Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Building the Dream Home

1 Peter 2: 4-8
John 14: 1-7

El Paso is a a city that sits in the very western part of Texas. If Texas was a teapot, El Paso would be at the spout. It sits on the Rio Grande, one of the rivers that make up the US-Mexican border. Across the river is Juarez, and the two cities, in all things except government, are really one. The whole valley is a high, dry desert.

When the North American Free Trade Agreement was signed in the early nineties, many multi-national corporations opened up factories in the cities along the US-Mexican border. Computer companies like Dell and HP not the least of them. Workers began to migrate north from as far away as Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua to get these jobs, but when they got to Juarez, they didn’t find much housing.

The south side of Juarez, way from the border, is an area that is usually considered the town dump. It’s not a high concentration of trash in bags and stuff, but you will find couches and tires out there pretty regularly. There, in that part of the city, is where these workers started to congregate. The city tried to keep up with them, but Juarez doubled in size in ten years. 3 million extra people in ten years would be hard for New York to handle, so can you imagine the stress Juarez was put under?

People were living in houses made of shipping pallets. They would get electricity by slinging bare wires over the electricity wires up on the poles. Those wires would then run along the ground to the house. I heard more than one boot sole sizzle. Cooking was done with propane on hot plates, or with small open fires.

Missions began to form to build cheap housing for the workers of the Maquiladoras, the Spanish name for these companies that opened up along the border.

The houses you build are one room, one story, two windows, and a plywood and tarpaper roof. Most of the time you add a concrete floor, but not always.

You are building in a desert, and so the ground is primarily hard-packed sand, and the bigger concern is making sure the foundation is level. Once you get down a few feet, the hard packed sand is solid enough for the construction. On one of the houses we built , we had to cut through some discarded carpet that had been thrown away when the area was a dump to get to level. The Mexican construction foremen, would then by signs, hand gestures and halting English, teach the basics of bricklaying, starting with how to mix mortar on the ground. No concrete mixers, here. If the work was shoddy, they would do their best to go back, but American mission workers are a hit and miss lot, not many masons among the office workers, college students and farmers.

But it of course was a much better job if the foundation was level.

When you build a house, any kind of house that you want to last for a while, you pay proper attention to the foundation. The best thing, of course is to build on rock.

A life of the spirit is of course the same thing. The rock that we build on isn’t granite or sandstone, but the word of the Lord. By reading scripture, praying together, discussing the ideas that come forth from these actions with those around us, we begin to build a strong foundation, and the dream home of our spirits takes shape. The outline of a dream home may be all different shapes, but a strong foundation wall, rooted in the rock beneath us, in the truth of God, is a constant.

And then, as we build up, board by board, brick by brick, stone by stone, we can get as creative in the design as we want to be, as long as it can still be supported by the foundation. If the foundation is built right, the weight and architecture can be creative and beautiful, unorthodox and strange, can look like anything you can imagine, and it is still strong in God.

Those houses built in the Sonoran desert outside of Juarez are not the strongest houses physically. They are not going to fall down on the inhabitants, but neither are they going to be there for the ages, like cathedrals. What will stand the test of time is the faith expressed in those buildings, the money and time spent by people who, according to their culture, had much better things to do with both than to go get dirty, sore and tired, sleep in bunkhouses with limited hot water, buy cinderblock and mortar, and avoid scorpions and snakes.

But by going and helping others of God’s children, our brothers and sisters, we build a beautiful spiritual building, one whose foundations are solidly sunk into the rock that is the Word of God. That building will be there long after these maquiladora shacks have disappeared.

The strongest work that a Christian can do, that a church can do, is to dig until we reach the word of God. When we pray or study, we are picking up the shovel and bending to it. Sometimes it is uncomfortable, sometimes it is unpleasant. Sometimes you have to switch to a pick for a while. But finding the foundation stone, the corner stone, is assured. It’s not a matter of digging to search for the stone, it is a matter of digging until you find it. We are assured it is there. And folks, it’s not that far deep, either.

As a congregation, our foundation needs to be that rock. Our corner stone needs to be the one that other builders rejected, but we start our building from. When the foundation is built, then that house of many dwelling places, with enough room for anyone who seeks grace in Jesus Christ, can be built. Any decision that any congregation makes, at any time, needs to be based in how the foundation of their faith is built.

Building the dream home of our congregation is possible, if we will seek God’s leading, listen for what we are called to be in our community, and step out in courage and faith to do it. Sometimes that dream home requires brick and mortar building, sometimes it doesn’t; it all depends on God’s leading.

So the next question is: what are we called to?

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