Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Brick by brick, board by board. . .

When I was a kid my great uncle purchased the abandoned railroad depot in our town.  It had to go.  He bought it to tear it down and then to use the lumber to build a hog house on his farm.  My brother and I and an old curmudgeon named John were enlisted to do some of the heavy lifting.  We literally tore down the building brick by brick and board by board.  My Uncle Roy was a frugal sort of guy so the nails we pulled out were hammered straight again and put in coffee cans to be reused when it came time to build the thing up again.  It seemed to take forever.  Of course, it did not.  It only seemed that way.  As I look back it is now a brief and passing memory.  The building lived again to fulfill its new purpose.  But now my Uncle Roy and old John are all long dead, my brother and I are heading down the final third of our lives (statistically speaking), and the whole farmstead is all gone, plowed under the earth.

It may seem a strange analogy but the reality is that the Church is also build up one brick at a time, one board at a time.  While you are building it, it seems to take forever -- way too long for our comfort zone.  Yet the whole span of our lives is brief and when we put things into perspective it does not take as long as we think.  It is never quick but always plodding and deliberate.  And tedious.  We have years of neglect to make up for in the catechetical task and in our liturgical practice.  We have many years of ingrained ideas that must be torn down before we can build up confessional integrity and faithful practice.  I do not mean to disparage the generations before us.  They did their work, too.  We would not be where we are without the faithful labors of so many faithful pastors and people.  But the world is constantly tearing down and we must be as constant in our building up or the Church suffers and the mission suffers.

We will never get to the point of putting the last brick in place or nailing the final nail in the board.  The building process is as ongoing as the work on those ancient cathedrals continues, slowly and surely.  It gives you a good sense of perspective to remember a project like that old train depot.  It is a good and healthy reminder that we are ever constant and vigilant in the repetitive labor of the Kingdom of God -- preaching, teaching, worship, prayer, visitation, confession, absolution, baptism and burial...  Brick by brick, board by board.  Pulling out and straightening nails only to pound them back into the wood.  A few years under your belt as a pastor and you realize that you are not there to finish construction but simply to shepherd the people and the task for a given amount of time.  God will bring it to completion -- as long as we are faithful in what we do.

There was no pristine moment to recapture but only the constant struggle which we, in our own time and experience, add our own energy and effort to what has been passed down to us.  The past is there both to warn us when we become complacent (as we see what happened to the complacent in the past) and to encourage us when we become weary (as is too easy a temptation for us all) and finally to remind us that the Church is not ours to own but ours (as pastors) for a moment to shepherd.  We anticipate and face the East, the future, the tomorrow of God's own revelation and accomplishment.  Brick by brick. 

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