Text: Genesis 2:18-25, Psalm 127 W 18th Sunday after Pentecost
Unless the Lord Builds the House …
In the name him who is now crowned with glory and honor because by suffering death on a cross he tasted death for all of us, dear friends in Christ: To begin this morning I’m going to ask you to use your imagination. Let us suppose that you are a young man or woman who has come to that point in life when you are just starting out on your own (and yes, I know that’s going to take more power of imagination for some of us than for others, but bear with me here). Let us further suppose that you’ve landed a pretty good job and that you’ve got some money stashed away – enough put out a significant down payment on a home, which you decide to do. (Like I said, we’re using our imaginations. Rare indeed are young adults who find themselves so fortunate.) Well anyway, you shop around a bit; but you really don’t like anything that’s available on the market in your area. You do find, however, a nice piece of property on which to build a new home. So, you snatch it up and hire an architect who has an excellent reputation for satisfying his clients. You explain to him what you’ve got in mind: your ideal home, a place that can be your comfortable residence for life, in which you can raise a family, and keep them safe and sound, and that will be filled with love and laughter and joy, and that one day will echo with the sound of your grandkids’ voices. You’ve got in mind a place that in the twilight of your years you’ll be able to sit on the porch in a rocking chair while you reminisce about all the good times and, yes, also the sad and difficult times you successfully made it through while living in this reliable, sturdy old home.
The architect delivers for you. The blueprints are perfect—even better than you imagined. It’s almost like he knows you better than you know yourself. So you take the next step. You announce that you’re accepting bids from contractors to build your ideal home. In the end, only two make offers. The first is the well respected fellow who owns an outfit called On the Rock Homebuilders. His bid is in the ballpark of what you figured it might cost – maybe a bit on the high end. You could manage it; but it would take some doing. The other guy’s offer, however, is incredible. It’s about a third the price of the other. You think, “Wow, I could have that paid off in less than ten years.” It seems too good to be true. Maybe they made a mistake when adding up the estimates. So you call Lenny and Schlepp’s “Quality” Construction, and get Lenny himself on the line. He explains that yeah, his bid is good. It’s just that they identified a few “shortcuts” and “substitutions” that could be made to the design that would save a lot of money. He assures you that you’ll never know the difference. The home will look exactly like the one in the drawings.
Well then, thinking yourself no fool, you accept his offer. Why pay more for the same service? The house is built in record time. And sure enough, ol’ Lenny was right. It looks exactly like the one in the drawing. You stand there in front of your new home shaking his hand with gratitude while he hands you the keys with the other. You’re all set to move in, and you spend the next day doing just that. Then, exhausted from all your work, at last you drop into bed in your very own brand spanking new ideal home, and you fall fast asleep.
At first you do, anyway. Some time in the middle of the night you awaken to a veritable cacophony of eerie groans and creaking that reminds a lot you of the soundtracks they play at the haunted houses various community groups set up at Halloween. It’s horrendous. This goes on for a couple hours until finally, unable to sleep, you decide to get up early and finish your unpacking. Nothing like a nice hot shower to start the day, you think, so you step into the bathroom and start the water running to let it warm up; but it never does. That’s weird. Must be that no one ever turned on the water heater. So now, wrapped in a towel, you make your way across the house to the basement steps. And as you walk into each room you have the sensation that you’re going downhill until you’re in the middle of the room, and then it’s like you’re going uphill to the next door. Huh. You notice that this sensation is more pronounced in the rooms containing appliances and heavy furniture. Eventually you make it to the top of the basement steps, open the door, and reach around in the dark for the light switch. Can’t find it. Where’d I put the flashlight? Back in the bedroom. So it’s down, up, down, up, down, up like a roller coaster as you make the return trip and then back again. Armed with the flashlight, you soon discover that the reason you couldn’t find the light switch is that there isn’t one. And as you descend the steps you realize that it’s no wonder, for there aren’t any light fixtures in the basement. No electrical outlets either. Nor is there a water heater. But at least from down here you can see why the floor is sagging so: where the plans called for two by eights on eighteen inch centers the builder used two by fours on twenty-four inch centers. You see too why it would be a mistake to flush the toilet in the guest bath or use the kitchen sink – they aren’t connected to the drain. Later you discover the foundation is weak and crumbling, there isn’t any insulation in the house, and that most of the kitchen cupboards and drawers are fictitious – they got handles there; but they don’t open. And these are only the beginning of the problems you encounter in your own brand new “ideal” house with a price that was too good to be true. The plan was perfect; but it was flaw-fully executed.
