on...or can we?
Sometimes in being so literal, so dogmatic in what we believe we think the Bible says, we miss the true meaning.
And if that can be said of something so irrelevant as ‘who is better, boys or girls?’, then how much more can it be said of really important stuff?
I suspect that most of you have never heard of a man called Erwin McManus.
He is a fascinating man, really thinks outside the box. He created a church called Mosaic that dedicates itself to worship though art in its many forms. A huge percentage of folks that go to his church would regard themselves as atheists. But the church is so attractive to them and touches them so deeply and thoughtfully that they still go regularly to church to seek this God that they are not too sure about.
One story that sums him up and the way he thinks is that he tells this story of his son being scared because he thought there were demons in his cupboard. And his wife told him he had to reassure his son that such things didn’t exist. And Erwin struggled with that because he truly believes that there is a lot of evil in the world, and there are a lot of things out there that people should be scared of. And he didn’t want to tell his son that there was nothing to be scared of, he wanted to tell his son that with God’s strength he would be more frightening than the demons. That with God’s protection the demons would be too scared to leave the cupboard, that was why they were in the cupboard in the first place, hiding in the shadows.
The demons weren’t hiding in the shadows to catch him unawares, they were hiding in the shadows because they were too scared to come out.
Another time his son got it in his head that he could fly and was on the roof of his house, his wife tried to tell him to talk his son down. Instead Erwin wanted his son to jump into his arms, only in jumping would his son realise how dangerous it was, and if he was going to do it anyway, better for him to do it while his parents could make sure it was as safe as possible rather than do it behind their back. I have it in my head that the end result of that was his son broke his arm.
Erwin is the type of man I think every child would love as a father, the type of husband that would drive every wife insane.
Anyway Erwin was at a major conference speaking, huge conference with over 20,000 folk there, and millions watching worldwide.
And he spoke on Solomon and especially in Ecclesiastes where Solomon says, ‘There is no new thing under the sun.’ And Erwin said that was just wrong.
The conference refused to show that video to anyone, they changed all the advertising of the conference to deny that he had even been there. They refused to have any videos of his talk shown afterwards. Because to them if the Bible says there is nothing new under the sun, then there is nothing new under the sun, the Bible is inerrant and cannot be wrong.
The man was a heretic in their eyes.
Even though Jesus says that in him God is doing a new thing.
Why do I tell you this?
Because in today’s passage we have a very important message that we need to hear.
And I don’t want you distracted by something that is not that important.
So the unimportant thing.
‘Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a real blessing. The sons a man has when he is young are like arrows in a soldier’s hand.
Happy is the man who has many such arrows.
He will never be defeated when he meets his enemies in a place of judgement.’
Context is everything.
Solomon is thought to have written this Psalm.
His context is that everything revolves round protecting his throne.
How does he do this?
With lots of loyal leaders who command his armies.
If his army is better than another army trying to invade, and if that army is led by commanders that are totally loyal to him when in the field of battle...then life is good. And if those commanders are his sons then they will be very loyal.
This is a Psalm saying that we should have lots of sons because we never know when we will need to fight off our neighbour.
I’m not too sure that is a message we should be following.
But then you knew that.
Life is far more complicated than this Psalm suggests.
Yes, children can be a blessing, but they can also be a great burden.
When I first came to Alva people would ask me how many children I have.
I would always say it depends how you count them.
Biologically I have three, but my bank balance says I have five.
According to the last census the most common family make up is mum, children and step father.
Life is more complicated than this simple Psalm would suggest.
And what of those who can’t have children?
What of those who are estranged from their children?
Where is the blessing there?
Fortunately the start of this Psalm gives us a truth that we always need to hear.
If the Lord does not build the house, the work of the builders is useless;
If the Lord does not protect the city, it is useless for the sentries to stand guard.
There is a warning here that we need to be reminded of.
A truth that we forget a lot, and we forget at our peril.
And here is the truth, or rather here is the question that reveals our individual truth...What is the centre of our lives?
The thing about Solomon was that the centre of Solomon’s life was Solomon’s happiness. That’s why he had 700 wives and 300 concubines.
Solomon’s life is summed up by his palace, a palace that was just a tiny bit bigger than the Temple. Yes, God was important, but his life had to be just a wee bit more important.
And if you have all that stuff then you need to protect all that stuff.
