WORD FROM THE PASTOR:
God, Termites and Walls...The house sat in several feet of floodwater for many days. When the water receded, the house was gutted down to bare wood, like many homes in New Orleans. After the storm came termites, feasting on the wood and compromising the structure. When the twin calamities of hurricane and insect were finished, the only reclaimable parts of the home were the brick exterior and some of the rafters.
This was the challenge facing the St. Paul’s team on their recent work trip to the Crescent City: rebuilding a house from the inside. We’d never done that before. We’d gutted existing homes; we’d built new homes from the ground up. But taking a ruined home and rebuilding it wall by wall was something new. We braced the ceiling with jacks and 4 by 4 beams...we removed the wall...we built a new wall...we put the new wall in place...we secured the new wall to the cement floor...we removed the bracing...we sprayed the areas where old wood and new wood touched with insecticide. Again and again we repeated this process, until by the end of the week we had about half the structure done (it was a duplex – two side-by-side apartments).
And as we did the work, it occurred to me: the reclamation of a ruined house is kind of like a parable (or maybe an allegory...the difference is subtle) of God’s work in our lives. After all, God in the Bible is compared to a builder (“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain” - Psalm 127:1), and we are compared to a house of God (“Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God” (I Corinthians 6:19). So it’s helpful, I think, to compare our construction of the house in New Orleans to God working in our lives to reclaim us. We have been ruined by the power of sin (which, in my parable would be represented by the hurricane) and ravaged by Satan (represented by the termites). God, like the owner of the house, faced a major decision: do I raze the whole thing and start over, or do I try to reclaim it? God could have destroyed us or swept us into hell forever; the owner of the home in New Orleans could have simply ripped it down and rebuilt from the ground up. But a basic decision was made: We’re not going to rip this house down, but reclaim it. (To be honest, the New Orleans homeowner was motivated by the fact that more aid money is available for renovation than for new construction; but God was motivated by pure love for us!) So the decision not to rip down the house represents God’s forgiving love in Christ–even though we were ravaged and riddled with sin, He did not abandon us but embraced us in Jesus. The home–and we–will not be razed, but raised.
Taking the inner walls down one at a time represents the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives–making us more godly people, more devoted people. He does not make us holy all at once–rather, He works on us gradually. “The inner man is being renewed day by day” (II Corinthians 4:16 ). Or, as the popular phrase goes: “Be patient with me–God isn’t finished with me yet.” Becoming what God wants us to be is the work of a lifetime.
There were setbacks. Several times beams fell off jacks. Every now and then a rafter came unexpectedly down on the folks from Indianapolis who were doing some preliminary work on the roof. (There was no injuries, thanks be to God!) Setbacks happen in our lives, too. The presence of sin in our lives causes us to stumble. Our progress is not always a straight upward line–sometimes it’s a zigzag. But those setbacks are not fatal; as Scripture says, “Though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the Lord upholds his hand” (Psalm 37:24)
The spraying of the termite killer (or “joy juice”, as I–the chief sprayer–christened it) was a reminder of Holy Baptism, which defeats the power of Satan in our lives. And perhaps most importantly, the wood and the nails that we used to build the new walls recalled the holy cross–where Jesus died to take away our sins and bring us back to God. It’s only through the cross, and its forgiving power, that I can be rebuilt and renewed.
One day that house in New Orleans East will be finished...and families will move in. And one day, God’s work in us will be complete...when we “move in” to the house that the crucified and risen Christ has prepared for us in heaven. Praise to the Lord Jesus–for the “load-bearing” beams in my life are the beams of His holy cross!
Alma Kern. Last month, a very inspiring person left our visible St. Paul’s family. In her earlier years, she was inspiring because of her work–the books she wrote, the devotions she penned for Portals of Prayer, her work with the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League, the support she gave her husband in his long and fruitful ministry. In more recent years, she became an inspiring figure because of her endurance in the face of adversity–she suffered broken hips and strokes, but continued to be faithful in her attendance at St. Paul’s. It was rare for her to miss a service (either on Sunday or during Lent), even though she often moved with great pain and difficulty. Every now and then she would remark on how hard it must be for me to get through three services in a weekend, or the many services of Holy Week–she was on a walker and in significant pain, and she was complimenting my endurance! But that’s the kind of person she was.
There is an empty place in our pews and in our hearts with Alma’s departure. But we will continue to be inspired by her devotion to Jesus, and by her love for God’s church. And we will cherish the assurance that we are still united with her in the body of Christ–a union that not even
death can break. When we hear the words in the liturgy, “therefore with angels and archangels and
with all the company of heaven”, we will know that we are praising God in union with Alma and
with all who have gone before us.
God’s blessing and healing be with Pastor Kern and all his family. May they find continuing comfort in Alma’s signature Bible verse: “You are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you.” (Isaiah 43:4)
God loves you and so do I!