Have you ever watched demolitions experts implode a building? It’s kind of an impressive sight. One minute a building is there, the next it’s gone. It’s just a pile of rubble.
That can happen in other ways, too. You’ve all seen the pictures of the Zion Lutheran Church in Delmont. I can’t count the number of times I’ve driven by that church. It stood for a hundred years, and a few weeks ago you’d have thought it was going to stand for another hundred years. And now it’s gone, taken down by a tornado.
One of the truisms of life is that it’s much easier to tear down, to destroy, than it is to build. And that brings us to our Paradoxical Commandment for today. As many of you know, that’s a sermon series we’ve been doing based on a set of ten statements by Dr. Kent M. Keith and endorsed by Mother Teresa. We have the complete list in the back of the church. Today’s statement is: What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.
Our reading from Jeremiah today told of the destruction of the first temple of Jerusalem. The first temple of Jerusalem was an amazing thing. It was built of cedar. The walls and floors were overlaid with gold. Many of the decorations were made of gold, too. There’s no way to measure the cost of everything that went into building that temple. It took seven years to build it. It was the most incredible thing that had ever been built.
The first temple of Jerusalem stood for hundreds of years. And then came the events we read about in Jeremiah. The king of Babylon came and sent his army to destroy Jerusalem. Included in the destruction was the first temple. Everything was destroyed. The most beautiful, incredible building there had ever been was gone in almost no time at all.
The people of Israel were pretty much destroyed, too. Most of them—all the people the king of Babylon thought were worth keeping—were taken to Babylon. The only ones left in Jerusalem were the poorest of the poor people, who were left behind to work the fields.
Seventy years passed. There were very few people left who remembered the temple, or who remembered living Jerusalem at all. But then, amazingly, they were allowed back. Persia took over Babylon, and the king of Persia sent the people of Israel back with specific instructions to rebuild the temple. The people could hardly believe it. It was an incredible answer to their prayers.
Think of the faith it took for the people of Israel to do this. First, it took faith, over that seventy years that they were in Babylon, for the people of Israel to keep praying and keep hoping and keep trusting that God would someday allow them to return to Jerusalem. After all, seventy years is a long time. Their life in Jerusalem was a story, something grandparents told their grandchildren. It was not something most of them had ever experienced. They had no reason to think they ever would. It took a lot of faith to believe that the return to Jerusalem was not just a dream, a fairy tale that would never come true.
And then, it took a lot of faith to actually go back to Jerusalem. I mean, yes, it was home, in a way, but not really. Most of them had never actually lived there. And the world changes a lot in seventy years. People’s lives change a lot in seventy years. We get used to things. We get settled in our ways. We don’t necessarily want to change. People had houses and jobs and families in Babylon. They had no idea what they’d find when they went back to Jerusalem. It took a lot of faith for them to go back and start their lives over again.
And when they did go back, it took a lot of faith for them to actually rebuild the temple. They’d built it once, and it had been destroyed. How did they know it would not be destroyed again? Yes, the king of Persia had allowed them to do it, but how did they know Persia would stay in control? And besides, this king was not going to live forever. How did they know what the next king would think about this? He might order the temple destroyed again.
It took a lot of faith on the part of the people of Israel to build the second temple. But you know, it takes a lot of faith to build anything. None of us knows what the future is going to be like. It took a lot of faith to build this church many years ago. The people who built it did not know how long it would last. It took a lot of faith for us now to build the addition. We don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. It’s faith that made it possible and makes it possible for us to build things when we don’t know what the future holds. It takes faith in God, it takes faith in each other, and it takes faith in the generations to come.
And we know, just as the people of Israel knew, that anything we build could be destroyed in an instant. And that’s not just true of buildings, either. It takes faith to build anything, and anything we build could be destroyed in an instant, because it’s always easier to destroy something than it is to build it.
It takes faith to build a marriage, right? I mean, we all know how prevalent divorce is these days. And please, if you’ve been divorced, please don’t hear that as me passing any kind of judgment on you. Divorces happen for lots of reasons and it’s not for me to judge what happened with you. But it’s not something anyone wants to go through. No one gets married with the idea that you’re going to get divorced. We get married with the idea that it’s going to last the rest of our lives. When we say “till death do us part”, that’s what we have in mind.
But that’s an act of faith. Because we don’t know that we’re actually going to be able to do it. I did not. I hoped. I prayed. I wished. I planned. But I did not know. I don’t think Wanda really knew, either. I mean, I’m pretty confident about it now, over twenty-five years later, but at the time, who knew? It was act of faith. There are lots of things that can destroy a marriage. A decision to build one is an act of faith.
It takes faith to build a family, too. Nobody knows whether they’ll be any good at being a mother or a father until they do it. Nobody feels confident that they’ll know what to do or how to do it. And even if you turn out to be a good parent, there are all kinds of unknowns. Will you have enough money to provide for your family? What happens if you lose your job? What if you lose your health? What if your kids have serious health problems? What if they have serious behavioral problems, or have problems in school? And who knows what the world is going to be like when they grow up? There are lots of things that can destroy a family. It takes faith to decide to build one.
It takes faith to build anything. It takes faith in ourselves, it takes faith in others, and it takes faith in God. Not building anything is easy. It takes no faith at all to not build something. And we can always find reasons not to. It’s like what we said a couple of weeks ago about ideas—there are always twenty-five reasons to not do something. If our goal is to find one of those reasons, we’ll always be able to.
But it’s only through building things that we move forward. And it’s only through building things that we can serve God. That’s true whether we’re talking about a building, or a marriage, or a family, or a relationship, or anything else. We cannot serve God by not trying to do anything. We cannot serve God by not building things. We can only serve God by building them.
We need to build carefully, of course. The people of Israel did not just walk out one day and start slapping pieces of wood together. We need to talk about what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it. We need to talk about what the best way is to do it. But at some point, we need to go beyond just talking. Nobody ever built a building, or a marriage, or a family, or a relationship by talking about it. At some point, we have to take that leap of faith and actually build it. And we do so knowing that what we’re building could be destroyed in an instant, and there may be nothing we can do about it.
What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway. Have the faith to build. Yes, it’s taking a chance. Yes, what we decide to build could be destroyed. But build it anyway. Build a church. Build a family. Build a relationship. Have faith in God. It’s the only way we can move forward. And it’s the only way we can serve God.