“What Are You Building?”
November 15, 2015
By John Partridge
Scripture: 1 Samuel 1:4-20 Hebrews 10:19-25 Mark 13:1-8
We often hear investment advisers and construction companies tell us that we should invest and that we should be building. But if we should invest, or if we should build, are often entirely the wrong questions.
Every day, we invest.
Every day we build.
The question isn’t if, the question is what.
You may remember me telling this story before, but a little more than fifteen years ago, I was happily employed as an engineer. Patti and I had already felt God’s call on our lives, but we did not yet have any idea what, or when, that call might be. But my contentment took a hit right around September 11th, 2001. It may have started a little before that, but it was surely shaken afterwards. Before that time I thought I wanted to be an engineer for the rest of my career, buy a little farm in the country, and retire. But after that, something began to nag at me. I still liked what I did and most days I would gladly do it again, but something had changed. I realized that while I really liked seeing the things that we designed and built, and while it was a great feeling to see those things leave the factory on the back of a truck, and to see them installed, something bothered me. I began to think about permanence. Almost all of the things that we were building replaced something old. A new furnace replaced an old one. A new control system replaced an old one. And no matter how ingenious or how brilliant our designs were, so were the designs of another engineer thirty years earlier. Fast forward another twenty or thirty years and some other engineer would tear out the things that we had made and melt them down for scrap. So I began to think about what I was building.
What difference was I making?
Forty, fifty, or a hundred years from now, what difference would my life make?
That question eventually led me here. But it is also a question that comes to us in today’s scriptures. We begin in 1 Samuel 1:4-20, with the story of Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel…
4 Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. 5 But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the Lord had closed her womb. 6 Because the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. 7 This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat. 8 Her husband Elkanah would say to her, “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?”
9 Once when they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh, Hannah stood up. Now Eli the priest was sitting on his chair by the doorpost of the Lord’s house. 10 In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly. 11 And she made a vow, saying, “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.”
12 As she kept on praying to the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. 13 Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk 14 and said to her, “How long are you going to stay drunk? Put away your wine.”
15 “Not so, my lord,” Hannah replied, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord. 16 Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.”
17 Eli answered, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”
18 She said, “May your servant find favor in your eyes.” Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast.
19 Early the next morning they arose and worshiped before the Lord and then went back to their home at Ramah. Elkanah made love to his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. 20 So in the course of time Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, saying, “Because I asked the Lord for him.” [because “Samuel,” in Hebrew, sounds like the word that means, “heard by God.”]
There is an interesting difference between the two wives of Elkanah. Hannah, who has no children, is charming and beautiful, and adored by her husband. So obvious is his preference for her that his other wife, Peninnah, deliberately antagonizes her so that she cannot enjoy herself at the feast. Peninnah does this even though God has blessed her with many children and has given none to Hannah. Hannah’s character is revealed as she turns to the lord in prayer instead of retaliating in any way.
Despite her childlessness, Hannah had been building a tender spirit and a strong faith and trust in God.
And so, in due time, God uses Hannah, to raise up a great prophet for Israel.
And then in Mark 13:1-8, Jesus has something to say to his disciples about the things that God is building. What Jesus has to say was both unexpected and unsettling for those that heard it.
As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”
2 “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”
3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”
5 Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 6 Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 8 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.
As Jesus and his disciples leave the Temple, his friends excitedly point to the greatness of the Temple that Herod had built. Some of the largest stones were, at that time, visible as you traveled along the walkway outside of the Temple and those stones have, in modern times, been unearthed by archaeologists. We have a good idea what they were talking about, and in fact, the chances are good that we are looking at exactly the same stones that Peter, James, John and Andrew were looking at. The largest of these is nearly twelve feet tall, 14 to 16 feet thick, 45 feet long, and likely weighs over 570 tons. Even if the estimate of its thickness is incorrect and it was only five feet thick like many of the other stones, it would still weigh more than 175 tons. Herod’s temple was, absolutely, one of the single most amazing construction projects in the known world and is still studied today by architects, builders, engineers, historians, archaeologists, and others because of its beauty and incredible feats of engineering.
The Temple was designed to point to an awesome God, inspire awe, and to remind everyone of the power of King Herod.
But Jesus isn’t impressed.
Jesus tells his friends that a day is coming when the Temple will be destroyed and the stones will be thrown down. As impressive as the Temple was, the building that they were looking at was not the end.
God was building something better.
Jesus wanted his disciples to know that a church building, no matter how impressive, is not the church.
God is building something better.
A great clue to what God is building can be seen in Hebrews 10:19-25.
19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
What words did you hear in all of that?
I heard words like hope, confidence, forgiven, open, washed, faithful, good deeds, encouragement, and love. Not one of those things sounds like a church building, or a temple, or cars, or houses, or machines. But every single one of them has everything to do with people.
And in the end, that is one of the reasons that I’m here today and not an engineer. The things that we build will be gone in a decade or two, but the people that we build last much longer, and when we build families, they can endure for generation after generation.
But you don’t have to be a pastor to invest in people.
You don’t have to be a pastor to build people up.
Investing and building people is the mission of our church every minute, of every day, of every week, of every year.
The Temple that Jesus and his friends were looking at, as impressive as it was, wasn’t what was important.
The Temple wasn’t the church.
This building isn’t the church.
We are the church.
And our mission is to find, love, rescue, invest in, and build people and families.
And that, is how we can do work that will last for generations on earth, and for eternity in heaven.
The church has never been about building things.
The church has always been about building people.
What are you building?
Were you blessed in some way by reading this message?
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