Let us Build a House

A sermon preached by Joseph Welker, Jr.
Let us Build a House
Psalm 122
November 5, 2017

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by other, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.

When the confirmands went to Washington, Jordan was telling me about their going to worship… one of the leaders wanted to make sure they were ready for a very important part of the worship service… so they were each given a $1.00 to put in the offering plate.

It brought back to mind when I was growing up in the church. Did your parents give you money to put in the offering plate? Mine did. Before church or before the offering, my parents would give me a quarter (believe me, it was worth more back then… a quarter is what I paid for a school lunch)… and they would say, “you should put this in the offering plate”.

One of the things my parents wanted to teach me is how giving was a part of worship… that when you come to the house of God, with God, among the people of God… you shouldn’t come empty handed… without an offering. That’s how I first learned how giving was part of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. And in thinking about this text and this sermon, I came to realize, God’s people never came before the Lord, empty handed.

In our text today, this pilgrim, who has been on the road for days is delighted- rejoices at the thought of coming to the house of the Lord. If he lived in a place like Galilee he would have been traveling for a week to make this trip… If it was a festival, he would have planned a week of travel there… a week to spend in Jerusalem… and a week to head home. Three weeks without income from work. I doubt they had vacation days back then. It would already have been a personal sacrifice.

But he would have also expected to bring a tangible offering to the Lord. When God’s people went to the temple, they would never have thought about coming before the Lord empty handed…

Depending on the occasion, they might be bringing a guilt offering or sin offering or some kind of offering as they asked God to forgive their sins. They might have brought a thanksgiving offering as a way of giving thanks to God for being God… or for something God had done for them (like safe travel through the desert on their way to Jerusalem, saving them from a storm, or recovery from an illness) those who lived close enough to go to the temple daily would have brought a daily burnt offering… they might have brought a peace offering… There were lots of offerings. Almost as many as we have at the Kirk!

And this was on top of the tithe… Not in place of the tithe, but on top! The tithe was a gift of either 10% of your property or your produce for the purpose of supporting the priests and the institution of the temple. You know, the temple didn’t run itself! The tithe was their annual gift to support the work of the priest… to pay for the maintenance of the temple… and those who worked in the temple. Sound familiar?

So when this pilgrim is coming, we don’t know what he is bringing, but we can be pretty sure he was bringing something because he could not have imagined going before the Lord empty handed…

Especially when he thought about what the Lord had done for him.

The reason he rejoices in going to the house of the Lord is because it is there he will find a place of refuge… safety and security in a brutal world… It is there he will find out he is not alone, but can join others in offering praise to God… and as we all know, there is nothing quite like a group of people offering praise with heart and voice (I love it when I hear good congregational singing… nothing is quite as uplifting) ….He rejoices at the sight of Jerusalem and the temple because he will find God’s justice … and finally, he rejoices because it is there at the temple he will meet God because this is where God has chosen to live… Though the whole earth belongs to God, so that God is everywhere (at the beach and mountains)… there is something different about the house of God… where God lives in a special way, unlike other places. It was, his “thin place”.

This afternoon we are holding a memorial service for a man who died an early death at 43 years old. A little over a week ago, his wife called to ask if we could hold the service here. Of course. For what she was asking is what many others have asked… to come to the house of the Lord for comfort, of peace, of refuge of hope… They could have held the service anywhere, but they wanted to come here… So, could they hold his service here? Of course! Of course they should come… just as many others have come… that’s why we are here! If you want to know what you are supporting when you pledge… you are supporting that!

It’s like the hymn says:

Let us build a house where all are named,
their songs and visions heard
and loved and treasured, taught and claimed
as words within the Word.
Built of tears and cries and laughter,
prayers of faith and songs of grace,
let this house proclaim from floor to rafter.
All are welcome, all are welcome,
all are welcome in this place.

Especially when you need God’s grace.

When, with God’s help, your tithes, offerings and pledges, we build this kind of house, it becomes the House of the Lord. A place of refuge, of strength and a reason to rejoice, “I rejoiced when they said to me “let us go to the house of the Lord!”

I know I rejoice when I think about this house of God. I rejoice at the children who know me because their parents bring them to worship… and in the parking lot or in the store they come up to me and say, “Hi Pastor Jody”… I rejoice because God’s house has brought us together.

I rejoice when I see people dream of a new satellite congregation in Holly Springs – knowing that they will be able to reach new people in that growing community, offering a place for worship.

I rejoice that our parking lot is seldom empty… because people have come here to tutor, feed the hungry, seek help, for prayer, for counseling…to develop relationships with our neighbors… So many reasons people come here! All the time! And I think about all the people we will be serving when the new building is done… I rejoice at that!

I rejoice when I come here on Sundays and see people talking with strangers and welcoming new people… offering a home of safety and refuge and friendship to those who are alone in a new community…

Oh, the more I think about what happens here, the more I rejoice when they said to me, “I am going to the house of the Lord…”

I rejoice when I see Stephen ministers meet to equip themselves to care for those who are hurting and need someone to fulfill the law of Christ which is to bear one another’s burdens…

I rejoice in worship… when I hear beautiful music—I still rejoice especially of the music we heard on Reformation Sunday…

I rejoice when hear the names of those being offered up in prayer… when I hear the word of Scripture and am given an opportunity to reflect with you about the meaning of Scripture.

What a privilege it is you give me and the other pastors to take time to study Scripture and share what we learn through preaching and teaching and counseling.

I rejoice in great colleagues and staff members who serve you and even more seek to serve the Lord… Your giving makes that possible…

So today, I rejoice in the lives of members and friends who dedicate their pledges…who support this work of the Lord… some of you even tithing… it gives you joy to follow the Biblical model for giving… many of you making sacrifices in order to make your pledge…

What a witness to faith when you sacrifice. I rejoice that you do not come to worship the Lord empty handed, but with offerings and full hearts for the opportunity to give to God so with God’s help, we can build a house where God’s love can dwell among us and in the community.

It’s why I have come to enjoy this Sunday as something special. It is the one Sunday a year we ask you to come forward with your pledges to dedicate them in worship. No one else will do that… NPR doesn’t ask me to dedicate my pledge in worship… The Red Cross doesn’t… The Cancer society does not ask me to bring forward my gift as an act of worship. But the church does… because this gift is different. It is more than a charitable donation… and giving to God is more than a tax deduction… what you bring is an offering of faith. An act of worship. That makes this special.

What makes it even more special is when I realize that it is the only time in the year when we ask you to physically come forward to make an offering to God. The rest of the year we ask you to come forward to receive something from God… we ask you to come forward to receive the grace that comes to us in the Lord’s supper… we ask you on Ash Wednesday to come forward to receive the ashes that remind us of our need for God and how God’s grace is offered to meet that need… we sometimes invite you forward in a service of healing… where you share your concerns and we ask God to provide healing… But today we ask you to come forward not only to receive something from God… but to give something to God.

We invite you to come forward and say to God… thank you… thank you for being there for me… thank you for being my refuge and strength and a very present help in time of trouble… thank you Lord… And as a way of saying thanks, I come to gladly offer you a gift that cost me something… not just money, but a gift of love. The gift of my heart. The gift of myself. Thank you. Here is my gift. Thank you. Amen.