Pentecost 20, 2018, Ruma/Evansville, Il Psalm 127
Unless the Lord builds the house those who build it labor in vain.
Fifteen psalms, 120-134, were used by groups as they made their pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover. This sermon is an imagined account of one family’s experience.
Joseph closed his carpentry shop. He and his family would be gone for about three weeks. It was their annual spring trip south to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. The prospect of a journey of over fifty miles was daunting. Especially considering Joseph and Mary had five boys and a couple of daughters, all age twelve and under.
More than a dozen years ago, while pregnant with her firstborn, her cousin, Elizabeth had said that she was blessed among all women; indeed “blessed is the fruit of your womb!” So, it was that following that arduous trip south to Bethlehem the fruit of her womb was born while angels sang, and shepherds visited her and her newborn in the maternity ward stable. According to the angel Gabriel’s direction nine months before, she named her son Jesus, for he would be a Savior, the Messiah, the Christ. That and the experience in the temple when the aged Simeon took her 6-week-old in his arms declaring that he had seen salvation with his own eyes. He could take his leave of life on earth in peace. Then the star gazers from the east arrived, followed by the hurried escape to Egypt, and then the return to settle in Nazareth. She was left with much to ponder and think about.
Although she didn’t have much time for pondering as her oldest continued to grow in mind, body and God’s favor. Her womb was soon fruitful again. She and Joseph were now parents to James, Joses, Jude, and Simon, and their daughters.
Now she and Joseph were about to once more herd this rambunctious and growing family along the trail on the east side of the Jordan, which may have taken at least three days. They were traveling with other relatives, friends and neighbors. As they recrossed the Jordan at Jericho, Joseph tried to get the kids to pretend they were their ancestors who centuries ago had completed a forty-year journey through the wilderness and crossed the Jordan into the promised land. But what the kids really liked was choosing a rock to carry across with them and place it on a pile of stones, just as their ancestors had done in the time of Moses. Joseph and Mary hoped that something of this would stick with them and be remembered when they grew up.
Joseph thought that this might be one more way to build up his family in the Lord. To keep the Lord in the center of their lives. He knew the psalm verse we read earlier, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” Though raising a family had its ups and downs he tried to keep in mind another verse from the psalm, “Children are an inheritance from the Lord. They are a reward from him.”
Joseph was a man of integrity. He was a man blameless and upright in the way he lived his life, as a husband, a father, and in his work. Without the Lord, it was useless to get up early in the morning and work all day into the night and eat one’s meals worried and anxious. No, sleep too was a gift of the Lord. No use staying awake baby-sitting the world all night.
And Mary, blessed among women marveled, when she had the time to marvel, that the lord had looked upon her, a humble servant of God, had shown her such favor in that she would be the mother of the promised Savior, her own savior. Both Joseph and Mary sought to live by the words of another psalm recited during the pilgrimage, “Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways.”
But now having crossed the Jordan into Jericho, the most difficult part of the walk to Jerusalem ahead of them. Another psalm verse said, “I lift up my eyes to the hills, from where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved.” Well, when they lifted their eyes they saw the beginning of a fifteen mile climb up hill along a narrow road, with wall of cliffs to one side and a precipitous drop off the other. Now they were about to try to get their family up that climb safely. They needed the help of the Lord, who had created these hills, but also who promised to keep their going out and coming in forevermore. Not only their strength but the safety of their family and their trust in the Lord’s keeping would be put to the test.
At last they made it, all intact. As they viewed the gleaming walls of the temple complex across the Kidron valley, in more ways than one they could sing another of those pilgrim psalms, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’” Their pilgrimage was finished. They would they find a camping spot among the thousands of others from the whole Mediterranean who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover.
However, the drama was not over with their arrival, and the making and eating of the Passover meal. When they started back down the fifteen mile stretch to Jericho, Jesus had stayed behind, and Joseph and Mary supposed him to be with his friends and didn’t discover his absence until that evening. Then back up the hill and after searching for three days they found him in the temple. Mary burst out in distress at her son. Even the Savior of the world could be a challenge for his parents. The twelve-year-old answered, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Jesus went back down the hill with them and was an obedient son in his earthly father’s house.
But in about twenty years he would for a last time walk up that fifteen mile stretch from Jericho, He would be welcomed to waving palms and acclimations of Hosanna to the Son of David. He would return to his heavenly Father’s House, clear it of the merchants selling their goods right there in the court of the Lord. Soon he would be led up another hill to be fastened to a cross and there die and carry out his mission as Savior. After his resurrection and ascension, he sent the Holy Spirit to aid us in our trust in himself and out of his never-ending patience and loving-kindness help us to think and to do those things are pleasing in his sight. To help us live holy lives. Blessed as Mary and blameless and upright as Joseph as we live as members of a community, a church, a family, and in our labor. That we remember, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who labor, labor in vain.”