The House Jesus Built

 

2 Samuel 7: 1-14a         Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III

Ephesians 2: 11-22       July 19, 2015

“… that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two...

Prayer:  O God, Holy One, please reign in our hearts in such a way that we sense a deepening incentive to work toward binding all of us together in your love.  Amen.

Back in 1982 while in seminary, I worked at two United Methodist churches, one in youth ministry at a small UMC church, and the other in young adult ministry at a large UMC church, both in San Jose, California.  The large church was located on Winchester Blvd. which was named for the famed Winchester Mystery House located just a few blocks away.  Anyone been there? Back in the mid 1800’s, William Winchester was involved in the creation and the manufacturing of the famed Winchester repeating rifle, aka, the “Rifle that Won the West.”  When William Winchester died in 1881, his wife Sarah inherited vast amounts of wealth from his estate.

However, because she was obsessively concerned that the spirits of native American Indians, Civil War soldiers, and others killed by Winchester rifles were haunting her, she believed in her psychic’s words that the only way to appease those spirits was to go out west and build a great house for them.  If she didn’t do that, the spiritualist told her  she might be next to join her husband. Can you imagine?

So, Sarah went out west, bought this simple, unfinished farm house, and hired workers to start construction.  As long as construction of the house never ceased, Mrs. Winchester could rest assured that her life was not in danger.  For the next thirty-eight years work was done on the house non-stop.  The unrelenting construction had rambled over six acres making a mansion that contained 160 rooms, 2,000 doors, 10,000 windows, 47 stairways (some leading nowhere), 47 fireplaces, 13 bathrooms, and 6 kitchens.  And, some of the rooms were remodeled again and again and again. This was the house that Sarah built.

Now the combination of her wealth and her eccentric building project also had a good side.  Mrs. Winchester was generous with her employees, paying three dollars a day when the going rate was one and a half dollars.  She often paid trades-people in gold coin. Orphanages and many other local charities benefited from her anonymous contributions.  She welcomed neighborhood children and let them play on the grounds, even inviting them in to eat ice cream or play the piano.

New work finally ceased on the house when Sarah Winchester passed away on September 5, 1922, but renovations and  reconstruction work continue even to this day.  And, when she died, she left large amounts of cash and shares of stock to her family, and a substantial sum to the Winchester Clinic of the General Hospital Society of Connecticut, for the care and treatment of tuberculosis patients.  The clinic still exists today as part of the Yale New Haven Medical Center (http://winchestermysteryhouse.com/ retrieved July 18, 2015).

I know… I know… there’s a lot of weirdness in that story,  but goodness, too. Two things stand out that connect it to our Bible texts today.  The first is that Sarah Winchester became obsessively concerned about building a physical house.  Similarly, King David was very concerned about building a temple, a physical house for God even though God never asked him to do so.

Second, just as Sarah Winchester was  concerned about what legacy would be passed on from her, God was also concerned about what legacy would follow David after he passed on.  And this legacy wasn’t so much about whether or not God would have a physical temple built, but it was much more so about the dynasty that would come from David’s bloodline, the subsequent kings and leaders of Israel that would follow in David’s succession.  So, rather than having David build a house for the Lord, the Lord promised to build for David a house, indicating that someone from David’s line would forever be on the throne of Israel.

Christian thinking understands that Jesus actually is the One from David’s bloodline, that he was made alive spiritually and given authority by God’s power, and as such, is the One forever on the throne in God’s sight, in our world, and in our hearts.  Therefore, David’s dynasty has its fulfillment and continuation in the permanent sovereignty of Jesus Christ.

Now, we can extrapolate from Christ’s permanent sovereignty that his legacy passed on to his followers is the ongoing perpetuation of God’s values which are applicable to every human being.  In other words, the basic virtues of human decency including having kindness, patience, gentleness, offering forgiveness, living with justice, practicing love and reconciliation, showing mercy, etc., never cease, even in the face of danger. And these in fact mirror what it’s like to be part of the house that Jesus built and is continuing to build.

During last week I read about Sir Nicholas Winton, a man who died on July 2nd at age 106.  What’s remarkable about Sir Winton is that he began organizing evacuations of children out of Czechoslovakia in 1939.  He marshaled a team of volunteers to write letters, to raise money, and essentially outwit immigration restrictions imposed by Hitler’s Nazi Germany.  He arranged for British families to open their homes when other countries shut their doors.  As a result, Sir Winton rescued 669 children, mostly Jewish, from certain death.  This man practiced the goodness of human decency, in the face of danger and destructive divisions.  He clearly mirrored and passed on the values of  the house Jesus built (http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/01/europe/nicholas-winton-obituary/index.html, retrieved July 18, 2015).

Destructive divisions existed in Paul’s day, too. Paul knew very well of the sharp divisions between the Jewish Christians (that’s those who converted from Judaism to Christianity), and the Gentile Christians (those people who weren’t Jewish at all but became Christians).  There was a lot of open hostility between these two groups.  There were big arguments as to who was to receive the riches of knowing Christ and who wasn’t… and what one must do in order to receive the grace of Jesus Christ.

Paul strives to put the hostility to an end… being part of the house that Jesus built means that through Christ, even the non-Jews are brought near to God.  Through Christ, a new humanity is created, instead of having destructive divisions.  Through Christ, the gift of peace is intended to bridge people together.  Through Christ, all have access in one Spirit to the Father.  Through Christ old walls of imperialism, and racism, and religism, and sexism are torn down or broken through, and the house Jesus is building is built up. This message is still needed today because walls of division and oppression exist, some even practiced in church!

That is why I affirm the apology Pope Francis made in Bolivia this past week.  He offered a direct apology on Thursday for the complicity of the Roman Catholic Church in the oppression of Latin America during the colonial era, even as he called for a global social movement to shatter a “new colonialism” that has fostered inequality, materialism and the exploitation of the poor.  He said, “I humbly ask forgiveness, not only for the offense of the church herself, but also for crimes committed against the native peoples during the so-called conquest of America” (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/10/world/americas/pope-francis-bolivia-catholic-church-apology.html?_r=0, retrieved July 18, 2015).

I affirm this apology offered because it speaks of reconciliation and bridging gaps as well as righting wrongs. The pope is stiving to bridge people together. This continues, I think,  to build up the house that Jesus built and continues to build a new humanity that Paul envisioned.

I think for us as people living in an age where there is much division, where there is much racial tension, and much violence against each other, it’s easy to be discouraged and frustrated.  The walls that divide seem thicker than ever.

But, I encourage us to stick with building onto the house that Jesus built.  Keep passing on to our children the legacy that through Christ, we are made into a new humanity.  Let’s keep sharing with faith that even though Christ’s dynasty may be threatened at times, we’re promised it will not be destroyed.  With inner strength given to us by God, we know that dividing walls break down when we live and practice what God values, when we strive to become more inclusive, when we grow more in love, when we practice justice, forgiveness, mercy and reconciliation, when we strive to bridge people together through Christ’s peace. This is what it means to be part of the house Jesus built and continues to build.  He is the cornerstone of this spiritual house, and this house serves as a home for all people everywhere.  Amen.