And by now you’ve probably thinking that this little exercise requires the use of too much imagination. No one would be so stupid as to as to have their home built in such a slipshod fashion – leaving out critical parts of the design, scrimping on materials, and scaling back on the specifications . But I have news for you. Thousands of people in our own community alone are building their houses exactly like this or even worse. But I’m not talking about building the outward structure of the homes they live in. I’m talking about the way people build their families these days. I’m speaking of their “house” in the biblical sense – like when it says that Joseph was of the house of David. I’m speaking of the far more important human house within the home. These are what people are allowing to be built in negligent and shoddy ways – in ways they would never think of permitting in the construction of the mere building in which they dwell.
You see, we’ve have the Architect’s great design. It really is perfect. It has to be since it’s a reflection of himself and he’s perfect. And by and large most people know what his plan is. But more and more people in our culture think they can cut corners, leave out important features, scale back on specifications, or even change or abandon the design altogether and still build for themselves a happy and stable house. It can’t work. It never does. And yet they’re shocked and surprised when it doesn’t hold together like it’s supposed to, or when they find out that it’s uncomfortable, it doesn’t work right, or that it’s appallingly unsafe place to live – sadly, especially for the most vulnerable members of the house: the children. And what is perhaps worst of all is that we in the Church of Christ who are supposed to be upholding the goodness of the Creator’s design and modeling it before the world as a sort of Street of Dreams aren’t doing much better. Statistically, anyway, our houses are crumbling and falling apart at pretty much the same rate as our non-Christian neighbors. That’s a problem that should alarm us.
In today’s Collect, that is, the Prayer for the Day, we asked our heavenly Father for the gift of his Holy Spirit first to always think the things that are right. And that’s the first part of our problem. We don’t always think the things that are right – especially in this matter of God’s design for our families. Between the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh that’s always looking for shortcuts and the easy way out, we’ve allowed ourselves to be seduced. Increasingly we’ve gone along with the culture so that now we think of the sacred commitment of marriage as something to be postponed, avoided if possible, or broken if found to be difficult or inconvenient. We no longer think that sexual intimacy outside the sacred covenant of marriage is a sin. We no longer hold that children are a heritage of the Lord – one of the greatest blessings he can bestow. Now careers are considered more important, or perhaps it’s a free and easy lifestyle we’re after. Either way, children are often considered a curse. Many young couples these days put off having children; and when the time comes when they have to think about because the ol’ biological clock is running out, they ask each other, “Should we get a dog and ruin the carpet, or should we have a baby and ruin our lives?” To a large degree we have abandoned as an evil relic from the past God’s good design for the distinct and complimentary roles men and women are to perform in our families. We go along instead with what is supposed to be a more enlightened and egalitarian view that says there should be no distinction, which sounds good—trouble is that it doesn’t work. And lastly we’ve given up to a great extent the vastly important spiritual dimension to family life – imagining, for example, that it’s possible for a couple to be properly united as one without being united by their faith in Christ, or that praying together, reading Scripture together, and worshipping together as a family is a take it or leave it proposition. We don’t think right about these things. And because we don’t think right, we don’t act right.
Or maybe our thinking is okay and we know what is right – it’s just that we don’t act accordingly. This is the other thing we prayed for: that we might do the right things. Like, for instance, hold sacred our vows of marriage and do nothing to violate them, and also to do our utmost to discourage extramarital affairs and divorce in others. It also means that we seek fulfillment in the roles that God has assigned us: every man acting as the head of his household, sacrificially bearing the responsibility of leadership and protection for the other members, and assuming accountability for all that goes on within the family, whether good or bad. This means also that he take upon himself the mantle of spiritual leadership, guiding those the Lord has placed in his care to be ever growing in holy faith in Christ, and modeling by his own example what it means to be a man of faith. Likewise every woman ought to seek fulfillment in the complimentary role that has been assigned to her by the Lord – a role of helpful, encouraging, nurturing, supporting, and submissive service to the head the Lord has given her. It means too that parents protect and provide for their children, and raise them to the best of their ability in the fear and love of the Lord; and that children respect, honor, and obey their parents and the other authorities that the Lord places over them. Like I said, we all pretty much know what the design calls for; but to the extent that you are not doing these things or not thinking the right way about them, to that same extent you are not letting the Lord build your house and your work will be in vain.
