March 13, 2024- Breaking and Building

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Our son loves being a big brother, at least 90% of the time. (And hey, that’s a pretty high percentage for a four-year-old!) The 10% displeasure arises consistently in the same situation: he is building or drawing something, and his sister wants to be “involved.” 10-month-old involvement means certain destruction, of course, so now if she so much as moves in the direction of an in-progress creation, her brother responds with the most anxious, “Moooooom!” he can muster. 

No one likes their stuff messed with, but our kiddo is also learning a valuable life lesson: it takes way longer to build something than it does to tear it down. Amazingly, us telling him this three years ago as he tore down our buildings and ripped up our drawings has not had the impact that his smiling, non-verbal, sibling has. As surely as he loves her, he is figuring out how to avoid the instant undoing of his labors. It’s the first of many things his sister will more effectively teach him, I’m sure.

We can break things faster than we build them, and so we learn (usually early on) that it’s best to avoid breaking them in the first place. As life goes on, we find this applies not only to the works of our hands, but our relationships, our careers, our bodies, and maybe even faith. An injury or mishap that takes but a moment can take years to repair. So we learn to be careful, protective, and politic, shoring up our creations and connections so they can withstand a little weather. 

And yet, things still break. Sometimes we break them, intentionally or not; sometimes it’s someone else. Sometimes the breaking is a more gradual erosion. Sometimes we’re surprised by the break; sometimes we saw it coming a mile away. But however we arrive at the breaking point, we will sooner or later realize that there is but one, not-so-easy way out: rebuild. 

If only the instructions for life’s rebuilding projects were as clear as the ones in a Lego kit. If we were told which pieces, supports, and perspectives we needed for the next step, things would be much easier to navigate, or so we tell ourselves. But maybe we have more than we think.

The last stop on our Lenten journey through the covenants of the Hebrew Bible takes us to Jeremiah. He serves as prophet to a people rounded up and forced into exile after witnessing the destruction of their holy city. They have seen a breaking to the nth degree, and a rebuild is not even close to the horizon. 

Yet God speaks to them through Jeremiah saying, “I will put my Instructions within them and engrave them on their hearts. …They will no longer need to teach each other to say ‘Know the Lord!’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.” (31:33b-34a) The Instructions referred to are not a specific, multi-step restoration plan; they are the fullness of the law and teaching. Once passed down through the priesthood and temple traditions no longer available to an exiled people, God is now moving right into the heart, providing directly the knowledge and relationship necessary for faithful living.

The image is a powerful one. Can we believe that God has written on our hearts all we need to know for whatever breaking or building point we find ourselves in? Can we trust that when the worst has come to pass, or when relief seems yet far off, God will provide a way forward? Are we able to let go of guarding “the way it’s always been” so that new ways of life can spring forth?

These are the questions that Lent and Easter always lead us to. We know the answers we want to give just as we know what stops us in our tracks. So let us journey these last few weeks together, trusting that we have what we need for what’s next. Whether breaking or building, God is with us.

Pastor Jen