"We really need to do something about this carpet." That was the seemingly innocent statement made by my wife that ended up losing me nearly a week and a not inconsiderable chunk of change. We carted furniture around, we pulled up a smelly old carpet, we mopped and cleaned, pried up the tack strip, and we waited for floor guys and paint guys, bought a rug, and then moved it all back (adjusting the position of the new rug and furniture a few times until it was just right). We are still settling into the new space, but it is done.
Construction can be an unsettling process. I don’t know about you, but I am tired of figuring out how to get to the church around the Getz Road construction that was supposed to take two weeks and is now finishing three with no visible end in sight. On the one hand we are glad things are being done, but sometimes we wonder if it is worth the struggle to get it done. Sometimes we wonder if we wouldn’t be better off just putting up with something less than ideal so that we don’t have to deal with the change. And the change and the changing can be difficult. We aren’t always sure of the new thing that is coming, will it be better than what we had or not?
Personally, I like carpet. Wood floors or wood laminate floors just don’t have the coziness that I like. So, the change might not be what I really want. Let alone the upset and the effort and the deprivation (I had to put away my big TV and my Laz-y-boy chair for the duration and watch in the basement on camp chairs! Oh, the humanity!).
OK, enough whining, for the moment anyway. We all know that change is difficult. We all know that building something, even something of value is a complicated, sometimes frustrating process - often enough to make us question along the way whether the effort is worth it. But what does it have to do with our scripture and the fourth statement of the Creed?
What is that fourth statement? I believe in "the holy catholic Church." Ah, the church. That explains it. Doesn’t it? Since church is about change. Church is about building, isn’t it? Not a building, but building - the verb not the noun. Not everyone would agree. Especially on the change issue. Some folks want to focus on the stability, on the constancy of church. We want something to count on being the same, now and always. It was good when I was kid, why should it change now? Let’s just let things be, some would argue. Why stir it all up?
What is the church for? Stability or change? Constancy or growth? Holding fast or building up? Here’s what our passage for the week says:
Ephesians 2:11-22 So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called "the uncircumcision" by those who are called "the circumcision"-- a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands-- 12 remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. 17 So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18 for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of
God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21 In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.
Some of you may be feeling set up. Sort of like I was with the innocent comment about the carpet. You might be thinking I could have chosen a different passage, one that was so obvious in making the point. But, truth be told, it is hard to find a passage about the church that isn’t about building, about change. That is what the New Testament presents. The church is not designed to be a place to go and hide, or go and sit. The church is not a refuge from the world, a bolt hole to go wait out the changes out there. It is a place of transformation. It is a place of healing, but not for healing’s sake. You are healed so that you can continue the mission of the church. It is a place of learning and growing, of serving and building.
Paul writes (I know there is some debate in biblical scholarship circles whether Paul actually wrote Ephesians - but I’m just skipping over that discussion for now. Send me an email if you want to have that debate!) that the church is about demolition and construction. Doesn’t sound very complacent to me.
The first order of business is tearing down the walls that divide us. I know, I know, according to verse 14, Christ is the one who tore down the wall. And that is certainly true. That which divides us, that which makes one better than another, that which singles out for inclusion or exclusion was destroyed by the life and death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. The paradox is that though those walls were torn down, we keep putting them back up. Yes, we can and should claim the freedom in Christ to see all people as part of the family - beloved as we are. But we would have to be blind to not see that those dividing walls of hostility are still there. Which means that the body of Christ must be in the demolition business. We’ve got to stand alongside Christ to tear those walls down again. And again. And again. It is a never ending task, to be honest. It is also a sobering one when we realize that some of those walls have our fingerprints on them. Some of those walls exist within us as we seek to identify those who we would include and those we would exclude from our own circles. So a part of what has to change is our own propensity to erect walls of division.
If we’ve learned anything it is that deconstruction without construction is a fruitless exercise. Something will come along to fill the hole we have created, and it just might be worse. That is what is wrong with "just say no" programs. Saying no is great as long as there is something to say yes to. So, if the church is about tearing down walls, we also need to be about building something up.
But that something may be beyond our understanding. At least for now. Which means that we need to follow the lead of someone with vision. In the midst of our renovation project, I was grumbling, I was uncertain, I was longing for what had been. Now that it is done, I have said to my wife, you were right. It is beautiful. I couldn’t see it, but she could. Her vision was enough. I was just a part of the process.
Ephesians says that we are the building materials. The vision is Christ’s. And we learn to trust in that vision, and those who lead us in it. Even when we can’t see it. We are being built into the structure that is the temple, is the dwelling place of God. We are being built into the facility that will allow anyone and everyone to see - not us - but the God who uses us as building materials. We set our handicaps, we set our preferences aside for the larger vision of the church.
We are in process. We’ve got to do something about the church. Roll up your sleeves.