Construction Day

Tuesday, October 25, 2011 — Week of Proper 25, Year One

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 990)

Psalms 45 (morning) // 47, 48 (evening)

Ezra 5:1-17

Revelation 4:1-11

Matthew 13:1-9

[Oops. I looked at the wrong line yesterday, and copied today’s second and third readings. Yesterday I commented on the gospel reading for today — the Parable of the Sower (without Matthew’s allegorical interpretation). So this morning, in addition to Ezra 5:1-17, I’ll read Revelation 1:4-20 and Matthew 12:43-50, the readings from yesterday that I overlooked.]

The rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple that Ezra records is also the rebuilding of the community and its renewal after exile. The Temple restoration becomes a focus and a metaphor for the whole process of the community’s restoration.

I had a friend whose wheels fell off from alcoholism. He lost his job, his status in the community, and his financial security — everything but his loyal wife. After detox and a rehab program, he changed jobs, moved to another town, and the family bought an old, rundown house. It was a rambling Victorian style place. The paint had peeled and the building was in severe disrepair. They set about rebuilding and restoring the house and their lives. It took patience, persistence and hard work. Progress appeared painfully slow. For years you might drive by and wonder who lived in that dump. But it did change, one day at a time.

Interestingly, they didn’t repaint the outside first. The restoration was done from the inside out. I think they worked a room at a time, starting with the most functional ones — bathroom and kitchen. Their lives were also rebuilding from the inside out. A dozen years later, they lived in a shining, lovely dwelling, and the whole family was restored and delightfully reestablished.

Recently I tried to trace some of the story of the building of our church. It is referred to as the “New Church” in our records. The “Old Church” from 1854 had been hit by lightning and burned during the Civil War. The church then met in homes and in a Masonic Lodge for over a decade.

A new priest, the Rev. Thomas May Thorpe arrived in 1872, “full of religious fervor and energy,” our records say. But “he found us too poor to possess anything but a name and a little impoverished ground.” These were the bleak days in the South following the War Between the States. “With his fine ability he gathered up the broken threads of despair, breathed new life into our souls and began the task of building a new house of worship.”

We have newspaper accounts of the laying of the cornerstone, October 30, 1872, 139 years ago this Sunday. We also have the Rev. Mr. Thorpe’s handwritten notes about that day, and a record of the items placed inside the cornerstone.

But the project stalled. Mr. Thorpe left. When his successor the Rev. J. J. Vaulx arrived in 1876, the walls were constructed but the ceiling had not been built. There were only about a dozen benches inside the walls and a small box stove for heat. The vesting area was a curtained-off space in the northwest corner of the church.

It is only a guess, but I presume that the roof was constructed by June 19, 1877, when the first marriage in our current church was solemnized between Miss Clementine Watson and Mr. Thomas D. Boles. In the late 1800’s, she gave the window that graces our east wall over the altar. It shows Jesus with three children around him and a reference to Jesus’ welcome of the children. In the old cemetery up the hill you can find Mrs. Boles family plot, with three small tombstones of her children who died as infants.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul speaks of ministry as a process of building. He laid a foundation, which is Jesus Christ. Now each member builds on that foundation, and the quality of the work will be revealed in the Day of the Lord.

Each day is a construction day. We have all received a foundation. Our fundamental foundation is our creation in the image and likeness of God and our acceptance revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We have been given an abundant inheritance. We have also inherited an ambiguous heritage from our families and communities of origin. Today — every day — is another construction day.

There is something to be said for building from the inside out — starting the day revisiting our fundamentals. There is something to be said for using quality materials in order to build that which will last. And we always start where we are, taking what we have, even if the vesting area is only a curtain in a corner. Life is difficult. We will suffer. But even that can be turned into offering, as today’s worshipers can attest as we gaze at the beautiful stained glass image of Jesus and the children.

We are building our lives and the foundation for the future. What will our work be today?

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