October 5, 2014
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Are We in the House of the LORD?
O God, Beginning and Completion, in Jesus Christ You confirmed Your covenant with us and sealed every promise in His blood. Empower us through Your Holy Spirit to teach all You have commanded to the world, tell all You have done to our neighbors, and live as those who are deeply and eternally loved, for the glory and praise of Your name. Amen.
I meet in a small group of men, 8 of us, all in some form of ministry in the PC(USA). None of us know any of the others extremely well, but most of us get along well enough. However there is one guy in this group who really gets on my nerves – and because he’s an extrovert and I’m an introvert, his style is to “push buttons” and my style is to “sit and stew”. I might be the only one in this cohort that has this problem (that would surprise me, but it could be true), but in my silent frustration I build up resentment and experience a disturbed spirit.
Can anyone in this room relate?
In the musical, “South Pacific”, Lieutenant Cable sings that delightful Rogers and Hammerstein song, “You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear, you’ve got to be taught from year to year, and it’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear. You’ve got to be carefully taught!” It is true that little children seem to have no prejudice, but they gain prejudice by their parents or environment or experience. The idea is that we are naturally peaceful people, and we are taught hostility by others. Supposedly, if you leave us alone we are and will always remain sweet innocents.
We might wish that were so, but both history and theology teach us that it is not true. Ever since Cain rose up against Abel we have known that HOSTILITY, SELF-JUSTIFICATION, and PRIDE are what we do. Ever since Lot argued with Abraham, ever since Sarah sent Hagar into the wilderness, we have known that what is native to us is not harmony but hatred. And that means we have to be carefully taught, all right; but it is not that somebody has to teach us how to fight. Instead somebody has to teach us the way of PEACE. Somebody has to teach us how to be GENEROUS. “Why can’t we all just get along?” (Rodney King, 1993?) That is not going to happen all by itself. But we can be carefully taught the ways of peace; we can be carefully taught how to love; we can be carefully taught what generosity is all about.
We are in our fourth week looking at the Old Testament prophet Micah – a book of WORSHIP – a book which author’s name translates as “WHO IS LIKE YAHWEH?”. A book within which every chapter talks about how NOTHING or NO ONE compares to GOD! No one is like Him!
But this is also a book that claims that this God who is worthy of our worship is a God of JUSTICE which authorizes His JUDGMENT and provides means for His GRACE.
So with that backdrop in place, on this World Communion Sunday when some form of peace and unity among Christian believers is expressed, let’s look at the fourth chapter of Micah, & see what it says about his vision for peace, at least in the House of the LORD. Listen to God’s Word from Micah 4:1-13…. —-
1 In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and peoples will stream to it.
2 Many nations will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
3 He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide.
They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.
4 Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree,
and no one will make them afraid, for the LORD Almighty has spoken.
5 All the nations may walk in the name of their gods,
but we will walk in the name of the LORD our God for ever and ever.
What a vision that is! That to the house of the LORD all peoples would come to learn not war, but the art of peace. That to the people of God the nations might come to find out how to move from unending hostility to eternal peace. What a vision!
By nature people tend toward HOSTILITY, SELF-JUSTIFICATION, and PRIDE.
The House of the LORD is a place of PEACE, GENEROSITY, and HUMILITY. Let’s examine this more closely, this idea that the house of God is a house of PEACE, GENEROSITY, and HUMILITY.
First, notice what the house of the LORD must teach if it is to be a house of PEACE. The house of the LORD must teach, quite simply, God’s ways, God’s truths. If we are to be a house of peace, we must diligently and clearly teach the whole counsel of God. “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways … .” His ways … The most fundamental task we have is to teach our struggling world who God is and what He is about. All of it.
Christianity is more than helping people be nice to each other. It is more than just having pleasant conversations. To know the Christian faith is to know about God’s plan of salvation and God’s kind of costly peace. I believe that the world is hungry to know that. The world we encounter of HOSTILITY, SELF-JUSTIFICATION, and PRIDE wants to understand how life is more than empty politeness and pleasantries. We are called to teach the ways of God, and they have teeth in them. They are substantial.
Take the Ten Commandments, for example. They are not the ten suggestions. They are moral absolutes, without which life is chaos. If the house of the LORD is to be a house of PEACE, we must teach clearly what is right and what is wrong, what is acceptable and what is not. Is it possible that part of the issue today is that we so want to make nice with the world that we stand for very little that is straightforward and clear?
