NT: Acts 7:44-50
Texts: John 4:19-24
1 Peter 2:4-9
morning I want to speak with you very briefly. I want to make but a single
point. It is one of the most elementary theological truths, and one that
all Christians of every stripe agree upon. There are very few such
consensus truths. It is so obvious, so self-evident that no one would
reject it. And yet I am afraid that in our impending circumstances, some
of you may actually be in danger of forgetting it. It is this: the
church is not the building; the church is the congregation! I will
make no pitch either for or against selling the church building. I will
say my piece and you may vote as you will.
If you know anything of
the holy history of the Bible, you know what happened when the people of
Israel were too attached to a particular house of God. Isaiah or one of
his pseudonymous successors said that Assyria would never overwhelm
Jerusalem because God had his house there. He should never have said this.
It created untold mischief.
Later on, the prophets
Micaiah and Jeremiah both were jailed and persecuted for announcing that
so little was God married to the Jerusalem temple that he had already
decided to give the city and the temple over to heathen invaders. The
people just couldn't believe this, and they paid a dear price for it. The
temple was not a totem, and it did not protect them.
The temple was destroyed,
but the religion of Israel was not. It was more resilient than the temple
worshippers had feared. How could you have Israelite faith without the
temple? It turned out not to be that important, and that was a good thing
to learn. The faith was able to thrive, to flourish, to evolve in new ways
that wouldn't have been possible otherwise. There was much more to the
Israelite faith than the temple.
Those whose faith was in
the temple had their faith destroyed. Those who believed instead in a God
who would go with them, as he had accompanied Father Abraham in his
wanderings--their faith grew as it traveled.
God was not bound to a
particular building, a particular piece of property. Neither was their
faith. If their faith had been tied to one place, it must have missed God,
because he was never bound there.
A new temple was erected
generations later. And again some Jews began to think God had everything
invested in that particular building. Others did not.
What happened when the
Romans destroyed that temple in AD 70? The Jews whose religion was
inextricably bound up with that building, the Sadducees, vanished. Their
idol had fallen. The Pharisees, on the other hand, had never put all their
eggs in that basket. For them it was the scriptures, and the God of the
scriptures, that lived and moved and survived the fall of the temple. It
never could have contained him anyway: how could it have mattered to him
where his people worshipped him?
The early church was more
like the Pharisees at this point. Gentile Christians were barred from the
temple anyway. They came to think of themselves as the temple, as
we have just read in Ephesians and 1 Peter. Once Christians became the
established religion of the empire, they began to erect their own
buildings, and mighty handy things they are, too. But no one ever lost
sight of the central fact that the church of Jesus Christ is not a
There is such a thing as
sacred space. A place can become holy to you because it is a warehouse of
cherished religious memories. That is good. It is much like your own
house. You hate to have to move and leave all those memories behind. But
of course you won't leave them behind. You'll always have them.
But is the past the only
direction you look for religion? What about the future? If you moved into
a new building, are you telling me you would not begin to accumulate
spiritual experiences to treasure there? I sure hope not!
The church is not the
building! The church is the congregation! The church, the New Testament
says, is a body, not a building. Isn't it true that there is
something seriously amiss if a building suddenly starts moving?
Earthquake! But there is nothing wrong if a body moves! It's
supposed to, and there is something drastically wrong if it can't!
There may be reasons not
to sell this building. If we stay in it, I will be happy, though if we go,
I expect to be happy, too. But one of the reasons for not selling the
building is not that you think of it as the church. Does our common
life together over many months and many years mean so little to you? Would
you leave your family if they picked up and moved to a new home? I cannot
believe it. I do not believe it. If the church moves somewhere
else, I expect to see you there.
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