Sunday, January 2, 2022

Sermon: “Let Us Build a House: Home By Another Way,” 1 Samuel 20:27-28, 30-31, 35-37, 39-42/Matthew 2:1-12 (January 2, 2022)

(This is the seventh and final sermon in our Advent and Christmas series, "Let Us Build a House", based on the Advent theme from A Sanctified Art. The others can be found herehere, here, and here - the third and sixth were given by a guest preacher.)


Since late November, we’ve been figuring out how to build the home that God calls us to build—God’s kin(g)dom—both for ourselves and for the world. On Christmas Eve, we heard the good news that God has come to dwell with us even though the home we’re building together still isn’t finished. We were challenged to welcome all that Christ is into our hearts (even the parts that make us uncomfortable) because God knows better than we do what it will take to see this project through to completion. We have the blueprints, and the architect has arrived to help us finish construction; the kin(g)dom is imminent. But as we enter a new calendar year with yet another wave of COVID making headlines, national unity still feeling impossibly out of reach, and so many unknowns ahead of us, we may start to wonder if maybe God has changed the plan on us.

It’s normally unheard of for an architect to submit new blueprints partway through a construction project, because presumably, any potential design flaws or logistical difficulties would be worked out long before construction began. And the blueprints for God’s kin(g)dom should be just as infallible as their architect, right? But this all assumes that the construction team follows the blueprints exactly. WE’RE the construction team for God’s kin(g)dom, and humanity isn’t known for following divine instructions well. Imagine what would happen if, halfway through the construction of a house, one of the workers decided to install an elevator instead of a stairway because they disagreed with that aspect of the architect’s plan? A change like that, made without understanding the bigger picture, would compromise the entire project. Upon discovering the illegitimate modification, the architect would have two choices: demolish the entire building and start again, or make changes to the blueprints that would allow construction to continue while maintaining the integrity of the building.

Imagine all the revisions that God has had to make to the blueprints for the kin(g)dom because of rogue construction workers! The book of 1 Samuel alone recounts dozens of times that God had to change God’s plan due to human fickleness. God’s kin(g)dom was originally meant to be built via theocracy, but the people rejected that idea. So the blueprints were adjusted to account for their stubbornness: God handpicked Saul to rule over the people as their king. But Saul also refused to follow God’s instructions, and he turned his back on the Lord. As a result, God again changed the plan, anointing David to succeed Saul as king. But Saul didn’t like this plan, either, and he resolved to kill David out of anger and jealousy.

At this point, I don’t think any of us would blame God for smiting Saul and immediately installing David as the new monarch. But that’s not what God did. Instead, God changed the blueprints yet again: with the help of his beloved friend Jonathan (Saul’s own son), David fled from the king’s court and went into hiding. No matter how many times in scripture humanity makes a choice that deviates from God’s plan, God patiently keeps rewriting the blueprints to allow the kin(g)dom work to continue.

Now, I imagine that most architects in God’s position wouldn’t bother revising their carefully crafted design even once. The simplest thing to do would be to fire the unreliable workers and start from the beginning with an entirely new crew: in fact, God tried that once back in Genesis with a flood and an ark (you may be familiar with the story). But scripture assures us that this isn’t how God ultimately wants to go about building the kin(g)dom. That’s the whole point of the flood story: the narrative culminates with God’s promise to never again destroy the earth. And that’s why, every time that God’s people reject God’s plan, we see the Lord choose revision instead of ruination over and over again. Because God always keeps God’s promises.

No matter how often or how badly humanity deviates from the divine blueprints, God is able to keep the kin(g)dom within our reach by redesigning the plan on our behalf. This is wonderful news: God refuses to give up on us, no matter how incompetent we prove at following instructions. But this gift does come with a cost. Every revision brings natural consequences with it, ones that we can’t escape. Saul’s determination to kill David did not keep David from becoming king…but it required him to leave the place that had become his home and to give up his relationship with his best friend. Saul’s choice didn’t thwart God, but it made the path to God’s kin(g)dom longer and more difficult than it was before. Every time God changes the blueprints for us, it means that much more work to get the project back on track.

