August 30, 2015
Rev. John Watts
Nampa First UMC
I Kings 8:14-21
We’re about seven years removed from a very scary time for many of us. It’s called now the subprime mortgage crisis. While we were in the middle of it, it felt like the collapse of civilization. People were stockpiling food and weapons. It was like we were heading back into the Dark Ages. Some of us were getting worried last week that it was happening again.
2008 was bad. In some ways we still haven’t recovered from it economically. But it wasn’t that bad. In fact, a lot of people who lost a lot of money back then are now wealthier than ever. Even after the recent stock market correction. Housing values in most markets are approaching what they were before the bubble burst. Loans again are being made with little or no down payment, which makes a lot of us very nervous. Here in the TreasureValley, builders are once again building. We’re once again one of the fastest growing areas in the United States. Things look good for the future.
I know for a fact many of you are still hurting. You haven’t recovered from the hard times of seven years ago. Survival is still the name of the game and it looks like it’s going to be that way for a long time. I know that’s a tough place to be. I want you to know that your church is here for you.
But I also know for a fact that there are others in this church who are facing the opposite problem. Not figuring out where to find the money you need for your survival, but figuring out what you are going to do with your excess wealth. That used to be a problem very few people faced. But, believe it or not, that’s what keeps a not insignificant number of people awake nights these days. Not only have we seen the creation of wealth at unheard of levels. We have also seen the inheritance of wealth at unheard of levels. Meaning a lot of people have way more than they need and a lot of them have better sense than just to blow it all in frivolous ways.
Between now and the year 2050, when I turn 95, wealth will change hands in amounts that stagger the imagination. Never before in history have we seen anything like this or even close. It is estimated that more than $40 trillion in wealth will be transferred. Either given away or passed on to the next generation. So what is a trillion? A trillion is a million million.
That’s a lot of money. And a lot of people are curious about what’s going to happen with all this money. My parents’ generation has proven that they are very generous in giving money away to improve the lives of others. It remains to be seen if my generation will be as generous. My generation, and by the way I am a baby boomer, is largely secular. I’m an exception. Most of us have been raised without the benefit of the church. Most of us have been raised by television. That means we’ve been taught the gospel of conspicuous consumption. We’ve been taught that if we don’t have whatever it is that is being advertised, something is wrong with us and we are doomed to a life of misery. So how will people trained to spend every dollar they have, and then go into the debt to spend even more, react if they end up wealthy? Most of us won’t have that problem, but some of us will.
Again, I understand that some of you are listening to all this and shaking your heads because this is so far removed from where you are or ever dream to be. But in the big picture, we are living in an age of unprecedented prosperity. And therefore unprecedented opportunity to use that prosperity in ways that will build a better world. I believe God gives people opportunities for greatness. Such opportunities don’t come every day. When they do come, they often come and they go. They often fly right by and we miss them. We miss them because we either don’t have the will or we don’t have the way to respond.
You may be one who has the will but not the way. God bless you if that’s you. God will make a way for you to respond in a way that works for you. But there are many today who have the way but not the will. They have the means. They have the resources. But they aren’t yet convinced to use those resources for a worthy cause.
BillShore was President Hart’s campaign manager. You remember President Gary Hart? He followed President Ronald Reagan. Well, you probably know Gary Hart never got to be president. But everyone thought he was unbeatable when he ran in 1988. Then there was that yacht called “Monkey Business”, and Gary Hart’s life went in a different direction. So did BillShore’s.
BillShore became convinced that the answers to our nation’s problems were to be found in the private sector, not government. He said that the private sector has the power to transform the life of our nation if only it has the will. He wrote a book about this. It’s called The Cathedral Within.
He talks about philanthropy in this book. He says that giving to great causes beyond ourselves does a lot of good. That part is obvious. What’s not so obvious but just as important is that it also makes us feel good. It makes us feel fulfilled. It makes us feel better, maybe better than we’ve ever felt before. Because consuming and accumulating don’t usually make us feel better. Because God has placed deep within each of our hearts a need to be part of something bigger than ourselves.
So BillShore talks in this book about how great it would be if we could transcend our political differences and join together in reaching for a common goal. Everyone using whatever gifts they may have. Everyone finding deep personal fulfillment in using those gifts.
He says there was a time when that happened. It was that time in history when the great cathedrals of the world were being built. We can learn from the cathedral builders. Here is The Beauvais Cathedral in Paris:
It was started in 1225. It was consecrated in 1272. The western world was just emerging from the Dark Ages. This was a time when communities started uniting for a common purpose. Each individual experienced a sense of worth because they each contributed something to the whole. Here are three principles of cathedral building.
First, Devote your life to something so big you will never see it completed. Most of us do just the opposite. We work with something manageable. That is what we look for whether it’s in a career or a project or a life goal. We work on it. We invest our talent and our money and we look forward to the day when we are done. Then we take a step back and we admire what we did. It’s time to retire. It’s time to rest on our laurels.
Cathedral builders don’t think that way. They don’t start small. They start big. They have a master plan so grand that there is no way they will live to see the completion of it. So vast that they can only have a small part of it. Cathedral builders have a big vision. A “big, hairy, audacious” vision, to borrow a phrase from Jim Collins. They use their talent, their gifts, and their time to make that vision come true.
