Unless the Lord Builds the House

I said last Sunday that I wanted to talk with you about prayer these next few weeks, maybe for this whole summer season. I guess I would want you to pray for a vision for this church of ours. I am praying for such a vision, for without a vision the people perish.

Today I said that I want to talk with you about praying for our country. You see, part of my vision for this church, this family of God’s people, is that the community that we have
declared that we serve is the community of the nation. How shall we pray for this country of ours?

Let me say a couple of things first about the need for prayer. Scott Bennett in his newspaper column last week wrote this, “The American people seem uneasy about streets filled with ragged people, unsafe skies, roller coaster stock markets, drug abuse, crime, holes in the ozone layer, the greenhouse effect, illegal immigrants and a leviathan national debt.” That covers most of it, doesn’t it. He went on to point out how difficult it would be to get elected to anything if you ran on a platform like that. Someone handed me this article from one of the news magazines the other day. I won’t bother with the article, but Dan
who teaches at Northwestern University said this, “In our society where individualism plays such an important role, we don’t have a public ethic about what we owe to others.”

It is good to think about that sort of thing on this day when we remember the Declaration of Independence, when we remember Thomas Jefferson‘s stirring words about “pledging our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.” I was reminded of this book ”Habits of the Heart“, the thesis of which is that this country was founded on the Republican and Biblical principles of concern for the common good, a public ethic, and divorced from it a democracy cannot survive.

So how do we pray for our country? The Psalm teaches us, “Unless the Lord build the house those who build it labor in vain.”

Psalm 127

1 Unless the LORD builds the house,
the builders labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the guards stand watch in vain.
2 In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
for he grants sleep to those he loves.

3 Children are a heritage from the LORD,
offspring a reward from him.
4 Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
are children born in one’s youth.
5 Blessed is the man
whose quiver is full of them.
They will not be put to shame
when they contend with their opponents in court.

So, let me turn to the Bible, that’s enough quoting from these authors. If you have your Bibles turn back to that story from Samuel.

2 Samuel 7

1 After the king was settled in his palace and the LORD had given him rest from all his enemies around him, 2 he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.”

3 Nathan replied to the king, “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the LORD is with you.”

4 But that night the word of the LORD came to Nathan, saying:

5 “Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the LORD says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? 6 I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling. 7 Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’

8 “Now then, tell my servant David, ‘This is what the LORD Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel. 9 I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men on earth. 10 And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning 11 and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders[a] over my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies.

“‘The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish a house for you: 12 When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands. 15 But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me[b]; your throne will be established forever.’”

17 Nathan reported to David all the words of this entire revelation.

David had decided to build a house for God. It is not good enough for God to dwell in a tent. You sort of have the feeling that either David pitied God, or David thought he would be able to earn God’s gratitude. But Nathan the prophet, who was a thorn in David’s side more than once, brought this message, “Has God ever complained about the tent?” Then God turns the whole thing upside down. “You have it all wrong, David. You aren’t going to build a house for me. I am going to build a house for you.”

Ah, but what is the house of David? You might read this as a promise that David’s son Solomon would build the temple. But it is really a promise that David’s son Jesus of Nazareth will build the everlasting temple. If you want to turn to the New Testament:

Mark 6:1-6

1 Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. 2 When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? 3 Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

4 Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” 5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village.

This is the only place in the Bible where Jesus is called the carpenter. Elsewhere he is called the carpenter’s son. Here he is the carpenter, the builder. Here his mighty works are not houses made with hands, but a people of God, the temple of the Holy Spirit, erected to bear witness to God.

The business of the church is not to run the United States. The business of the church is to be that Body of Christ, that temple of the Holy Spirit, that house that the Lord has  built,
that shows forth justice, that is a shelter for the poor and a place for the swallow to build her nest. The church is an alternative to the individualistic ethic that will destroy this
democracy. My fourth of July sermon is less about the nation than it is about the church. If we will hold up those Biblical principles of concern for the common good then we shall be a city set on a hill that cannot be hid. That is my vision for this church. The best way that we can serve our country is to pray for our country and the best way to pray for our country is to renew ourselves as a Biblical people. “Unless the Lord build the house those that build it labor in vain.”
This sermon was preached by William C. Crouch on July 3, 1988 at First United Methodist Church in Denton, Texas.  If you would like to receive notifications of new sermon postings to Rumors of Angels by email, simply subscribe in  the up right corner of this blog page.

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