For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God…and we are his house if we hold firm the confidence and the pride that belong to hope. [Hebrews 3:4, 6]
We recently refloored the first floor of our condo, replacing the well-worn, pet-stained carpeting with vinyl plank (looks like hardwood, but it isn’t). After our last cat died last November, my wife and I agreed that it was time. The carpet had gone from an off-white to polka dot, with all the remnants of…well, if you’re a pet owner you get the idea.
Over the course of our 14 years in this house, we have made several changes, mostly cosmetic. We’ve also made necessary repairs. Although the place was in pretty good shape when we moved in, there are areas where even my untrained eye could tell the builders took shortcuts. Over time, it is us who have been forced to fix those. Expediency has its price, often at great cost.
In her best-selling book, Caste: The Origins of our Discontents, author Isabel Wilkerson makes a brilliant analogy between America and an old house. She writes: “Many people may rightly say, ‘I had nothing to do with how this all started. I have nothing to do with the sins of the past. My ancestors never attacked indigenous people, never owned slaves.’ And, yes. Not one of us was here when this house was built. Our immediate ancestors may have had nothing to do with it, but here we are, the current occupants of a property with stress cracks and bowed walls and fissures built into the foundation. We are heirs to whatever is right or wrong with it. We did not erect the uneven pillars or joists, but they are ours to deal with now.” [p. 16]
I recommend Wilkerson’s book highly, although I find myself having to take it in small doses. Frequently, after only a few pages, I have to put it down to get over the anger I feel when I read of how cruelly humans have treated other human beings throughout history. It is hard to understand the need some groups of people have to feel superior to other groups. Out of that desire, they create artificial divides that give them power over others – the Dalits in India, the Jews in Nazi Germany, and Black or Indigenous peoples of color here in the United States. These homes are in serious need of reconstruction.
The author of Hebrews takes the house image a lot further. We are God’s house. Our hearts and minds are in constant need of renewal. And the model we have to build on is Jesus. It would be well worth our while, especially during this Lenten season, to do some self-analysis and search for the fissures in our foundation, the stains on our carpets, the weaknesses in our woodwork.
To be clear, Bishop William Barber, of the Poor People’s Campaign, states it even more bluntly, “We need to have some moral articulation and dissent, because our deepest faith and our Constitutional tradition have been hijacked to serve greed, racism, and lies.”
These kinds of systemic ills have no easy solution, and we cannot always detach ourselves from the fact that we have contributed to the situation. We are called to examine our lives and see where they line up with our work for justice and our sense of external mission.
God cares about the totality of our lives. And our lives encounter God more fully when we balance our piety with love of neighbor. When we practice righteousness and justice.
I close today’s reflection with the first verse of a hymn by Marty Haugen, “All Are Welcome.” I’m certain you’ve sung it a time or two. We often sing hymns without paying attention to the words. This morning, reading the lessons and thinking about the house image, the composer’s words came to mind.
Let us build a house where love can dwell
and all can safely live,
a place where saints and children tell
how hearts learn to forgive.
Built of hopes and dreams and visions,
rock of faith and vault of grace;
here the love of Christ shall end divisions:
All are welcome, all are welcome,
all are welcome in this place.
[Evangelical Lutheran Worship, #641]
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