“Dwelling in the House of the Lord”
Sunday, June 28, 2009
I wasn’t here at Foundry in September of 2001 so I don’t know what it was like here. Craig Barnes who was the pastor of National Presbyterian Church at the time has written about what it was like there after September 11, 2001.
He says that he did pastoral counseling after 9/11 but he soon discovered that what people wanted most of all was worship. “Their thirst for it was insatiable,” he says. National Pres had worship services every night, always with a full sanctuary. Craig Barnes says: “Prayer vigils, communion services, memorials – people didn’t care how we put the service together they just wanted to be in the house of the Lord.”[i]
The 23rd Psalm is a psalm for tough times. The last line of the psalm says “And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.” We are not sure what the precise translation of the Hebrew should be. Some think it is better translated “I will return to the house of the Lord my whole life long.” Others think it is best translated “I will sit still in the house of the Lord my whole life long.”
Either way, there is something that draws us to holy places when our lives get tough.
the months after my mother’s death, I was living in
Then across the street was a barber shop with a big laughing Buddha in the window, so I’d go and stand with the Buddha for awhile.
Mary and the Buddha – they helped me mourn. They made me feel better
I love Catholic churches because they are usually full of statues. We Protestants made a mistake I think when we stripped our churches of statues and mosaics and bells and smells. We made everything about words as though the only way to experience God were through our ears.
This is part of the reason I like it here at Foundry so much. We’ve got statues.
I love the statues above our altar. Here is Moses who represents the Old Testament and Paul who represents the new. Then there are Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the gospel writers. They are part of this house of the Lord.
I love most of all the statue of Christ above our altar. On one side of him are farmers and rural peoples. On the other side are urban people. Children, people in suits and in chains. This man looks just like Bob Dole.
Jesus welcomes them all. Sometimes I reach up and touch the hem of his garment. It encourages me.
sometimes with these old dead preachers on the sides of this pulpit. Here is
Bishop William Fraser McDowell. He grew up in
Francis Asbury, Methodism’s first bishop. John Wesley sent him to
This is Phillip Brooks who wasn’t even a Methodist. He was a great Episcopalian priest and preacher. He wrote the Christmas carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” I don’t know how his statue got on this pulpit. I don’t know that he was even ever inside Foundry church, but and they put him on the side of the pulpit. Historians tell us Phillip Brooks was gay. He was part of a group of gay men who found each other while they were students at Harvard in the 1850s and who travelled with each other all their lives. He is part of this house of the Lord.
Here facing the choir is Fred Brown Harris, pastor of Foundry for 31 years. He retired in 1955. There are only three senior pastors that separate me and Fred Brown Harris. Fred Brown Harris was a poet and chaplain to the Senate. Foundry’s membership doubled while Fred Brown Harris was the senior pastor here.
Fred Brown Harris was a bigot. He showed up here one day to discover that a regional youth meeting being held here included some African-American youth. He ordered the African-American youth to leave the building.
I am glad he is here so he can see the congregation today. I am pretty sure he is no longer a bigot. He is part of the house of the Lord. Did you think there wasn’t room in the house of the Lord for sinners? There may be a sinner sitting next to the person who is sitting next to you.
There are statues in the house of the Lord that are not literally statues. I love this plaque in the third pew of our church. It marks where Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt sat next to each other to worship together Christmas morning 1941. President Franklin was probably impatient for the service to end so he could get out of here and have a cigarette. The plaque doesn’t mention it but Eleanor Roosevelt was here for worship that morning as well. She was probably not in a good mood. She did not like it when Churchill visited the White House. She did not approve of him because of the quantity of cigars he smoked and the quantity of whiskey he drank[ii], and maybe because he apparently roamed parts of the White House at night naked.[iii]
The night after he worshipped here Winston Churchill dictated a speech to his secretary while he was sitting in the bath tub at the White House smoking a cigar. He delivered the speech to Congress the next Day and Congress voted to enter World War II. All this is part of this house of the Lord.
There are other statues that are not literally statues. Whether they have literal statues or not, all houses of the Lord have statues. There are places in this sanctuary where I see people whether they are literally there or not.
Frances and Norman Prince are here or not, they are still here. Frances and
Norman joined Foundry in 1965.
There is a pew back here where Bill and Vivian Kirk sit. It is rare for me to walk in this sanctuary without thinking of Bill and Vivian whether they are physically here or not.