Because if you have such a great life at the expense of other people, then there is sure to be some other people that want to take your stuff from you.
First of all you end up working really hard to keep the value of all that stuff.
And Solomon sees that.
It is useless to work so hard for a living, getting up early and going to bed late.
For the Lord provides for those he loves, while they are asleep.
We can see that Solomon is fed up with all the hard work it takes to keep all his stuff.
And if he is working that hard to keep his stuff that is precious time that he can’t be enjoying his stuff.
He sees the truth of sleep.
There is that time when we are completely vulnerable, and yet we go to sleep at night and we wake up in the morning. God has watched over us, the world hasn’t fallen apart because we weren’t there to keep it in place.
Maybe that time of rest is a reminder that if we can trust a bit more in God, we can stress a bit less.
But then Solomon, being Solomon, has to spoil it all by trying to take control of the situation again.
If only he can have lots and lots of loyal sons who will protect him and his kingdom.
And the truth is that he did have lots and lots of sons, and as soon as he died his kingdom split in two.
And it split because it was a kingdom built on power and not on God.
We might not have a great kingdom, but we have a kingdom.
We might not have great wealth, but we have wealth.
We might not have as much to lose as Solomon, but we do have stuff we are afraid we might lose.
Like this building.
After the New Year, like all churches in the Church of Scotland, we will be trying to finalise a presbytery plan where churches are under threat of closing.
I would suggest that this is a good thing to reflect upon, it may not feel like a good thing, but it is.
Because it forces us to ask why we should be open as a church building?
This is a house, but what have we built it on?
In the past it may have been like Solomon’s empire, built on power; they can’t close us because we have worked hard to make enough money to keep a minister.
Now it may be based on fear; I hope they don’t close us down, other churches don’t have as many go on a Sunday.
The truth that matters is the truth of the Psalm, ‘If the Lord does not build the house...’
If our church, our community, is to exist, it should only exist because it is built on God’s love, God’s care for others, and God’s deep concern for all those in the world.
If our church, our community, is to exist, it should only exist because it is built on God’s
generosity of spirit reflected within us.
And if that is true of our church, how much truer is it of our lives.
COVID and all the ripples of COVID have created within our society a deep selfishness, a deep distrust of others.
We need to think of ourselves first because everyone else is.
We need to buy up as much toilet roll as possible because if we don’t then others will and then what will we do?
We need to cut ourselves off from others because they are cesspits of disease that can kill us.
If the foundation of our life is a fear of others...we will find no contentment.
If the foundation of our life is a suspicion of others...then we will find no security.
If the foundation of our life is a distrust of others...then we will find no peace.
If the Lord builds the house...then we have trust, we have hope, we have peace.
Because the God that watches over us as we sleep, is the God who guides us when we are awake.
Sure, things might not work our as we expect, but that isn’t a problem for God, so why would it be a problem for us?
Sure we may not have a building, but that does not mean that we won’t have a community that cares, that supports and encourages and helps each other through whatever we may face?
Imagine getting to a state of mind where we don’t need to worry about controlling our life, because we know a loving God is already in control of it.
And the wonderful thing is that is possible today.
We know what it is like to try and control everything, it is exhausting.
All we need to do is have the courage to trust in a God that loves us,
to believe in a God who cares for us, and just let go and enjoy the life God wants us to have,
all we need to do is lean into the support and the challenge and the encouragement and peace that God has always wanted us to have,
to opening our lives up to others, the way God has opened his life up to us.
It’s God’s gift to us, all we need to do is remember to accept it.
Let us pray
The harder life is, or seems to be, the more we want to be in control.
And even though our experience shows us that we have little control on the actions of others, we still want them to do what we want them to do so that we will feel safe.
As we try to control them they try to control us.
Remind us what it was like to be a child.
We instinctively felt safe as our parents watched over us.
We slept without fear or doubt.
As we grew older we became less secure, felt less safe and trusted the world less and less.
And that is understandable.
No job is safe, we can’t control energy prices or food prices, our leaders don’t seem to be fully in control of what is happening.
We struggle to get doctor’s appointments or dentist appointments, waiting lists for treatment get longer and longer and we are not sure what affect that has on our overall health.
But through all of that your love is constant, your care is constant.
You never give up on the belief that we are your truly beloved child.
Let us trust in your parenthood.
Let us follow your guidance.
Let is enjoy your presence constantly in our lives.
This we ask in Jesus name.