Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Our Dwelling Places

Today was my grandmother's memorial service.  The past month has been a long journey with weddings, finals, hospitals, babies being born, lots of driving, and finally the memorial service.  The scripture that was read at the service was from John 14; it was my grandmother's favorite scripture passage.  

The passage talks about Jesus preparing a place for us in His Father's house and that following Jesus is the way to a place in that house...he is the way, and the truth, and the life.  Jesus tells us to not be troubled or worried, but to follow him and he will take us there.  I think Grandma was on to something with this passage.

As I was reflecting on today, the past month, and my life, I also started thinking about how I have been living my life.  I began to ponder on 1 Corinthians 3: 14, where Paul discusses how we build on the foundation of Christ and what we build will be tested with fire; if it is pure and strong it will stand, if not it will be burned up and we will have nothing left to show.  Then I thought about the parable that my mom used to tell me as a kid (I don't know where she got it from but I'm sure many others have heard this before too).  

The story goes something like this:  

One day a very rich woman died and a very poor man died and they met Peter at the gates of heaven.  Peter walked the two to their homes they had "built" in heaven.  They walked along and walked along, and came to a very beautiful mansion.  It was built of gold, rubies, diamonds, emerald, sapphires, pearls, and every precious thing you can imagine.  The woman proclaimed that this was her home, but she was mistaken and Peter told the poor man that this was his home.  The man was overwhelmed at God's goodness in giving him such a beautiful place to stay, and he was very grateful.  Peter explained to the man that it is not just God in his goodness but the materials the man had sent God to heaven to build his house with through his works and faithfulness on earth.  Peter and the woman walked along.  As they walked through the streets, the houses became smaller and smaller and the woman anticipated which one would be hers.  Finally, they came to a very humble and tiny home near the end of the block.  The woman exclaimed that this could NOT be her home.  Peter told the woman that these were the only materials that she had sent up to heaven and God did his best with what she gave him.  Peter asked her, "How often did you pray? How often did you share all your goods with others?  How often did you help someone in need?  How often did you reach out to help the homeless, clothe the naked, feed the hungry?  Why didn't you listen when God asked you to help?  Why didn't you see when God when he was right in front of you?  Where was your faith when you were lonely, sad, scared, hurting, depressed, empty, longing?  How often did you trust God and put your faith in Him in times of need?  How often did your faith praise God for the times you were not in need?"  And the woman could see that she had very little faith and works to send God the materials to build her place in heaven.

I am not entirely sure how the story went, this is only a feeble attempt of my recollection.  There are certainly flaws to the story and we know that we don't build a literal "house" in heaven.  We also do not know the extent of God's love and mercy either (remember the Gospel parable about the day laborers who were all paid equally regardless of what time they were hired on to help?).  Nevertheless, the scriptures and story got me thinking.

God wants us to be truthful, so here is the raw truth of what I have seen in my life...this is the house that I have built thus far.  I often find myself proclaiming what we as humans should be doing to build up the kingdom of God here on earth and how we should be living the Gospel and justice and peace in our lives, but then find myself doing NONE of it...or at least very little.  I am constantly distracted by things of this world and so wander from the way I am supposed to be living as a person of faith.  I move God from the center of my life to somewhere on the outer periphery to be acknowledged whenever I remember in the midst of my  oh-so-busy life on earth.  It is so very easy to look at my life and criticize all the things I do wrong, look at how selfish and two-faced I can be, point out all the flaws of my humanity.  But if I do only that, I will get lost in a sea self-pity and berate myself to no end, and thus moving farther away from God in the process.

My house today would look something like this:  There is indeed some sort of foundation, I would like to think of that foundation as Christ through my baptism and the sacraments. I already built the frames of the walls and managed to get those up.  There are spaces for doors and windows but those are not in yet.  I also got the roof frame up and got some portions of the roof covered, but its got a lot of holes that are not so holy.  The wall frames look like I put most of the insulation in and got some kind of stucco-like material up, but only got about halfway up from the ground to the roof.  It's a pretty shabby looking place and a cardboard box looks more comfortable than this awful looking thing that I've built so far.  To make matters even worse, my measurements were off from time to time and so my house is not exactly symmetrical...I'd like to say that this is because when I was working on this house, I was doing the right things but with the wrong intentions and so it's kind of "jagged."  

So, today, I showed God what I built.  I was ashamed at how terrible this house I was building looked so far.  "I told him, I am not proud of this work I have done, but I also know, I have been trying to do ALL this work on my own and there are so many things that I don't know about building houses.  I know that it is really hard for someone like me to build a house, and I keep running out of money, energy, time, and I just get frustrated and give up sometimes.  When I finally come back to work on the house, it is often times damaged from my time away and I have to backtrack and rebuild so much stuff and so I never really get anywhere.  I really need some help...what I really need is a carpenter, someone who knows what they are doing."

Jesus is that perfect carpenter that I need.  If I just let him work with me, show me how to do what the Son of God/carpenter does, if I ask him how I should do this or that and actually follow his instructions...building this house would be so much easier.  Sometimes we think that it is difficult to follow his instructions because we don't understand them.  I wonder if we do understand the instructions but we are just stubborn and want to do things our own way.  The biggest roadblock between God and me is myself.  But now, the thought of having a skilled carpenter by my side, day in and day out, helping to build this house and get those measurements right sounds soooooo much better than trying to go at it on my own.  I feel "safe" when I know that he will be helping me with this rigorous task of house building.  I hope the next time that I show God this house, Jesus is standing next to me as we excitedly show him all that we have done and tell him stories of all the fun we had doing it.

It is easier said than done, but so are many things in life.  So this is my prayer...for myself and others, that we invite Jesus in to help us and show us how to build these houses of ours and that we don't forget to let him be the Master Carpenter.

"Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God, believe also in me.  In my Father's house there are many dwelling places.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also...I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you know me, you will know my Father also.  From now on you do know him and have seen him...I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it."  John 14: 1-4; 6-7; 13-14

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