This is the first message in a series on the artifacts that symbolize the spiritual importance of events, gifts and people of importance in our lives.
ar-ti-fact n. An object produced or shaped by human workmanship; especially, a simple tool, weapon or ornament of archeological or historical interest.
My wife, Patricia, is wise and long-suffering with me. Our study is filled with the books, pens, hats, rocks, shells, birds nests, walking sticks, CDs, odd sports equipment, and papers that I accumulate on my rambles. Patricia surveys this debris and pronounces me a “perpetual 10-year old boy.
There are certain objects, though, that describe who I am and how I got this far. I think that this is true for all of us. They elicit memories of love, courage, delight, friendship, or achievement. We treasure them more for those memories than for their intrinsic value. These are artifacts, objects used to shape our lives or which were shaped by ourselves or those we love.
I will describe some of those artifacts in this series of messages. It is not that my possessions are inherently significant. “One person’s junk is another person’s treasure,” as the saying goes. I hope to stir your own memories and gratitude for what has shaped your life with God and helped you on your journey to the Kingdom of God.
In my mind’s eye, he is wearing hickory-striped, denim overalls, with a gray fedora pulled low over his deep-set blue eyes. He is a man at temporary rest, sitting on a pile of new-sawn, yellow Douglas fir lumber, enjoying his lunch of a bean sandwich made with home-made whole-wheat bread, apple, tomato soup and oatmeal raisin cookie.
He is reading index cards as he eats. He has carefully written out verses of Scripture and quotations from spiritual books that he is memorizing. Learning is his passion. He fuels the thoughts that will get him through his afternoon labors.
He is the head elder of the congregation for which he is building a church beside the creek in the little Central California community of Soquel. He is also my grandfather. His dearest ambition is for his children and grandchildren to know the Lord and to dwell together in heaven for eternity.
He is building the church because he believes that the people he loves need a place to worship God. It is where I will learn of the love of Jesus in word and song. I will give my heart to God there and be baptized underneath the stained glass mural of Jesus the Good Shepherd carrying his lost sheep. That was the kind of God that Grandpa believed in and the congregation showed me that kindness for as long as I worshiped there which was from birth through college.
I have Grandpa’s hammer. It has a stout oak handle, darkened with the sweat of his hand. The 16 oz. steel head and claw are burnished by much use. He wrote his name in carpenter’s pencil down the side of the handle — T.P. Hansen.
My Dad, Grandpa’s name-sake, gave me the hammer. He also gave me a new steel-handled model with rubber grip when I worked with him for several summers as a teen-ager.
Both Grandpa and Dad were artists with the hammer. They had tremendous strength and accuracy in their right arms. Each carpenter has a rhythm to his or her nailing. Most reasonably competent workers sound like this when they are framing with 16-penny nails — “Tik — bim-bim-bim-bim-bim-bim-bam.” The hammering of someone really skilled will sound like this, “Tik — bim-bim-bim-bim-bam.” Grandpa and dad in their prime sounded like this, “Tk — bim-bim-bim-bam.” There was no wasted motion with them. They took pride in their efficiency.
They were builders. That’s an important thing to be, because you can knock things down and tear them apart with a hammer just as well as you can build with it. The claw is there to deal with mistakes and obsolescence and what some one no longer wants. In fact almost all the Biblical references to hammers are about their uses in making idols, destroying sacred places, and being used as a weapon of violence.
But it is not the hammer that really matters. It is the heart and mind of the one holding the hammer that decides if it will build or destroy.
To lay a foundation and build a house or a barn or a school or a church is a wonderful thing because it means life is going to take hold and grow there in shelter against the winds, rain, and blazing sun. Strong walls and a tight roof are a kind of mercy.
Building means families, communities, and assurance. There is truth and power in Robert Frost’s phrase that “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”
My two brothers have more talent with the hammer than I do even though they found their own professions in healthcare. I am a klutz with strong legs and back, better suited to the unskilled labor of digging and hauling, then to putting things together.
I have found my way in the tradition of building by becoming a corporate attorney, putting together structures that serve mission and give people good products, jobs, security and a purpose to serve. Instead of blue prints, I use articles of incorporation, bylaws, contracts and opinion letters to guide my construction.
Grandpa had to drop out of college because he couldn’t afford the tuition. He wanted to become a minister. Even though he went on to a full and long life as a father, farmer, builder and local church leader, he always prized learning and the places where it took place. So he built them.
I pick up Grandpa’s hammer and feel its balance and heft. It got the job done in his hands and his hands were held and directed daily by the God he loved.
Grandpa fervently hoped and prayed for the return of Christ. He was not building in resignation that this earth is all that we will ever know so we need to make the best of it. He was obedient to the Lord’s command in his King James Bible to “Occupy till I come” (Luke 19:13). His was a devotion of love. He never was too busy to tell a boy a story or a joke or reach in his pocket and share a stick of the “Beemans Original Pepsin Chewing Gum” that he favored. The hand that held his hammer was a gentle one.
Grandpa was living testimony to the words of the Apostle Paul: “According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:10-11).
Sometimes I think of people I know whose God is a harsh, mean taskmaster. They live cramped, fearful lives and when they think they’ve failed sometimes they walk away from faith altogether in the desperation that if they can’t live with him they will try to live without him. It is hard to talk them out of it because they learned it from their parents and grandparents. The hammers wielded there nailed hearts shut and smashed dreams, instead of creating open, gracious spaces of light and love.
My Grandpa’s hammer is an artifact of my heritage. It was shaped for service and used in service with love. I am one of the beneficiaries of that service. These words that you are reading are directly linked to that hammer and the hand that wielded it.
My Grandpa was a builder. I am so grateful. Lord, make me a builder too.
“O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in him” (Ps. 34:8).
Under the mercy of Christ,