A House of Refuge
A house of refuge
Perhaps at some point in your life you have commissioned the building of a new house or you have done major renovations to your current house or property. Whether you contract out the work to someone else, do all the work yourself, or a combination of the two, you know how time consuming and expensive and frustrating these projects can be. It takes a lot of hands working together in unison for plans on paper to become a reality. And there is always the chance that things won’t work out as planned and you will go over budget.
In the course of human history leaders have broken the bank of their nations pursuing vast construction projects to show their power, prowess, and prestige. In the mid 26th century B.C the Egyptian Pharaoh Knufu burnt through much of the wealth of his Kingdom to build the Great Pyramids of Giza. Even with today’s modern building techniques National Geographic estimates that it would cost $5 billion to build the Pyramids.
Moving to modern times, North Korea, which is known more for being a totalitarian regime than a tourist destination, began construction of a 105 story luxury hotel in 1987. Construction stopped in the 1990’s when the Soviet Union, which had been funding the regime, collapsed. After spending $750 million dollars, the three wing triangular tower, remains empty today.
Moving from the ancient arrogance of the Pharaohs, to the totalitarian terror that is North Korea, we finally come to the Utopian universe that is Hampton Roads. We too in our area are undergoing a large and expensive construction project. VDOT, the state agency that maintains our highways, is planning on awarding $3.3 billion dollar contract in April to expand the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel, otherwise known as the HRBT. I am sure many of you are glad that there is a light at the end of the tunnel of HRBT traffic jams. I suspect that many of you who travel the HRBT regularly might prefer living in an abandoned North Korean luxury hotel, than dealing with Hampton Roads traffic. And all of God’s people said amen.
Calvin Presbyterian Church has undergone several capital campaigns and building projects since our church was planted on July 10th, 1955. We first met in the elementary school across the street. On June 10th, 1956 we held our first morning worship service in the fellowship hall, which was the only worship space at the time. On April 3rd, 1960 the church opened up a new Christian education wing and classes began there. On March 1st, 1980 this current Sanctuary was dedicated to the glory of God. To quote the history of Calvin our current Sanctuary was dedicated as, “ a room of wisdom that might enlighten and lead the people of God to know more of His ways.”
Several years ago a fire broke out one Sunday close to where my office is now. I am told this was a moment that brought the church together. We banded together, raised the funds, and rebuilt that part of the building. Like the bionic man we rebuilt the building better than it was before.
With every new building campaign there comes a need for sacrifice. A sacrifice of time, talent, and treasure. To take something from plans on paper to reshaping the physical world is a labor of patience. It is a labor of love. And this first Sunday of Lent, as we enter a season of fasting and reflection, as we contemplate the sacrifice our Lord Jesus Christ made on the cross for us, I am asking you to sacrifice once again. I am asking you to sacrifice of your time, your talent, and your treasure, to engage in a new labor of love, a new building campaign. This building campaign may involve improvements to our physical structure down the line, but first it will involve spiritual sacrifices, constructing a spiritual house of living stones.
The cornerstone, the first stone to be laid, the stone that determines the shape and character of our spiritual house, is our Lord Jesus Christ. As our call to worship from 1 Peter suggests, Jesus was the stone that was rejected, crucified by his own people, crucified by the world, crucified everyday by our rejection of His undying love. And yet, God vindicated him and made him the cornerstone, the standard by which the rest of the house would be built. Christ is the cornerstone. And we are the stones that he has chosen to build his house on this earth. The church is not the building. It is the people. And we the body of Christ are being built up into a spiritual house. But, these stones are not made out of granite, limestone, or brick, our scriptures from Deuteronomy and 1 Peter tells us who we are in the eyes of God. We are Sojourners, exiles, in a foreign land. In other words to be a Christian is to be a refugee. To build a church is to build a house of refuge for all that are called by the name of the Lord. And on this first Sunday of Lent there is good news.
The Good News. When we realize we are refugees we will sacrifice to build a house of refuge.
- Why should we sacrifice?
- What should we sacrifice?
- What will God build with our sacrifice?
First, we need to ask why we should sacrifice. Why should we give of our time, talent, and treasure? And our text today tells us why. Our spiritual heritage is one of the sojourner, the exile, the refugee.
