When I became a judge 20 years ago, they had no place for me.
I was the eighth judge in a seven judge courthouse, and that meant there was no courtroom for me. They also had no chambers for me – the office space for me and a clerk to handle the paper side of being a judge.
It reminds me a little of Jesus telling people about what it’s like to follow him:
As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”
Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Luke 9:57-58.)
Jesus actually did have a place to lay his head. That is, if he wanted to give up on being the Messiah he could have gone home to Nazareth and returned to the carpenter’s shop and lived out his days as a craftsman. But in order to fulfill his role as the Messiah, the Son of Man who is God in the flesh, he left that behind and pursued the will of his Heavenly Father.
That’s like what happened to me when I was appointed to the bench. No, not to become some sort of messiah but to pursue an opportunity to serve as a public official. In doing so I left a partnership in an established law firm, my corner office with large windows, the car allowance that came with it. And I went to a courthouse that had no room for me.
When Jesus went on the road, he found people ready to take him in at times. He’d stay with friends like Peter (Matthew 8:14-15) and the family of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. (Luke 10:38-42, John 12:1-2.) Sometimes he’d find himself in homes of people he just met, like the tax collectors Levi (Mark 2:14-15) and Zacchaeus. (Luke 19:1-10.)
The people at the courthouse took me in too. There was one empty space where they placed a desk and a telephone for me to use. It wasn’t exactly a judge’s chambers so I didn’t have space for a clerk to handle my files. I also still had no courtroom, so I used whichever one was empty at any given time. Another judge took a vacation day? I was in their courtroom first thing that morning. Someone went to a judicial education class? Ditto. And when there wasn’t a spare courtroom? I used the Board of Supervisor’s public meeting room in the county building next door and held court there.
So I found space, or should I say that court administration found space for me, to hold court and do my job. You might think this wouldn’t be too bad for the short term, and you’d be right.
It wasn’t short term.
I was without a courtroom and chambers for over a year. But they eventually constructed a courtroom and chamber out of some office space and sixteen months after I was sworn in as a judge I moved into my own chambers and courtroom, complete with space for a clerk to do her work as well. If you look at the courthouse picture above, our windows are one floor above the main steps, looking out through the columns. It was worth the wait.
As you can imagine, though, the courthouse itself was getting awfully crowded. It was built in 1917 to house two courtrooms and other offices, and every judge added since then has required finding space to carve out another courtroom and chambers. We are now up to eleven judges and for years have had to rent space in nearby office buildings and place modular units down the block to house makeshift courtrooms, chambers and support offices.
A New Home
The need for a new courthouse has been clear for a long time, but we couldn’t make plans until a few years ago. Finally the Legislature found a way to fund new construction, and after years of searching for a location, hiring an architect, and watching the construction firms dig a hole in the ground and raise a building up out of it, we have a new courthouse.
Again, this reminds me of Jesus.
It’s not that I remember Jesus’ own experience this time, but what he said about a new home for his people.
My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14:2-3.)
Why do we need a new place to dwell? As Paul explained, Jesus came not only to save his people but so “that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” (Romans 8:21.) This liberation comes through the new creation, the new heaven and earth.
John, who was there when Jesus told his closest friends about his Father’s house and going to prepare a place for them all, decades later saw the vision of what this would really look like.
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:1-5.)
I waited sixteen months for a courtroom and chambers, and twenty years for a courthouse where people are not carving out space just to have room to get the job done. But even this new courthouse will soon be too small, too outdated, too inadequate.
The home Jesus is preparing for me will never need replacing. So waiting for Jesus to take me to his Father’s house, a perfect home, in his good time doesn’t seem that hard a wait. Still, as John said at the end of his book of visions:
“Come, Lord Jesus.” (Revelation 22:20.)
I am waiting eagerly for my new home.
The Sacramento Bee Newspaper asked me to speak in a one minute video about the importance of building courthouses right. The shots of marble and stained glass are in the old building while the broad expanses of glass and steel are in the new one. They are both beautiful courthouses, as the snowscape of the old courthouse shows (from the one time 9 years ago we had snow), as well as this photo of the new courthouse by night.