It was no accident that cathedrals were created by Christians. The heart of Christian faith is a big vision. It’s called the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is not a kingdom of this world. It’s a kingdom that will transform the world. We will not build the Kingdom of God by ourselves. But each of us contributes our gifts, large or small. Each of us invests our lives in something we will never see completed. And by the way, the Beauvais Cathedral that was started 1225 and consecrated in 1272 was never completed. They kept working on it for another 328 years until they took a break in 1600. They are still working on it today.
Which leads to the second principle of cathedral building. To build a cathedral, everyone in the community must take part. Artisans and craftsmen cannot build a cathedral by themselves. They need the efforts of everyone in the community as a base of support. If our society is to solve the problems it faces today, it will take the involvement of everyone. It will take the involvement of all institutions, churches included.
Few people have much confidence these days in political solutions to our problems. I think it’s generally conceded that the “war on poverty” is a war we have lost. We lost it a long time ago. It has been well established that more and more handouts do not get the job done. The lives of people need to be transformed if they are to escape the prison of poverty. And who is in the business of transforming lives if not our churches?
Our heritage as Methodists is connected to the desperately poor of England. John Wesley sought out poor people, the very people the Church of England ignored. He transformed their lives and in many cases they were able to move in one generation from poverty to middle class. Historians say the preaching of the Methodists prevented a French Revolution from reaching England. That’s our history.
So I agree. It’s up to the churches. But not to just transform the lives of the poor. That’s not enough. We are also going to have to transform the lives of the rich. We are quick in diagnosing poverty as a spiritual problem. We are not so quick in saying that rich people also have a spiritual problem. We say the poor need to have meaning in their lives. They need a sense of purpose to motivate them. They need discipline to break destructive habits and build new habits that will get their lives on track. Why don’t we say that about the rich? Don’t they also need purpose and discipline and good habits? The poor need to discipline to save. The rich need the discipline to give.
Jesus had something to say about this. He said the people with a spiritual problem are not the poor who have so little, but the rich who have so much and who keep it all to themselves. Most of us hear that and think Jesus is talking to someone else. Most of us would not self-identify as either rich or poor. We are somewhere in between. We are “middle class”. The truth is most of us have way more material affluence than the people Jesus referred to as rich. We are rich. We have been given much. And if a cathedral is to be built in our day, we all need to be part of the effort.
Third, Cathedrals are built on the foundations of earlier efforts. That is literally true in Europe. It’s not unusual for the footings of a great cathedral to rest on the walls of an ancient church. That’s also figuratively true. Any great church builds on the dreams of those who came before.
When we gather for worship, we aren’t all here. Of course, there are those who didn’t make it here for whatever reason, but I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about those who are no longer with us. We are building on their dreams. And I’m talking about those who are not here yet. They will build on our dreams.
I came to this beautiful building when it had already been built and paid for. Some of you did too. This was just a gift. It’s here for us through the generosity of others. Some of you were here 30 years ago when people were dreaming about this building. Or 20 years ago when the building was completed. Or 10 years ago when the debt was retired. A part of you is in this building, and not just a part of your money.
Many others dreamed this dream but did not live to see it come to completion. Like the cathedral builders of old, they did their part and trusted that others — us, you — would come along and finish what they started. We are part of what has been called an “endless line of splendor”. Others came before. Others will follow. It’s our turn now.
On March 3, 1968, a month and a day before his life was cut down by an assassin’s bullet, Martin Luther King, Jr. preached a sermon in his home church. EbenezerBaptistChurch in Atlanta, Georgia. This was where his father and his grandfather had been pastors. He was raised in that church so he knew that the dream he spoke of so often was first their dream. He know how they had sacrificed for the sake of that dream.
He used as his text for that sermon the passage we read this morning from I Kings. It’s about Solomon and the building of the first temple. God gave David the dream. But David died before the temple could be built. So Solomon, his son, built on David’s dream.
Now it was in the heart of David my father to build a house for the name of the Lord, the God of Israel. But the Lord said to David my father, “Whereas it was in your heart to build a house for my name, you did well that it was in your heart” (8:17-18).
Dr. King’s style of preaching was to take a sentence and add one story layer upon another in a crescendo that kept building. He did that with that one line: “You did well that it was in your heart.”
He listed great men and great women, beginning in Bible times and right up to his present day, who set out to build something great but never saw the completion of their dream. You listen to him and you can’t help but think that he’s talking about himself. He’s talking about people who were great not because they accomplished what they set out to accomplish. They were great because there was greatness in their heart. It was in their heart to build a great temple. And God said, “You did well that it was in your heart.”
What’s in your heart? Is it big enough that you won’t live to see it completed? Is it big enough that it won’t happen without others, not just you? Is it building on the dreams of those who came before you? Will those who follow be thankful to you and pick up where you left off? If so, God says, “You did well that it was in your heart.”
Dear God, we may not know which end of a hammer to hold onto, but still we are called to build cathedrals. We are called to dare great things. We are called to trust you, for without you we are going to look real silly. But with you, with others, with our best selves, we will seize your opportunity for greatness. And to you be the glory, through Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.