God tells us why we should sacrifice in the book of Deuteronomy. We see that the LORD has led his people from slavery in the land of Egypt into a land flowing with milk and honey. And the author tells us that the response of the people to this act of mercy and grace should be this, “ And you shall make a response before the LORD your God, ‘A wandering Aramean was my father. And he went down into Egypt and sojourned there, few in number, and there he became a nation, great, mighty and populous. And the Egyptians treated us harshly and humiliated us and laid on us hard labor. Then we cried to the LORD, the God of our fathers, and the LORD hear our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. And the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great deeds of terror, with signs and wonders.” (Deuteronomy 26:5-9)
When I first read this passage I didn’t know what an Aramean was or which Biblical character the text was talking about. I had to do some research to find out. But a little researched helped me understand these terms. Aram was the Biblical name for what would today be modern Syria. The particular patriarch, or father of the faith, that the text is referring to is Jacob.
Jacob was the son of Isaac and Rebekah. Isaac was born to Abraham and Sarah in their old age as an answer to prayer. Abraham was near death and yet his Son did not have a wife. So he made one of his servants swear that he would not find a wife for Isaac in the land of the Canaanites, which was where Abraham was a refugee, but that he would find a wife for Isaac from Abraham’s people. So the servant traveled back to Abraham’s homeland, where he met Rebekah, the daughter of Betheul the Aramean, which would be modern day Syria. Rebekah agreed to become Isaac’s wife. The Bible tells us that when the two saw each other it was love at first sight (Genesis 25).
Rebekah gave birth two fraternal twins, Esau and Jacob. Esau was born first. Esau means, harry, because Esau was covered with red hair when he was born. Esau was a man’s man, a skill full hunter, a man of the fields. But Jacob, who’s name basically means “heal grabber”, because he came out gripping his brother’s heal, was a quiet man. He preferred staying indoors and cooking. Jacob was Rebekah’s favorite. But Esau was Isaac’s favorite. Already we see a recipe for conflict. Already we see a recipe for rejection.
To make a long story short Jacob ended up stealing Esau’s blessing, his birth right, that a father would traditionally bestow on his first born Son. Jacob did so because he felt rejected. He did so because he felt unloved by his Father. Esau was furious and threatened to kill his brother. So Jacob fled back to Syria to work for his uncle Laban at the instruction of his father Isaac. On the way Jacob had a dream where he saw the heavens open up and angels ascending and descending up and down a ladder. The LORD promised Jacob to make a great nation out of him and his descendants. But Jacob still felt like a heal grabber. He still felt like a reject. He thought that the vision had more to do with the place he slept than with the plan God had for his life. How could God do such a thing with a reject, with a heel grabber like him?
When Jacob got to Syria he met his uncle’s two daughters Leah and Rachel. Leah was the older daughter and Rachel was the younger daughter. Jacob fell in love with Rachel and agreed to work for Laban for seven years so that he might receive Rachel’s hand in marriage. But Jacob was so hungry for love, and unsure of himself, that he allowed Laban to trick him. In Laban’s culture the oldest daughter needed to be married off first. And Jacob should have known this. So he had to marry Leah. And then he worked another seven years so that he could marry Rachel.
Jacob loved Rachel more than he loved Leah, which caused more family conflict. Leah bore Jacob ten sons, while Rachel had trouble conceiving, which caused even more family conflict. Eventually, Rachel gave birth to Joseph and then to his little brother Benjamin. Rachel died giving birth to Benjamin. Benjamin and Joseph’s other half brothers, with the exception of Reuben tried to kill Joseph. Reuben saved Joseph only to have Joseph sold into slavery into Egypt when he was not looking. God used Joseph’s trials and made him a father to Pharaoh a ruler over all of Egypt. He saved his people from a great famine. Joseph invited his brothers and his father Jacob to wait out the famine in the land of Egypt. But in the book of Exodus we find that the Pharaoh Joseph knew died. As Jacob’s descendants multiplied, the new Pharaoh got scared, and oppressed God’s people. The people cried out to God and after four hundred years God heard their cries and delivered them through his servant wonder. He delivered them with plagues. He delivered them with signs and wonders.
Why should we sacrifice? We are sojourners. We are exiles. And whatever we have, no matter how hard we have worked, God gave it to us. It is his grace that gave it to us.
First, we see that we should sacrifice because we as Christians are refugees in this world. Second, the question becomes what should we sacrifice? ! Peter today says we should offer spiritual sacrifices. I think spiritual sacrifices break down in three ways.
- The sacrifice of our attitude
- The Sacrifice of our First Fruits
First, is the sacrifice of our attitude. As we all know sacrifice for sacrifice sake doesn’t make anything better. There is only one true sacrifice, the sacrifice of God’s only Son Jesus Christ, that cleanses us from our sins. Because of Christ’s sacrificial death Paul in Romans 12 calls on us to present ourselves as living sacrifices, so that God by his Holy Spirit can renew our minds, so that we may have the mind of Christ, so that we may see the world, not as the rejected of the world, but as the one who was rejected by the builders of this world but became the cornerstone of God’s new creation. God wants us to see ourselves and the world around us through the eyes of His Son, through the mind of Christ. This requires that we become living sacrifices. And the problem with a living sacrifice is that sometimes we want to crawl off the altar of our faith.