But then, following closely on that, Micah tells us that God’s call to be a house of PEACE is not only teaching God’s ways; it is also walking in His paths. “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” To be a house of PEACE, we must not only teach substantial truths; we must model them. We must live them, act them out. If we are to be a house of PEACE, then we must show the world what reconciled relationships look like. We must actually live like we believe what we say we believe!
At least one way to envision living this out is with God’s GENEROSITY! God has freely given us a full relationship with Him through His Son’s death and resurrection, and His Holy Spirit dwelling within us. Do we generously give what God has entrusted to our care, away to others whom God also loves and may be calling into His flock?
If the church is to be a house of PEACE, then we must walk in God’s paths. We must model peacemaking. We must be a community where it does not matter so much where you have been or what you have done, but that you are here and that you are on the way to redemption. The church must be a place of generous forgiveness. We are not just a bunch of law-abiding middle-class folks who get together every Sunday to applaud one another for being nice. We are a gathering of the wounded and the hurting, the broken and the distressed, all of whom are being brought back to life by the Spirit of God. We are a fellowship of the last, the least, the lost, and the lonely, who do not prey on one another’s faults. Rather we feel one another’s pain and heal one another’s hurts. We carry the gift of peace, costly peace, to one another. To be a house of PEACE is not only to teach God’s truths, but also to walk in God’s paths of GENEROSITY.
And that will require the right set of tools. That will take good skills. Peacemaking is not some vague ideal without any particular skills. If we are to be a house of PEACE and GENEROSITY, we need to have the right tools. Micah’s image is very apt. “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.” God’s people will become equipped for peacemaking. Good intentions don’t get it done; preparation is everything.
Swords and spears are the tools of pride and fear. Plowshares and pruning hooks are the tools of HUMILITY and service! In Luke 10 Jesus tells 70 of His followers to go into the neighboring villages and ask the Lord of the harvest for laborers because the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. LPC is about to experiment with some ways to be laborers in the harvest – with plowshares and pruning hooks, to be with our neighborhoods, here and where we live, to make PEACE in a hostile world, to offer GENEROSITY among those who are too busy justifying their own existence, and with HUMILITY to counter act the pride that lives within each of us.
So, where are we now? What have we learned from Micah? We have learned that to be a house of peacemaking we must commit to teaching God’s ways, all of them, the inconvenient as well as the convenient, the demanding as well as the pleasurable. It will not do to be half-hearted about who God is and what He expects. The world needs us to teach His ways.
And we have learned that to be a house of peacemaking, we need to walk in His paths, we need to model peace-filled lives. We need one another, warts and all. The world needs us to show that we can walk in His paths.
Beyond that, we have learned that to be a house of peacemaking, we need to equip ourselves with tools we can really use. We need to do more than blunder along whispering sweet nothings. We need to teach useful stuff, swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks.
But Micah wants us to see one thing more. One more element in becoming a house of PEACE. This house of PEACE begins with people of peace. It begins with personal peace. It starts with individuals who know a peace that passes understanding. When I hear Micah promise that “they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid”, I hear him telling us that it is only when we are secure that we can be authentic peacemakers. It is only when we know peace within that we can make peace without. It is only when we have in our minds and hearts, a profound peace about who we are, that we can make peace for others. The world’s peace-issues will never be resolved until you and I resolve our own internal peace.
Do you remember my small group of pastors, and the one with whom I find personal hostility? Well, I expect that that is not the end of the story. As we gather around the Communion Table, as we commence to celebrate unity with believers across the globe, I ask your prayers to help me be a person of PEACE with this colleague, a person who teaches and lives out the whole counsel of God with this neighbor, a person of GENEROUS grace and HUMBLE boldness with our interactions.
And I ask your prayers for yourselves, as well; for we all need God’s help to be such people of PEACE and GENEROSITY and HUMILITY.
Are we in the House of the LORD? It must be about peace with God. It must be about being secure in the knowledge that if we forgive others their debts, so also our heavenly Father will forgive us. It is about having peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Are we in the House of the LORD? Let this be a church where truth is taught and embraced. Let this be a community where we show the world how to live in generous peace. Let this be a place where we are equipped with the humble tools that can make peace. But above all, let this very room echo, week after week, with the voices of those who have found the ultimate peace in the Prince of Peace, for “they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid”. In this house of PEACE. Amen.
Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Calvin Institute of Christian Worship; Grand Rapids, MI; 2012; P. 479.
Smith, Joseph; “In This House of Peacemaking”; Takoma Park Baptist Church; Washington, DC; July 27, 2008.