Hands On Theology–Building

Written by Mark C. Pederson, Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church

Theme Background

Eugene Peterson’s introduction to the book of Haggai is so wonderful.   It would make a great sermon for this Sunday.  I’m going to quote most of it here:

 . . . it is not uncommon for us to be dismissive of the buildings themselves by saying, ‘A place of worship is not a building; it’s people,’ or, ‘I prefer worshipping God in the great cathedral of the outdoors.’  These pronouncements are often tagged with the scriptural punch line, ‘The God who made the universe doesn’t live in custom-made shrines,’ which is supposed to end the discussion.  God doesn’t live in buildings—period.  That’s what we often say.

But then there is Haggai to account for.  Haggai was dignified with the title, ‘prophet’ (therefore we must take him seriously).  His single task, carried out in a three-and-a-half-month mission, was to get God’s people to work at rebuilding God’s Temple (the same Temple that had been destroyed by God’s decree only seventy or so years earlier). 

Compared with the great prophets who preached repentance and salvation, Haggai’s message doesn’t sound very ‘spiritual.’  But in God’s economy it is perhaps unwise to rank our assigned work as either more or less spiritual.  We are not angels; we inhabit space.  Material—bricks and mortar, boards and nails—keeps us grounded and connected with the ordinary world in which we necessarily live out our extraordinary beliefs.  Haggai keeps us in touch with those times in our lives when repairing the building where we worship is an act of obedience every bit as important as praying in that place of worship.       Eugene Peterson’s introduction to the book of Haggai

I go through spurts of time where I become totally engrossed in a building project.  Recently I’ve been working on the trellis under the new porch of our very old house.  I love it when I’m totally in the zone of construction.  When doing woodworking you had better be able to concentrate.  One lax moment and you could be missing a finger.  It is that state of absolute concentration that I enjoy.  It is difficult to get to that point.  At the start my mind is going in a million different directions and it is hard to center on the project.  Then, just by doing some simple work, my focus changes.  This process is amazingly similar to my efforts at prayer.

Our physical surroundings are important.  They can be neglected dumps, or beautiful spaces of work and rest.  I am reminded of this whenever I sit in our pastoral office.  Before Courtney arrived the space was a dark sink hole of cast off nursery equipment.   By cleaning up the space, adding some windows for light, some actual lights, new carpet and flooring, new paint, new doors, new furniture, and beautiful art the space was radically transformed.  Now it is a very productive, beautiful, useful space.   So often in the church there is an assumption that our spaces must be Spartan, old, worn out and ugly.  Ask a pastor how many times they have been offered a butt-ugly sofa from some well-meaning parishioner.   The sofa is too ugly to remain in their home (even in the beat up family room) but would be just perfect for the pastor’s study (or better yet, the youth room).  The esthetics of a room are extremely important.  Your physical environment affects how you think, act and feel.  Too often people of faith think such things have no importance.

Many people made the transformation of our offices possible.  Pastor Courtney, and Cathy and Steve Long did a lot of the paining.  Jimmy Dean installed the flooring (thanks to a gift from Mick Cowles).  The furniture came from Trinity’s 3rd Street Offices.  Luke Zimmerman designed the lighting and provided his own artwork.  Dave Gleason did the finish sheet rock work.  It was one of those projects I got lost in for a long period of time.  But what a pleasant place to gather and do work.

This is a Sunday we celebrate construction and physical labor.  Often we think of these things as non-spiritual and of less importance.  Luckily we have Haggai to show us that this is not the case.  Physical space is important.  Our spirits need a place to reside, and rest and work.

We hope to do another remodeling project at the church this day.  Several of us are looking at updating the upstairs kitchen and the coffee-storage room next to it.  We want to be able to use this space to do food preparation for our new food training program.  Such a remodel, I believe, will make that space useful again, to help it reach it’s full potential to help us in doing ministry.  Currently it is used two or three hours a week with large swaths of unused space.  We think we can make it better through physical labor (and a good wrecking bar)

Quotes for the Week

“I got the blues thinking of the future, so I left off and made some marmalade.  It’s amazing how it cheers one up to shred oranges and scrub the floor.”                                                    D.H. Lawrence

“To labor is to pray.”    Motto of the Benedictines

“An architect’s most useful tools are an eraser at the drafting board, and a wrecking bar at the site.”                            Frank Lloyd Wright

“Regard it as just as desirable to build a chicken house as to build a cathedral.”                                                                   Frank Lloyd Wright

“Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical.”  Yogi Berra

1st Lesson Haggai 2: 1-9  (The Message)

On the twenty-first day of the seventh month, the Word of God came through the prophet Haggai: “Tell Governor Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and High Priest Joshua son of Jehozadak and all the people: ‘Is there anyone here who saw the Temple the way it used to be, all glorious? And what do you see now? Not much, right?

4-5 “‘So get to work, Zerubbabel!’—God is speaking.

“‘Get to work, Joshua son of Jehozadak—high priest!’

“‘Get to work, all you people!’—God is speaking.

“‘Yes, get to work! For I am with you.’ The God-of-the-Angel-Armies is speaking! ‘Put into action the word I covenanted with you when you left Egypt. I’m living and breathing among you right now. Don’t be timid. Don’t hold back.’

6-7 “This is what God-of-the-Angel-Armies said: ‘Before you know it, I will shake up sky and earth, ocean and fields. And I’ll shake down all the godless nations. They’ll bring bushels of wealth and I will fill this Temple with splendor.’ God-of-the-Angel-Armies says so.

‘I own the silver,
I own the gold.’
Decree of God-of-the-Angel-Armies.

“‘This Temple is going to end up far better than it started out, a glorious beginning but an even more glorious finish: a place in which I will hand out wholeness and holiness.’ Decree of God-of-the-Angel-Armies.”


Gospel Luke 7:1-10 (version)

When he finished speaking to the people, he entered Capernaum. A Roman captain there had a servant who was on his deathbed. He prized him highly and didn’t want to lose him. When he heard Jesus was back, he sent leaders from the Jewish community asking him to come and heal his servant. They came to Jesus and urged him to do it, saying, “He deserves this. He loves our people. He even built our meeting place.”

6-8 Jesus went with them. When he was still quite far from the house, the captain sent friends to tell him, “Master, you don’t have to go to all this trouble. I’m not that good a person, you know. I’d be embarrassed for you to come to my house, even embarrassed to come to you in person. Just give the order and my servant will get well. I’m a man under orders; I also give orders. I tell one soldier, ‘Go,’ and he goes; another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

9-10 Taken aback, Jesus addressed the accompanying crowd: “I’ve yet to come across this kind of simple trust anywhere in Israel, the very people who are supposed to know about God and how he works.” When the messengers got back home, they found the servant up and well.

Questions for the Week

In what room, or physical space, do you most like to spend time?

What is it about that space that you like?

What is one of your least favorite spaces?  Why don’t you like it?

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