Sunday, August 14, 2016

A Wise Master-Builder

It is my privilege to be invited to address you all this morning. I must confess that the task of giving a homily addressed to members of a Masonic lodge is a challenging one. I am not myself a Free Mason, and my knowledge of the craft is elementary, but what I do know about masonry, I find rather fascinating.

Masonry seeks to preserve the mysteries passed on by the ancient guilds of masons. The ancients seemed to understand something about architecture that we—with all of our modern sophistication—do not. Historians still scratch their heads over how ancient architectural wonders, such as the Great Pyramids, were constructed. We have no written record. It was an era prior to the printing press where information was passed on largely verbally from master to apprentice. The signs and symbols of this craft are universal and appear throughout the ancient world in Egypt, Greece, Jerusalem, Rome, and throughout Europe. Those same architectural traditions have also influenced many of the great structures of our own nation. Their influence is even detected among the ancient civilizations south of our border.

The modern practice of Freemasonry is less concerned with the practical task of architecture than the speculative side of the craft. These principles and symbols come to us from the ancient past, from an age prior to the modern separation of the arts and sciences from the religious and spiritual pursuits of mankind. There was an esoteric as well as an exoteric dimension to masonry. In other words, there was an inner meaning to the outward forms constructed by ancient architects that was intended to inform and promote the spiritual and moral development of mankind. It was understood that things here below corresponded to things above in the heavens, the spiritual world.

Perhaps no other ancient structure has captivated the hearts and minds of people more than the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, built by King Solomon, in which scripture tells us the very presence of God tabernacled among us. The author of Hebrews tells us that the sanctuary of that temple, “was a copy and shadow of the heavenly sanctuary.” It was truly one of the great wonders of the ancient world. Its majesty and splendor is legendary.

In constructing this great structure, King Solomon invited the expertise of a great master of the craft, a man from Tyre, the son of a widow of the tribe of Naphtali. His name was Hiram. The scriptures tell us he was full of “skill, intelligence, and knowledge” or as the King James renders it, “wisdom, understanding, and cunning.”

The author of Kings gives us elaborate descriptions of Hiram’s work and the architectural detail of the Temple. These are of more than historical or antiquarian interest, but are meant to communicate spiritual and moral truths to us. This is indicated by what our reading tells us about the two pillars that Hiram erected. He set up one pillar on the south and called it Jachin; and he set up another pillar on the north and called it Boaz. Now Jachin means, “He shall establish” and Boaz means, “In His strength.” These pillars remind all who would come into God’s presence to depend on him alone. It is God who works in us both to will and to do. It is in the strength of his grace that we established in righteousness.

In our second reading Saint Paul instructs us to be—like Hiram—wise and master builders, but he is not here talking about the erection of physical buildings. Rather he is speaking about the work we do in the service of God.

Christians and Freemasons share a common desire to elevate the moral character of human beings and to build a more just and compassionate society. We are united by our common belief in one supreme deity. Jesus once said, “He who is not against me is for me.” Free Masonry has certainly done much to uphold the cause of religion including the Christian Church. Many Freemasons are also devoted Christians. I pray that you will indulge me as a Christian and a Minister of the Gospel

According to Saint Paul, it is Jesus Christ and his redemptive work that is the foundation of all the work we do in erecting the temple of moral character, brotherhood, and justice. We must build upon what he has wrought on our behalf, yet nevertheless it is his grace that works within us which enables us to build a fit temple for God’s presence. Remember those two pillars, “He shall establish” and “In His strength.”

We must build upon this solid foundation with what is precious and worthy, “gold, silver, and precious stones.” These are meant to represent our works. Our works should be characterized by moral beauty. We should commit our lives to those things which are most precious and lasting. These are the virtues of the one who puts his trust in God.  All works done apart from him are like hay and straw. On the last day they will not endure the fire of God’s judgment, but will be burnt up. But those works wrought through him—of gold and silver—will shine yet more gloriously having been refined of all the dross of our human sinfulness and imperfection. The wise master builder takes care that his deeds are done in God.

The New Testament speaks of believers as “living stones” being built together into a spiritual house (1 Peter 2:5). Here, in our reading, Paul tells the church that they are God’s holy temple. Not only is Christ described as the foundation of that Temple, but he is also named as the chief cornerstone. As it was prophesized through Isaiah,

“See, I lay in Zion a stone, a chosen and precious cornerstone; and the one who believes in Himwill never be put to shame.”

He is the stone that the builders of this age rejected. As the psalmist says,

“The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”

I believe this is what the Gospel can offer to Free Masonry: Christ our foundation. Christ our corner stone. 

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