Last Sunday, at just about this time, a house of God in a little town in Texas was torn apart by a spray of gunfire.
We have, regrettably become familiar with feeling unsafe in public spaces. But it can feel all the more grievous when the caustic combination of mental illness, domestic abuse and access to semi-automatic weapons explode in a church.
The response among some churches has been to call for battening down the hatches, locking the doors of the church, or even meeting weapons with weapons.
It is reasonable and right to take measures to keep a gathering safe. At Faith, we have many of precautions in place and consult with the local security, especially at times of greater risk.
What we cannot forget in the midst of our fear, is that this church – each church – is ultimately God’s house.
Our decisions about what we do here, the risks we take, the precautions we create are made because this is the house of our God, and our God has built a house of love.
The prophet Amos reminds us – our God calls us to choose love. To choose love – even over perfect safety or retribution.
Janet Reno, who served as United States Attorney General for eight years, grew up in a house built by love. At a high school graduation ceremony, Reno said that when she was a girl, her mother looked around at her growing family, and she looked around at their tiny home. She saw her husband working from dawn to night to earn enough money to support the family. She knew they couldn’t afford a larger house. She also knew they needed one. So she decided to build a new house herself.
First, she went to the library and checked out books about new home construction. After she had read and studied them, she made appointments with contractors, visited them on work sites and asked questions. Then she began to dig the foundation. She built that house with her own hands. She didn’t cut corners. She studied the codes, and she built it to code.
Years later, after her children were grown and her husband had died, the southeastern part of the country was hit by a major hurricane. Storms battered the coastline from Florida to New Jersey. Houses and buildings blew away like pup tents. But inside her sturdy home, Mrs. Reno waited out the storm by lighting a candle, sitting at her kitchen table and reading her bible.
God has built such a house for us.
Not a building. No, God has built a home for us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In Christ God builds a place where we can dwell. It is not built by human hands but by the love and power of God in Christ.
Because this house of Christ’s love is built by God, it is eternal and cannot be destroyed. The storms can rage, the bullets can fly, our outer lives can be worn down, and God’s home endures.
God does not promise we will be spared the storms and circumstances of life. Real storms do have real power to wreak havoc. We proclaim that even in the midst of the storm, even in dangerous situations, there is safety and confidence that go deeper than circumstance. Gods give us the strong house of Christ’s love and presence to protect us.
God builds a house of love for us, as certainly as Mrs. Reno built hers.
But, we are confronted with choices.
Will we choose to live in that house of love? Will we choose to live there if it means building with love for others?
The prophet Amos says that if we live in God’s house, we are people who love goodness. To dwell in the house of the Lord, to worship God, is to seek out where justice can be done, to go looking for the people who need mercy and to love doing goodness for them.
Amos says “You can’t choose God and not choose justice”.
If you choose to live in the house that God has built out of love for you, then you must build houses of love for others.
I remember at some conference or presbytery meeting long ago hearing a man tell the story of how he and his wife choose the kind of house they would live in.
Their last child had graduated from high school and moved out of the house. They looked at their home and saw the wear and tear and all the marks that only years of raising children could place on a home. They decided that they would replace the sofa with the broken arm, repaint the walls to cover the fingerprints and even add a sunporch.
After receiving bids from contractors, they sat down and looked at the numbers. The total was more than they expected but not more than they could afford. They would finally have the house they always wanted. Except the more they thought about it, the less comfortable they became. They were Christians and faithful church members and the more they looked at the bottom line, the more they realized all the other things they could do with that money.
Finally, they made their decision. They gave the money to a family of a recent refugee from Vietnam so the oldest son could go to college. The man said that he and his wife had always invested in themselves, in their own family, their own security, their own comfort. This time they decided to invest in the work of Christ to help someone else. He said, “We consider it one of our better investments.”
The invitation to choose to invest in a home built by God is available to all of us.
We are the ones who decided whether or not we want to move into this house God has built for us. That kind of choice can be frightening.
The only way to discover that the house of God’s love is trustworthy is to walk through the door by faith. The only way to discover that Christ’s love and presence will keep you safe is to dwell in him while the winds of the storm rush by.
Living safely in the house of Christ love is the source of courageous and bold lives. Come the power of storms or the power of hell, we live in Christ and do the work he has called us to do. We build a place of love where others may dwell.