I know the pew in this sanctuary, I won’t tell you where it is, where a man for whom I felt a lot of affection sat and listened to my sermon, just three days before he committed suicide. Or maybe he didn’t listen, Things must have gotten very tough for him. Even though it may be invisible to you, his statue is part of this house of the Lord.
There are others who aren’t here anymore, either because they have died, or they have moved, or they just left. I think of them often. Their statues are still here. They are part of this house of the Lord.
When things are tough we want to be in the house of the Lord with those who have walked this earth before us. They were born. They knew a portion of joy and a portion of sorrow, they loved and they sinned and they did good, and they died, and it was good that they passed this way.
In the house of the Lord we know that someday we will be gone as well. We will have lived, and known a portion of joy and a portion of sorrow. And we will have loved and we will have sinned and we will have done some good. And we will have died. And it will be good that we have passed this way.
After we are gone from this house, there will be others here who will live and know a portion of joy and a portion of sorrow, and they will love and sin and do some good. It will be good that they follow us along this way.
The house of the Lord is where we come to know that there is a reality that transcends us and our lives. The house of the Lord can help us see and hear and taste and smell and feel this transcendence.
“The house is one of the most important archetypes of the human psyche,” Leonardo Boff says.[iv] The house I lived in until I was 16 still appears in my dreams sometimes. Lots of my dreams take place in houses especially the basements of houses. I think the house is an archetype that represents the soul.
While Karl Jung was still a student of Sigmund Freud he had a dream about a house. The house had two stories. The upper story was furnished with fine furniture and art. He went downstairs to the first floor in the dream. There everything was furnished in a mediaeval style. He found a stairway to the basement and went down the stairs where he found a beautiful vaulted room that looked ancient. He saw a stone slab in the floor that had a ring in it and he pulled up the slab with the ring and he found an ancient, ancient cave cut into rock. In the cave were scattered bones and two ancient half disintegrated skulls.
When Jung told Freud his dream, Freud asked Jung if he recognized the skulls. Jung knew why he asked that particular question. Freud explained everything in dreams according to two ideas – the sex drive and the death wish.
So Jung, knowing why Freud asked the question, says he lied to Freud and said the skulls reminded him of his wife and sister-in-law because otherwise Freud would have thought one of the skulls was his and Jung had a death wish that involved him.
But Jung knew his dream wasn’t about the sex drive or the death wish. The house in his dream was his soul.
Our soul is the real house of the Lord. And inside our souls there are statues, lots of statues…statues of people we’ve known, statues of people we’ve never seen in person but who live in us, all the way back to the first homo sapiens to walk upright. The first man who painted on the wall of a cave. The first woman who sang a song.
And it is not just the building but what happens here in the house of the Lord. What happens here is a reflection of our soul. It is a reflection of the soul of the city.
Monsignor Francis Mannion says: “In its moral and social ministries, then, the urban church is called to prefigure the redeemed city in which there will be no more death, mourning, or pain, no more evil or sin. Local churches should be places of energetic and systematic charity and service, hospitality and welcome, advocacy and vigilance; zones of sanctuary for the poor, homeless, lonely, depressed; agencies of forgiveness, wisdom, and sanctification.”[v]
The real house of the Lord is our own soul. This building which we call the house of the Lord is an outward and visible sign of our soul. This is our attempt to use stone and woods to project our souls into time and space so that when we lose our souls we have a place to go to try to find them again.
We return here to the house of the Lord when things get tough to find our own soul full of statues, to reconnect with the saints and sinners whose bones and skulls are within us, the saints and sinners who will take our places when we are gone, to be at home again in our own soul.
Craig Barnes says we are drawn to the Lord’s house when times are tough because in hard times there is within us a longing for home.
We are drawn to church not because church is our home, he says. Craig Barnes has worked in a lot of churches and he says: “Trust me, if church is the home we are looking for, we are in bigger trouble than we thought.”
No, the church is not our home but it points us toward our true home and reminds us of how lost we have become.
When we have out there in the world selling our souls, trading our souls for shallow dreams, making deals with the devil, this house of the Lord is where we come to ask God to give us our souls back. May we return here and sit still all our days long.
[i] M. Craig Barnes, Searching for Home: Spirituality for Restless Souls excerpted in Christian Century (Sept. 20, 2003), 8.
[iv] Leonardo Boff, The Lord is My Shepherd (Orbis), 136-7.