Christ’s birth should have been a shortcut home for us. It should have put an end, once and for all, to all the revisions. We should have recognized God’s presence, the way the magi did, and renewed our commitment to follow God’s blueprints with the architect himself by our side. But humanity is arrogant, and there’s always a part of us that thinks we know best. For every foreign astrologer that embraces God’s plan, there’s a king who feels threatened by it. For every Samaritan who seeks to love their neighbor without exception, there’s a pharisee who seeks the loopholes. For every person who understands that justice and mercy go hand in hand according to God’s requirements, there’s another who believes that justice is better paired with vengeance. Even with the architect himself showing us the way, we insist that our plans are better. And so, the building goes on.

When faced with divine plans that have changed because of human vanity, our instinct may be to punish those who’ve complicated our work. We may think that if we can only get them out of the way, we can get back to the original blueprints, the ones that were working just fine for the rest of us. But God hasn’t charged us with building this home, this kin(g)dom, just for the benefit of those following the rules. God’s kin(g)dom is for all of creation, so we can’t solve the problem by getting rid of the troublemakers.

David could have assumed the throne by killing Saul first, but he didn’t: he went into exile until Saul died in battle much later. The magi could have confronted Herod after their empowering encounter with Jesus, but they didn’t: they went home by another way. Whenever God’s blueprints for the kin(g)dom are altered as a result of human choice, they’re always revised in a way that avoids violence and allows for grace. The plans may change, but God’s values do not. If we want to be faithful members of God’s construction team, we need to uphold the same values that God does, and that means sticking to God’s plan even when it changes in a way that we don’t particularly like.

Sometimes, that requires those of us still following the blueprints to make sacrifices in order for construction to continue. We may need to put in some extra work that we didn’t expect. We may need to offer forgiveness when we don’t want to. We may need to work alongside people that frustrate us. But that’s part of what it means to trust the architect. We’re certainly allowed to lift up our disappointment and frustration to God, but if we insist on carrying on as if nothing has changed, or if we refuse to make the sacrifices that the new plan requires, we’re merely falling into the same trap as the Sauls and Herods and Pharisees of the world. They don’t defy God because they’re evil; they do it because they forget their own fallibility and convince themselves that they know better than the one who created them; that surely, this unpleasant plan can’t be the best one.

Don’t make the same mistake. We can’t come up with the blueprints for God’s kin(g)dom by ourselves. What we can do is help each other to understand the ones that God gives us and seek to follow it ourselves, no matter what. We can do our best to remain committed to God’s sacred instructions and to adopt every revision faithfully, even when the changes mean that we have to go home by another way.

Because no matter how often the plans change, the architect is determined to build this house. We are not doing this alone. Christ is born; God is with us—nothing we do could ever negate this truth. So whenever you feel at a loss for how to keep going when the plans keep changing and the work seems endless, pause to seek God’s presence like the Magi. What guidance or encouragement is God offering to keep you going? David had to flee from Saul’s wrath, but he went with the love of Saul’s own son sustaining him. The magi had to travel out of their way to evade Herod’s wrath, but they had seen God’s own face and experienced the joy of God’s presence. What holy gift is motivating you to persevere through all the unexpected challenges that stand between us and our home with God?

The task of kin(g)dom-building has changed since we first began it; it’s taken much longer to complete than any of us had hoped. But it’s still happening. We’re still making progress. The incarnation assures us that the kin(g)dom can only be put off by human sin and frailty for so long. God’s love WILL have the final word. The task may not go the way we’d planned; we may have to build our home in another way than we’d expected—but in the end, we know that home WILL be there waiting for us. Christ our architect knows what he’s doing and will keep revising the blueprints as many times as it takes, until we all arrive at the front door of our divine home together and hear him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant”. Amen.

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