All of which is for us a call to repent – a call to examine ourselves in light of the Lord’s plan for our houses, to recognize where we have failed, to renounce our past errors and mistakes, and, once again receiving our Lord’s word of forgiveness, to resolve to build our houses according to his perfect plan. And that means too that we ought to pull out the original drawing and see it again in a new light. That’s what we have in this morning’s Old Testament lesson so let’s use the remainder of our time this morning reviewing it.
It’s the story of the creation of the woman and the Lord bringing her to the man and uniting them as husband and wife. I’m sure that you’re familiar with it; but I’d like to point out a few things. First that the Lord says that it’s not good for the man to be alone. This stands in stark contrast to all the announcements the Lord made in Genesis chapter one where it gives an overview of the six days of Creation. Recall that each time the Lord made something, the text says that he saw that it was good. This “not good” stands out like a sore thumb and makes us wonder, “What, did he forget something?” Since that’s not possible, it must be that he’s telling us something – something that he wants us to take careful notice of. And the problem here is that the man alone does not reflect the image of God. Why not? Because God is love. And love needs an object, that is, someone to love. Within the Trinity of the Godhead, this is satisfied by the three persons of God loving each other. The three persons share the one divine essence, the Father giving himself for the Son, the Father and Son together giving themselves for the Spirit, and the Son and the Spirit subjecting their wills to that of the Father. That’s how they love each other.
The man alone can’t do this. That’s why it’s not good. But before the Lord makes the woman for him, the man himself must realize that he’s not complete. Thus it is that the Lord causes all the creatures to come to him – so that he can name them sure, as a means of expressing his dominion over them; but perhaps more importantly so that he can see there’s none like him, none to compliment and complete him – that there’s no helper fit for and equal to him. He has to see that there’s something missing. Only then can the Lord make a wife for him. But did you ever wonder why the Lord does it the way he does. I mean, with Adam he hunkers down in the dirt and forms him from clay, then breathes life into him. Why doesn’t he do the same with Eve? The reason is that it wouldn’t be the image of God. As the Father gives of himself so that the Son is, so must the man give of himself so that the woman is. To him is assigned the role of sacrifice for her. That’s how he shows his love for her – not just in her creation, but in every aspect of their lives together. And so the Lord puts him into a deep sleep and actually takes part of his living flesh and bone. With this – what he has surrendered from his own body – he makes a bride fit for him. And then the Lord brings her to the man, just like he did with the other animals, again, in part so that he can name her as an expression of his headship over her; but far more importantly so that he can see that now he has a match, a compliment, an equal who is as he is – and yet wonderfully different. I’ll bet he noticed that too. But you see now together they are an image of the Godhead: two persons sharing the same flesh – just as the Father and the Son are two persons sharing the same divine essence. So what I’m saying is that every human marriage is a partial picture of God himself. That’s the way he designed it.
More than that, every human marriage is a picture of Christ and his bride the Church. Think about it: when the Lord wanted to make a bride for the man, he put him into a deep sleep and took what he would use to build her from his side. Now flash forward several millennia. When the Lord wanted to make a bride for his Son made flesh in Jesus Christ, he put him into a deep sleep – the deepest sleep of all: his death on the cross. And then he opened his side and took out water and blood. With these he builds the Church – this holy house of the faithful – for by them and his Word he creates faith in the hearts of sinners through the water of Baptism and the Blood of the Covenant. So every human marriage is a picture of the Lord and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And that’s what makes the design so perfect.
But we, of course, are not perfect, nor do we live in a perfect world; which is why our houses have the many problems that they do. And I know too that due to death, someone else’s sin, and other circumstances beyond our control it’s not always possible for us to build our individual houses precisely according to the Lord’s great design. Nevertheless it is incumbent on all of us to hold up the divine ideal and work toward achieving it in our own families and encouraging it in others. Even if the Lord has placed you in a family of one, you can still do that. And because we are all sinners who fall far short of perfection, we can come to appreciate that a good marriage – and all other human relationships for that matter – work on the same principles as the Church: namely God’s infinite love and the forgiveness of sins we have in Christ Jesus his Son. If we allow our human houses to be built with these precious materials on the solid foundation of his Word we can ensure that the Lord himself is the builder. And his work is never in vain. May God grant it to you and your house. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria!