Sunday, June 19, 2011

"Except the Lord Build This House" - a Homily for Trinity Sunday, upon the Occasion of the 160th Anniversary of Trinity Church, Bradford

Homily for Trinity Sunday, Year A, 2011
On the Occasion of the 160th Anniversary of Trinity Church, Bradford
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Sunday, June 19, 2011
Texts: Genesis 28:10-17, Revelation 21:1-4,22-22:5

“God has made his home among mortals.”

When I worked at Church House, the informal name that was given to the head office of the Anglican Church of Canada, above the door of the rather plain three-story brownstone building stood a majestic plaque, probably four feet tall by three feet wide. It was in the form of the coat of arms of the Anglican Church of Canada. Inscribed at the apex were the words, Nisi Dominus. These are the Latin words which open Psalm 127: “Except the Lord build the house, their labour is but lost that build it.”

There are many buildings in this world that stand as monuments to wealthy and powerful benefactors and serve to glorify those who made the majesty of the building possible, these edfices forever memorialize their founder and patron. For one hundred and sixty years a building has stood on this ground as a monument to a different sort of benefactor, a divine benefactor, the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And while there have been many individuals who have passed through the nave of this sacred space, or the nave of its predecessor, the first Trinity Church, this church stands not as a monument to the people, but as a monument to the living God.

More than a monument, though, this church is a home. It is a home and haven for all who enter. It is open to all regardless of wealth or station, to all sorts and conditions (as the old prayer book was want to say). It is open to anyone who feels the yearning for God stirring in their hearts. It is open to all who have lost their way. It is open to all seek to know God and make God’s love known to world. It is open to those who rejoice and those who mourn, those who long to make a joyful noise, and those who need to keep a prayerful silence. It is open to all, and has been and ever shall be a home for God’s people.

It is only the home for God’s people though, because it is first and foremost, God’s home. This is the profound and radical assertion of the Christian faith, that God is not a distant God, but a God who enters into our humanity, into our world, and chooses to reside with us. This is what it means to say that Christianity is a religion of Incarnation, to mean literally that God takes flesh, and dwells among us. Even more profoundly challenging for the world to believe though, than God becoming man in Jesus Christ, is God abiding with us eternally through his Spirit. God’s presence amongst us is not a fleeting thirty year span but an abiding presence in person of the Holy Spirit and in his presence a disparate people have become family. This is why we are able to call God, who is the creator of the cosmos, by the intimate name of Father, because the timeless one has chosen to enter time and be with his creatures. As the book of Revelation remarkably proclaims, “God has made his home among mortals.”

Oh how easy it can be, though, to lose sight of the God who has made his home with us. Should we be hard on ourselves when even some of the greatest of the patriarchs of old could lose sight of this reality from time-to-time? Think of Jacob, who proclaimed after a vision in a dream, “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it!” Difficult it can be to see the hand of God at work, and we can often get caught up on our own striving, our own building, our own sense of ministry and mission. Yet, time and again, we are granted, as Jacob was granted, a vision of the living God living amongst us. Time and again we are given a new set of eyes through which we can catch a glimpse of a reality that before seemed veiled. Time and again, we experience the God we thought was lost to us, and we proclaim with Jacob our ancestor, “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it!”

So it does not seem out of place to proclaim that reality once again, lest we forget who built this house and whose house it is. This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven. Oh, to be sure, it is a building built with human hands. Yes, it needs its ongoing repairs and maintenance as we know so well. But it is so much more than a building made with human hands. To recognize this church as the Lord’s house is to recognize that it is a place where heaven touches earth; a place where God is again incarnate in the world; a place where God has chosen to dwell among mortals.

Wherever we gather as God’s holy people this is true. Wherever two or three are gathered, there I am in the midst of you. And yet, people and generations are fleeting. “Frail as summer’s flower we flourish blows the wind and it is gone, but while mortals rise and perish, God endures, unchanging on.” We need our holy places, our holy buildings, not because God needs a house and not because they are the essence of what it means to be “the Church,” but because they are tangible, sacramental signs of the profound and earthshaking reality that God has made his home among mortals. They are a testimony to God’s abiding presence from generation to generation in this world and in this particular community.

Through the bricks and mortar of this place, frail and feeble as any building may be, we encounter the living God, and the living God is incarnate to the people of this community of Bradford. This is a reality that existed long before this congregation first gathered as Trinity Church without a building in 1849, or built the first church in 1851. It is a reality that will exist long after this current building is gone. God is in this place, and this building, and its predecessor, have not only told that story, but have tangibly made present the living God to those who seek his face.

I have been fond of quoting St. Matthew’s gospel in this our 160th year, especially the passage from the Sermon on the Mount: “You are a city set upon a hill … a light to the world.” We must never forget that we are God’s city and the light we radiate is God’s light – the light of the most holy, blessed and glorious Trinity.

While much hard work has gone into this place by human hands over 160 years, this house is not built on the bedrock of our work or the work of our ancestors, but on the bedrock of the faithfulness of God in Christ, and the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit. I praise the faithfulness of God’s people, but let us all praise together the faithfulness of our God who has chosen to make his home amongst us. Let us praise the Triune God, our patron, the Holy Trinity, who is the foundation and the life upon which this house is built. Let us praise the Trinity for this home we have been given which is both our home and God’s home, and a place where heaven and earth touch. Truly the Lord is in this place. May we never forget our loving patron and the light and hope that shines here for all who seek to make it their home.

Nisi Dominus – Except the Lord build this house, their labour is lost that build it.

c. 2010, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves

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