The Edifice Complex

So, the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit sit down to plan their family vacation.
And the Father says to the Son, “Well Son, where would you like to go for vacation this year?”
And without a moment’s hesitation the Son says, “Gee Dad, I have always wanted to go to Disneyworld!”
The Holy Spirit pops her gum and with a glance of knowing condescension turns the page of her book.

And the Father responds, “You’ve gotta be kidding! Florida is so beastly hot this time of year – a swampy nasty mess – hurricanes and mosquitoes – just aweful. And besides, Disneyworld? I mean can you just imagine me, the Almighty God of the Universe getting sunburnt and nauseous, while spinning around in some ridiculous massive teacup because someone has got to hold onto all of the stuffed animals you have won – while you and the Holy Spirit get your kicks on a roller coaster – no thank you!”

“But Dad!” Jesus whines.  The Holy Spirit rolls her eyes and turns the page.

And then the Father says, “I know! What about a nice visit to the Holy Land?”
“Dad, it’s hot there too!”
“I know, I know. But it’s a dry heat.”
And the Son says, “But it’s so dangerous. I mean last time I was there, things didn’t go too well for me.”

“Ooh, right!” says the Father. “Well, I am stumped then.”

“Outer Banks?” “Nope, sharks.”
“Rocky Mountains?” “Nope, altitude sickness.”
“Napa Valley? No need to turn water into wine there, although given the draught maybe you should try your hand at turning wine into water.” “Boring!”
“Well, how about Rome?”

And finally the Holy Spirit looks up with excitement and exclaims, “Rome! Great! I’ve never been there!”

Now let me say that I don’t tell this joke to poke fun at Roman Catholics. I mean, God help us all if indeed the Holy Spirit had never made its way to that city. According to Acts and Paul, the Spirit heads there straitaway – because it is the proper work of the Holy Spirit to invade and disrupt even the centers of empire.

Let me also say that I don’t tell this joke merely because the image of God Almighty spinning in a large teacup while “It’s a small world after all” gets stuck in his head strikes me as hilarious – though it does.

I tell this joke today because it makes a mockery of our human tendency to try to make God out to be like us: a God who can ride in large teacups and get altitude sickness and yawn with boredom at sermons that don’t seem to be going anywhere.
A God for whom we can build a house.
A God we can visit with for an hour a week.
A God who is much more like a talisman than he is transcendent.

When David had pretty much destroyed the House of Saul, had established his capital, and had built for himself a very fine house of cedar on the backs of his people and with the spoils of war, he looked upon the tabernacle of the Lord and thought – “How meager this is. Surely it will please the Lord to have a house like mine. I will build a thing of glory.”

And the prophet Nathan said, “Go for it!”

But God rebukes both prophet and king with two questions, “Who do you think you are? And for that matter, who do you think I am?”

God reminds David and us, that God is the unsettled and unsettling God of Israel, the one who is mysteriously present between the wings of the cherubim in boundless, open space, present, but unconfined.
This is the God who has been the protection of a vulnerable and besieged people, their strong rock and mighty fortress – not a God who needs protective walls of cedar.

This is the God, for whom Solomon will indeed build a house, but this will be nothing in comparison with the house that God is building – the eternal house of the Son of David, a house that will be the hope of God’s people.

How easily we forget who this God is who has called us into his household through Jesus Christ, the son of David and son of God! How utterly different is this God!

For when God sets out to build a house, God leaves his abode and in the words of John’s prologue – God “sets up his tent” among us in the Word become flesh – Jesus Christ. When God sets out to build a house, God does not send a Son to set up shop in the Temple or to retake David’s sacred city. God sends a man of peace, not a Davidic warrior king, not to build high walls and ramparts, but to break down every dividing wall between peoples – to speak peace to those who were far off and to those who were near – to form into one household those who were strangers and those who were once cut off.

Sometime around 1200 CE, a young man was praying in the rickety old Chapel of San Damiano just outside of Asissi, when he had a vision of Christ saying to him, “Go and rebuild my house, which, as you see has fallen into ruins.” This young man, being of a literal bent, assumed that the vision was speaking of the physical building in which he was kneeling – so he set out to rebuild the house of the Lord. Fortunately, he was the son of a wealthy cloth merchant, so he commandeered a bunch of his father’s finest goods to sell in order to raise the money to rebuild God’s house. Needless to say his father was not altogether pleased, so he set up court proceedings in front of the Bishop to call his son to account for essentially pilfering his possessions in order to rebuild the chapel. At some point in the midst of these proceedings, the young man, known to us as St. Francis of Assissi stripped himself bare and renounced all of the trappings of his own household and inheritance. And he set out to follow in the steps of Jesus – to build up the house of the Lord, not with physical structures – those would come later – but by taking to the road to speak peace to those who were far off and to those who were near, to embrace the poor, the leper and the outcast, proclaiming that in Christ the dividing walls had toppled down so that all Creation might be reconciled to God.

God continues to build a house – a house unlike any other – a house even unlike this house. For, God is building a house without walls.

And you, members of God’s household by virtue of your baptism, you are called to build as God builds: not with the spoils of war, not with the forced labor of others, not with strong walls to divide: holy and profane, insider and outsider, beloved and despised, friend and enemy.

You are called to set out from the comfort of this place, to take to the road each week to speak peace to those who are far off and to those who are near, to embrace the stranger and the outcast,
To cry out against injustice –
To proclaim that a nation that builds a prosperous house for the few while it builds high impassable walls around its ghettos and barrios – walls of inadequate education, walls of crushing poverty, walls of regressive taxation, jailhouse walls to incarcerate the poor, the dark-skinned, the mentally ill – such a nation is not engaged in God’s project.   It may be engaged in building the American dream, which has turned out to be a nightmare for so many – but it is not engaged in building God’s dream.

But don’t be afraid and don’t despair, because God has a dream and God has promised to build a house – a house that will last, a house without walls. You, members of the household of God, you are called to build God’s dream, and you are not being sent out alone.   Let it not be said of our church, that we suffer from an “edifice complex.” Let it be rather said that we followed the example of Francis and Jesus, that we took to the streets and headed out into our neighborhoods, not neglecting the barrios and the ghettos – traveling lightly – in order to proclaim peace to those who were far off and to those who were near and to build a house – a house without walls – a house where love can dwell, even the unsettled and unsettling love of the unsettled and unsettling God.


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