To stay on the altar of faith requires a sacrifice of our attitudes. With the world our conduct should be honorable. As much as it depends on us we are to leave at peace with those outside the church (Romans 12:18). The world is to see our good deeds and know that such deeds are only made possible by God not by us. In regards to those inside the church Peter says this to his flock, “put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation- if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” The sweetness of the word, the sweetness of our fellowship, the sweetness of our service is to be such that we can taste the goodness of the Lord. Not only do we taste His goodness we grow in our maturity. We will never be perfect in this life. But with each passing day we demonstrate how the salvation of the Lord has changed us from the inside out. This requires a sacrifice of our attitudes.
What will God build with our sacrifice? Well he says he wants to build a house out of stone, but a house of refuge, the the exiles, and the ragamuffins, and the rejects, for the people who don’t have it all together, for the people who don’t have enough money to buy suits on Sundays, he wants to build a house of refuge, a house for broken toys like you and me. And I believe the Lord has been doing that here at Calvin for over fifty years.
For over fifty years now Calvin Presbyterian Church has been a stalwart support for those who have sought refuge from a harsh world. Even in my two years here I have heard so many amazing stories of kindness and sacrifice done not for fame but to glorify Jesus’ name. Those of you have been here know what those are, that saints live among us, and that you are saints, if you would see your identity in Christ. And to continue that we must deeper in and look higher up to offer a living sacrifice, a sacrifice of faith.
From July 9-10, 2005 Calvin celebrated her 50th anniversary as a church. I asked one of our members to get me a copy of that bulletin. It turns out that today I am preaching on one of the same texts Deuteronomy 26:1-11 that Donald Edmunds preached on back in 2005. The other text was Joshua 4: 1-7, 19-24. In that passage the LORD stopped the waters of the Jordan from flowing so that Joshua and God’s people could cross into the promised land by foot. In thanks to the LORD for this miracle the people of Israel took twelve stones out of the Jordan to make a monument to remember the LORD’s faithfulness. To quote Joshua, ” “ For the LORD your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the LORD your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty, that you may fear the LORD your God forever.” (Joshua 4:23-24).
The title of Dr. Edmonds sermon was, “Marking the Milestones of Your Life.” Perhaps it is no coincidence that today I am preaching on one of the same texts as Dr. Edmunds did in 2005. And one of the main themes of this sermon is living stones. I had almost completed this sermon before I looked at the 50th anniversary bulletin.
Now our body of believers has been worshiping together for 64 years. Back in 2005 one of our members wrote a song for Calvin’s fiftieth anniversary where Donald Edmunds preached on the book of Deuteronomy. I think this song sums up the character of Calvin. So in our sixty fourth year I would like to repeat those lyrics once again. I have replaced fifty years with sixty four years to update the song a bit.
Sixty four years ago this neighborhood was judged a mission field, and a church was planted here to testify, to the saving grace of Jesus and the power of His love, and for sixty four years, we’ve raised His name on high. And we’ve come this far by faith. We’ve been walking in God’s Grace, we’ve been following His light for sixty four years.
We’re a sister and a brotherhood of families and friends, who are glad to serve the Lord in any way, we are following Christ’s leadership as best His grace allows, and we feel His presence with us every day. And we’ve come this far by faith. We’ve been walking in God’s grace, We’ve been following His light for sixty four years.
We’ve been working hard and praying that our lives will meet His test, and we’re helping here to make His Kingdom come, and when we go on our children will carry on the task, and we hope to meet in heaven one by one. And we’ve come this far by faith. We’ve been walking in God’s Grace, We’ve been following His light for sixty four years.”
We’ve come this far by faith. And day by day, hour by hour, second by second, breath by breath, we must come again to him, come to the altar of faith, as living sacrifices, as living stones, rejected by man. If you feel rejected today there is a savior who was rejected who has become the cornerstone and today come to him as living stones chosen and precious in God’s sight being built up into a spiritual house. A house for the sojourners, a house for exiles, a house for the rejected, a house for the ragamuffin. Come to him, come just a little further now, to be built by his Sovereign hand. That generations to come might fear the LORD. That they might say the Lord hath done it by his Sovereign hand, not by our might but by His might, he has built and will build up a house of refuge.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.